If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere right now, you’re most likely freezing. I mean, it’s 50ºF/10ºC in Bilbao as I’m writing this. Brrrrrrrr. (I know in Ohio it’s -19ºC which is too cold for me to try to figure out Fahrenheit.) I figure right now would be the perfect time to write about Spain’s version of Hawaii, the Canary Islands. As I have only been to one of the islands (meaning one of the two provinces of this comunidad autónoma) , I’m going to write about that one…Gran Canaría in the province of Las Palmas.
Located 100 km/62 miles off the coast of Africa, the Canary Islands (Las Islas Canarías) are indeed the Atlantic’s version of Hawaii as just like the Pacific paradise, these islands were formed by volcanos. They are an hour behind peninsular time and about a two-hour flight from the Greatest Peninsula in the World. The four biggest and most popular islands are Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. I had been dreaming about visiting the Canary Islands ever since my second trip to Hawaii at the age of 19 and learning about the twinned volcanic paradise. When the director of my study abroad program took off to the Canarias after study abroad time was over, I was ready to kick myself for not thinking that hey, the Canaries are part of Spain too. (I’m going to alternate between the English and Spanish spellings here, so I apologise/ze in advance. I’ve also been teaching the differences between American and British English this week, so bear with me if I feel the need to use more than one word/word. Oh, it’s the same!)
In 2010, I had a week between summer camps, so I found a cheap last-minute Ryan Air trip to Gran Canaria. I was only there for three days, and it was perhaps my laziest holiday/vacation ever. Most times, when I travel, I want to cram as much in as humanly possible without collapsing into those few days. This was a “less-is-more”. The camp was killing me, and I just wanted to stroll along the beach.
I stayed in the capital Las Palmas, unaware that the south of the island was the more touristic place. I did take a day to go to the dunes of Maspalomas. These impressive dunes were formed from the winds of the Sahara, so in case I never make it to the Sahara, I can at least say I’ve been to these Dunes. These were my fave part of the island. I was a bit blah at all the tourism, though, and ended up being quite happy to stay in the less touristy capital. It may not be as impressive as the Playa del inglés, but I feel I had a better experience in Las Palmas than I would have in Maspalomas. The third day I spent just walking along the beach and swimming in the Atlantic. Upon my return, I immediately regretted not going to explore some of the impressive rock formations. But I got to see the sun set over the Atlantic, something many Americans wouldn’t think about (as they would see the sun RISE over the Atlantic and set over the Pacific instead.
Being so green in my travels and having such a short time in this paradise, I missed out on what are really the Set Meravelles. But you live and learn.
Maspalomas is the most touristy part of the island and the famous Playa del Inglés (Beach of the English man) is one of the most popular resorts in all of Spain. However, the most impressive part of Maspalomas are the dunes, which are a Reserva Natural Especial. The dunes are pretty impressive and were formed by sand blowing over from the Sahara, or so I hear. I can’t find the confirming source that I read in 2010. There is also a famous lighthouse. There are several “guiri gua guaus”, or buses full of tourists, that transport from here to the airport or the capital, Las Palmas.
Las Palmas is the capital of the island and province of Las Palmas, co-capital of the comunidad autónoma, and is also the largest city in the Canary Islands and 9th largest in all of Spain at 383,000 habitants. The metropolitan area is over 700.00 people. The city was a stop on Christopher Columbus’ journeys to the Americas (which remember, he thought were the East Indies). It has four beaches and, at least to me, is more reminiscent of Puerto Rico than some parts of Spain.
Catedral de Santa Ana
This photo is NOT the Cathedral, but I couldn’t find a good picture. This is the problem of waiting five years to write about a place! Anyway, the Cathedral of Santa Ana is an example of pointed architecture and was built in the 16-century. It’s one of the most famous and recognis/zed monuments of Las Palmas.
Arucas (Yet to be discovered)
Arucas is a small city of 36,000 habitants located on the north of the island. It’s claim to fame is a big botanical garden, La jardín de la Marquesa de Arucas, with over 500 plant species. There’s also San Juan Bautista Church.
El Roque Nublo y otros (Yet to be discovered)
El Roque Nublo is a volcanic rock (formed 4.5 million years ago) and the top is 1813 metres above sea level. There are many unique volcanic formations on the island (the famous Dedo de Dios was destroyed in 2005 in a tropical storm), and el Roque Nublo is one of them. It is one of the most famous natural parks in Spain.
Fuerteventura (Yet to be discovered)
Fuerteventura is the second largest of the Canary Islands but one of the lesser known ones (of the bigger islands). It’s a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve as of 2009. It’s the oldest of the islands and has black sand beaches.
Lanzarote (Yet to be discovered)
Lanzarote is the eastern most island and the fourth largest island. It is also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It’s known for its beautiful beaches. It also has the Tunnel of Atlantis, the largest underwater volcanic tunnel in the world.