Canary Islands - Attractions
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
The largest town in the Canaries, Las Palmas unmistakably has a big city feel. It sits on the north-eastern tip of Gran Canaria and has begun swallowing up La Isleta, a small island to its north. The old historical centre is around the Vegueta and Triana districts in the south, and the city hugs the coast up a series of long boulevards a good 3km (1.8mi) to the bustling Santa Catalina and Puerto de la Luz. The 3km (1.8mi) long beach Playa de las Canteras is on the western edge of the land bridge to La Isleta, and at Playa de las Canteras you'll find the tourist office, the bulk of the hotels, the bars and more bars, shops and more shops. It is probably the only city in the Canaries where you may need to use the bus service to get around.
The Casa/Museo de Colón is a gorgeous example of Canarian architecture with fine wooden balconies overlooking two patios. Although it's called Columbus' house, it's uncertain whether he stayed there, and most of what you see was the residence of early governors. Inside is an odd assortment of navigational charts and pre-Colombian artefacts brought back from Latin America, with a few model ships and Hispanic-Flemish school portraits thrown in for good measure. The Catedral de Santa Ana is the city's main place of worship and took 350 years to complete. Nearby, the Museo Diocesano, set on two levels around the Patio de los Naranjos, contains the standard collection of religious art and memorabilia, including old manuscripts and wooden sculptures.
The Museo Canario is the city's main museum, and is dedicated to chronicling Gran Canaria's pre-conquest history. It boasts the world's largest collection of Cro-Magnon skulls and displays Guanche implements and a collection of pottery. The Centro Canario de Arte Moderno is the city's main museum of modern art and shows temporary exhibits. Traditionally, the Calle Mayor de Triana has been the main shopping street in Las Palmas, and is now a pedestrian mall. Ciudad Jardín is a curious relic of the late 19th century, when the British dominated the economic life of the islands, and is an odd mixture of architectural styles ranging from British colonial to Andalucían.
The hotels of all classes are clustered around Santa Catalina beach and the port, although there is also a good choice around Vegueta and Triana - if a little more down-market. Vegueta, Triana, Santa Catarina and the port are the best places to go looking for food as well, with restaurants and bars ranging from the humble to the magnificent, offering an assortment of food from Bulgarian fare and Argentinean beefsteaks to international fast food.
Isla de Lanzarote
It hardly ever rains on Lanzarote, so all the water you drink and wash in is likely to be desalinated sea water. It's an incredibly arid place, and at first glance may not appear to offer much, but UNESCO has declared the entire island a Biosphere Reserve. The volcanic terrain is bizarre, and it's worth taking your time to move around the island away from the three main resorts. It's not worth spending much time in the capital, Arrecife, as Cueva de los Verdes & Jameos del Agua are probably the main attractions. The first is a 1km (0.6mi) long chasm that is the most spectacular part of an 8km (5mi) lava tube, formed by an eruption 5000 years ago. There is a beautiful azure lake in the middle of the Jameos del Agua, another lava tube. Bars and a restaurant have been installed around the lake as well as a concert hall seating 500, with wonderful acoustics. Tiny, blind crabs live in the water.
The Parque Nacional de Timanfaya on the south of Lanzarote experienced one of the world's greatest volcanic eruptions in 1730. The eruption lasted for six years and spewed thousands of tons of molten rock into the air. The 52 sq km (20.3 sq mi) park is almost like a scene from a science fiction movie, with twisted and swirling mounds of solidified lava sticking up like warped licorice sticks, punctuated by volcanic cones. The restaurant in the park cooks its food on a volcano-powered barbecue. A few kilometres south along the road that crosses the eastern edge of the park is the Museo de las Rocas, a geological museum that will fill you in on the park's full details.
Lanzarote is 200km (124mi) north-east of Gran Canaria, and you can fly there from many international destinations and from the other islands in the archipelago. Ferries make regular connections with nearby Fuerteventura, and less regularly with Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
Parque Nacional de Garajonay
The island of La Gomera's outstanding natural attraction is the ancient laurisilva (laurel forest) at the centre of the 4000 hectare (9880 acre) national park. Cool Atlantic trade winds clash with warmer breezes, creating a constant ebb and flow of mist through the dense forest, and as little light penetrates the canopy, moss and lichen grow everywhere. Forest like this grew over most of the Mediterranean until the last ice age, which wiped it out. Most visitors head for the Alto de Garajonay, the island's tallest peak, from where you are rewarded with great views. Another good stop is La Laguna Grande just off the highway.
The park is about 13km (8mi) west of the capital, San Sebastian de la Gomera, and daily buses serve all the main destinations on the island. Until the airport is completed you can reach Gomera by hydrofoil or ferry from all of the other islands.
Playa del Inglés & Maspalomas
This is the party part of the Canaries, where millions of sun-starved snowbirds from northern Europe congregate year-round to sun, swim, do the sex thing and break each other's heads open. From lager louts to Swedish sun worshippers, they're all here within a couple of kilometres of suntan oil-soaked sand and tour operator-infested city blocks. When you tire of the beach scene, you can try a host of theme parks like Palmitos Park, a subtropical oasis crammed with exotic flora and 230 species of birds; Mundo Aborigen, with about 100 model Guanches posed to look how the real thing used to; or Sioux City with, believe it or not, good and bad guys shootin' each other up for your entertainment. The dunes at Maspalomas are probably one of the best parts of the beach and are a protected park. That doesn't stem the tide of the great unclad from the nearby nudist beach wandering through after a hard bake.
At the heart of Playa del Inglés is Yumbo Centrum, a four-level shopping jungle with international food, traditional breakfasts from various parts of Europe and all sorts of goods on sale. Around the block you will find banks, doctors, supermarkets, telephone and fax offices and laundrettes. By night the area transforms into the gay capital of Europe on hols, with gay bars, drag shows, saunas and sex shops doing a roaring trade.
Bus 66 goes to the airport eight times a day, and buses also link regularly with other points along the south coast of the island and up to Las Palmas. Playa del Inglés is on the southern tip of Gran Canaria, just over 40km (24mi) south of Las Palmas.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Santa Cruz de Tenerife is one of the busiest ports in Spain, and its long harbour sees countless container ships, cruise liners and a host of inter-island ferries and jetfoils. Everything of interest lies within about 1km (0.6mi) of Plaza de España. The town has three museums, of which the Museo de la Naturaleza y El Hombre is easily the most interesting. It houses several Guanche mummies and skulls, a handful of artefacts, and a natural sciences section. The Museo de Bellas Artes is home to an eclectic mix of paintings by Canarian and Flemish artists, including Breughel, and war buffs will probably enjoy the Museo Militar de Almeyda, displaying the cannon that supposedly blew off Nelson's arm when he attacked Santa Cruz.
The Iglesia de San Francisco is a gorgeous baroque church built in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the austere façade of the Teatro Guimerá nearby belies a sumptuous interior. The city's oldest church is the Iglesia de la Concepción, which has a beautiful bell tower. African slaves were traded at the 17th century Castillo de San Juan on the waterfront. When you've had it with sightseeing, the Parque de García Sanabria is a great place to relax with a coffee at a shady teraza table, although you'll find cafes and terazas all over the city.
There are two airports on Tenerife and you can fly there from the Spanish mainland, a host of international destinations and all the other islands except La Gomera. You can also go by ferry, hydrofoil or jetfoil from all the other islands and Cádiz in mainland Spain. Santa Cruz is 95km (59mi) north-west of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.