When we think of the Canary Islands, images of crystal clear water and sandy beaches come to mind. But there’s so much more to these enchanting islands than meets the eye. On your cruise holiday, you’ll get the chance to uncover the secrets of Gran Canaria, Tenerife and Lanzarote. Take a look at our guide to discover 10 things you didn’t know about the Canary Islands
1. Mount Teide in Tenerife is the third largest volcano in the world
Standing at 7,500 metres, the imposing Mount Teide is the third largest volcano in the world, after Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea in Hawaii. It is also the highest peak on the Canary Islands and in the whole of Spain.
Teide is an active volcano, although its most recent eruption was in 1909. The volcano and its surroundings form Teide National Park, which was awarded World Heritage site status by UNESCO in 2007. It’s the most visited natural wonder of Spain and well worth seeing on your visit to Tenerife.
The dramatic landscape formed the perfect backdrop in 2010 blockbuster Clash of the Titans, which told the story of men, gods and mythical monsters starring Liam Neeson and Gemma Arterton. Tenerife also welcomed Vin Diesel and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson for the filming of Fast and Furious 6, as well as Matt Damon for the fifth instalment of the Jason Bourne films.
If you want to experience Mount Teide without the strenuous climb, there is an alternative mode of transport. Tenerife Tourism Corporation said: “One of the best ways to experience the mountain is to take the cable car up to an area known as ‘La Rambleta’, at a height of 3,555 metres. The cable car runs daily from 9am to 5pm, unless closed due to bad weather or strong winds. The more adventurous can ascend on foot, with the walk lasting between 4 to 6 hours.”
2. You can swim with sea turtles in Tenerife
On the southern tip of Tenerife, the picturesque beach of El Puertito is home to a resident group of sea turtles. In fact, five of the seven existing species of turtles in the world live around Tenerife’s coast – loggerhead, kemp’s ridley, green, hawksbill and the leathery turtle, according to Tenerife Tourism Corporation.
Divers and snorkelers might just be lucky enough to spot green sea turtles, octopus and many beautiful fish off the coast at El Puertito, one of the most biodiverse marine sites in the Canary Islands. Along with the ocean’s smaller creatures, whales and dolphins can also be seen from Tenerife, as around 500 resident short-finned pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins live in the clear waters on the south coast.
3. There’s an underwater museum in Lanzarote
South of the island, 14 metres under the sea, Lanzarote’s Underwater Museum is undoubtedly one of its most unique attractions. The museum was created by artist Jason deCaires Taylor, who designed over 200 life-size human sculptures to feature in the underwater botanical garden.
Turismo Lanzarote said: “This amazing museum features over 200 life-sized sculptures across 12 installations. All of them are built with pH neutral materials that are environmentally-friendly. It is surprising that the first pieces that were installed in February 2016 have already experienced a significant increase in the levels of generation and abundance of species.”
4. Canary Islands cuisine is actually very unique
Many dishes and ingredients are unique to the Canary Islands. Fish and meat dishes feature prominently in Canarian cuisine, which has been influenced by other cultures such as the aboriginal inhabitants of the islands (the Guanche people) and Latin America. To get an idea of which traditional foods to try on a cruise holiday to the Canaries, we caught up with Foodie & Tours, a company which guides visitors around the islands on gourmet adventures:
“The Canary Islands are so unique, because they are perceived as one regional all situated close to each other, but in reality, each island is different when it comes to nature, traditions, and of course, food!” said Linda Gasa, customer service and marketing assistant.
“Foodie & Tours is a company made up from passionate foodies (and travellers) who like to share their insider tips and organise guided tours to fellow foodies and travellers just like us.
“Our goal is to deliver the real destination experience by sharing food, culture and passion. We provide small group tours in six categories – food walks, cooking classes, wine tours, eat with locals, culinary tours and customised experiences, guided by locals who share the same values and are knowledgeable about their food and culture.”
With so many delicious ingredients and dishes to try on your Canaries cruise, we asked Linda to recommend some of her favourites:
“In Tenerife, try the ropa vieja (which translates as ‘the old clothes’) this is also one of the most typical Caribbean dishes, but it actually originates in the Canary Islands! It might not sound mouth-watering, but trust us – made the right way it is amazing. Try the banana liqueur if you have a sweet tooth.
“In Gran Canaria, especially on Sundays, try vieja sancochada – a stew made from salted cod and sweet potato. After, finish the meal with a hot cup of local coffee.
“In Lanzarote, try their tiny Papas Crias (wild potatoes) which grow on the rocky hills. Their size is compensated with the rich flavour and they are served with two delicious sauces. Don’t leave without having freshly grilled local fish – dorada (sea bream), vieja (parrot fish) and cherne (sea bass).
5. Lanzarote produces exquisite wine
Although many associate the Canary Islands with barren, volcanic landscapes, they are actually home to some world-class vineyards producing exquisite wine. Lanzarote and Tenerife in particular are noted for their delicious wines.
Bodega La Geria, situated in Lanzarote’s wine region of La Geria, is the oldest winery in the area. Built at the end of the 19th century, the winery has developed over the years to produce wines of a very high quantity and quality. The winery produces around 300,000 bottles of young reds, whites and rosés each year, made from the Volcanic Malvasia (white grape). We spoke to Dario Rodriguez at Bodega La Geria to find out why Lanzarote is so suited to wine making:
“Our weather is very similar most of the time and our temperature stays between 18-22°C. In summer it isn’t very hot and in winter it isn’t very cold. Our primary type of grape of Volcanic Malvasia and is adapted to this weather. It produces a very good quality of grapes. We make fine, fresh and young wines which are very aromatic.
“The natural breath-taking agricultural scenery of the La Geria is characterised by the cultivation of vines that grow in the volcanic ash. It is neatly prepared and looks similar to small craters that are surrounded by a small semi-circular stone wall, so that the vines are protected from the strong Canary Islands winds. They are covered with volcanic ash, known as picón, in the Canaries, to prevent any evaporation of water or humidity.”
We asked Dario why people should visit Lanzarote on their next cruise holiday: “Everyone should come to Lanzarote to enjoy the lunar landscapes, the incredible beaches and the wonderful corners that are our food and especially our wines. Visit for the constant climate cherished by our trade winds. It is a small island, which is easy to get to know and visit, and the people of Lanzarote are very friendly and very close.”
In Tenerife, visitors stopping by on a Canaries cruise can take a wine tour of the island. Tenerife Tourism Corporation said: “Verdant and lush, Tenerife produces a significant variety of red, white and rose wines, many of which can be sampled at the local wineries located in both the north and south of the island. One of the five Denominations of Origin in Tenerife can be tasted along the Tacoronte-Acentejo wine route, covering the north east of Tenerife.
“The Casa Museo del Vino La Baranda, a traditional restored farm house from the 17th century, is now used to promote the local wine produce. With fabulous views to the sea and Mount Teide, this ‘wine house’ houses a wine museum, a wine shop and a restaurant where delicious, creative Canarian dishes are served.”
Fun fact: William Shakespeare enjoyed Tenerife’s Malvasia or Malmsey wine, and it is mentioned in some of his plays.
6. The island of La Gomera has its own whistling language
The island of La Gomera, closest to Tenerife, has its own, unique whistling language. Known as Silbo Gomero, the whistling is a form of communication used for thousands of years in La Gomera. It uses Castilian Spanish, the language of the island’s residents, in a series of various whistles. This incredible language has been passed down for centuries as a tool for communicating while working in the countryside.
It is estimated that around 22,000 people use the language on La Gomera. Today, it is the only whistled language in the world, and is recognised by UNESCO on its Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. You can listen to this remarkable language in a video on the UNESCO website.
7. Tenerife hosts a huge carnival welcoming over 250,000 people
The Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is considered to be the second most popular and internationally recognised carnival after the one held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Welcoming around 250,000 visitors, the carnival is held in February with spectacular parades and street parties. It is believed that more than 100 dance, music and theatre groups take part in this colourful event.
In 1980, the event was declared a Tourist Festival of International Interest by the Secretary State for Tourism, and it aspires to be recognised by UNESCO. In 1987, the carnival entered the Guinness World Record book as the largest gathering of people in an outdoor plaza to attend a concert – more than 200,000 people.
8. You can cook on a volcano
El Diablo restaurant in Timanfaya National Park uses the geothermal heat from a dormant volcano to cook food. The remarkable restaurant was designed in 1970 by artist and architect, César Manrique, and offers panoramic views over the dream-like, volcanic terrain, which was formed by volcanic eruptions in the 1700s. According to the Lanzarote Guidebook, the restaurant utilises the immense heat present below the Earth’s crust to cook delicious meat and fish dishes on a giant grill.
To work up an appetite for your delicious Canarian meal, explore the park’s trail to take in the unique landscape. Turismo Lanzarote told us: “Ruta de los Volcanes, within the Timanfaya National Park, is a 14-kilometre route for visitors to see all the volcanoes. The trail, which fits perfectly into its surroundings, runs along the main centre of the eruptions, where there is a concentration of singular elements of great geological and geomorphic interest, such as hornitos, caves and malpaíses.
“Lanzarote is covered by multi-coloured lava which is especially spectacular and Timanfaya National Park. The mountains here are often compared to the moon’s landscape, being one of the most spectacular volcanic landscapes in the world.”
9. You can dine in a volcanic tunnel
César Manrique, the artist and architect behind El Diablo, also created Jameos del Agua – a spectacular restaurant built into a volcanic tube. Manrique described it as ‘the most beautiful nightclub in the world’ and, according to Rita Hayworth, legendary Hollywood movie star, it is ‘the eighth wonder of the world’.
The long lava tube formed around 4,000 years ago, when molten lava flowed beneath the surface. The word ‘Jameo’ refers to the large openings in the tube which formed when parts of the roof collapsed due to a pressure build-up from volcanic gases, according to the Lanzarote Guidebook. Manrique used these open-air caves to create the focus of Jameos del Agua.
You can dine in this remarkable setting for lunch or dinner, or enjoy a delicious cocktail. Every Tuesday and Saturday there is live music.
10. Many actors, writers and musicians spent time in the canaries
Many famous figures have been inspired by the Canaries over the years. Iconic author Agatha Christie stayed in Puerto de la Cruz in the north of Tenerife to unwind during a difficult time, according to Tenerife Tourism Corporation. It’s believed that during this period she wrote The Man from the Sea, which is set in the city. The Beatles also holidayed in Puerto de la Cruz in 1963. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton visited Tenerife in 1970 and Winston Churchill visited Gran Canaria in 1959 and is said to have painted watercolours during his visit.
If you’re transfixed by the many mysteries of the Canary Islands, why not see them for yourself? You can visit Gran Canaria, Tenerife and Lanzarote on a Canaries cruise, with plenty of time to swim with sea turtles, sample exquisite wines and even marvel at the imposing Mount Teide.
Image credits: Turismo Lanzarote