Ideal for: Winter walking
With clear blue skies, unspoiled scenery and miles of walking trails, tiny La Gomera is the Canary Island that mass tourism forgot.
It’s a magnet for in-the-know hikers, who are drawn to its prehistoric landscapes, plunging ravines and sheer-walled valleys. The undoubted highlight is Garajonay National Park, a sprawling expanse of ancient rainforest cloaked in atmospheric mist. Here you can trek through dense swathes of moss-covered trees before emerging to bird-song filled valleys and eye-popping coastal views.
La Gomera’s unhurried charm is a world away from the nightlife of neighbouring Tenerife, and the absence of direct flights means visitor numbers remain low.
Sailing into San Sebastián, you can imagine what Columbus might have thought when he visited enroute to the Americas. Stroll down Calle Real, in the capital’s old quarter, and you’ll find numerous tributes to the famous explorer, including the well from which he allegedly took water to baptise the New World.
Drive to the island’s northern tip for rousing ocean vistas from Mirador de Abante’s glass observation deck. You’ll also find a clifftop restaurant where you can taste authentic local tapas against the panoramic backdrop. Time your arrival for after 2pm, when the day-trippers have departed, and you’ll feel like you have the place all to yourself.
Ideal for: Scenery and stargazing
La Palma doesn’t follow the usual Canary Islands script. While ‘La Isla Bonita’ offers superb beaches, also on show are uniquely-green slopes, vast volcanic caldera, 800 kilometres of hiking paths and world-leading stargazing.
The island has been certified as the Northern Hemisphere’s second-best astronomy location after Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The headline stargazing spot is Roque de Los Muchachos, a 2,420-metre-high observatory which looms above cloud level. You can either tour its facilities or spot constellations and shooting stars from any of La Palma’s 16 designated astral viewpoints.
The island’s constantly-changing landscape adds up to hiking heaven. In the north-east is Los Tilos’ misty laurel forest, through which extends a gorge path, while day walks from La Cumbrecita climb to the Caldera’s epic rim. The 16-kilometre Volcanoes Route path culminates in a lava-filled netherworld of jagged boulders and scorched dunes before you arrive at Fuencaliente’s stripey lighthouse, flanked by brilliantly-white salt pans.
While you wouldn’t go to La Palma for beaches alone, there are some excellent ones here. The island’s western side gets more sun, so head to Puerto Naos – a smart-looking town whose long shore is backed by a restaurant-happy corniche. For something wilder, go east: Charco Azul has a rock-sheltered natural pool, while Playa de Nogales can only be reached by a 15-minute walk.
Ideal for: Secret seaside
While Tenerife’s southern reaches are characterised by bustling resorts and lava-strewn landscapes, an entirely different world is revealed north of the huge El Teide volcano.
Outdoor-lovers will find great walking in the mountainous landscapes and tropical rainforest of two natural parks – Teno in the north-west, and Anaga, to the north-east. There’s lots of handsome history, too, especially in beautiful, UNESCO-listed town La Laguna and its pastel-shade colonial mansions and cobbles, or around the pretty plazas and excellent museums of cosmopolitan capital Santa Cruz.
One of the island’s first holiday resorts, Puerto de la Cruz retains the feel of a proper town. The landscaped gardens of Lago Martianez, an outdoor swimming complex next to Martianez Beach, are an attractive place in which to spend afternoons, before a stroll along the oceanfront promenade. There are plenty of bars and restaurants, and both La Laguna and Santa Cruz are within easy day-tripping distance.
Further west is the picturesque fishing village of Garachico, one of Tenerife’s most attractive spots. The island’s main port until a destructive volcanic eruption in 1706, it’s eventful past has also featured plagues, floods and fires. Not that you’d know it from the peaceful bliss had by strolling its cobblestone streets and attractive main square. Although there’s no beach in the village, you can swim in natural rock pools and there’s great hiking close by.
Enjoy the quiet Beaches galore
Mention of the Canaries often conjures up thoughts of overdevelopment and high-rise hotels, but it’s perfectly possible to avoid these areas and be rewarded with a winter-sun destination both diverse and surprising. With magnificent natural scenery, superb walking and beaches galore, here’s our guide to the archipelago’s quieter side…
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