Gran Canaria is the third-largest island in the Canaries’ archipelago, but accounts for almost half the population. It lives up to its cliché as a continent in miniature, with a dramatic variation of terrain, ranging from the green and leafy north to the mountainous interior and desert south.
Fuerteventura lies just 100km from the African coast, and there are striking similarities not only with the landscape, but also the houses, with their North African–style flat roofs for collecting rainfall. In other ways, Fuerteventura emulates its neighbour Lanzarote, only with more colours.
La Palma, the greenest of the Canarian islands, offers the chance to experience real, unspoiled nature – from the verdant forests of the north, where lush vegetation drips from the rainforest canopy; to the desertscapes of the south, where volcanic craters and twisted rock formations define the views; to the serene pine forests of the Parque Nacional de la Caldera de Taburien.
South Coast Tenerife
Amble along the sand, imported straight from the Saharan desert, and enjoy the spectacular beaches on offer at Los Cristianod, Playa de las Américas and Costa Adeje. Be sure to bring with you a high tolerance, or an unlikely passion for, big resort complexes, neon lights and a heady nightlife.
Los Cristianos, Playa de Las Américas & Costa Adeje
Don’t forget to wear your shades when you first hit Tenerife’s southwestern tip. You’ll need them, not just against the blinding sunshine, but also the accompanying dazzle of neon signs, shimmering sand and lobster-pink northern Europeans. Large multipool resorts with all-you-can-eat buffets have turned what was a sleepy fishing coast into a mega-moneymaking resort.
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Las Palmas has a mainland-Spain feel, spiced up with an eclectic mix of other cultures, including African, Chinese and Indian, plus the presence of container-ship crews, and the flotsam and jetsam that tend to drift around port cities. It’s an intriguing place, with the sunny languor and energy you would normally associate with the Mediterranean or north Africa.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Don't bypass the bustling capital, the port of Santa Cruz, in your haste to reach the beaches. This good looking and wholly Spanish city is home to evocative, brightly painted buildings, sophisticated and quirky shops, excellent museums, a showstopping auditorium, and a tropical oasis of birdsong, fountains and greenery in the city park.
Puerto de la Cruz
Puerto de la Cruz is the elder statesman of Tenerife tourism, with a history of welcoming foreign visitors that dates back to the late 19th century, when it was a spa destination popular with genteel Victorian ladies. These days the town is a charming resort with real character.
In the northeast of Tenerife, San Cristobal de la Laguna may not attract on first impressions but this Unesco World Heritage listed site has a youthful energy and a nightlife to boot. San Andrés and its surrounds are a worthwhile trip, if only for the excellent seafood in this region while Taganana and the Anaga Mountains offer a spectacular road trip.
Santa Cruz de la Palma
The historic (and bureaucratic) capital of the island, Santa Cruz de la Palma is a compact city strung out along the shore and flanked by fertile green hills. The city centre is breathtakingly picturesque, while the newly overhauled beach and kilometre-long promenade have considerably boosted the city's summer-in-the-sun appeal.
The South & Southwest
The island’s south is home to the most popular resorts and attracts family groups looking for an easy-going, sunny time, punctuated by deep-sea-fishing excursions and boozy nights out. Over on the west coast though, it's a different world: one of wave-lashed cliffs and quiet, whitewashed villages.