The Canary Islands consist of seven major islands and a number of smaller ones off the northwest coast of Africa. Although the total resident population is just over 2 million (half of whom live on the island of Tenerife), seven times that number holiday on the islands annually. This huge influx of visitors has significant economic, social, environmental and cultural implications, not least of which is the fact that many of the locals need to use English on a daily basis.
On mainland Spain, the Canary Islands are referred to as the ‘fortunate islands’, because of the near-ideal climate which the islands enjoy. However, the islands are not only fortunate for the year-round sunshine they enjoy. Nor do the amazing beaches and fantastic nightlife alone explain why people are attracted to the islands in their droves. In fact, the islands offer a lot more when one scratches beneath their touristy veneer.
Away from the hurly-burly of the resorts, a mountain or coastal walk will quickly expose the huge range of natural and man-made attractions including volcanic craters, national parks of breath-taking beauty, and unspoilt beaches. The crystal-clear waters around the islands are teeming with dolphins, whales and a host of other sea creatures which have made the Canary Islands their home.
As for food, you can find standard Spanish fare (paella, Spanish omelette, etc.) as well as the ubiquitous fast-food options. However, the Canaries also offer a wide range of dishes unique to the islands. There is a long tradition of accompanying meals with garlic-based sauces, known as mojo. Papas arrugadas, for instance, consists of boiled potatoes, chicken and mojo. This tradition has extended beyond the islands’ borders, and in Latin American cuisine mojo is a fundamental feature due to the number of migrants from the Canaries. Other local dishes include Ropa vieja (made from chicken, beef, potatoes and chickpeas), and the local wines are also well worth trying.
With over a third of the islands’ income coming directly from tourism and related activities (such as the construction industry), it will come as no surprise to discover that there is no shortage of leisure facilities on the islands. Watersports enthusiasts, in particular, won’t be disappointed with opportunities for surfing, windsurfing, snorkeling and diving.
Although geographically isolated from the rest of Spain, there are several international airports, and there are plenty of flights from the islands to mainland Spain and the rest of Europe.