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The Canary Islands

The seven Canary Islands lie in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Morocco - the closest is only 115 km from the African coast, and a good 2 1/2 hour's flight from Madrid. The temperate, sunny climate, spectacular and varied landscapes, and extensive beaches have made the archipelago a favorite of European tourists for most of this century.

Known to the ancients as a paradise on earth - this was Herodotus' Garden of Hesperides and Homer's Elysian Fields - the islands became part of Spain about the same time that Columbus, looking for a new route to the Indies, discovered the Americas at the end of the 15th century. Despite the relative lateness of the conquest, little is known today about the island's original inhabitants, a stone age people known as "Guanches", who managed to resist the might of Spanish arms for quite some time.

The Islands

El Hierro
The westernmost and smallest of the islands, Hierro has about 7,000 residents, half of whom live in Valverde, the island's capital . The rugged terrain and somewhat isolated location make this an ideal spot for peaceful vacations with a focus on nature.

La Palma
While still relatively small, La Palma boasts about 80,000 inhabitants, with some 18,000 residing in the capital city of Santa Cruz de La Palma. One outstanding feature is the fine, black volcanic sand on the beaches, but the huge crater at Taburiente - 28 km in circumference - is surely the island's most spectacular piece of scenery. La Palma is a relatively peaceful place with quiet coves, pine forests, banana groves and a few interesting vineyards as well.

This is the largest of the seven islands, and some 220,000 people inhabit the capital city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. One finds a tremendous variety of lanscapes around the 2,000 sq km island, from the mountains topped by the often snow covered peak of Teide - at 3,718 meters it's Spain's highest mountain - to the fertile valleys along the coast, covered with banana groves,vineyards, tomatos, potatoes, and so on. Tenerife offers pretty much everything as far as the tourist is concerned, from quiet out-of-the-way spots to big time nightlife that goes on 'til dawn. Tenerife's pre-lenten Carnival is as big an event as Rio de Janiero's or New Orlean's Mardi Gras.

Small, green and mountaneous, Gomera is home to about 17,000 inhabitants - 6,500 in the island's capital of San Sebastian. A quiet, somewhat isloated vacation paradise with beautiful forests and several superb beaches.

Gran Canaria
One of the larger islands in both size and population - La Palmas, the island's capital is home to about 370,000. Variety is the key to Gran Canaria, from the bustling duty-free bazars in Las Palmas to the rolling dunes at Maspalomas Beach, to the south and 2,000 meter high mountains to the north. Like Tenerife, Gran Canaria caters to all types of tourism - treckers, sunworshipers, gourmets, beer drinkers, and nightowls as well.

Beaches and more beaches best describe Fuerteventura, the island with the longest coastline. A great place to get away from it all. Sportfishing is one of the island's major attractions, where tuna, swordfish and other species roam the deep waters between Fuerteventura and the African coast.

There's no doubt that Lanzarote is very different fom the rest of the islands. While green vegetation predominates on the other islands, desolate black lava "moonscapes" mark Lanzarote's countryside - the result of tremendous volcanic eruptions in the 18th century. Tourist facilites abound, there's a golf course and some splendid beaches, but it's the lava fields and incredible volcanic desolation that are truly awe inspiring.

Information Links for the Canaries