Wide array of activities make Canary Islands more than a warm getaway
Stars and Stripes January 26, 2024
For decades, many of those fed up with the cold and bleakness of northern Europe’s winter months have found their way to one relatively close-by, reliably warm and oftentimes sunny destination: The Canary Islands. While this archipelago makes up part of Spain, its geographical position off the coast of northern Africa makes it a good bet for warm, if not always hot, temperatures. A great number of these vacationers (according to Statista, about 12.3 million international tourists visited the island chain in 2022) will be content to simply laze about on the beach; for others, exploring new places and experiencing the local culture will make a quick getaway there an immensely more attractive proposition. Here are just a few things to see and do on the Canaries in the weeks and months to come.
Fete the arrival of spring
One of the earliest signs of spring is the blossoming of the almond trees, and on the Canary Islands, this phenomenon occurs early into the new year. The community of Puntagorda, on the island of La Palma, holds its annual Almond Blossom Festival from Jan. 27 through Feb. 4. Beneath the tender pink and white blossoms, villagers and locals let loose at street parties and move to the sounds of live music on stage. Online: tinyurl.com/2ajs8dc9
The town of Tejeda, on Gran Canaria, fetes its flowering beauty Feb. 3-4 with exhibitions and sales of locally-produced arts and crafts. On festival Sunday, traditional Canarian specialties are served up to the sounds of groups playing traditional music. Online: tinyurl.com/scheau9y
Celebrate carnival in the sun
All the pageantry and street party atmosphere of carnival — minus the frigid temperatures — awaits visitors arriving between mid-February and mid-March. A few communities really know how to get down, particularly those on Tenerife and Gran Canaria.
The Carnaval de Santa Cruz de Tenerife enters into its street party phase beginning with an opening parade on Feb. 9 and ends with a display of vintage automobiles, closing party and fireworks Feb. 18. In between, there are daytime carnivals (Feb. 11 and 17), Shrove Tuesday’s big parade (Feb. 13), a ritual known as Burial of the Sardine (Feb. 14) and a children’s parade (Feb. 16). Television serves as the theme of this year’s festivities. Online: carnavaldetenerife.com
The carnival of Las Palmas on Gran Canaria Carnival is the island’s largest and widely considered one of the best of the entire island chain. Festivities include late-night carnivals (Feb. 9-10 and 16-17); a carnival parade (Feb. 10); a children’s carnival (Feb. 13); a carnival queen gala (Feb. 9) and a drag queen gala (Feb. 16). Celebrations close with the Burial of the Sardine on Feb. 18. The Jumbo Center in Maspalomas becomes party central to celebrations of a rainbow hue March 15-17. Expect fancy dress, parades, comparsas (dance troupes), murgas (music groups), rondallas (string ensembles) and dozens of Spain’s top drag queens battling for the carnival crown. Online: lpacarnaval.com/en
Get carried away by music
Each winter, some of the biggest names in classical music take part in the International Music Festival. The event’s 40th edition, running through Feb. 9, features grand orchestras, masterful soloists and other musical greats performing some 60 concerts across all eight islands. Upcoming program highlights include the London Philharmonic Orchestra on Jan. 30 and 31; the Academy of St Martin in the Fields on Feb. 3 and 4 and the Filarmonica Della Scala Feb. 9 and 10. Online: icdcultural.org/index.html
Cheer runners on in an epic road race
Since 2003, the island of Gran Canaria has staged the Transgrancanaria, a grueling foot race across a variety of landscapes. Participants, who range from elite athletes to avid walkers, are apt to encounter rain, mud, dust storms and all the other unpredictables nature can dish out. Stations along the route provide them with food and drink and allow for the monitoring of their progress and condition. Partakers can choose from various lengths, up to its 79.5-mile entirety featuring 23,000 feet of elevation gain, which must be completed within 30 hours. While the North Face Transgrancanaria, scheduled to take place on Feb. 24 in 2024, has reached its maximum capacity of 4,000 souls and is closed to new registrations, cheering on the athletes as they cross the finish line could serve as inspiration for a future sign-up. Online: transgrancanaria.net/en
Check out a renowned waterpark’s newest attraction
Siam Park, a huge water park in Costa Adeje on the island of Tenerife, has consistently been voted one of the best theme and water parks in the world by TripAdvisor users and others. The mammoth park recently unveiled Saifa, a double slide designed to set pulses racing. The 270-foot-high behemoth, whose name means lightning in Thai, sends two riders simultaneously along a 1,000-foot course of turns, crossovers and plunges. Those after lesser thrills can enjoy floating along the “Mai Thai River,” exploring the “Lost City,” safely body surfing in the “Wave Palace” pool or sunning on Siam Beach. Online: siampark.net
Explore an underwater museum
The Museo Atlántico, located off in Playa Blanca on the island of Lanzarote, bills itself as Europe’s only underwater museum. This site consists of 10 different groups of sculptures, the work of the sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, including one of migrants crossing the deep sea in search of a brighter future. Even those without diving credentials can experience the site by means of a tour led by the museum’s cooperating partner, a local diving school. The five-hour experience begins with a trial dive along the shore following a safety briefing, in-pool instruction, boat transfer to and from the museum, and a descent to the statues, which rest at a depth of some 46 feet. The cost of the experience including hotel transfer from select hotels in nearby towns, entrance fee and use of diving gear comes in at 144 euros per person. Online: underwatermuseumlanzarote.com/en
Explore Canarian wine and wine culture
A subtropical climate and volcanic soil are two major contributors to the islands’ ability to produce wines of distinction. Since the 15th-century colonization of the islands by the Spaniards, the Canaries have cultivated grapes destined for the press, including a variety known as Malvasia, eagerly lapped up by the English aristocracy until the ports and sherries of Spain and Portugal found more favor amongst the elites. According to Wineenthusiast.com, the Canaries, having escaped the scourge of phylloxera which wiped out vineyards throughout continental Europe, is one of few places in the world with ungrafted vitis vinifera vines, some of which are over 200 years old, and home to 20 recognized unique grape varieties.
Wine enthusiasts could plan an entire tour around discovering guachinches, a type of wine tavern and simple restaurant most often encountered on the island of Tenerife but also on Gran Canaria. Typically found in rural areas, these simple eateries with their open-air seating and rustic décor cater to locals and visitors alike, dishing up fare ranging from the island’s staple dish, salt-water boiled potatoes served with mojo sauce to fresh fish, to stewed rabbit or slow-cooked goat. Online: tinyurl.com/546wahua