This is a guest post by Jess Whitworth.
The Canary Islands are a cluster of Spain’s most popular and renowned Islands, commonly tainted with misconceptions of being a paradise for booze fuelled, beach obsessed British youth. However this archipelago actually has a great deal to offer and discovering the real Canary Islands suggests a vastly different outlook on Canary culture.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria are located on the two largest Islands and together, share the status as Capital of the archipelago. Santa Cruz de Tenerife is also home to the second most popular and stunningly spectacular Carnival in the world, attracting over a million people every February.
When thinking of the name ‘Canary Islands’, small yellow birds are usually what springs to mind. However the name Islas Canarias is derived from the Latin term Insula Canaria, meaning “Island of the Dogs”. It is thought that these ‘dogs’ were actually a species of Monk Seals, which in Latin translate as ‘sea dogs’. These days they are critically endangered and are no longer present in the Canary Islands. However, legend has it that the original inhabitants of the island used to worship dogs, sometimes mummifying them and treating them as holy animals, and when the Romans first visited the island they gave it the name ‘canarii’ translated as “the ones with dogs”.
The Canary Islands are located off the north-western coast of Africa and are much closer to the equator than mainland Spain. The archipelago consists of seven large and several smaller islands, all of which are volcanic in origin including; Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro, and the islets La Graciosa, Alegranza, Montaña Clara, Roque del Este, Roque del Oeste and Isla de Lobos.
Located on the island of Tenerife which is both the Canary Islands’ and Spain’s most populous island, it is a major tourist destination, with 3 million visitors per year. The volcanic nature of the islands have created a number of ‘natural beaches’ made of fine black shingle or sand which give some of the Canary beaches a distinctive look.
The Canary Islands are fortunate in having warm weather year-round, with hot, long days in the summer and cooler days, but remaining significantly warm in the winter.
The island’s very own sport – Canarian wrestling comes from the history of the ‘Guanches’; the island’s original inhabitants. It is thought that the sport originated around 1420, however only some of these early rules and techniques have survived to modern times. The sport became part of the islands’ folklore, usually being fought at celebrations or local festivals. It is said to be one of the earliest defined forms of wrestling. You can still find matches being held in some Canarian towns today.
Food is a hugely important part of Canarian culture and there are some amusingly named delicacies on offer such as ‘Mojo’ – a sauce which may be orange, red, or green depending on its ingredients. It is heavy in garlic and can be moderately spicy, referred to as mojo picón. It is usually made of oil, vinegar, salt, red pepper, thyme, oregano, coriander and several other spices. Another typical Canarian food is called ‘ropa vieja’ which means ‘old clothes’ – a dish of chicken and beef mixed with potatoes and garbanzo beans!
Take the diving trip of a lifetime in the Canary Islands and you might be fortunate enough to get a glance of one of the largest hard-shelled turtles in the world – the endangered Loggerhead Turtle. Adult males reach approximately three feet long and have a lifespan of 47–67 years.
Southern Tenerife is where you will find the self-claimed ‘most spectacular water attraction in Europe’ – Siam Park. The breath-taking 52 million euro water park includes Thai theming on all of its rides, park buildings, and restaurants. The park has 25 buildings which make up the largest collection of Thai-themed buildings outside of Thailand. Christoph Kiessling designed the park with permission from the Thai royal family to use the park’s name and theme. It was even opened by Her Royal Highness the Princess of Thailand Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
In the old town of Puerto de la Cruz you will find the impressive natural salt water swimming pools designed by the famous architect/landscaper Cesar Manrique. The breath-taking Lido Martianez includes 7 pools, changing facilities, subtropical trees and plants, a huge fountain, a jacuzzi, playground equipment, restaurants, and even an underground dance hall and casino.
So if you are looking for an eclectic, cultural experience, considering a trip to the Canary Islands may just be worth your while.