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Leave the beach resorts behind to explore tall sea cliffs, volcanic craters and soaring peaks on three of the seven Spanish islands located off the northwest coast of Africa.
At 3,718m, El Teide is the highest peak in the Canary Islands. The rock formations, colourful craters and volcanic moonscapes of Parque Nacional del Teide make for dramatic hiking. The undoubted highlight is a tough five-hour trek to the summit. You can enjoy the same views, with less effort, by taking a cable car up (cable car £20).
The sea off the resort town of Los Gigantes is the best place for diving on the island. The tall sea cliffs at the Acantilados de los Gigantes have a submerged base that acts as a haven for marine life. Los Gigantes Diving Centre runs twice-daily scuba diving excursions (except most Sundays) and also offers the opportunity to hand-feed sting rays ( dive with equipment rental £35).
The waters between Tenerife and neighbouring La Gomera are prime territory for spotting dolphins and whales. Various companies offer two- to five-hour trips from the resort town of Los Cristianos, generally including food, drink and a quick swim. Travelin’ Lady comes recommended (00 34 609 42 98 87; Sun-Fri; two-hour trip from £15). It’s even possible to make the trip in a pirate ship.
The symbolic centre of La Palma, the Parque Nacional de la Caldera Taburiente is named for the ‘cauldron’ at its heart, a five-mile wide depression carpeted by pine forest and surrounded by soaring peaks. It’s a serene place to hike, with trails winding past waterfalls, rock formations, springs and streams coloured with minerals.
The north of La Palma is often considered the most beautiful part of the island, with fertile hills and rocky cliffs plunging into the sea. One particularly scenic spot is the Piscinas de la Fajana near the town of Barlovento, where you can take a dip in natural pools of saltwater separated from the sea only by low man-made barriers. With the ocean breaking vigorously just metres away, it’s a starkly beautiful place for a swim (admission free).
Visitors to La Palma don’t have to confine themselves to exploring the surface of its volcanic formations – at Todoque, in the west of the island, it’s possible to go caving inside a volcanic tunnel (a channel formed by the build-up of magma deposited by lava flows). Local activity provider Ekalis offers two-hour excursions with a local guide. The tunnel is generally quite tall, but be prepared to stoop or squeeze at times (tours £30).
Extending back from the sea near the resort town of Maspalomas, these impressive sand dunes cover 400 hectares and are home to a variety of protected birds and plants. You can walk here – be sure to keep to designated trails – or channel the desert-like atmosphere on a half-hour camel ride with the Camello Safari outfit (tours £10).
With its pine forests and volcanic craters, the mountainous interior of Gran Canaria is a dramatic place to explore. From Cruz de Tejeda, a viewpoint that marks the centre of the island’s historic caminos reales (king’s highways), paved paths snake around rock formations on their way to sights such as the towering monolith of Roque Nublo, a two-hour walk away. Tejeda tourist office has information on walks.
At almost 2,000m high, Pico de las Nieves is the tallest peak on Gran Canaria. Shuttle up and freewheel down with cycling specialist Freemotion. Its four-hour Green North tour heads downhill at a leisurely pace from the top of the peak, before finishing in the historic town of Teror. Trekking bike, helmet, food, shuttle and hotel transfer are included (tours £45).
Almost all UK airports offer flights to the Canary Islands, on airlines including easyJet, Jet2, Ryanair and Thomson Airways (Tenerife from £140). Of the seven islands, only El Hierro and La Gomera don’t have direct UK flights. All the islands are served by inter-island flights on Binter Canarias (Gran Canaria–Tenerife from £95). The islands are also connected by a network of ferries (return fares around £50). Car hire is the best option for getting around an island, and the major rental companies are represented here (from £30).
Where to stay
West of Gran Canaria’s capital Las Palmas, Hacienda del Buen Suceso is a country estate from 1572. Rooms take inspiration from this time, with canopy beds and wooden balconies (Arucas; from £90).
The pastel-coloured Parador de la Isla de La Palma overlooks the ocean on La Palma’s east coast, and offers elegantly decorated rooms, plus a plant-filled courtyard, pool and botanical gardens (Breña Baja; from £110).
A converted 18th-century Tenerife manor house, Hotel San Roque has individually designed rooms featuring rich colours, Jacuzzis and Bauhaus furniture, one street back from the seafront (Esteban de Ponte 32, Garachico; from £190).