Green Park Gran Canaria
Just seventy miles west of the African Sahara, washed by the North Atlantic, is a collection of little glittering green, black and golden islands known as the Canaries (or Islas Canarias in Spanish). Formed in the fires of ancient volcanoes, the islands are still heated from within by seismic forces, and baked from above by the intense North African sun.
Some travellers come for the islands' year-round sunshine, beautiful beaches and sugar-cube Spanish tourist resorts, while others prefer to explore the charming towns and the diverse, dramatic landscapes and geological wonders of the islands' national parks.
There are five main islands in the archipelago – Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, La Palma and Gran Canaria – each with its own distinct landscape and character. Of the several minor islands, pretty and diminutive La Gomera is worth visiting for its fairytale forests. But whether you want to be awestruck by lava-carved landscapes in Lanzarote and Tenerife, dive beneath cobalt waves and amble over fine white dunes in Fuerteventura, or discover the islands' history in Gran Canaria, there's a Canary Island to suit you.
Tenerife is the answer!
Tenerife is perhaps the most lively and family friendly of the Canary Islands. Its resorts offer accommodation and entertainment for all ages and types of traveller. Animal attractions such as Jungle Land and Monkey Park are a ready-made family day out. Loro Parque has the largest dolphin pool and the longest shark tunnel in Europe, as well as a zoo with gorillas, chimps, alligators and meerkats. It is also renowned for its parrot conservation efforts and its Penguin Planet habitat that mimics the icy conditions of the Antarctic – the perfect place to cool down on a hot day.
The island's natural features are just as enticing to family travellers. You can spend a day basking on glittering black sand, made up of volcanic rock eroded by the sea, and explore the basalt rock pools along the coast. Inland, you can experience an awe-inspiring volcanic landscape of other-worldly rock formations and geological quirks created by molten magma, encompassed by Mount Teide National Park. The cable-car ride up through the clouds to the summit of Mount Teide, which is one of the highest fiery mountains in the world, is an experience not-to-be-missed.
Playa de Las Americas and Los Cristianos in Tenerife are certified party towns where young revellers can dance the night away. For a fun night out, both have a vast array of bars and clubs to choose from. As the Canaries' largest island, Tenerife is also home to the oldest city: San Cristobal de La Laguna. This historic city, part of Santa Cruz, is a designated World Heritage Site and it's a great place to visit for an evening meal and more cultured low-key nightlife.
Try La Gomera and La Palma
Nature lovers can spend a day with their head in the clouds in the magical laurisilva forests of Garajonay National Park in La Gomera, which is easily visited by ferry from Tenerife. The ancient subtropical forest is one of the last remaining laurel forests in Europe, and has been nicknamed Disney's Forest for its unspoilt fairytale feel. The park is a World Heritage Site so the walking tracks are well marked and the area is expertly managed. It's one of Europe's biodiversity hotspots and its humid subtropical rainforest harbours a number of island-specific creatures including Gomeran lizards, skinks and tree frogs. The clement climate and unspoilt environment means a wide variety of bright and beautiful butterflies grace the island all-year round.
Like La Gomera, La Palma is less visited than the other Canaries. It's also a lush and forested paradise for nature lovers with unusual flora and fauna and mountain walks that will take you to the edge of an enormous volcanic crater.
Don't miss Fuerteventura
Beach purists dreaming of soft white sand and sapphire seas can find their idyll in Fuerteventura. In a quiet location in the south of the island, the dazzling dune-backed beaches of Jandia stretch for more than 20 kilometres along the coast. With its clear turquoise waters and virtually unspoilt coastline, the wide beaches easily rival those of the Caribbean and the water is calm and shallow enough for everyone to enjoy. The white sand is interrupted only by the occasional rocky outcrop where the tidal pools are home to crabs and shrimp and the whole area has an away-from-it-all air, becoming more secluded as you travel further south. Hiring a jeep is a good idea if you want to trundle over the dunes to discover the most scenic spots.
In less sheltered areas, such as western Fuerteventura, the wind whips up the perfect waves for surfing. Waters ports like kite boarding and windsurfing are so popular in Fuerteventura that it hosts the annual windsurfing championships. The western coast has remained virtually untouched by development, making it a haven for rare species such as the impressive Egyptian vulture. A current initiative by the Environment Agency of Fuerteventura is attempting to return loggerhead turtles to the long remote beaches, which were once a breeding ground for the species.