Don't let your preconceptions fool you: the Canary Islands are catering for a whole new clientele, and as a result, are shrugging off those 'Lanzagrote' stereotypes.
Shun the stigma
We all know about the stigma attached to the Canaries, most notoriously summed up by Michael Palin when he renamed Lanzarote, Lanzagrote! Unfortunately the Spanish authorities exercised little construction restraint during the 60's and 70's when the tourism industry began booming in Spain. Thankfully however, the high rise blemishes on island landscapes such as Lanzarote and Tenerife are quite compact, concentrated in a few specific areas. So long as you avoid these areas, the other face of the Canaries is one of sheer natural beauty; with vast Mars-like volcanic landscapes, lush tropical rainforest, jagged cliffs, ravines, and stretches of gold and black sand beaches. The islands are incredibly diverse and offer a great amount of things to do as well as some superb places to stay.
Activities and Architecture
My first visit was Lanzarote, a small island with most places accessible within 20 minutes. It sits just 79 miles off the coast of Morocco and is dominated by a dramatic, arid landscape of 300 volcanoes. Activities range from trekking, mountain and road biking, surfing, kite surfing, wind surfing, diving, paragliding, fishing and sailing. Activities are the main attraction of Lanzarote, although the wine region of La Geria is also definitely worth a visit - as far as the eye can see, the land is covered in mini, circular basalt walls which surround the growing vines that have been planted deep in the lava. Also, the island is covered in beautiful traditional, low, white washed buildings, thanks to local architect Cesar Manrique who managed to persuade the local government to pass legislation restricting development of much of the high rise construction. Manrique is idolized in Lanzarote and his architecture can be seen everywhere - Jameos de Agua (bar, night club and concert hall built in a lava tunnel), El Mirador (a look-out point over La Graciosa Island), the Cactus Garden and the Fundacion de Cesar Manrique (his old house, built in a lava field) are all impressive structures and definitely worth visiting.
Another side of Gran Canaria
Gran Canaria was next on my travels and being considerably more developed along with Tenerife, it stands as one of the main hubs of the Canaries and even has flights connecting Las Palmas to Morocco and Senegal as well as Europe. The east of the island is very industrialised while the south is very touristy. I hasten to say that neither are worth visiting. However, the interior and North West of the region are truly spectacular. The interior landscape is reminiscent of scenes of Jurassic Park - the centre of the island is dominated by Roque Nublo (Rock in the clouds), an 80 metre rock that juts up from the centre of the vast volcanic Tejeda crater. Roque Nublo is an ancient landmark, formerly a sacred place of worship for the indigenous Canarios. The view from around the Roque Nublo is breathtaking, so it is well worth the hike. The North West region around the delightful village of Agaete is particularly beautiful - huge volcanic ravines filled with tropical flora slope down to the coastline of black sand beaches and crystal clear waters. This side of the island couldn't be more alien from the overdeveloped East and South.
Something for everyone
The last stop was Tenerife, the largest island of the Canaries. Like Gran Canaria, the south coast has been ruined by unrestricted development. The rest of the island is however truly beautiful. First and foremost there is Teide volcano and the National park, the largest peak of Spain and the dominating landmark of the island. Furthermore, the natural parks of Teno in the North West and Anaga in the North East offer rugged, mountainous landscapes as well as tropical rainforest. Needless to say, these places are paradise for walkers, mountain bikers and general nature enthusiasts. For beach lovers, the black sand beaches of the north coast are good for sunbathing and surfing whilst the east coast is best for wind and kite surfing. For culture vultures the city of La Laguna is a UNESCO world heritage site, whilst the villages of Garachico and Oratava are charming, quaint and truly authentic. For those looking to let their hair down the city of Santa Cruz is vibrant and cosmopolitan, home to the second largest festival in the world which takes place from the end of February to mid March. Whatever your interests there really is something to suit everyone in the Canaries.