Breathtaking volcanic landscapes, great wine, golden beaches, colorful cities, lush vegetation… There are so many associations when you think of the Canary Islands cruise!
I had a wonderful opportunity to visit them several times as part of my cruise ship job (Shore excursions staff onboard Royal Caribbean cruise ships) and got a chance to visit the top attractions of Tenerife, Gran Canaria, La Palma, and Lanzarote, the most visited and popular Canary Islands.
In this article, I’d like to provide some Canary Islands facts to all fellow cruisers who plan the Canary Islands cruises and give you an idea of what to do and see in each of the Islands (Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma).
Canary Islands Facts
Where are the Canary Islands and How Many Canary Islands are there?
The Canary Islands consist of an archipelago of 8 islands located in the Atlantic Ocean, 108 km off the coast of north-west Africa. The eight main islands are (from largest to smallest): Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro, and La Graciosa, among which the island of Fuerteventura is the nearest one to the African mainland (Morocco). The Canary Islands population counts over 2 million inhabitants – the largest city is Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, and an interesting fact is that the Canary Islands have two capital cities: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (located on Gran Canaria) and Santa Cruz de Tenerife (Tenerife).
What Country Do the Canary Islands Belong to?
The Canary Islands have been part of Spain since the 15th century. They belong to Spain, which means they are part of the special territories of the European Union. All citizens from the EU can enter the Canary Islands with just ID (no passport needed).
Canary Islands Name
When you think of the Canary Islands, the first thought that comes to mind is those cute little songbirds named canaries. However, in the reality, the name of the Canary Islands archipelago hasn’t got to do anything with birds. On the contrary, there are theories that the name of the islands is related to other animals – dogs. Different studies say that when the first conquerors arrived on the islands, they found thousands of dogs. They named the island Canariae Insulae (“islands of dogs” – in Latin). Some other theories say that the islands got their name after “sea dogs” and some even say they were named after the tribe Canarii which used to live in Gran Canaria island.
Are the Canary Islands Safe?
Yes, the Canary Islands are perfectly safe. According to the official statistics, 88% of the population are Spaniards, while the rest are of foreign nationalities. Personally, I have never felt insecure in the Canary Islands. They are packed with tourists coming from all over the world, the largest number coming from European countries such as the UK, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, France, Italy, etc. However, when traveling to foreign countries and booking Canary Island cruises, always make sure you have high-quality insurance – Just to be on the safe side!
Canary Islands Weather
The Canary Islands have average temperatures between 18 and 24 °C (64 and 75 °F) throughout the whole year, which makes them the perfect travel destination for cruisers and other travelers. In the summertime, the temperatures rarely exceed 30 °C (86 °F), while in the wintertime, the temperatures don’t go below 15 °C (59 °F). The Canary Islands are characterized by a moderate amount of humidity and very few rainy days during the year. The best time to visit the Canary Islands would be from April to October, as there are not many rainy days and the average temperatures vary from 20 to 25 °C (68 and 77 °F). I personally enjoyed the Canary Islands weather a lot, and never experienced any rain or excessive heat.
What is the Best Canary Island to Visit?
All of the four Canary Islands (Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma) that I am going to tell you about are absolutely gorgeous, and it’s all about your preferences and personal taste! If you are on the Canaries cruise, then you will probably visit a few of them together, but if not, find below some main features and highlights of each Canary Island which might help you choose which one of them to visit.
1. Tenerife Cruise Port
As the largest of all Canary Islands (population over 1 million) with the capital city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Tenerife is the most popular island and has a lot to offer!
Cruise ships normally dock in the Tenerife cruise terminal, which is located around 1000-1500 meters away from Plaza de Espana, the largest and most famous square in the center of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. When you get off your cruise ship, you can either walk or take a complimentary shuttle bus provided by port authorities. From there, you can explore the colorful capital on foot and enjoy its restaurants, cafes, shops, and historical landmarks. One of the Santa Cruz highlights is the opera house and concert hall, Auditorio de Tenerife, located in a stunning place overlooking the sea. The city also has a lot of museums, such as the Museum of Nature and Men and the Museum of Fine Arts, so if you seek cultural inspiration – you will most certainly find it there.
Also, if you are planning to shop in Tenerife – this is THE place because you will find products (and I mean watches, perfumes, shoes, clothes…) for way cheaper than in the EU. The reason? The Canary Islands are the EU VAT-free zone, so everything is much cheaper compared to the rest of Europe.
Tenerife has so many places to visit. One of the most spectacular water attractions in Europe, Siam Park (78 kilometers away from the Tenerife cruise terminal) featuring a Siamese theme is one of the main reasons for some visitors to come to Tenerife! Another park – Loro Parque, located just outside Puerto de la Cruz, 45 kilometers from the Tenerife cruise terminal, is an animal park large enough to spend the whole day there enjoying various animal shows and rich wildlife. It boasts an immense dolphinarium, an aquarium, the world’s largest collection of parrots, a bat cave, and many other attractions!
Besides the parks, Tenerife has breathtaking sandy beaches located mostly in the south of the island, as well as popular beach and hotel resorts offering all-inclusive service. The closest beach to the capital city of Santa Cruz is Playa de las Teresitas, family-friendly and known for its golden sand imported from North Africa. It is located a 10-minute drive (7.7 kilometers) from the Tenerife cruise terminal.
The Best Thing to Do in Tenerife: Visit Teide National Park
If you are on the Canaries cruise and visiting Tenerife for the first time – Teide National Park is a must! The Canary Islands are of volcanic origin, and many of them boast a large number of national parks, such as Teide National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the third highest volcano in the world at 3.718 meters in altitude.
Teide National Park area is located around 40 kilometers away from the Tenerife cruise terminal (less than a 1-hour drive) and the best way to visit it either with the cruise ship shore excursion or by booking an independent tour. I’ve had an amazing opportunity to visit the park, and I can tell it’s one of the most impressive sites I’ve ever been to!
The Teide National Park tours normally last several hours and consist of a drive through the national park, with a few stops along your way. The whole National park is a unique geological treasure and the landscapes seem not to belong to the planet Earth. Volcanoes, craters, lava flows, vents, and other materials, form stunning moonlike geological formations that take the breath away of each visitor. Mount Teide dominates the National park area, and it is possible to climb to its very top as there is a cable car station offering rides. However, due to strong winds, cable cars sometimes do not operate for safety reasons.
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As I mentioned above, Tenerife has a lot to offer and is suitable for families (with kids of all ages), couples, adventure-seekers, elderly guests… Everyone can enjoy and find something interesting in Tenerife, depending on their needs and preferences!
2. Lanzarote Cruise Port
Lanzarote is by far my most favorite Canary Island! It has beautiful beaches made of black sand and some golden ones, as well as breathtaking volcanic lunar landscapes that seem to belong to the Moon or another planet. Lanzarote is not the place for people who prefer the crowd, large hotel chains, nightlife, or hustle and bustle of the city. It is not packed with tourists like Tenerife, but it has to offer a great number of attractions like all other islands.
The capital of Lanzarote is Arrecife, located on the eastern coast of the island, famous for its whitewashed houses and buildings. Lanzarote cruise terminal is located in the capital city and consists of two piers: Muelle de Los Marmoles (3.5 kilometers away from Arrecife downtown), and La Boca de Puerto Naos (around 1.3 kilometers away from the downtown). Normally, the cruise lines provide shuttle buses for an additional fee, but you can also walk to the town.
Arrecife is a relatively small city with a beautiful waterfront promenade and a pedestrian area where you can find some branded stores, souvenir shops, and charming cafes and restaurants. There are also several places of interest you should check out: Castillo de San Gabriel, a tiny 16th century stone castle built on a small island called Islote de Los Inglesses (Islet of the English), that houses an ethnographic and history museum. To get to the islet, you need to pass over Puente de las Bolas (Ball Bridge), a picturesque bridge that was named after two cannonballs on top of its pillars. From there, you can enjoy the incredible beauty of the surrounding area and the views of the capital and Lanzarote volcanoes.
On your way to the castle, which is situated right across the pedestrian street, you’ll come across another Arrecife landmark: Iglesia de San Ginés (Church of Saint Genesius), a 16th-century Catholic church dedicated to the island’s patron saint: San Ginés. The church overlooks a beautiful marina, filled with white boats, cafes, and restaurants – a great spot to have a coffee and take some amazing photos!
Another city by far the most popular one is Puerto del Carmen where you can find beautiful beaches, many restaurants, shops and a large number of hotels. It is located 14.5 kilometers from the Lanzarote cruise terminal, or a 20-minute drive, and the best way to visit it is either with a cruise-line shore excursion, by a taxi, or with an independent tour agency.
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Lanzarote has the status of Biosphere Reserve (declared by UNESCO in 1993) due to its unique flora and fauna. The volcanic soil supports the growth of grapevines, so the island has very special wines known worldwide. There are also many wine routes that you can tour with shore excursions or on your own: a great opportunity to try Lanzarote delicious wines!
Among many natural attractions of the island (Jameos Del Agua, Los Hervideros, Mirador del Rio, Salinas de Janubio, La Geria), one definitely stands out: Timanfaya National Park, the most famous place on the whole island.
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Best Place to Visit in Lanzarote – Timanfaya National Park
The first time I saw Fire Mountains (another name for Timanfaya National Park) was with a shore excursion organized by a cruise ship I worked on. The area of the national park is located only 30 kilometers from the Lanzarote cruise terminal and it took us around 40 minutes to get there. Already from Lanzarote cruise port, we were able to spot the mountains in the distance but once we started driving towards them, the landscape changed and got absolutely surreal: we were literally on planet Mars! The volcanoes and lava fields in Lanzarote were formed from eruptions that took place in the 18th and 19th centuries (the greatest ones recorded occurred between 1730 and 1736) and there is still one active volcano, Timanfaya volcano, after which the park got its name.
The drive through volcanoes of National Park is forbidden for private cars: only tour buses that have the authorization can enter the National Park area and tour the volcanoes. The Timanfaya National Park tours usually include stops at several viewpoints and locations in the park: one of them is a famous El Diablo restaurant where you can hold hot rocks straight from the ground, or see the demonstrations of the straw being tossed into a hole and bursting into flames due to the heat. There are also the demonstrations of pouring water down a hole, which instantly turns into a burst of steam forming a geyser!
One of the main attractions is a camel ride through the lunar landscape organized by some tour agencies, or volcanoes trekking with a licensed tour guide – two experiences not to be missed if you visit this magnificent island!
To sum up, Lanzarote is a perfect place for those in search of breathtaking landscapes, great wines, adventure, and natural wonders. You’ll be amazed by the beauty of the island, its friendly residents, and positive vibes, but also don’t forget to shop in Arrecife, because the prices are extremely affordable (EU VAT free zone, remember?)
3. Gran Canaria Cruise Port
Gran Canaria is one of the most popular Canary Islands seaports, and its capital, Las Palmas, is a cosmopolitan city and seventh-largest city in Spain. Gran Canaria cruise terminal is located in the city center – just 100 meters away from Centro Commercial El Muelle, a shopping mall filled with shops, cafes, and restaurants. The city center is situated within a 10-minute walking distance from the shopping mall and has a nice pedestrian area which is a true paradise for shopaholics, as it has a large number of shops, markets, and shopping malls. What makes the whole shopping experience even better are the prices: you can find discounts and great deals throughout the whole year!
On the other hand, for culture and history seekers there are many historical sites to visit. The most emblematic one is the two-towered, gothic Cathedral of Las Palmas or La Catedral: it is the most important religious building not only in the city of Las Palmas but in the whole Canaries – its construction started in the 15th century and it took 350 years to complete. The Cathedral is situated in the Old Town area, 5 kilometers away from the pier, and is well worth visiting if you are into history and historic landmarks. The Old Town area is beautiful to explore on foot, as it has a lot of squares, narrow old streets, museums, and delicious tapas bars and restaurants.
The Most Famous Gran Canaria Beach – Maspalomas Beach
While in the central parts of Gran Canaria the dominating landscapes are the ones of mountains and valleys, the south of the island is known for its magnificent golden sand beaches and hotel resorts. Puerto de Mogan, located a 2-hour drive from Las Palmas, is one of the most beautiful and picturesque towns to visit.
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The south coast has many beaches to offer: Maspalomas beach is the most famous Gran Canaria beach due to the sand dunes occupying a large protected area of 5 square kilometers at one end of the beach, stretching in layers all the way to the sea. The dunes have been formed by the tsunami that took place in 1755 after an earthquake. The view of the Dunes is different every day as they are constantly being carved and shifted by sea and wind. The place is truly spectacular, and if you are coming on a cruise ship, you can visit it either with a shore excursion or an independent tour agency.
Besides the dunes and unique landscape, Maspalomas beach is one of the most popular beaches due to its lively day and night beach scenes. It has a long beach backed up by a promenade where everyone can have fun: from entertaining and amusement programs to cafes, bars, restaurants, and shops, Maspalomas beach is perfect for all ages.
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To wrap up, I would say that Gran Canaria cruise port is suitable for everyone, especially for the families and elderly cruise passengers (and those with mobility issues), due to its closeness to the city center and the variety of offers. I also heard that Gran Canaria is the favorite Canary Island for remote workers and digital nomads, and a very pleasant island to live on.
4. La Palma Cruise Port
Another name for the fourth island that I’m going to write a few words about is “La Isla Bonita”, meaning “the beautiful island”. La Palma is the greenest of all Canary Islands and its capital is Santa Cruz de La Palma. But, don’t get confused here! Las Palmas is the capital of Gran Canaria, and La Palma is one of the Canary Islands. La Palma cruise port is popular for its breathtaking landscapes featuring a blend of lush vegetation and volcanic mountains.
La Palma cruise terminal is located just a stone’s throw from the capital city of Santa Cruz de la Palma and around a 20-minute walk from its main highlights: Museo Naval – Barco de la Virgen, a modern museum housed in the 15th-century caravel reproduction, located in the heart of the old town; Castillo de la Virgen – the 17th-century castle/fortress built on a hilltop from where you can admire gorgeous views of the town and the Atlantic Ocean. Access to the observation point is free of charge, and you need to be able to walk a few minutes uphill in order to reach it; Castillo de Santa Catalina – the castle built in the 17th century (it replaced the original castle dating from the 16th century) for defense purposes… There are many other landmarks to visit, but if you want to relax at the beach, you can do so as well! The city beach – Playa de Santa Cruz de la Palma, is located a 10-minute walk from the pier and is known for its black sands and a beautiful promenade full of shops, cafes, and restaurants.
However, La Palma island is most famous for its stunning nature and fascinating viewpoints. In the northern part of the island is located Caldera Taburiente National Park, boasting impressive volcanic landscapes mixed with lush green vegetation, different than the ones in Tenerife and Lanzarote due to the age of volcanoes’ creation. The national park contains the enormous Caldera de Taburiente, the largest erosion crater in the world, and was declared a World Biosphere Reserve in 2002. The highest peak of the island is 2.400 meters and is located in the area of the national park.
Continuing south toward the municipality of Fuencaliente, the popular tourist base in the south of the island, the scenery starts to change and spectacular volcanoes of Teneguia and San Antonio can be seen from several different viewpoints. These volcanoes in the south are still considered active, as the last eruption occurred in 1971 when the Teneguia’s volcano lava flowed into the sea, forming new land in the south of La Palma. Both of them have visitor centers and are open to the public, so tourists can enjoy the museum exhibitions where they can learn more about the history of the volcanoes in La Palma.
To sum up, if you are into nature and adventure – La Palma is the perfect Canary Island for you. It is one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever visited, and if you come on a cruise – Caldera de Taburiente National Park and volcanoes of San Antonio and Teneguia are a must!
The Canary Islands cruise ports are very similar due to their volcanic origin and every island has its own vibes and places of interest, beautiful beaches, and natural landscapes to be discovered. The Canary Islands cruises are very popular, and most of the itineraries include stops at several islands (during one cruise), which is a great opportunity to get the best of the Canary Islands in a day!
Personally, I find La Palma island the most beautiful one because of the island’s mix of volcano landscapes with lush green vegetation, but at the same time, I fell in love with Lanzarote’s vibes and the breathtaking Timanfaya national park. Gran Canaria and Tenerife are more urban islands, while La Palma and Lanzarote may be more suitable for hiking, trekking, and nature lovers. It all depends on what type of person you are and what you like, but wherever you go – your trip will be unforgettable!
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