Area 7,493 km2
|Population 2.118 million (2012)|
Language spoken Spanish
|Colleges and Universities University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, University of La Laguna|
Points of interest Gran Canaria, Teide, Timanfaya National Park, Loro Parque, Siam Park
Destinations Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Las Palmas, Lanzarote, La Palma
Capitals Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Las Palmas
Capital Santa Cruz de TenerifeLas Palmas de Gran Canaria
Map of Canary Islands
The Canary Islands (; Spanish: Las Islas Canarias [ˈizlas kaˈnaɾjas], [ˈiɦlːah kaˈnaːɾjah]) also known as The Canaries (Spanish: Las Canarias), are an archipelago and autonomous community of Spain located on the Atlantic Ocean, 100 kilometres (62 miles) west of Morocco. The Canaries are among the outermost regions (OMR) of the European Union proper. It is also one of the eight regions with special consideration of historical nationality recognized as such by the Spanish Government.
- Map of Canary Islands
- Canary islands travel video guide great destinations
- Political geography
- Ancient and pre colonial times
- Castilian conquest
- After the conquest
- 18th to 19th century
- Romantic period and scientific expeditions
- Early 20th century
- Franco regime
- Self governance
- Population of the individual islands
- Roman Catholic Church
- Other religions
- El Hierro
- Gran Canaria
- La Gomera
- Chinijo Archipelago
- La Palma
- Rail transport
- Natural symbols of the Canary Islands
- Prehistoric fauna
- Terrestrial wildlife
- Marine life
- National parks of the Canary Islands
- Notable athletes
The main islands are (from largest to smallest) Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro. The archipelago also includes a number of islands and islets: La Graciosa, Alegranza, Isla de Lobos, Montaña Clara, Roque del Oeste and Roque del Este. In ancient times, the island chain was often referred to as "the Fortunate Isles". The Canary Islands are the most southerly region of Spain and the largest and most populated archipelago of the Macaronesia region.
The archipelago's beaches, climate and important natural attractions, especially Maspalomas in Gran Canaria and Teide National Park and Mount Teide (a World Heritage Site) in Tenerife (the third tallest volcano in the world measured from its base on the ocean floor), make it a major tourist destination with over 12 million visitors per year, especially Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. The islands have a subtropical climate, with long hot summers and moderately warm winters. The precipitation levels and the level of maritime moderation varies depending on location and elevation. Green areas as well as desert exist on the archipelago. Due to their location above the temperature inversion layer, the high mountains of these islands are ideal for astronomical observation. For this reason, two professional observatories, Teide Observatory on the island of Tenerife and Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma, have been built on the islands.
The capital of the Autonomous Community is shared by the cities of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, which in turn are the capitals of the provinces of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Province of Las Palmas. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria has been the largest city in the Canaries since 1768, except for a brief period in the 1910s. Between the 1833 territorial division of Spain and 1927 Santa Cruz de Tenerife was the sole capital of the Canary Islands. In 1927 a decree ordered that the capital of the Canary Islands be shared, as it remains at present. The third largest city of the Canary Islands is San Cristóbal de La Laguna (a World Heritage Site) on Tenerife. This city is also home to the Consejo Consultivo de Canarias, which is the supreme consultative body of the Canary Islands.
During the time of the Spanish Empire, the Canaries were the main stopover for Spanish galleons on their way to the Americas, which came south to catch the prevailing northeasterly trade winds.
Canary islands travel video guide great destinations
The name Islas Canarias is likely derived from the Latin name Canariae Insulae, meaning "Islands of the Dogs", a name applied originally only to Gran Canaria. According to the historian Pliny the Elder, the Mauretanian king Juba II named the island Canaria because it contained "vast multitudes of dogs of very large size".
Another speculation is that the so-called dogs were actually a species of monk seal (canis marinus or "sea dog" was a Latin term for "seal"), critically endangered and no longer present in the Canary Islands. The dense population of seals may have been the characteristic that most struck the few ancient Romans who established contact with these islands by sea.
Alternatively, it is said that the original inhabitants of the island, Guanches, used to worship dogs, mummified them and treated dogs generally as holy animals. The ancient Greeks also knew about a people, living far to the west, who are the "dog-headed ones", who worshipped dogs on an island. Some hypothesize that the Canary Islands dog-worship and the ancient Egyptian cult of the dog-headed god, Anubis are closely connected but there is no explanation given as to which one was first.
Other theories speculate that the name comes from the Nukkari Berber tribe living in the Moroccan Atlas, named in Roman sources as Canarii, though Pliny again mentions the relation of this term with dogs.
The connection to dogs is retained in their depiction on the islands' coat-of-arms (shown above).
It is considered that the aborigines of Gran Canaria called themselves "Canarii". It is possible that after being conquered, this name was used in plural in Spanish i.e. -as to refer to all of the islands as the Canarii-as
What is certain is that the name of the islands does not derive from the canary bird; rather, the birds are named after the islands.
Tenerife is the most populous island, and also the largest island of the archipelago. Gran Canaria, with 865,070 inhabitants, is both the Canary Islands' second most populous island, and the third most populous one in Spain after Majorca. The island of Fuerteventura is the second largest in the archipelago and located 100 km (62 mi) from the African coast.
The islands form the Macaronesia ecoregion with the Azores, Cape Verde, Madeira, and the Savage Isles. The Canary Islands is the largest and most populated archipelago of the Macaronesia region. The archipelago consists of seven large and several smaller islands, all of which are volcanic in origin. The Teide volcano on Tenerife is the highest mountain in Spain, and the third tallest volcano on Earth on a volcanic ocean island. All the islands except La Gomera have been active in the last million years; four of them (Lanzarote, Tenerife, La Palma and El Hierro) have historical records of eruptions since European discovery. The islands rise from Jurassic oceanic crust associated with the opening of the Atlantic. Underwater magmatism commenced during the Cretaceous, and reached the ocean's surface during the Miocene. The islands are considered as a distinct physiographic section of the Atlas Mountains province, which in turn is part of the larger African Alpine System division.
In the summer of 2011 a series of low-magnitude earthquakes occurred beneath El Hierro. These had a linear trend of northeast-southwest. In October a submarine eruption occurred about 2 km (1 1⁄4 mi) south of Restinga. This eruption produced gases and pumice, but no explosive activity was reported.
According to the position of the islands with respect to the north-east trade winds, the climate can be mild and wet or very dry. Several native species form laurisilva forests.
As a consequence, the individual islands in the Canary archipelago tend to have distinct microclimates. Those islands such as El Hierro, La Palma and La Gomera lying to the west of the archipelago have a climate which is influenced by the moist Gulf Stream. They are well vegetated even at low levels and have extensive tracts of sub-tropical laurisilva forest. As one travels east toward the African coast, the influence of the gulf stream diminishes, and the islands become increasingly arid. Fuerteventura and Lanzarote the islands which are closest to the African mainland are effectively desert or semi desert. Gran Canaria is known as a "continent in miniature" for its diverse landscapes like Maspalomas and Roque Nublo. In terms of its climate Tenerife is particularly interesting. The north of the island lies under the influence of the moist Atlantic winds and is well vegetated, while the south of the island around the tourist resorts of Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos is arid. The island rises to almost 4,000 m (13,000 ft) above sea level, and at altitude, in the cool relatively wet climate, forests of the endemic pine Pinus canariensis thrive. Many of the plant species in the Canary Islands, like the Canary Island pine and the dragon tree, Dracaena draco are endemic, as noted by Sabin Berthelot and Philip Barker Webb in their epic work, L'Histoire Naturelle des Îles Canaries (1835–50).
Four of Spain's thirteen national parks are located in the Canary Islands, more than any other autonomous community. Teide National Park is the most visited in Spain, and the oldest and largest within the Canary Islands. The parks are:
The following table shows the highest mountains in each of the islands:
The climate is tropical and desertic, moderated by the sea and in summer by the trade winds. There are a number of microclimates and the classifications range mainly from semi-arid to desert. According to the Köppen climate classification, the majority of the Canary Islands have a hot desert climate represented as BWh. There also exists a subtropical humid climate which is very influenced by the ocean in the middle of the islands of La Gomera, Tenerife and La Palma; where the laurisilva forests grow.
The seven major islands, one minor island, and several small islets were originally volcanic islands, formed by the Canary hotspot. The Canary Islands is the only place in Spain where volcanic eruptions have been recorded during the Modern Era, with some volcanoes still active (El Hierro, 2011). Volcanic islands such as those in the Canary chain often have steep ocean cliffs caused by catastrophic debris avalanches and landslides.
The Autonomous Community of the Canary Islands consists of two provinces, Las Palmas and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, whose capitals (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz de Tenerife) are capitals of the autonomous community. Each of the seven major islands is ruled by an island council named Cabildo Insular.
The international boundary of the Canaries is the subject of dispute between Spain and Morocco. Morocco's official position is that international laws regarding territorial limits do not authorise Spain to claim seabed boundaries based on the territory of the Canaries, since the Canary Islands enjoy a high degree of autonomy. In fact, the islands do not enjoy any special degree of autonomy as each one of the Spanish regions is considered an autonomous community. Under the Law of the Sea, the only islands not granted territorial waters or an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) are those that are not fit for human habitation or do not have an economic life of their own, which is clearly not the case of the Canary Islands.
The boundary determines the ownership of seabed oil deposits and other ocean resources. Morocco and Spain have therefore been unable to agree on a compromise regarding the territorial boundary, since neither nation wants to cede its claimed right to the vast resources whose ownership depends upon the boundary. In 2002, for example, Morocco rejected a unilateral Spanish proposal.
The Islands have 13 seats in the Spanish Senate. Of these, 11 seats are directly elected, 3 for Gran Canaria, 3 for Tenerife, 1 for each other island; 2 seats are indirectly elected by the regional Autonomous Government. The local government is presided over by Fernando Clavijo, the current President of the Canary Islands.
Ancient and pre-colonial times
Before the arrival of humans, the Canaries were inhabited by prehistoric animals; for example, the giant lizard (Gallotia goliath) and the Tenerife and Gran Canaria giant rats.
The islands may have been visited by the Phoenicians, the Greeks, and the Carthaginians. King Juba II, Caesar Augustus's Numidian protégé, is credited with discovering the islands for the Western world. According to Pliny the Elder, Juba found the islands uninhabited, but found "a small temple of stone" and "some traces of buildings". Juba dispatched a naval contingent to re-open the dye production facility at Mogador in what is now western Morocco in the early first century AD. That same naval force was subsequently sent on an exploration of the Canary Islands, using Mogador as their mission base.
The Romans named the individual islands Ninguaria or Nivaria (Tenerife), Canaria (Gran Canaria), Pluvialia or Invale (Lanzarote), Ombrion (La Palma), Planasia (Fuerteventura), Iunonia or Junonia (El Hierro) and Capraria (La Gomera).
When the Europeans began to explore the islands in the late Middle Ages, they encountered several indigenous peoples living at a Neolithic level of technology. Although the prehistory of the settlement of the Canary Islands is still unclear, linguistic and genetic analyses seem to indicate that at least some of these inhabitants shared a common origin with the Berbers of the Maghreb. The pre-colonial inhabitants came to be known collectively as the Guanches, although Guanches was originally the name for only the indigenous inhabitants of Tenerife. From the 14th century onward, numerous visits were made by sailors from Majorca, Portugal and Genoa. Lancelotto Malocello settled on Lanzarote in 1312. The Majorcans established a mission with a bishop in the islands that lasted from 1350 to 1400.
In 1402, the Castilian conquest of the islands began, with the expedition of French explorers Jean de Béthencourt and Gadifer de la Salle, nobles and vassals of Henry III of Castile, to Lanzarote. From there, they conquered Fuerteventura (1405) and El Hierro. Béthencourt received the title King of the Canary Islands, but still recognised King Henry III as his overlord.
Béthencourt also established a base on the island of La Gomera, but it would be many years before the island was truly conquered. The natives of La Gomera, and of Gran Canaria, Tenerife, and La Palma, resisted the Castilian invaders for almost a century. In 1448 Maciot de Béthencourt sold the lordship of Lanzarote to Portugal's Prince Henry the Navigator, an action that was not accepted by the natives nor by the Castilians. Despite Pope Nicholas V ruling that the Canary Islands were under Portuguese control, a crisis swelled to a revolt which lasted until 1459 with the final expulsion of the Portuguese. In 1479, Portugal and Castile signed the Treaty of Alcáçovas. The treaty settled disputes between Castile and Portugal over the control of the Atlantic, in which Castilian control of the Canary Islands was recognised but which also confirmed Portuguese possession of the Azores, Madeira, and the Cape Verde islands, and gave them rights to lands discovered and to be discovered ... and any other island which might be found and conquered from the Canary islands beyond toward Guinea.
The Castilians continued to dominate the islands, but due to the topography and the resistance of the native Guanches, they did not achieve complete control until 1495, when Tenerife and La Palma were finally subdued by Alonso Fernández de Lugo. After that, the Canaries were incorporated into the Kingdom of Castile.
After the conquest
After the conquest, the Castilians imposed a new economic model, based on single-crop cultivation: first sugarcane; then wine, an important item of trade with England. In this era, the first institutions of colonial government were founded. Both Gran Canaria, a colony of the Crown of Castile since March 6, 1480 (from 1556, of Spain), and Tenerife, a Spanish colony since 1495, had separate governors.
The cities of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria became a stopping point for the Spanish conquerors, traders, and missionaries on their way to the New World. This trade route brought great prosperity to some of the social sectors of the islands. The islands became quite wealthy and soon were attracting merchants and adventurers from all over Europe. Magnificent palaces and churches were built on La Palma during this busy, prosperous period. The Church of El Salvador survives as one of the island's finest examples of the architecture of the 16th century.
The Canaries' wealth invited attacks by pirates and privateers. Ottoman Turkish admiral and privateer Kemal Reis ventured into the Canaries in 1501, while Murat Reis the Elder captured Lanzarote in 1585.
The most severe attack took place in 1599, during the Dutch Revolt. A Dutch fleet of 74 ships and 12,000 men, commanded by Pieter van der Does, attacked the capital Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (the city had 3,500 of Gran Canaria's 8,545 inhabitants). The Dutch attacked the Castillo de la Luz, which guarded the harbor. The Canarians evacuated civilians from the city, and the Castillo surrendered (but not the city). The Dutch moved inland, but Canarian cavalry drove them back to Tamaraceite, near the city.
The Dutch then laid siege to the city, demanding the surrender of all its wealth. They received 12 sheep and 3 calves. Furious, the Dutch sent 4,000 soldiers to attack the Council of the Canaries, who were sheltering in the village of Santa Brígida. 300 Canarian soldiers ambushed the Dutch in the village of Monte Lentiscal, killing 150 and forcing the rest to retreat. The Dutch concentrated on Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, attempting to burn it down. The Dutch pillaged Maspalomas, on the southern coast of Gran Canaria, San Sebastián on La Gomera, and Santa Cruz on La Palma, but eventually gave up the siege of Las Palmas and withdrew.
In 1618 the Barbary pirates attacked Lanzarote and La Gomera taking 1000 captives to be sold as slaves. Another noteworthy attack occurred in 1797, when Santa Cruz de Tenerife was attacked by a British fleet under Horatio Nelson on 25 July. The British were repulsed, losing almost 400 men. It was during this battle that Nelson lost his right arm.
18th to 19th century
The sugar-based economy of the islands faced stiff competition from Spain's American colonies. Low prices in the sugar market in the 19th century caused severe recessions on the islands. A new cash crop, cochineal (cochinilla), came into cultivation during this time, saving the islands' economy.
By the end of the 18th century, Canary Islanders had already emigrated to Spanish American territories, such as Havana, Veracruz, Santo Domingo, San Antonio, Texas and St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. These economic difficulties spurred mass emigration, primarily to the Americas, during the 19th and first half of the 20th century. Between 1840 and 1890 as many as 40,000 Canary Islanders emigrated to Venezuela. Also, thousands of Canarians moved to Puerto Rico where the Spanish monarchy felt that Canarians would adapt to island life better than other immigrants from the mainland of Spain. Deeply entrenched traditions, such as the Mascaras Festival in the town of Hatillo, Puerto Rico, are an example of Canarian culture still preserved in Puerto Rico. Similarly, many thousands of Canarians emigrated to the shores of Cuba. During the Spanish–American War of 1898, the Spanish fortified the islands against possible American attack, but an attack never came.
Romantic period and scientific expeditions
Sirera and Renn (2004) distinguish two different types of expeditions, or voyages, during the period 1770–1830, which they term "the Romantic period":
First are "expeditions financed by the States, closely related with the official scientific Institutions. characterised by having strict scientific objectives (and inspired by) the spirit of Illustration and progress". In this type of expedition, Sirera and Renn include the following travellers:
The second type of expedition identified by Sirera and Renn is one that took place starting from more or less private initiatives. Among these, the key exponents were the following:
Sirera and Renn identify the period 1770–1830 as one in which "In a panorama dominated until that moment by France and England enters with strength and brio Germany of the Romantic period whose presence in the islands will increase".
Early 20th century
At the beginning of the 20th century, the British introduced a new cash-crop, the banana, the export of which was controlled by companies such as Fyffes.
The rivalry between the elites of the cities of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz de Tenerife for the capital of the islands led to the division of the archipelago into two provinces in 1927. This has not laid to rest the rivalry between the two cities, which continues to this day.
During the time of the Second Spanish Republic, Marxist and anarchist workers' movements began to develop, led by figures such as Jose Miguel Perez and Guillermo Ascanio. However, outside of a few municipalities, these organisations were a minority and fell easily to Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War.
In 1936, Francisco Franco was appointed General Commandant of the Canaries. He joined the military revolt of July 17 which began the Spanish Civil War. Franco quickly took control of the archipelago, except for a few points of resistance on La Palma and in the town of Vallehermoso, on La Gomera. Though there was never a proper war in the islands, the post-war suppression of political dissent on the Canaries was most severe.
During the Second World War, Winston Churchill prepared plans for the British seizure of the Canary Islands as a naval base, in the event of Gibraltar being invaded from the Spanish mainland.
Opposition to Franco's regime did not begin to organise until the late 1950s, which experienced an upheaval of parties such as the Communist Party of Spain and the formation of various nationalist, leftist parties.
After the death of Franco, there was a pro-independence armed movement based in Algeria, the Movement for the Independence and Self-determination of the Canaries Archipelago (MAIAC). In 1968, the Organisation of African Unity recognized the MAIAC as a legitimate African independence movement, and declared the Canary Islands as an African territory still under foreign rule.
Currently, there are some pro-independence political parties, like the CNC and the Popular Front of the Canary Islands, but these parties are non-violent, and their popular support is almost insignificant, with no presence in either the autonomous parliament or the cabildos insulares.
After the establishment of a democratic constitutional monarchy in Spain, autonomy was granted to the Canaries via a law passed in 1982. In 1983, the first autonomous elections were held. The Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) won. In the 2007 elections, the PSOE gained a plurality of seats, but the nationalist Canarian Coalition and the conservative Partido Popular (PP) formed a ruling coalition government.
According to "Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas" (Sociological Research Center) in 2010, 43.5% of the population of the Canary Islands feels more Canarian than Spanish (37.6%), of which 7.6% only Canarian, compared to 5.4% that feels more Spanish than Canarian (2.4%) or only Spanish (3%). The most popular choice was of those who feel equally Spanish and Canarian, with 49.9%. With these data, one of the Canary recorded levels of identification with higher autonomy from Spain.
The Canary Islands have a population of 2,117,519 inhabitants (2011), making it the eighth most populous of Spain's autonomous communities, with a density of 282.6 inhabitants per square kilometre. The total area of the archipelago is 7,493 km2 (2,893 sq mi).
The Canarian population includes long-tenured residents and new waves of mainland Spanish immigrants, as well as Portuguese, Italians, Flemings and Britons. Of the total Canarian population in 2009 (2,098,593) 1,799,373 were Spanish and 299,220 foreigners. Of these, the majority are Europeans (55%), including Germans (39,505), British (37,937) and Italians (24,177). There are also 86,287 inhabitants from the Americas, mainly Colombians (21,798), Venezuelans (11,958), Cubans (11,098) and Argentines (10,159). There are also 28,136 African residents, mostly Moroccans (16,240).
Population of the individual islands
The population of the islands according to the 2010 data are:
The Roman Catholic branch of Christianity has been the majority religion in the archipelago for more than five centuries, ever since the Conquest of the Canary Islands. However, there are other religious communities.
Roman Catholic Church
The overwhelming majority of native Canarians are Roman Catholic (85%) with various smaller foreign-born populations of other Christian beliefs such as Protestants from northern Europe.
The appearance of the Virgin of Candelaria (Patron of Canary Islands) was credited with moving the Canary Islands toward Christianity. Two Catholic saints were born in the Canary Islands: Peter of Saint Joseph de Betancur and José de Anchieta. Both born on the island of Tenerife, they were respectively missionaries in Guatemala and Brazil.
The Canary Islands are divided into two Catholic dioceses, each governed by a bishop:
Separate from the overwhelming Christian majority are a minority of Muslims. Among the followers of Islam, the Islamic Federation of the Canary Islands exists to represent the Islamic community in the Canary Islands as well as to provide practical support to members of the Islamic community.
Other religious faiths represented include Jehovah Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as Hinduism. Minority religions are also present such as the Church of the Guanche People which is classified as a neo-pagan native religion, it also highlights Buddhism, Judaism, Baha'i, and Chinese religions.
The distribution of beliefs in 2012 according to the CIS Barometer Autonomy was as follows:
El Hierro, the westernmost island, covers 268.71 km2 (103.75 sq mi), making it the smallest of the major islands, and the least populous with 10,753 inhabitants. The whole island was declared Reserve of the Biosphere in 2000. Its capital is Valverde. Also known as Ferro, it was once believed to be the westernmost land in the world.
Fuerteventura, with a surface of 1,660 km2 (640 sq mi), is the second-most extensive island of the archipelago. It has been declared a Biosphere reserve by Unesco. It has a population of 100,929. Being also the most ancient of the islands, it is the one that is more eroded: its highest point is the Peak of the Bramble, at a height of 807 metres (2,648 feet). Its capital is Puerto del Rosario.
Gran Canaria has 845,676 inhabitants. The capital, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (377,203 inhabitants), is the most populous city and shares the status of capital of the Canaries with Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Gran Canaria's surface area is 1,560 km2 (600 sq mi). In center of the island lie the Roque Nublo 1,813 metres (5,948 feet) and Pico de las Nieves ("Peak of Snow") 1,949 metres (6,394 feet). In the south of island are the Maspalomas Dunes (Gran Canaria), these are the biggest tourist attractions.
La Gomera has an area of 369.76 km2 (142.77 sq mi) and is the second least populous island with 22,622 inhabitants. Geologically it is one of the oldest of the archipelago. The insular capital is San Sebastian de La Gomera. Garajonay's National Park is located on the island.
Lanzarote is the easternmost island and one of the most ancient of the archipelago, and it has shown evidence of recent volcanic activity. It has a surface of 845.94 km2 (326.62 sq mi), and a population of 139,506 inhabitants, including the adjacent islets of the Chinijo Archipelago. The capital is Arrecife, with 56,834 inhabitants.
The Chinijo Archipelago includes the islands La Graciosa, Alegranza, Montaña Clara, Roque del Este and Roque del Oeste. It has a surface of 40.8 km2 (15.8 sq mi), and a population of 658 inhabitants all of them on La Graciosa. With 29 km2 (11 sq mi), La Graciosa, is the smallest inhabited island of the Canaries, and the major island of the Chinijo Archipelago.
La Palma, with 86,528 inhabitants covering an area of 708.32 km2 (273.48 sq mi), is in its entirety a biosphere reserve. It shows no recent signs of volcanic activity, even though the volcano Teneguía entered into eruption last in 1971. In addition, it is the second-highest island of the Canaries, with the Roque de los Muchachos 2,423 metres (7,949 feet) as highest point. Santa Cruz de La Palma (known to those on the island as simply "Santa Cruz") is its capital.
Tenerife is, with its area of 2,034 km2 (785 sq mi), the most extensive island of the Canary Islands. In addition, with 906,854 inhabitants it is the most populated island of the archipelago and Spain. Two of the islands' principal cities are located on it: The capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife and San Cristóbal de La Laguna (a World Heritage Site). San Cristóbal de La Laguna, the second city of the island is home to the oldest university in the Canary Islands, the University of La Laguna. The Teide, with its 3,718 metres (12,198 feet) is the highest peak of Spain and also a World Heritage Site. Tenerife is the site of the worst air disaster in the history of aviation, in which 583 people were killed in the collision of two Boeing 747s on March 27, 1977.
The economy is based primarily on tourism, which makes up 32% of the GDP. The Canaries receive about 12 million tourists per year. Construction makes up nearly 20% of the GDP and tropical agriculture, primarily bananas and tobacco, are grown for export to Europe and the Americas. Ecologists are concerned that the resources, especially in the more arid islands, are being overexploited but there are still many agricultural resources like tomatoes, potatoes, onions, cochineal, sugarcane, grapes, vines, dates, oranges, lemons, figs, wheat, barley, maize, apricots, peaches and almonds.
The economy is € 25 billion (2001 GDP figures). The islands experienced continuous growth during a 20-year period, up until 2001, at a rate of approximately 5% annually. This growth was fueled mainly by huge amounts of Foreign Direct Investment, mostly to develop tourism real estate (hotels and apartments), and European Funds (near €11 billion euro in the period from 2000 to 2007), since the Canary Islands are labelled Region Objective 1 (eligible for euro structural funds). Additionally, the EU allows the Canary Islands Government to offer special tax concessions for investors who incorporate under the Zona Especial Canaria (ZEC) regime and create more than 5 jobs.
Spain gave permission in August 2014 for Repsol and its partners to explore oil and gas prospects off the Canary Islands, involving an investment of €7.5 billion over four years, to commence at the end of 2016. Repsol at the time said the area could ultimately produce 100,000 barrels of oil a day, which would meet 10 percent of Spain's energy needs. However, the analysis of samples obtained showed did not show the necessary volume nor quality to consider future extraction, and the project was scrapped.
The Canary Islands have great natural attractions, climate and beaches make the islands a major tourist destination, being visited each year by about 12 million people (11,986,059 in 2007, noting 29% of Britons, 22% of Spanish, not residents of the Canaries, and 21% of Germans). Among the islands, Tenerife has the largest number of tourists received annually, followed by Gran Canaria and Lanzarote. The archipelago's principal tourist attraction is the Teide National Park (in Tenerife) where the highest mountain in Spain and third largest volcano in the world (Mount Teide), receives over 2.8 million visitors annually.
The combination of high mountains, proximity to Europe, and clean air has made the Roque de los Muchachos peak (on La Palma island) a leading location for telescopes like the Grantecan.
The islands are outside the European Union customs territory and VAT area, though politically within the EU and Schengen Area. Instead of VAT there is a local Sales Tax (IGIC) which has a general rate of 7%, an increased tax rate of 13.5%, a reduced tax rate of 3% and a zero tax rate for certain basic need products and services. Consequently, some products are subject to import tax and VAT if being exported from the islands into mainland Spain or the rest of the EU.
Canarian time is Western European Time (WET) (or GMT; in summer one hour ahead of GMT). So Canarian time is one hour behind that of mainland Spain and the same as that of the UK, Ireland and Portugal all year round.
The Canary Islands have eight airports altogether, two of the main ports of Spain, and an extensive network of autopistas (highways) and other roads. For a road map see multimap.
There are large ferry boats that link islands as well as fast ferries linking most of the islands. Both types can transport large numbers of passengers and cargo (including vehicles). Fast ferries are made of aluminium and powered by modern and efficient diesel engines, while conventional ferries have a steel hull and are powered by heavy oil. Fast ferries travel relatively quickly (in excess of 30 knots) and are a faster method of transportation than the conventional ferry (some 20 knots). A typical ferry ride between La Palma and Tenerife may take up to eight hours or more while a fast ferry takes about 2 and a half hours and between Tenerife and Gran Canaria can be about one hour.
The largest airport is the Gran Canaria Airport. Tenerife has two airports, Tenerife North Airport and Tenerife South Airport. The island of Tenerife gathers the highest passenger movement of all the Canary Islands through its two airports. The two main islands (Tenerife and Gran Canaria) receive the greatest number of passengers. Tenerife 6,204,499 passengers and Gran Canaria 5,011,176 passengers.
The port of Las Palmas is first in freight traffic in the islands, while the port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is the first fishing port with approximately 7,500 tons of fish caught, according to the Spanish government publication Statistical Yearbook of State Ports. Similarly, it is the second port in Spain as regards ship traffic, only surpassed by the Port of Algeciras Bay. The port's facilities include a border inspection post (BIP) approved by the European Union, which is responsible for inspecting all types of imports from third countries or exports to countries outside the European Economic Area. The port of Los Cristianos (Tenerife) has the greatest number of passengers recorded in the Canary Islands, followed by the port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The Port of Las Palmas is the third port in the islands in passengers and first in number of vehicles transported.
The SS America was beached at the Canary islands, in the nineties. However, the ocean liner fell apart after some years and parts of ship washed away.
The Tenerife Tram opened in 2007 and the only one in the Canary Islands, travelling between the cities of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and San Cristóbal de La Laguna. It is currently planned to have three lines in the Canary Islands (two in Tenerife and one in Gran Canaria). The planned Gran Canaria tram route will be from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to Maspalomas (south).
Natural symbols of the Canary Islands
The official symbols from nature associated with Canary Islands are the bird Serinus canaria (canary) and the Phoenix canariensis palm.
Before the arrival of the Aborigines, the Canary Islands was inhabited by endemic animals, such as some extinct; giant lizards (Gallotia goliath), giant rats (Canariomys bravoi and Canariomys tamarani) and giant tortoises (Geochelone burchardi and Geochelone vulcanica), among others.
With a range of habitats, the Canary Islands exhibit diverse plant species. The bird life includes European and African species, such as the black-bellied sandgrouse; and a rich variety of endemic (local) taxa including the:
Terrestrial fauna includes geckos, wall lizards, and three endemic species of recently rediscovered and critically endangered giant lizard: the El Hierro giant lizard (or Roque Chico de Salmor giant lizard), La Gomera giant lizard, and La Palma giant lizard. Mammals include the Canarian shrew, Canary big-eared bat, the Algerian hedgehog (which may have been introduced) and the more recently introduced mouflon. Some endemic mammals, the lava mouse, Tenerife giant rat and Gran Canaria giant rat, are extinct, as are the Canary Islands quail, long-legged bunting, and the eastern Canary Islands chiffchaff.
The marine life found in the Canary Islands is also varied, being a combination of North Atlantic, Mediterranean and endemic species. In recent years, the increasing popularity of both scuba diving and underwater photography have provided biologists with much new information on the marine life of the islands.
Fish species found in the islands include many species of shark, ray, moray eel, bream, jack, grunt, scorpionfish, triggerfish, grouper, goby, and blenny. In addition, there are many invertebrate species, including sponge, jellyfish, anemone, crab, mollusc, sea urchin, starfish, sea cucumber and coral.
There are a total of 5 different species of marine turtle that are sighted periodically in the islands, the most common of these being the endangered loggerhead sea turtle. The other four are the green sea turtle, hawksbill sea turtle, leatherback sea turtle and Kemp's ridley sea turtle. Currently, there are no signs that any of these species breed in the islands, and so those seen in the water are usually migrating. However, it is believed that some of these species may have bred in the islands in the past, and there are records of several sightings of leatherback sea turtle on beaches in Fuerteventura, adding credibility to the theory.
Marine mammals include the large varieties of cetaceans including rare and not well-known species (see more details in the Marine life of the Canary Islands). Hooded seals have also been known to be vagrant in the Canary Islands every now and then. The Canary Islands were also formerly home to a population of the rarest pinniped in the world, the Mediterranean monk seal.
National parks of the Canary Islands
The Canary Islands officially has four national parks, of which two have been declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and the other two declared a World Biosphere Reserve, these national parks are:
A unique form of wrestling known as Canarian wrestling (lucha canaria) has opponents stand in a special area called a "terrero" and try to throw each other to the ground using strength and quick movements.
Another sport is the "game of the sticks" where opponents fence with long sticks. This may have come about from the shepherds of the islands who would challenge each other using their long walking sticks.
Furthermore, there is the shepherd's jump (salto del pastor). This involves using a long stick to vault over an open area. This sport possibly evolved from the shepherd's need to occasionally get over an open area in the hills as they were tending their sheep.
The two main football teams in the archipelago are: the CD Tenerife (founded in 1912) and UD Las Palmas (founded in 1949). Now Tenerife play in Liga Adelante and Las Palmas in La Liga.
The growing popularity of ultra running and ultramarathons, combined with the Canary Islands' mountainous terrain, means that these islands now host annual competitive long-distance events including Transvulcania on La Palma, Transgrancanaria on Gran Canaria and the Half Marathon des Sables on Fuerteventura.
The Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife (Tourist Festival of International Interest) and Carnival of Las Palmas are one of the most famous Carnivals in Spain. It is celebrated on the streets between the months of February and March.