Travel tales

Canary Islands cruise: A taste of La Palma, Tenerife and Lanzarote

Tenerife

Volcanoes, black sand beaches and winter sun holidays – that was pretty much the extent of my knowledge of the Canary Islands. But as part of my cruise on board P&O Cruises’ Britannia, I got the chance to visit three of the islands and discovered there’s a lot more to them than I expected. The Canaries are a unique group of islands. They’re part of Spain but are actually far closer to Morocco (60 miles away versus 600 miles). They were formed by underwater volcanoes that erupted millions of years ago. They’re subtropical with long warm summers and mild winters. But what I didn’t realise was just how varied they are.

There are seven Canary Islands, with famous names Tenerife, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria as well the lesser-known La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro. They’re surprisingly varied – the landscapes, architecture and even the climate can be totally different between islands only a few hours apart. So a cruise was a good way to island-hop and get a taste of the Canaries in La Palma, Tenerife and Lanzarote.

Read more: Cruise life: A day on board P&O Cruises’ Britannia

Museo Historica in Lanzarote

Arrecife’s Museo Historica

La Palma

Our first port of call was the island of La Palma. It’s the furthest north of the Canary Islands and the one with the steepest and rockiest landscape, with sharp peaks jutting up along the coastline as we sailed past. The ‘Isla Bonita’ hasn’t had much major development over the years, so it still has a traditional feel and peaceful atmosphere. We took a walk around the capital Santa Cruz de la Palma, where you can catch a glimpse of what life was like during its glory days as one of the most important ports in the Spanish Empire.

Calle Real is lined with old colonial merchants’ houses, Renaissance churches and pretty squares. Along waterside Avenida Maritima we found a row of colourful houses that looked straight from the Caribbean, with carved wooden balconies almost groaning with the weight of flowers. The town has a few museums, galleries and churches, but it’s also good to just wander around or sit in a pavement café and people-watch.

What else to do: Tour a replica of Columbus’ ship the Santa Maria, visit the Iglesia De El Salvador, check out the Flemish art at the Museo Bellas Artes, walk around the crater of the Caldera de Taburiente.

Santa Cruz de la Palma

Wooden balconies on the Avenida Maritima

La Palma harbour

La Palma harbour

Tenerife

Our second stop was in Tenerife, the biggest Canary Island. It’s famous for its beach resorts, but we headed to the north of the island to explore its greener side. Tenerife gets plenty of sunshine so the south is as dry as you’d expect from somewhere the same latitude as the Sahara Desert. But the trade winds condense humidity over the north so there’s more rainfall and areas like the Ortavia Valle are surprisingly green.

The island has over 1400 different plant species, 100 of which aren’t found anywhere else in the world. Our garden tour started with some of them in the Botanic Gardens. It’s a lush green oasis filled with shady palm trees, exotic flowers, ponds full of waterlilies and lizards basking on the rocks. Even more colourful was the nearby Orchid Garden Sitio Litre, Tenerife’s oldest garden. A historic mansion is surrounded by fountains and a rainbow of beautiful orchids. It’s all very different to what you’d expect from a rocky volcanic island.

What else to do: Visit Mount Teide National Park and get the cable car to the top of Spain’s highest mountain, hike the Masca Gorge, take a whale-watching boat trip, explore historic former capital La Laguna.

Tenerife Orchid Garden

The Botanic Garden and Sitio Litre Orchid Garden

Lilies at Tenerife Botanic Gardens

Waterlilies in the Botanic Gardens

Lanzarote

After the rocky peaks of the other islands, Lanzarote’s dusty landscape felt like being transported to the Moon. It’s closest to Africa and has a dramatic mix of volcanoes, red and black beaches and lava tubes. One of the lava tubes makes up the quirky Jameos del Agua nightclub and concert venue, part of our tour of the north of the island. It’s the work of local artist and architect César Manrique. When the island was developed developed for tourism in the 1960s he helped keep buildings low-rise and using traditional colours.

The Jameos has staircases cut into the rock down to an underground grotto with a clear pool of water that’s home to a special species of tiny white blind crabs. We also visited the island’s former capital Teguise, which was the oldest Spanish settlement in the Canaries. Its quiet streets were a contrast to the busy new capital Arrecife. Our last stop was a walk around Arrecife’s lagoon, known as El Charco or ‘the puddle’. It’s more of Manrique’s handiwork, with boats lined up and a backdrop of white buildings straight out of a postcard.

What else to do: Check out the rock formations and Fire Mountains in Timanfaya National Park, tour César Manrique’s house and studio, visit the waterside Museo Historica in Arrecife.

The Jameos del Agua Lanzarote

The Jameos del Agua

El Charco in Arrecife Lanzarote

El Charco aka the puddle

Three days, three different islands and not one volcano or beach visited – have you even been to the Canary Islands, or would you like to visit?

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A taste of the Canary Islands with a cruise on board P&O Britannia through La Palma, Tenerife and Lanzarote, which shows just how different these three islands are. #CanaryIslands #cruise

Many thanks to P&O Cruises for hosting us. All views and opinions are, as always, my own. We took P&O’s Gardens of the Valley shore excursion in Tenerife (£34) and Discover the North (£40) in Lanzarote.

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26 Comments

  • Reply
    Noelle
    July 7, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    I loved the north part of Tenerife when I went. I went to El Teide and just drove around that part of the island; it was really, really beautiful. A bonus is that Tenerife is really inexpensive!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 14, 2016 at 10:33 am

      The prices are a definite bonus too!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    July 9, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    I think the Canary Islands are incredibly underrated. I’ve visited Tenerife countless times with work and there are so many beautiful spots on the island. Mount Teide National Park is absolutely stunning as is La Gomera which is accessible by boat from Tenerife. Lanzarote’s wine region and volcanic areas are fascinating too.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 14, 2016 at 10:31 am

      La Gomera looks lovely, one to try next time (as well as the vineyards!).

  • Reply
    kezdjetekelelnix
    July 9, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    Your blog is very inspiring. I am so happy I found it and now my wanderlust is increasing so damn fast! ^^

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 14, 2016 at 10:30 am

      Thanks so much, great to hear you like it!

  • Reply
    MummyTravels
    July 9, 2016 at 10:16 pm

    I love the Canary Islands – I think they have a reputation that’s not entirely deserved. A lot of my daughter’s first trips were there: I’d been to Tenerife a few times including Teide and the north though would love to do star spotting too, but she’s been to Lanzarote three times. I can never get enough of the volcanic landscape and Timanfaya, while the vineyards are wonderful. Then last year we were in Gran Canaria which was a revelation – incredible mountain roads and cave restaurants, a rum distillery in the north and some stunning villages. Next, La Gomera!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 14, 2016 at 10:30 am

      There’s definitely the winter sun beach trip reputation but there really is a lot more to them. Would’ve loved to have seen the vineyards and climbed a volcano too but a bit short of time this trip, good to get a taster though!

  • Reply
    sophie nadeau
    July 11, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    This looks like it was an amazing trip. I’ve never been to the Canary islands but I’ll definitely be adding them to my list now!!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 14, 2016 at 10:19 am

      Thanks Sophie, I was pleasantly surprised by the Canaries and how diverse they are!

  • Reply
    Gina Gomez
    July 15, 2016 at 6:56 am

    I’ve never been to Canary Island too, and it’s my pleasure to visit this place. I guess, the experience is priceless. I want to see the botanic and orchid garden too.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 18, 2016 at 5:25 pm

      The gardens were so pretty – and so green! – really not what I’d expected from the Canary Islands.

  • Reply
    Cara
    July 15, 2016 at 8:20 am

    I visited the Canary Islands quite a few years ago and had a wonderful time, but they are often not really shown off to be how great they really are. 13 million Brits visit the Canary Islands last year, and Majorca and Tenerife have been named British tourists top destinations. However, you can still feel some authenticity when you visit, and don’t have to be surrounded by other Brits. There is such a diversity of places to visit and hidden gems off the beaten track too.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 18, 2016 at 5:26 pm

      Very true, their reputation really is of being a beach destination for Brits but it’s easy to escape that side of the islands and get to see some of the more interesting aspects instead.

  • Reply
    John
    July 17, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    Great post again Luce! The photos look beautiful and really unexpected, didn’t realise the Canaries had such a rich cultural side. Which place was your favourite?

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 18, 2016 at 5:27 pm

      Thanks John – and no, me neither! They were definitely a nice surprise. I think I like La Palma best as the scenery was really dramatic, it’s a bit smaller and I loved all those colourful buildings.

  • Reply
    abitofculture
    July 28, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    I went to Tenerife on far too many lads’ holidays in the 90s, but secretly wanted to see the quieter islands. I think La Gomera and La Palma would be right up my street, and a cruise of them all would be perfect – I must see if you can do that.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 29, 2016 at 12:06 pm

      I never really fancied the Canaries but they were much nicer than I thought – could definitely go back for a few days on one of the quieter islands.

  • Reply
    sunbonoo
    August 6, 2016 at 11:53 am

    Hi Lucy,

    thanks for sharing your travel tips and the stunning pictures! The Canary islands are really different, making each of them a special goal for travelling.

    We just wanted to add, that Tenerife is not only famous for the beach resorts, but also for it’s breathtaking scenery. The huge cliffs of Los Gigantes are absolutely impressive, the mountains offer great possibilities to go hiking and walking, and loads of boat trips are making it possible to enjoy a day out at sea, watching dolphines and whales (make sure you choose a boat with a blue flag, these boats watch the cetaceans carefully without disturbing them).

    On all of the Canary islands, also watersports and sports related to wind (parasailing, paragliding, kitesurfing, surfing) play a major role since the conditions there are perfect.

    Sunny greetings from Mallorca
    sunbonoo

    • Reply
      Lucy
      August 8, 2016 at 9:31 am

      Thanks for the tips, seems like there is a lot more to see!

  • Reply
    Eldin van der Dussen
    September 1, 2017 at 8:30 am

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience in some places of Canary Islands. Truly this places carries all that what you want in a place. Good weather, sumptuous food, friendly Canarios, and plenty of activities to enjoy especially to all adventure seekers. You can also add in your next travel the other places in Canary Islands like Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, La Gomera, and El Hierro.

    Enjoy your travel.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 1, 2017 at 5:50 pm

      Thanks – yes would love to explore some of the other islands next time, it looks like they’re really diverse with a lot to see!

  • Reply
    jan
    January 7, 2019 at 2:58 am

    My husband has just been asked to go to Tenerife for a meeting and I have booked tickets 24 Jan-10 Feb. Other than Tenerife, what islands would you suggest we see and what is the easiest way to get around? We are not really beach people, enjoy driving around and seeing national parks, historic towns, hiking etc. Would really appreciate any advice!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 7, 2019 at 9:29 pm

      Hi, I’m afraid I’ve only done a brief taster of the islands but away from the resort areas, Tenerife has some good walks including the climb up Mount Teide and through the National Park. I thought La Palma was lovely – gorgeous scenery, lots of greenery and pretty villages. You can catch the ferry from Tenerife to the other islands then it’s probably easiest to hire a car to get away from the resorts. Have a great trip!

  • Reply
    Albert Brown
    June 25, 2019 at 10:32 am

    Hi Lucy thanks for sharing your canary island holidays experience. I have been to Gran Canaria a couple of years back an absolutely loved the experience especially the camel ride across the Maspalomas sand dunes is an unforgettable experience. Planning to visit Tenerife sometime around hopefully.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 8, 2019 at 5:14 pm

      Hope you have a great trip!

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