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      July 2013 > The Canary Islands decoded

The Canary Islands decoded

If you’re planning a walking holiday in Spain – or the Canary Islands, in particular – there may be one or two terms relating to the geography and topography that you are unfamiliar with. Here, I’ve selected a few you will come across, and given a brief description and examples of places where you will encounter them...

self-guided walking holidays in the Canary Islands
barranco, or ‘ravine
Barrancos are common to all the islands, deep ravines carved by centuries of erosion on these volcanic islands, and long since colonised by vegetation. Some of the best examples can be found on the rugged Anaga peninsula in north-east Tenerife. Deep, steep-sided and filled with dense undergrowth, they hide dramatic footpaths that meander  steeply down to eventually reach the sea at a small deserted playa...

self-guided walking holidays in the Canary Islands
playa, or ‘beach
As one might expect, the coasts of all the islands are interspersed with beaches, the surfaces varying from pebbles to sand, the colour dependant on the underlying rocks and volcanic activity. On Lanzarote the soil is primarily volcanic black, but the beaches on its small, northerly neighbour, La Graciosa, are surprisingly yellow. Look back at Lanzarote and, high on the mountainside, you can see one of César Manrique’s stylish miradors

self-guided walking holidays in the Canary Islands
mirador, or ‘viewpoint
The late César Manrique is one of the Canary Islands’ most famous and influential artists. His works adorn his home island of Lanzarote and others, too. On El Hierro, a small island dominated by a vast escarpment running almost its entire length, Manrique designed a mirador at La Pena, which provides panoramic views over the sea towards other islands, and also along the length of the island’s massive bay, El Golfo

self-guided walking holidays in the Canary Islands
golfo, or ‘bay
Islands have bays - some large, some small - and on El Hierro there is one of the largest in the Canary Islands, El Golfo. More gulf than a bay, it stretches in a huge sweeping arc along the north-west coast. The shore is sheltered here; the soil is rich, and the rainfall plentiful enough for the production of bananas, pineapples and vines. The productive land is limited and soon gives way to forests of ancient laurel trees, the famous laurisilva

self-guided walking holidays in the Canary Islands
laurisilva, or ‘laurel forest
They can appear quite eerie especially if the characteristic blanket of sea mist has crept in from the north and shrouded the north slopes with its moist air. The Canarian laurel or Laurus canariensis, is endemic to the Canary Islands and thrives in these warm perpetually moist landscapes. On a hot day on La Gomera, it’s actually quite pleasant to descend into the forest before emerging once more into the brilliant light, following perhaps an ancient cobbled camino

self-guided walking holidays in the Canary Islands
camino, or ‘track
On Gran Canaria, many of the footpaths you will be walking are old ‘caminos reales’ – old mule trails, sometimes crudely cobbled, that used to connect villages together many years ago, before the advent of modern vehicles. They are often still maintained and now provide useful tracks for walkers as they criss-cross the island, leading from areas where crops are produced to the markets, yet also providing accessible routes up towards the high picos

self-guided walking holidays in the Canary Islands
pico, or ‘mountain peak
Each of the Canary Islands has its highest point, some more dominant and obvious than others. Perhaps the most famous is El Teide on Tenerife – after all, it is the highest peak in Spain. It can be seen from several of the other islands, its (often) snow-capped peak glinting in the bright sunlight. The actual summit can be ascended (permit and weather permitting) though today's pico is just a small-scale version of what was once a vast volcano, sitting on the edge of a massive caldera

self-guided walking holidays in the Canary Islandscaldera, or ‘volcanic crater
The caldera on Tenerife is vast but so is that on La Palma, the caldera de Taburiente. It’s a great place to go walking, either around the dramatic rim, or deep within its steamy interior following rocky trails to reach remarkable colourful waterfalls. It stands in the very heart of the island so is accessible from wherever you are staying, and its high points offer panoramic views across the island to distant puntas

self-guided walking holidays in the Canary Islands
punta, or ‘headland
For every playa or golfo, there’s a punta, or rocky headland jutting out into the sea, protecting fishing villages from the vagaries of nature. On the southernmost tip of La Palma stands a red and white lighthouse at Punta de Fuencaliente. There’s a great walk that starts here, heading up over dark volcanic sands to reach the Volcán San Antonio. Back by the sea, you may be lucky to see whales blowing as they head north into the Atlantic. Enjoy a picnic on the beach, local delicacies and even the local cerveza

cerveza, or ‘beer
Common to all the islands and available at most bars and cafés, cold beer is an essential ingredient of any good walk, especially on a warm day. The fact is that enjoying a cold, locally brewed beer makes the day perfect, whether you’ve been walking or not. Try one by the pool or in a bar at a busy street corner in Las Palmas on Gran Canaria. ‘Tropical’ is brewed in Las Palmas, and enjoyed mainly in the eastern islands, while the people of Tenerife drink Dorada – and almost nothing else. Salud!
Posted: 26/07/2013 14:52:38 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: Canary islands, heritage, nature, Spain, walking

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