Each subtropical Canary Island offers something unique for its visitors. They have their own identity, characterised by many microclimates (formed by high mountains and proximity to the Gulf Stream) from lush forest to desert. So bring the tweens and teens to the ‘Fortunate Islands’ and explore a wonderful natural playground of ocean, beach, cliff, sand dune and volcanic landscapes.
The largest in the archipelago, Tenerife is known as the ‘Island of Eternal Spring’. It is dominated by the Teide National Park, a World Heritage site centring around the world’s third largest volcano (measured from its base). Here you can visit the celebrated Observatory, and roam through Martian landscapes holding a huge number of endemic flora and invertebrate species. Nearly half the island is protected, so there are lesser national parks to explore too – we rate the hike to the sun-bleached pumice slopes and fairy towers of Los Escorriales above Vilaflor. The best beaches and sunshine are found to the south; the north has more rugged cliffs, volcanic coves, great hiking and views.
Base yourselves to the south-east of the island, between Teide National Park and the coast. At La Malvasia’s self-catering 3-bedroom cottages, you get a large shared swimming pool and sundeck, plus you’re within easy reach of great beaches and aqua parks. Head out to sea for whale-watching (in season); stay nearer the shore for family windsurfing, surfing and snorkelling.
Called the micro-continent for its diverse microclimates (lush valleys, sweeping white sand dunes, rugged mountains, long beaches) a third of this island is protected. There’s also quite a bit of development, especially towards the south, but you can get away from it all: ride camels across the dunes of Maspalomas, learn to scuba dive, explore the interior by 4WD, climb the mythical 70m rock of Roque Nublo, swim off volcanic beaches, visit photogenic Bandama Caldera or hike around the highest point of the island, Pico de las Nieves.
Head for the north’s dramatic mountains and sea cliffs, where eye-catching Finca Las Longueras mansion sits amid fruit groves. There’s a lushly landscaped pool and gorgeous grounds. Diving, sailing and mountain-biking can all be arranged nearby; trek up steep Tamadaba for great views (3 hours each way so not ideal for smaller children), or swim at the beautiful rocky-ringed beach at Puerto de las Nieves.
Noted for its striking black-sand interior, extravagant volcanic-rock formations and big blue skies, unspoiled Lanzarote has a very individual beauty. All sights are within an easy half-an-hour’s drive, the most famous of which is Timanfaya National Park for its moonscapes, active volcano and geyser. The island has extensive hollow lava tubes to the north, one of which is the world’s largest – big enough to hold a concert hall. Try hang-gliding and paragliding off Tinasoria Mountain, or head to the stunning El Jable desert for great photography opportunities and camel tours.
Elegant rural Villa Alcalde will suit a couple of families holidaying together perfectly. Not only is there ample space, a heated pool and a games area (with pool table and ping pong) in case the great outdoors should pall, the sandy beaches of Puerto del Carmen are nearby, too. Offering a host of watersports, including surfing, the beach has several dive centres with great scuba-diving conditions offshore. From here, you can also take a boat trip and go fishing.
Of all the islands, La Palma is the most scenically spectacular, plus it’s geologically active. Dubbed ‘Isla Bonita’ for its jagged volcanic peaks, wild black-sand beaches and abundant plant life – uplands to the centre and north are still clad in cloud forest and tropical flowers. In the centre of the island, the breathtaking Caldera de Taburiente National Park, whose impressive crater is 10km across, has walls rising 2,000m from the caldera floor; hike the Angustias ravine for an exhilarating day trip. The on-site Observatory has the great optics and some of the largest telescopes in the Northern Hemisphere.
For superb views over the shimmering Atlantic, stay at handsome well-priced Casa Los Geranios. Located to the south of the island, it has 3 bedrooms and sunny bougainvillea-draped terraces, plus an annexe for teens or grandparents. Beaches have rock arches and dunes down to the water; we suggest Tazacorte for sheltered swimming. From the house, take the water channel path past cliffs with ancient rock art to Teneguia volcano, which has fumaroles at its summit. Check out the otherworldly salt pans and lighthouse of Fuencaliente, and bring home a salt crystal sachet as a souvenir. Local operators can arrange mountain-biking, sea-kayaking or paragliding.