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Traditionally dressed men and women playing guitars at the annual Carnival in Santa Cruz, Tenerife
February is a fantastic time to cruise to Tenerife, when the annual Carnival takes place in Santa Cruz (Photo: Tourism Spain)

Canary Islands Cruise Ports Things to Do: From Tenerife to La Gomera

Traditionally dressed men and women playing guitars at the annual Carnival in Santa Cruz, Tenerife
February is a fantastic time to cruise to Tenerife, when the annual Carnival takes place in Santa Cruz (Photo: Tourism Spain)
Contributor
Kerry Spencer

Last updated
May 16, 2024

Read time
6 min read

With year-round sunshine and dazzling beaches, plus culturally rich cruise ports, the Canary Islands make for a wonderful cruise vacation.

From the largest island, Tenerife, to the wild and rugged La Gomera, Canary Islands cruise ports are wonderfully diverse, offering beautiful beaches, volcano viewpoints, rolling vineyards and traditional towns and villages.

Canary Islands cruise ports are found in each of the island's capitals, where you can trace hundreds of years of history in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria's capital, and hike the ochre hued Timanfaya National Park in Lanzarote.

Here's a rundown of the Canary Islands cruise ports and the highlights in each one.


Santa Cruz de La Palma, La Palma

Santa Cruz de La Palma is a relaxed port with shops, cafes and churches to wander through. The palm tree-lined Plaza de Espana, the center of town, is home to an artisans' market that sells lacework, embroidery and leatherwork and has a worth-seeing church, El Salvador.

There is a Naval Museum nearby, which was built as a full-size replica of Columbus' ship, Santa Maria. The 17th-century Castillo de Santa Catarina fortress overlooking the waterfront is a national monument. Outside the city, the peaceful island with black-sand beaches is particularly attractive to hikers and is famed for its flora and fauna.

The Parque Nacional de la Caldera de Taburiente, an 18-square-mile nature reserve, is a tapestry of pine forests, waterfalls and walking trails.


Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Tenerife

Parasailing off the shore in Tenerife
Watersports are popular on Canary Islands beaches, including in Tenerife (Photo: Tourism Spain)

Santa Cruz de Tenerife is the main port on Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands. Sights include the Museum of Man and Nature, which records the evolution of the Canary Islands to the present day, and there's a contemporary art gallery, Espacio de las Artes.

The baroque church Iglesia de la Concepcion contains a wooden cross dating back to the time of the Spanish conquistadors, with the town's name deriving from this relic.

Santa Cruz also has gorgeous botanic gardens bursting with endemic flowers and shrubs and a short distance from Santa Cruz is San Cristóbal de La Laguna, centered on a beautiful old town, the first city to be established in the Canary Islands. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was built up in the 15th century, with pastel-colored buildings and glorious courtyards.

Tenerife's main draw lies outside of Santa Cruz, however. The vast and volcanic Teide National Park in the island's center is where parts of "Star Wars" and "Planet of the Apes" were filmed. El Teide is Spain's highest mountain -- a perfect conical volcano at 12,198 feet high. If you're feeling energetic, climb to the top, or you can jump in a cable car to whisk you up there.


Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

A palm tree and desert dunes of Dunas de Maspalomas Gran Canaria
The rolling dunes of Gran Canaria's Maspalomas reserve (Photo: Tourism Spain)

Sometimes referred to as a continent in miniature, Gran Canaria has a dramatic variation of terrain, ranging from green and leafy in the north to mountainous and desert-like in the south. Las Palmas is the port city and energetic capital. It has a big-city feel and sun-drenched beaches.

For beach fans, one of the best is urban beach Playa de las Canteras; its bustling promenade is full of stalls, cafes and souvenir shops. Explore the city's delightful old quarter and the district of Parque Santa Catalina, with quirky shops and sidewalk cafes. This is also where the Museo Canario is located. It has a valuable collection of local archaeological objects. The Casa de Colon Museum, a 15th-century military governor's residence, is said to be where Columbus stayed before he set sail for the New World. It also houses a museum about him.

For a desert adventure, head to Gran Canaria's Maspalomas reserve, home to 400 hectares of blond dunes, a brackish lagoon, palm grove and a dazzling array of bird life.


Arrecife, Lanzarote

The most easterly island of the archipelago, Lanzarote has a surreal beauty because of its volcanic terrain.

Arrecife, the capital and port, has plenty of beaches for sun-worshippers to enjoy. See the inland saltwater lagoon, Charco de San Gines, where there's a fleet of fishing crafts. If culture is more your style, there is Arrecife's Museum of International Art, which you can see as you enter the port, and the ancient Castillo San Gabriel, which is home to Lanazarote's Ethnographic museum. That's where you can learn about the Guanche, the island's original aboriginal inhabitants.

Across the island, the influence of architect and environmentalist Cesar Manrique is obvious, meaning Lanzarote was granted UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status. Atmospheric Teguise, Lanzarote's one-time capital, has a castle lording over everything, recalling an illustrious past.

For a frisson of excitement, take to Timanfaya National Park, where volcanic eruptions in 1720 and 1736, and in 1824 shaped this rugged landscape.


San Sebastian, La Gomera

The tiny, unspoiled Atlantic port of La Gomera is also known as the Island of the Trade Winds. This is where to expect wildlife, rather than nightlife. Hilltop areas are carpeted in dense jungle and often mist shrouded, giving them a haunting allure.

San Sebastian is the capital and main port. The oldest building there is the Torre del Conde, a medieval fortress and important example of military architecture. The Casa de la Aguada, sometimes known as the Casa de la Aduana, once served as the customs house. Now the tourist office is located in part of it, while a larger part is devoted to exhibitions and Columbus. Legend says that Columbus drew water from the well that sits in the middle.

Garajonay National Park, a subtropical rainforest, is home to the rock formation of the same name and the highest point in the island. It has superb hiking trails and is one of Europe's last surviving dense and humid laurel forests. Around 450 floral species have been recorded there.


Puerto de la Estace, El Hierro

El Hierro, the most westerly of the Canary Islands, is a wild island lost in a time warp. Pitted with volcanic craters, this — also the smallest of the Canary Islands — is a mixture of arid prairies and fertile land awash with bananas, papayas, almonds, figs and avocados.

El Hierro has been granted UNESCO Geopark status to preserve its natural and cultural diversity. Cruise ships dock in pint-sized Puerto de la Estaca, which is not far from the island's capital, the village of Valverde. Besides friendly locals, a highlight there is the abundance of nature all around. Shops and cafes in Valverde offer a taste of local life.


Puerto del Rosario, Fuerteventura

Fuerteventura is a UNESCO-listed Biosphere Reserve. The name means "strong winds," hence its popularity with windsurfers. Shifting sands change patterns daily due to the winds, and where there's wind and sand, there are, of course, dunes. Fuerteventura's proximity to the Sahara is the reason for its particularly sunny weather, and tourism is the biggest industry, with principal resorts in the south and north.

The island's port and small capital, Puerto del Rosario, is proud of its open-air gallery, boasting more than 100 life-size sculptures. These are randomly spread throughout the town. For shoppers, Las Rotundas Shopping Centre in the town center has three floors of shops and restaurants. They do not close for siesta like most other shops in town. Casa de la Cultura is where temporary exhibitions, plays and concerts are held every now and then.


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