I grew up in land-locked West Virginia and while it’s a beautiful state full of mountains, as an adult I’ve found I much prefer ocean and beach settings. If I can have mountains to hike in with views of the ocean, then that’s just about perfect to me. I’ve spent my fair share of time at beaches since I started traveling as an adult. In fact, the first international vacation I went on was to the Bahamas when I was in college.
Given the fact that I’m completely over winter and ready to move on to warmer, sunnier weather, I thought it might be fun to share some of my favorite beach spots and of course include photos. We’ll take a little photo journey around the world, in no particular order, although I may have to divulge some of my favorites at the end.
I alluded at the beginning to listing some of my favorites but it’s funny because photos are really art, which taken as a whole are not only subjective to the eye of the beholder but also the context. For example, a person’s travel experiences are influenced by things such as who they’re with, what stage in life they’re at, how they were treated by the locals and other travelers, and even the weather. I may look at a photo and it brings back happy memories while someone else may see the same photo and just see the landscape and/or people in the photo without any context of what was going on when the photo was taken.
So what are my favorite photos here? I’m not going to take the easy way out and say I could never choose because they’re all my favorites. I really like the stormy photo taken at the beach in Tenerife, Spain because I love how I was able to capture that moment just before a huge storm blew in. I also love the photo of the beach in Malta because of the different hues of blue in the water and the rocky protrusion, so I’ll narrow it down to those two photos for my favorites here.
What about you guys- do you like black sandy beaches, powder-white, or the more traditional tan/beige the best? Rocky beaches or sandy beaches? What are some of your favorite beaches?
My first travel lesson I learned for 2018 came from going to Carnival. Either choose your accommodations very far in advance (several months to a year) so you can find a place within walking distance from the parade route or if you have a rental car like I did, park your car in a place where you won’t be blocked off by the parade route when you want to leave.
The second most important thing I learned in the Canary Islands is having a rental car is by far better than taking the bus to get around the islands. Driving in the Canary Islands is pretty easy for the most part. I found locals to be courteous drivers and not overly-aggressive. One of the worst parts about driving in the Canary Islands is how narrow some of the side roads are. I recommend getting a small rental car. Overall, the roads in Tenerife seem to be a bit wider than in Gran Canaria in general.
A third thing I learned in the Canary Islands relates to going from one island to another. Choices for inter-island hopping include taking a ferry or flying. When I checked into prices and options for going from Gran Canaria to Tenerife, the prices weren’t hugely different to fly versus take a ferry. We enjoyed the ferry to the San Juan Islands in Washington in the US and from Gozo to Malta so much that we decided to take the ferry to Tenerife. This was a mistake. The water was so rough both my daughter and husband were sick the entire time so they didn’t even enjoy it. Honestly, there isn’t much to look at either other than the water. Next time I would fly for sure.
A few months after going to the Canary Islands, I spent some time at one of my favorite theme parks, Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia. In 2017, I had gone to Colonial Williamsburg and spent very little time there, so this year I decided to get Spring Bounce Tickets, which include admission to both Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg. My family and I spent four nights in Williamsburg and we were able to get our fill of the rides and shows at Busch Gardens plus see what we wanted to at Colonial Williamsburg. My lesson here was that Spring Bounce tickets are perfect for a few reasons: 1) It’s not quite as hot and humid as it will be if you wait until later in the summer to go, 2) You have up to a week to use your tickets, 3) You’ll save money by purchasing tickets this way.
Almost straight after going to Williamsburg, Virginia, I flew to Idaho for a racecation. Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon in Boise was state number 42 for me. After the race, we had a great time hiking all around the Boise area and discovered just how beautiful Idaho is (you can read about our adventures in Boise here). I learned Idaho has to be one of the most under-rated states in the United States in my opinion, especially by east coasters, many of whom don’t even know for sure where Idaho is and all they relate it to is potatoes. It is one of the most beautiful states I’ve been to, and is full of outdoor activities year-round.
A couple of weeks after returning home from Idaho, I went to Charleston, South Carolina, one of my favorite cities in the United States. I’ve written about Charleston before and it’s one of the few places that I’m happy to return to time after time. Even after having visited Charleston many times, I learned that there’s always something new to experience in Charleston. On my last visit, I went on a walking tour and went to a raptor center.
In August, I went to Alaska for another racecation, beginning in Anchorage, where I ran the Skinny Raven Half Marathon, my 43rd state. My family and I decided to skip the ever-popular Alaskan cruise and instead rented a car and drove from Anchorage to Denali National Park to Seward and finally to Girdwood. I was immensely grateful we didn’t go on an Alaskan cruise because my husband and daughter were sick the entire time on the 6 hour cruise we took through Kenai Fjords National Park near Seward. I learned that boats in general are not a good idea for our family, and we’ve decided not to go on boat tours or ferries again (my husband and daughter have a history of getting sick on some boats in the past, although not every boat they’ve been on). Another thing I learned while in Alaska is that things are extremely expensive here. I was astounded at how much some things cost at grocery stores (I understand they have to travel a long way so it adds to the cost) and tours and ticket prices were expensive pretty much everywhere we went.
An incredibly early arrival of cold weather happened to coincide with my next racecation in Arkansas in November. Normally the weather should have been much warmer but unseasonably cold air made its way through and it looked like we were going to have some cold, rainy days. On top of the cold weather that I hadn’t acclimatized to, I had been dealing with anemia and my hemoglobin was extremely low so my expectations weren’t much for the White River Half Marathon, state number 44.
It turns out the White River Half Marathon was on a blazing fast course so I surprised myself with a sub-2 hour finish. It was freezing cold (31 degrees at the start) but I could deal with that. My full race report can be found here. After the race, we drove 3 1/2 hours to Hot Springs to spend a few days. I learned that mineral water from hot springs works miracles on tired muscles after you’ve just run a race the previous day. Seriously, I’ve never felt better after a half marathon than I did after this one. If I could, I would run half marathons in all of the remaining states in places near hot springs. Sadly, I don’t think Iowa, Delaware, New Mexico, Minnesota, or Nebraska has hot springs but Wyoming does.
Hot Springs, Arkansas is a pretty touristy area but we enjoyed ourselves and especially liked hiking at Hot Springs National Park, seeing the lights display at Garvan Woodland Gardens, and soaking in the thermal baths the best. You can read my full blog post on Hot Springs here. Everyone we talked to seemed like genuinely nice, friendly people. The autumn leaves were a bit past their peak, but the trees were still colorful and it was a beautiful time to visit.
After a brief time back home, we were off once again after Thanksgiving, this time to Grand Cayman Island. I hadn’t been to the Caribbean since my honeymoon, 14 years prior, so I was well over-due for a visit. We aren’t cruise-type people (see references above to my family and boats in the Canary Islands and Alaska) so we spent a week at a resort on the quiet east side of the island and drove all over the island in a rental car.
The first thing I learned is don’t let the rental car agents intimidate you into buying extra rental car insurance. When we picked up our rental car at Hertz, we were told the roads were narrow, drivers were aggressive, and if we were to get in an accident, it would basically be a horrible mess to take care of without the extra insurance purchased through them. In fact, what we found was the roads are in great condition, the drivers are not anymore aggressive than anywhere else (meaning some people can be aggressive at times but in general they were fine), and we never had any issues with driving, albeit driving on the left side of the road takes a bit more brain effort if you’re American.
On our first night in Grand Cayman Island, I learned if a local gives you a recommendation for something to see or do or a restaurant to go to, listen to them. Many years ago when my husband and I were in Hawaii, a local told us to be sure to watch the moonrise, and we blew them off and never saw it. However, when we were at dinner on our first night in Cayman, the server told us to be sure to stay to watch the moonrise, and we almost didn’t, but it wasn’t going to be much longer so we decided to stay. If you’ve never had the pleasure of watching a moonrise, let me try to describe it. It’s sort of like watching a sunrise but better. You see the moon slowly rising in the horizon until it’s high in the sky. It’s much more exciting than what I’m describing too. Several people around us were making comments like, “Wow! That’s so cool!” and “I’ve never seen anything like that before!” We were never disappointed when we followed the advise of locals on this vacation and have definitely learned our lesson.
Finally, I learned that I absolutely love Grand Cayman Island. Seven Mile Beach has the softest, powder-white sand I’ve ever seen and all around the island, the water is so clear you can see fish swimming around you without a snorkel mask. The island may be small (though not as small as neighboring Little Cayman and Cayman Brac islands) but it’s filled with natural beauty. The Crystal Caves are definitely worth checking out, as is the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Garden (be sure to get the extra ticket to see the endangered blue iguanas, not to be confused with the endemic and pest-like green iguanas). There’s also the fairy-dust-like bioluminescent waters in the Rum Point area, the sand bar with stingrays known as “Sting Ray City,” and nearby coral reef garden where you can snorkel, Starfish Point which is filled with starfish (sea stars technically), and the many other beaches where you may see some turtles if you’re lucky. Just about the only downside to Grand Cayman Island is it’s pretty expensive, although our airfare was cheap from the east coast, so it did balance out that way.
I feel very fortunate to have visited the Canary Islands, Williamsburg, Virginia; Boise, Idaho; Charleston, South Carolina; Alaska; Arkansas; and Grand Cayman Island this year. Using airline miles, credit card points, and watching for good deals on airfare, I saved a ton of money. I was reminded I need to check airports at cities within a few hours of my home every single time I check airfare prices. When I did this for Grand Cayman Island, I saved almost $300 per ticket, which for three people is close to $900, definitely worth the extra hassle of driving from another city. I realize some people have to do this any time they fly and I’m fortunate enough to have an international airport close to my home, but still it’s worth checking other airports if it’s going to save several hundred dollars or even a couple hundred dollars.
What about you guys? What did you learn from your travels in 2018?
My family and I recently went to the Canary Islands for the first time. Even though I tried to do my research before we went, there were still some things that happened after we got there and I learned as we went along. I’d like to pass along some of these things that I learned in hopes of making things a bit easier for other first-timers to the Canary Islands.
Learn Spanish before you go to the Canary Islands. Don’t expect everyone to speak English. While some people know some English in the Canary Islands, in my experience, I came to assume that most people would in fact not speak English and I would need to speak Spanish. Never once was this an issue, however, and while my Spanish is ok, I’m by no means fluent. All that being said, there are a fair amount of ex-pats from the UK that live and work in the Canary Islands.
Carnival in the Canary Islands is a lot of fun and I highly recommend going during this time if you can. We watched a Carnival parade in Gran Canaria and it was everything I had hoped it would be. This was actually one of the items on my bucket list and I was glad to be able to experience it. Just learn from my mistake and either choose your accommodations very far in advance (several months to a year) so you can find a place within walking distance from the parade route or if you have a rental car like we did, park your car in a place where you won’t be blocked off by the parade route when you want to leave.
Although the water is perfectly safe to drink in the Canary Islands, it does not taste that great so most people buy bottled water. One resort I stayed at even went so far as to say the water isn’t safe for brushing your teeth with, which is not true. You do get used to the taste over time, too, or at least I found it wasn’t quite as bad by the end of my two-week vacation.
Parking in Las Palmas on Gran Canaria can be difficult to find and free parking pretty much doesn’t exist but it’s not completely impossible. Although not free but pretty cheap, if you can find a turquoise-marked parking spot, take it. You will need to enter your car’s license plate number in the kiosk and put the receipt on your dashboard. There are also parking garages throughout Gran Canaria, especially the busier areas like Las Palmas. The same can be said for Tenerife, although we found parking to be a bit easier in general on this island than Gran Canaria.
Having a rental car is by far better than taking the bus to get around the islands. Driving in the Canary Islands is pretty easy for the most part. We found locals to be courteous drivers and not overly-aggressive. One of the worst parts about driving in the Canary Islands is how narrow some of the side roads are. I recommend getting a small rental car. Overall, the roads in Tenerife seem to be a bit wider than in Gran Canaria in general.
Playa del Ingles in Gran Canaria is an extremely touristy area. I personally don’t care for touristy areas, especially when it’s a natural setting like a beach, park, or other area like Niagara Falls but obviously some people like this kind of thing because touristy areas always seem to be over-run with people. I just don’t like all the mini-golf, kitschy shops, restaurants with mediocre at best food, and rows of hotels. If you can get past all that, this beach is a nice enough beach. However, it is clothing-optional so if that bothers you, it might be best to skip it. There are also touristy areas in the southern part of Tenerife as well but they didn’t seem so over-the-top as Playa del Ingles.
The sand dunes of Maspalomas that are behind Playa del Ingles are pretty cool, however, and are totally worth a trip to the area. We had so much fun playing on the dunes and even sliding down the hills of sand. Just be aware that you need to pay 50 cents to use the restrooms here and facilities are limited. In fact, we found several other beach areas on the islands where you had to pay 50 cents to use the restrooms.
In addition to all of the beautiful and varied beaches in the Canary Islands, the options for hiking are also numerous and varied. We hiked through more canyons than I can remember and had so many experiences where we hiked to the top of a mountain and were rewarded with a gorgeous view. In addition to hiking up steep trails of mountainsides, we also had some wonderful strolls around small, quaint towns where we were also rewarded with seaside or mountain views. Plus, there are several botanical gardens around the islands that you can walk around, most of which are free.
There is no central air conditioning and heat in the Canary Islands. In the cooler months people use small space heaters and blankets to keep warm at night. In the warmer months, people use fans and open windows. Because the islands are off the northwestern coast of Africa, the weather is pretty mild here year-round. It does help if you dress appropriately too and bring a jacket for the cooler months.
Gran Canaria and Tenerife are both extremely varied in topography and general vibe in different parts of the islands (i.e., North vs. South) so if you just stay at your resort in one little sliver of the island, you won’t get a real feel for the island as a whole. Likewise if you just go to one island you’ll miss out on what other islands have to offer. I feel like I missed out by only visiting two islands but that seemed reasonable for a two-week vacation. Next time I’d like to visit another island. I really liked Tenerife quite a bit better than Gran Canaria and would go back to Tenerife, but probably not Gran Canaria.
Choices for inter-island hopping include taking a ferry or flying. When I checked into prices and options for going from Gran Canaria to Tenerife, the prices weren’t hugely different to fly versus take a ferry. We enjoyed the ferry to the San Juan Islands in Washington in the US and from Gozo to Malta so much that we decided to take the ferry to Tenerife. This was a mistake. The water was so rough both my daughter and husband were sick the entire time so they didn’t even enjoy it. Honestly, there isn’t much to look at either other than the water. Next time I would fly for sure.
Having a mobile WiFi or MiFi is a valuable tool to have when traveling abroad, and the Canary Islands are no exception. I first used a MiFi when I went to Malta last year and had such a great experience with it, I decided to rent one for the Canary Islands. I did have a bit more trouble finding a company with coverage in the Canary Islands, but I eventually chose California-based Vision Global WiFi, and we never had any problems getting a signal with the one exception of once in Teide National Park. My husband anticipated this and downloaded the area from Google maps onto his phone so we could still drive around without getting lost. In addition to using Google Maps for everywhere we drove, we also used the MiFi several times to translate Spanish words or phrases or look up other information while we were away from our room.
If you do nothing else in Tenerife, go to Teide National Park . It was my favorite thing to do in Tenerife and it’s free too. If the weather had been better, we would have spent more than one day here and also taken the cable car up, but it was just too windy and rainy during the days we could have gone there. We did finally get to go hiking in the park, on our last full day in Tenerife, and loved every minute of it. Another piece of advice regarding Teide National Park is to stay until dusk. We had dinner at Mariposa, a restaurant close to the park that I thought was going to be touristy with mediocre food but it was actually really good. When we were driving out of the park, we got some cool shots of the sky and moon. Also, all of the cyclists we saw earlier when driving around the park were all gone, along with the majority of cars as well so driving out of the park was a breeze.
The Canary Islands are beautiful and remind me in many ways of Hawaii but they are unique in many other ways (it’s much cheaper here than Hawaii for starters). I would happily go back and explore another Canary Island, Lanzarote, which I hear is a hotspot for athletes. Who knows, maybe I’ll run a half marathon here one day Lanzarote Marathon and Half Marathon.
Have any of you been to the Canary Islands? What was your experience like? If you haven’t been, is is on your list now?
I’ll save the best for last here and begin with Barranco Infierno. A popular hiking trail in Tenerife is Barranco Infierno (Hell’s Canyon in English), 350 meters above sea level, and open every day from 8:00 am to 2:30 pm, weather permitting. Only 300 visitors a day are allowed entry to preserve the flora and fauna of the area. Entrance to the trail costs 8 euro per person. What can you do if you get there like we did only to be told the area was closed due to weather?
My husband thought we would have to just go back to the car and try something else since we couldn’t hike in Barranco del Infierno but then I noticed a small sign to the left of the ticket area and I walked over that way to check it out. There was a sign noting an alternative hike that was 6 km so we decided to take it. Even better, it was free!
This trail is moderately difficult as it has virtually no shade and goes up and up. It took us about 2 hours to hike to the top, including taking some rest breaks, and 1 hour to hike back down, with no stops. Along the way, we saw many different types of plants and these tiny lizards that would dart in and out of the rocks. The trail is very well-marked and easy to follow the path to the top.
The views kept getting better along the way and we kept stopping to take photos. When we reached the top, we all agreed the view was one of the best we had ever seen and the hike was well worth it. There were also several people paragliding in the area and we watched them soar over the ocean and canyon.
While we were in Tenerife, the weather took a turn for the worst and heavy rains with strong winds moved in for a couple of days. Knowing that Teide National Park would be colder and windier because of the elevation of the park, I didn’t want to go on a day with 100% chance of rain. Fortunately on our last full day in Tenerife, the weather was sunny with no rain in sight so we left our hotel room early with plans to spend the entire day at the park.
Teide National Park is the largest of the Canary Islands’s four national parks with its crown jewel Mount Teide, the highest point in Spain at 12,198 feet (3,718 meters). Weather-permitting, you can take a cable car up to Mount Teide but you need a permit to hike to the summit. Mount Teide is still considered an active volcano, with the last eruption in 1909. There are 37 trails in the park so you can spend many days hiking here but camping is not allowed in any nature reserves or national parks in Tenerife.
One thing to keep in mind that I knew ahead of time but still didn’t prepare adequately for was just how much colder and windier it is in Teide National Park than in the rest of Tenerife. We ended up stopping at a small town about 20 or 30 minutes outside the park to buy gloves for my daughter and me, a winter hat for my husband, and a fleece pullover for me. When you go to the park, be better prepared than I was and wear a pullover (or even a winter coat if you’re going in the heart of winter), gloves, and a hat even if it’s supposed to be sunny and warm at your resort that day. Dressing in layers is a great idea because you can adjust accordingly throughout the day.
There is a cafe in the park with a wide array of foods like pizza, sandwiches, salads, and snacks along with hot and cold drinks. We had talked about picking up lunch from a market on the way and eating it at the park but that somehow never happened so we ended up eating lunch at the cafe. As you might expect, the food at the cafe is average and over-priced, on-par with other cafes at national parks we’ve been to. There is also a bathroom in the cafe but you have to pay 50 cents per person to use it.
Beyond dressing warmly and in layers, my one big piece of advice is to stay until the sun goes down before you leave the park. There are a few advantages to this: 1) the cyclists that you will encounter entering the park will have already have left so you don’t have to contend with them on the road leaving, 2) many other people will have already left so you don’t have as many cars to negotiate the roads with, and 3) the park is beautiful at dusk.
Hiking at Teide National Park was our last full day in Tenerife, as I mentioned earlier, and we couldn’t have ended our vacation on a better note! Teide National Park was definitely a highlight of our vacation in the Canary Islands and if you’re planning a vacation to this area, it’s a must-do! Even if you don’t enjoy hiking, you can drive around the park and take some photos at pull-outs along the way. Because it’s such a large park, you can easily spend an entire day here (it would take several days to hike more than a few of the 37 trails). I’ll have to add Teide National Park to my list of some of my favorite national parks I’ve been to around the world.
Let me start with God’s Finger or El Dedo de Dios, as it’s called in Spanish, since that’s the place that had me intrigued by the name but then came as a disappointment once we learned the truth. Near the town of Agaete, God’s Finger is a rock formation about 30 meters high in the Atlantic Ocean off the northern part of Gran Canaria. Or, it was until a tropical storm broke off the top in 2005 and it fell into the sea. We didn’t learn the history of all of this until we arrived at the area and couldn’t find any kind of rock structure that might resemble a finger. Finally, we saw something on a local shop, Googled God’s Finger, and found the complete story.
Why did we end up at God’s Finger in the first place, you may ask? Well, I was checking out places to hike and other towns of interest, and God’s Finger came up, but the author failed to mention that it fell off many years ago and there’s really nothing to see now. Not that it would have been something worth going out of your way for even when it was still standing, but I thought since we’ll be in Agaete anyway, we’ll check it out. If you go to Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, you’ll know to skip God’s Finger.
Agaete, on the other hand, is a beautiful little port town you shouldn’t skip. The Agaete Santa Cruz de Tenerife ferry route connects Gran Canaria with Tenerife, which is how we got from Gran Canaria to Tenerife. Besides taking the ferry, the other option is to fly.
When I checked prices for my family, there wasn’t a huge price difference between flying and taking the ferry and since we enjoyed the ferry from Gozo to Malta last fall, I made reservations for the ferry. Long story short, the inter-island ferry is also something you should skip. The water was extremely rough (we had been warned by some ex-pats prior to taking the ferry that this is often the case) and honestly the only thing to see the entire way there was the water between the islands. Skip the ferry and fly instead.
Back to Agaete. Puerto de las Nieves is the port town with some shops and restaurants (many selling fish, not surprisingly). Walk around this area, take in the scenery, and grab lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants. We ate dinner here one evening and were lucky enough to catch the sunset.
About a 30 minute drive north from Agaete is Amagro National Park or Macizo de Amagro. This park is full of natural monuments or geological formations. If you have several hours, a rental car, and don’t mind winding roads, take the GC-200 for one of the most scenic drives you’ll ever take to Tamadaba, south of Agaete. Tamadaba is a natural park with a large picnic area and camping areas and is beautiful. We also stumbled upon a very picturesque beach in this area, Playa de la Aldea and walked around here for a while.
I also wanted to go to a botanical park in Gran Canaria and discovered quite a gem indeed. The Viera y Clavijo Botanical Garden in northern Gran Canaria is one of the biggest and most extensive botanical gardens I’ve ever been to, and even better, admission is free! The garden is 27 acres (10 hectares), on which approximately 500 plant species endemic to the Canary Islands are cultivated.
There are several sections of the Viera y Clavijo Garden including the Garden of the Islands (Jardín de las Islas), the Garden of Cacti and Succulents (Jardín de Cactus y Suculentas), the Macaronesian Ornamental Garden (Jardín Macaronésico Ornamental), and the Hidden Garden (El Jardín Escondido) with a greenhouse. At the “Fountain of the Wisemen” (La Fuente de Los Sabios), botanists who discovered and described the flora of the Canary Islands are honored. There are no restaurants or cafes on-site so you’ll need to plan accordingly.
One of the things I liked best about this botanical garden is how it’s spread across different levels, so you can pretty quickly walk up and get great views of the area. If you can’t climb stairs or go up steep inclines there’s plenty to see on the main area on the ground too.
The Canary Islands are full of places for outdoor enthusiasts like me. If you want to read about some beautiful beaches in Gran Canaria and Tenerife, I have a post here. My family and I wanted to go beyond exploring the beaches, though. We wanted to go to the Canary Islands and go hiking as much as possible. When there was a high chance of rain several days in a row I started exploring some indoor activities.
Being big history buffs, my family and I decided to visit La Cueva Pintada. The Painted Cave, in the historical center of Gáldar, is in the north of Gran Canaria (Calle Audiencia 2) and is well-marked with signposts. Cueva Pintada Museum and Archaeological Park is a site from the Paleolithic era and includes part of a village with over 50 houses and caves. For more information regarding hours, admission, and tours, see the website here.
Before we went to La Cueva Pintada, I didn’t expect the area to be that large, but the archaeological area was big enough that we spent quite a while here. The actual painted cave is only open to guided tours but you don’t have to spend the entire time on a guided tour. We pretty much just went with a group inside the painted cave and spent the rest of our time here exploring on our own. All of the areas have information in multiple languages, including English, French, German, and Spanish.
Later during our vacation on the island of Tenerife, we also needed a rain contingency plan. There was an almost 100% chance of rain and strong winds all day during one of our vacation days so we decided to go to a museum rather than sit around in our hotel room all day.
The Science and Cosmos Museum is a great rainy-day activity especially if you have children, even older kids, or if you love science and technology and don’t have kids. I saw plenty of adults at the museum without a child in sight, so this isn’t just for kids! Admission is a reasonable €5 for adults and €3 for residents. The website is here.
There are tons of hands-on activities at La Ciencia y el Cosmos as well as a planetarium. All of the signs for each activity area are in Spanish so if you’re not at least somewhat fluent, you probably won’t get as much out of the museum. Also part of Los Museos de Tenerife are La Naturaleza y el Hombre (Nature and Man) and Historia y Anthropología (History and Anthropology). We spent a couple of hours at the science museum playing before we went to a nearby winery, Casa Museo del Vino.
Casa Museo del Vino is much more than just a winery and I was lucky to have stumbled across it because honestly it didn’t come up in the usual searches. Located in Santa Brígida in Gran Canaria, the wine house museum combines the tasting and marketing of Gran Canaria Denomination of Origin wines along with a museum. While my husband and I were tasting red wines, our daughter was walking around in an adjacent room learning all about the history of the winery and the area and trying to pet the resident cat.
At Casa Museo del Vino, food is also available during busier months, with a speciality in Canary cuisine, an assortment of cheeses, and traditional sweets. Although entry is free, wine tastings and food are of course not free. We tried four different red wines for one euro each, and these were generous pours so there was enough of each for both my husband and myself. There are also a wide variety of bottles you can buy inside the store and we left with one bottle from the four that we had tried. More information with hours and location can be found on the website here.
Science, history, and wine are always a good combination in my book! This coming from a scientist, history-buff, and wine-lover. I was glad to see Gran Canaria and Tenerife didn’t disappoint on any of those fronts. I know Gran Canaria also has a science museum and many wineries, so there are lots of options on both Gran Canaria and Tenerife.
Do any of you like checking out local science museums, historical sites, and wineries when you travel like I do? What are some of your favorites in or out of the United States? In the United States, San Diego, Chicago and Washington, D.C. has some fantastic museums.
While on vacation in the Canary Islands recently, one of our main goals was to hike as much as possible. We weren’t there to enjoy leisurely days on the beaches, although that’s certainly a popular option with tourists as you can read here.. There’s so much more to the Canary Islands than the beaches, however, and we found some gorgeous day hikes while in Gran Canaria, two of which we combined in one day.
We started off in the center of Gran Canaria at Caldera de Bandama. If you’re staying in Las Palmas, it’s only a 20 minute drive from there. The crater was formed by a volcano Pico de Bandama many years ago and is 216 meters (709 feet) deep, 574 meters (1883 feet) high and 1,000 meters (3281 feet) wide. We picked up our lunch from a market on the way, with the intention of enjoying our lunch with a view along the hike. The first thing we noticed when we arrived was all of the flowers and shrubs in bloom. The contrast between all of the flora with the black lava rocks was stunning.
About an hour away from Caldera de Bandama is Roque Nublo, a natural monument 67 meters (220 feet) tall with the top 1813 meters (5948 feet) above sea level. This is an easy hike and not far from the nearby parking lot. Only the first portion is paved with cobblestones, but most of the trail is well-cleared dirt and easy to navigate. From the main road it’s about 1.5 kilometers to the proximity of Roque Nublo and Roque de la Rana. Before getting there, you go past another natural monument, el Roque de El Fraile. When we were there it was foggy when we reached the monuments but fortunately the fog cleared enough to get this photo:
This was only one of many days full of hiking that my family and I did while in the Canary Islands but this was probably the best hiking we did during our stay in Gran Canaria. I’ll have another post later about hiking in Tenerife.
Two things to remember if you’re hiking in the Canary Islands that we discovered: 1) caldera means it was formed by a volcano collapsing onto itself but more importantly for hikers it means there will be great scenery for hiking and 2) barranco means ravine. Wherever you see barranco on a map, chances are there will be great hiking in this area.
How many of you enjoy hiking while on vacation? What are some of your favorite places you’ve hiked?
While in Gran Canaria and Tenerife in the Canary Islands, we spent time at several beaches, all of which are vastly different from one another. Just a brief intro first, though. The Canary Islands are an archipelago of seven Spanish islands off the coast of Africa. Tenerife is the largest island and Gran Canaria is the third-largest island. The Canary Islands were formed by volcanos and as such have black lava beaches as well as man-made white sand beaches.
Las Canteras Beach is right in Las Palmas and is lined with hotels, apartments, shops and restaurants along the 3.5 km stretch of beach. I ran along the pedestrian area between the beach and shops, and while I had to weave around other people walking, I still enjoyed running there. The golden sand beach is sheltered by a lava reef and swimming here is safe in certain parts, although you often see surfers here.
Along the southern part of Gran Canaria there are many beaches. Maspalomas beach is adjacent to Playa del Ingles, which together are 6 km long and are nudist-friendly. Maspalomas is famous for the sand dunes that make you feel like you’re in the middle of the Sahara rather than the Canary Islands. This area is so enormous that even though it’s one of the most popular beach areas, I’ve been told it rarely gets crowded, especially in the dunes. There is also a lighthouse at one end of the beach.
Restaurants are everywhere in the town of Playa del Ingles, along with hotels, bars, and apartments. Beware that this area is extremely touristy, so if that’s not your thing, you might want to just focus your time on the sand dunes as my family and I did. Other popular beaches in the southern part of Gran Canaria include the busy Puerto Rico and Anfi del Mar as well as quieter Puerto de Mogán, Tauro, and San Agustín.
Las Playas Alguineguin is a smaller, less touristy black sand beach that I thoroughly enjoyed. It also has some restaurants and shops within walking distance. We got some gelato then walked across the street to the beach and spent some time just relaxing and enjoying the scenery. There are other smaller beaches like the one in Alguineguin, such as Tufia, a small beach in Telde; just take the El Goro exit from the GC-1 motorway and follow the signs.
Moving on to the island of Tenerife, I spent quite a bit of time in the Costa Adeje region, which is where El Duque beach is along with nearby Fañabé. Both beaches are within a short walk of many restaurants and shops. Also in the southern part of Tenerife in Cristianos is Las Vistas, coming in at 850 meters long, so it does get crowded during the high season.
In the northern part of Tenerife are several beaches of note including Las Teresitas, a 10 minute drive from Santa Cruz de Tenerife, and Benijo, a natural beach popular for water sports with the Anaga Mountains providing extra visual interest. Puerto de la Cruz has the beautiful Playa Jardín surrounded by the botanical garden. To get to El Bollullo, another black sand beach from Puerto de la Cruz you can either walk through the banana plantation or take the TF-5 to Rincón.
Two final beaches that are surrounded by the unique nature of the island of Tenerife are Los Gigantes and the beach of Masca. We tried to take a boat tour in Los Gigantes while we were there but a storm had come in, bringing strong winds, so all boat tours were cancelled for several days. Many people don’t realize that the town of Masca also has a beach but there is one about a 3 to 4 hour hike through the gorge. We decided not to go to the beach because it had just rained a lot and I read that the area tends to be muddy to the point of being dangerous after heavy rains. Instead, we just walked around the town of Masca and had a snack there while enjoying the gorgeous views.
I have to end this post by saying there’s so much more to the Canary Islands than just beaches. We spent a majority of our time in Gran Canaria and Tenerife hiking, walking around botanical gardens, and exploring the islands in other ways. I’ll get into some more of those things in later posts.
Have any of you been to the Canary Islands? Which island(s) did you visit? What did you think of them?
The Canary Islands aren’t exactly runner-friendly at first glance, at least not the two islands I visited, Gran Canaria and Tenerife. There are pretty much no sidewalks and not even much of a shoulder along the roadways to run on. On my first day running on Gran Canaria, I had to run along a highway facing traffic with a tiny shoulder when I was lucky. I had to cross the road and jump over a guardrail at a couple of points. It wasn’t exactly my idea of running safely. However, I should state that I was staying at an apartment in a residential area, not in a hotel in a more touristy section; this is an important point I’ll get into later.
On my second day of running in Gran Canaria, I decided to go a different route and run along the walkway near the beach, namely Playa de Las Canteras. While this was safer, it wasn’t necessarily easier. I had to constantly dodge people and swerve around people when I was running. At least I wasn’t dodging cars, though. I do have to say the drivers in the Canary Islands are extremely pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly. Every single time when I was running along the roadside and a car would come, they would change lanes to give me more space. I saw this happen to cyclists and other runners all the time as well.
Not one to give up easily, I decided to try a different strategy for my third day of running in Gran Canaria. When we were driving, I watched for any signs of places where I could run that would be close-by the apartment where we were staying. I happened to see a bunch of people walking along an area that curved along the beach and it seemed to be a designated walkway (not a sidewalk because as I mentioned earlier there are no sidewalks of any real substance in Gran Canaria Island).
I ventured out the next morning running the direction of the walkers I had seen the previous day, and it was my aha! moment. This was what I had been looking for. This was the perfect running route for the rest of my time in Gran Canaria. I only had to go a short distance alongside a road to get to this runners’ oasis so it was perfect.
After staying for a week in Gran Canaria, we took a ferry to Tenerife and stayed there for another week. I found Tenerife to be even more hilly than Gran Canaria (the Canary Islands were formed by volcanos so they are all very mountainous with sometimes very steep hills). We stayed at a resort in Tenerife a little less than a mile from a beach so I would just run down the hill to the beach on the tiny sidewalks and run along the broad walkways there. It was great until I had to run back up the hills, but I have to say it did get easier by the end of the week so I think it was great training for me.
Tenerife also has many walkways along the beach with shops and restaurants like Gran Canaria so as along as you can find one of these, you at least have a mostly flat area to run and it will keep you off the roads. I also noticed some wider sidewalks in Tenerife so if you had to, you could run on the sidewalks at least until you came to a beach area. I did run on the sand once in Tenerife for about 5 or 10 minutes, but I’m just not a fan of running on the sand, and Tenerife is no exception. For me, the sand is either too soft or too hard. In Tenerife I came across many rocks so there’s another reason to not run on the beach.
Over the course of two weeks, I ran 10 times and never missed a training run. I adjusted my running schedule so that on travel days I would have a day off. Honestly, I’m surprised I was able to run that much and not miss a day. It rained once or twice but never anything too bad. The worst was the wind on one day where it felt like it was pushing me backwards.
I think the scenery was my biggest motivator in getting me out the door for my runs. I would go out every morning looking forward to my run and what I would get to see that time along my running route. Now that I’m back home, I have to say I miss running in the Canary Islands and am envious of people who live along a coast and get to run with ocean views all the time!
How many of you are lucky enough to run along a coastal area? Does it get routine or do you still love it?
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Spending time in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands during Carnival was on my bucket list last year and I got to experience it this year! I had been to Aruba during Carnival several years ago and while it was a lot of fun, it was nothing compared to Carnival in Las Palmas. The people of Las Palmas really know how to party! I’ve heard the neighboring island of Tenerife also puts on an awesome Carnival. Maybe I’ll get to experience that next time!
Carnival 2018 in Las Palmas was from the 28th of January to the 18th of February and included everything from a drag queen gala, children’s parades, canine carnival, and body makeup contest, to name a few events. This festival has been going on from the 15th century, with a major revival of the street festival in 1976 so there is a ton of history in this event. It seemed like everywhere around us, people were dressed up in costume, dancing, and drinking, so it seems to be a hugely popular event in the Canary Islands.
Carnival in Las Palmas is like Halloween in the United States on steroids. Not only were there groups of people walking the entire distance of the parade route or dancing in party trucks dressed in costume but many spectators were also dressed in costumes. Some of the costumes were really creative too, like the pair we saw dressed up as the first apes in space (I wish I had a good photo of them but I don’t). The main parade lasted for hours but we chose to just watch a portion of it before we found a spot to grab dinner (which was full of other people in costume as well as the workers being dressed up).
Leaving Carnival was another story entirely and one we had not planned appropriately for. Since so many roads were closed off for the parade, we were unable to get onto the road we needed to get back to our Airbnb apartment about 30 minutes away. There were no side roads we could take because of the nature of the island and layout of the roads. Ultimately we had to drive very far away from Las Palmas to get back on the only road to our apartment.
Lesson learned: either stay in Las Palmas during a major Carnival event like this parade and walk to your accomodations or plan ahead of time how you’ll get around all of the barricades. If you plan to stay in Las Palmas during Carnival, you’ll want to make reservations well in advance as most of the nicer places will be booked, which is why we were staying 30 minutes from Las Palmas.
Have any of you ever experienced Carnival around the world? What was it like?