The Canary Islands offer a tropical climate year round and a variety of vegetation and scenery. The best time of year for yacht chartering in the Canaries is from November to April, though the weather is fine year round.
The Las Canarias archipelago is located just off the northwest coast of mainland Africa. The seven volcanic islands share a year round spring climate, but moving from one to the other can take visitors from sub-tropical vegetation to semi-desert areas. Almost half the land mass falls under some protection as park land. The frequency of gales is low and the islands are not affected by hurricanes. Thanks to the trade winds, the prevailing wind is north-easterly and most islands are about a day's sail apart. Tenerife is the largest, but Gran Canaria and Lanzarote also boast airports and charter bases. Crewed or bareboat charters are available on a variety of yachts including monohull and catamaran. High season runs from November to April, but despite a position along the Tropic of Cancer, the Canaries are not too hot in the summer.
Spain’s Las Canarias archipelago, the Canary Island chain, is located off the northwest coast of mainland Africa. Almost half the landmass falls under some protection as parkland and four of Spain’s 14 national parks can be found in these volcanic islands. The seven major islands and six islets have micro climates that will take the visitor from sub-tropical to semi-desert areas, so the cruising grounds are varied and dramatic. The weather is reminiscent of permanent spring, much like that of coastal Southern California, with temperatures ranging from 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Bareboat chartering is ideal April to November but hardy sailors from Northern Europe will be seen on boats and beaches in the winter months as well.
The Canary Islands spread over 240 miles in an East-West line. A major tourist destination for Europeans hailing from colder climes, the islands are technically an autonomous province of Spain but lie only 65 miles west of Morocco, in northern Africa. With steady northeasterly trade winds and a mild climate year-round, these seven islands (Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, Tenerife, La Palma, Gomera, and Hierro) and their six smaller siblings (Alegranza, Graciosa, Montaña Clara, Roque del Este, Roque del Oeste and Lobos) offer ideal cruising grounds loaded with natural beauty and treasures of European history.
Contrary to popular belief, the Canary Islands do not have many canaries—and they were not named for the small birds. The origin of the name is hazy but it is derived from the Latin Canariae Insulae, meaning “Island of the Dogs.” Some speculate that the first visitors found multitudes of large dogs, while others believe that the original inhabitants of the islands, called Guanches, used to worship dogs and mummified them. Still a third theory says that monk seals, so-called sea dogs, were once plentiful in these islands and gave them their name.
Today, the association of the islands with dogs is solid and two dogs even appear on the country’s coat of arms. Due to strong trade winds, distances between the islands, and the large Atlantic swell, a one-way downwind charter will not only be more comfortable, but will also allow you to explore more of the islands without having to beat back to an upwind base. Canary Sun Sailing for example, is a charter company that will accommodate that arrangement for an extra fee of 300 Euros.
The cruising grounds are diverse from the dry volcanic landscapes of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura to the green forested areas of Tenerife, with Gran Canaria and its rich urban history in between. It’s best to set a loose itinerary with time to explore on land, either by visiting one of the national parks or strolling through shops and restaurants of the numerous small towns.
Lanzarote is an island of natural beauty that was shaped by the world’s longest volcanic eruption, which lasted from 1730 to 1736. It is one of only four islands in the world to have received the Unesco Reserva de la Biosfera designation in recognition of its unique ecosystem. The surrounding waters are home to 27 different types of whales and dolphins, Loggerhead turtles, and flying fish. A visit to Timanfaya National Park provides not only spectacular scenery but also a chance to visit a restaurant that uses a hole in the ground to grill fish and meat, thanks to the intense heat that is still generated in the earth below. Other activities may include taking in a surfing competition or visiting the Jameos del Agua, a volcanic tube that holds a subterranean auditorium, tropical gardens and a bar, all designed by artist Cesar Manrique.
Gran Canaria is the third largest island of the archipelago and holds the capital of Las Palmas. To the north, the island is sub-tropical, an ideal place for vineyards and banana plantations due to rain and cooler temperatures in the mountains. The southern end is arid and warm with large beaches and therefore many of the tourist hotels. The city of Las Palmas has a vibrant culture with outdoor pedestrian malls dotted with small shops and cafes.
A must-see is Vegueta, the old town, with its cathedral and the Christopher Columbus house. If you are chartering with Canary Sun Sailing, which has a base in Las Palmas, a drink at the renowned Real Clubo Nautico de Gran Canaria is another must. A stroll along the waterfront which lines the marinas will also bring you to excellent restaurants where you are likely to spot sailors from around the world, and depending on the time of year, perhaps even participants of the ARC, Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, which starts from here and finishes in the Caribbean.
Tenerife, or the “Island of Eternal Spring,” lies a little farther downwind, with a dormant volcano and myriad marinas and golf courses. The island’s landscape is dominated by snow-capped Mount Teide (12,198 feet), which is Spain’s highest peak. It is the largest island in the archipelago and the most visited. Its capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, can get quite busy during carnival season. Another popular destination is San Cristobal de la Laguna, the third largest city in the Canary Islands and one that has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Iberia, KLM and Air France all service the islands with most flights connecting in Madrid although there are some direct flights from London.
Ferries and inter-island flights are easy to arrange, and between the well-developed tourist infrastructure and the friendly locals, the Canary Islands are an excellent getaway for week or more. Due to the distances and winds, however, it is advised to have an experienced sailor aboard.