The Canary Islands

Individuals with an interest in islands and natural history may be familiar with the Canary Islands.  Europeans are especially familiar with the islands because of their relatively close proximity to Europe and their location affords a convenient escape from winter weather in northern Europe.  However the relatively cool oceanic waters that surround the Canaries also means that they are comfortable in summer as well, and thus they are a year-round touristic destination.

The Canary Islands, all volcanic in origin, exhibit many interesting environments, that are the result of the interaction of the topography of the islands with the relatively steady trade wind flow at lower elevations of the atmosphere.   These environments range from moist, fog-induced forests to drier pine forests and dry lee-side semi-deserts.   On the highest two islands of Tenerife and La Palma there are even alpine-like shrublands that have snow in winter.

The Canary Islands islands are a well-known for the diversification of a number of plant groups.  Perhaps the best known of these is the succulent plant genus Aeonium.  Despite taxonomic uncertainties, there are at least 50 species of Aeonium scattered across the islands almost all derived from an ancestor that arrived from the mainland of Africa.

We have visited the Canary Islands twice – in 2014 and 2018.  Talks prepared after the 2014 trip can be seen here  (for Tenerife and El Hierro) and here (for La Gomera and La Palma).  These talks described the basic geography of the islands and in more detail the four islands that we visited in 2014 (and 2018 also).  Some of the material below is the same as shown in these talks, while other information and many of the images are new.

Because there is so much material we have divided it into different sections.  While Climate is often included within a section on Basic Geography, we have separated it here because there is more than the usual climate information that is relevant to natural history travelers.  The Flora and Fauna section is biased towards the flora, since there are relatively few interesting larger endemic animals on the islands.  The Suggestions for Visiting section includes our recommendations for what islands to visit, areas that might be the most interesting, and accommodation and transportation strategies.  While such material is discussed extensively in the innumerable travel guides that cover the islands, our perspective, as always, is that of natural history travelers.

Basic Geography of the Canary Islands

Climate

Flora and fauna

Suggestions for visiting

Tenerife

La Gomera

La Palma

El Hierro