Referred to as the Fortunate Islands by ancient Romans, this archipelago has been known about since mythological times, though it’s unknown when the Canary Islands were discovered.
A territory of Spain, these seven volcanic islands are located 70 miles off the coast of Africa and more than 600 miles south of mainland Spain. A fact that many Canarians emphasize -- they are indeed a part of Europe.
Many believe that before they were colonized by Europeans -- including Spanish, Portuguese, Genoese, Flemish, English and Irish -- the islands were visited in ancient times by the Greeks, Phoenicians and Carthaginians. Later, Berber groups from North Africa settled the first communities here.
The 15th century brought European explorers to the tropical isles; the conquest began with a failed attempt by a Norman knight, Jean de Bethencourt. Several more efforts to dominate the islands took place over almost one hundred years, and by 1496 the Canaries were finally under the rule of the Castile kingdom.
Archaeological treasures on the islands give visitors a window into what life might have been like for the early inhabitants here. The Museum of Nature and Man -- originally two separate institutions, the Archaeological Museum of Tenerife and the Natural Science Museum -- preserves the pre-Colonial way of life with aboriginal artifacts, replicas of cave dwellings and Guanche mummies.
The European history can also be seen throughout the islands, from traditional colonial mansions and town squares on Grand Canary Island to the Bishop’s Palace on Tenerife.
Since 1960, tourism has become central to the economy of the Canary Islands, with millions of travelers now visiting each year. Golf courses, luxury resorts and trendy restaurants now accommodate the influx of vacationers, while ecologists fight to preserve the islands’ natural beauty.
National parks, botanical gardens and biosphere and marine reserves help protect the land and water here, which consist of stunning beaches, rocky volcanoes, dense forests and oceans full of brightly colored creatures.