Canary Islands – Challenges and Highlights of Sailing the Atlantic

Marwa Grimes

What are the general characteristics of a sailboat charter in the Canary Islands?

The Canary Islands form an archipelago of seven main islands and six islets. They are an autonomous region of Spain with two provinces: Las Palmas and Santa Cruz de Tenerife with the capitals Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

The Canaries enjoy mild climate all year round. The beaches are lovely. There are impressive natural attractions like the dunes of Maspalomas on Gran Canaria and Mount Teide on Tenerife which is the world´s third largest volcano measured from its base on the ocean floor. The landscapes are very varied depending on the geographical location. You can find volcanoes, mountains, high dunes, pine forests, laurel forests, jungle, desert, banana plantations, orchards, vineyards and much more.

The marine wildlife is stunning. You can spot whales, dolphins, logger head turtles, porpoises, etc. Also on land there is abundant and very special flora and fauna.

The Canary Islands have a very good traffic network. All islands have an airport, the largest being Gran Canaria Airport. Tenerife even has two, one in the South and one in the North. The main ports are Las Palmas on Gran Canaria, Port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Port of Los Christianos in southern Tenerife. Good roads enable you to go for land excursions and there are also ferries and fast ferries linking the islands together.

Local cuisine and culture is highly intriguing. The islands have been a stopping point for many sailors before an Atlantic crossing throughout the centuries. So you encounter many museums that tell you about this rich history.

Some figures regarding a yacht charter in the Canaries:

Location: North East Atlantic Ocean, 27° – 29° N, 14° – 18° W; ca. 100 – 500 km west of Africa / off the southernmost Moroccan coast

Main islands largest to smallest: Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro

Total length of coastline: 1,500 km

Total surface area: 7,493 km²

Highest point: Mount Teide, 3,718 m

Population: ca. 2,105,000

Country code: +34

Climate: Subtropical and desertic, moderated by the sea and the trade winds

Tidal range: up to 2/2.5 m

What are the most popular charter destinations and cruising grounds in the Canary Islands?

The distances between all the different Canary Islands are larger than in the Balearics, for example, so you get to spend more time at open sea during crossings. Longitudinally they are arranged along a stretch of 450 km. Winds can funnel between the islands and the anchorages aren´t that protected. Also the distance between mooring options is much larger than in other sailing grounds in the Mediterranean. So it has to be said that a yacht charter in the Canaries is rather for more experienced sailors than for a family sailing holiday.

Head to Fuerteventura where you find beautiful beaches and dramatic rocky volcanic landscape. The Port of Gran Tarajal has 258 moorings for yachts up to 100 m. It offers all kinds of services including a travel lift and is close to the nearest airport. Anchor at Ajuy village on the west coast to see the black sands of Caleta Negra, for instance. From here sail to Lanzarote with its unique scenery and many craters. On the way stop at Los Lobos, a small island and national park. The distance between Fuerteventura and Lanzarote is only about 9 NM. For any services head to the Marina Lanzarote that can host 400 boats up to 60 m.

Sail the approx. 57 NM distance from Fuerteventura to Gran Canaria. The island boasts a high diversity of landscape from desert to jungle and mountains. Deep sea fishing is great there. Head to El Cabron Marine Reserve for fantastic diving. You can moor up in the International Port of Las Palmas, the first Mid-Atlantic port that was built and the most important one in Spain. It has 850 berths for boats up to 45 m and is known as the great Atlantic gas station. A wide variety of services is at your disposal if need be.

Tenerife, about 38 NM away, is the largest island in the Canaries and has 336 km of coastline. Admire the famous Mount Teide from the sea. There are beautiful beaches to cruise along and set anchor. Santa Cruz Marina in the main town has 300 berths for boats up to 80 m maximum and a full range of nautical services. Over time is has been used as a port of call for many regattas and is the last stopping point for many boats before their Atlantic crossing. From Tenerife it is only about 20 NM to La Gomera which has the shortest length of coastline with 97 km.

You need to sail about 37 NM from La Gomera to La Palma, the greenest of all islands. It features spectacular lava fields and offers many gorgeous bays to anchor, swim and snorkel.

El Hierro, the southwesternmost and most remote island lies about 39 NM away from La Gomera. It is more deserted than the other islands and you encounter much more unspoilt nature and can experience very tranquil cruising.

What kind of weather can you expect on a bareboat charter vacation in the Canaries?

In principle there are two main seasons. A dry season in summer and a rainy season in winter. The main charter holiday season takes place in the European and North American winter months from October to April when the trade winds subside. The Sirocco – a desert wind from East or South brings fine African Sahara sand with it. Winds can be funnelling between the islands, so good sailing skills are needed. The westernmost islands of La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro have a different climate due to the moist gulf stream leading to more rainfall and lusher landscape with rain forests etc.

Brief recap of the weather for sailing charter Canary Islands:

Average temperature high: August, 29°

Average temperature low: January / February 15°

Average precipitation high: December 30 – 40 mm, depending on the island

Average precipitation low: July / August 0.2 mm

Strongest winds: Northeast trade winds, April – October

Average high of monthly sunshine hours: July, 295 – 337

Average low of monthly sunshine hours: December, 168 – 195

Main season: October – April

How much does a yacht charter cost in the Canary Islands and what types of charters are there?

You can rent a 12 m sailboat from 1,500 € per week onwards. Depending on the size, model and equipment the prize will go up accordingly. You can choose between sailboat (monohull) or catamaran hire and power boat rental. You could do bareboat yacht charter or opt for a skippered respectively a crewed yacht up to 20 m. Luxury yacht hire for boats from 24 m onwards is a further possibility.

What is there to do apart from sailing on your boat rental in the Canaries?

Visit Maspalomas in the South of Gran Canaria. There is a nature reserve with bird nesting areas and an impressive desert-like landscape with high dunes. The specially designed town with convention centres, shopping malls, casinos, golf courses and theme parks as well as a lighthouse is the largest tourist destination in the Canaries.

Go to Teide National Park on Mount Teide, the highest mountain in Spain. It is a world heritage site and spans 189.9 km². Also located in the park is the second highest volcano of the Canaries, the Pico Viejo with its 3,135 m high peak. There is an observatory in the park which makes for some amazing star gazing. Other national parks to visit are the Caldera de Taburiente on La Palma, the Garajonay on La Gomera and the Timanfaya on Lanzarote. Admire Lanzarote´s moon-like landscape with 300 volcanic craters. It surely is a sight to behold.

Go see the archaeological site of the Cave of the Guanches, the extinct aboriginal inhabitants of the Canaries, in Icod de los Vinos on Tenerife. The rock carvings in it date back to the 3rd century. Icod de los Vinos is a lovely old town founded in 1501 with impressive manors and palaces. Worth a visit is the Museo de Arte Sacro, the ancient Dragon Tree, said to be a 1000 years old, and the Plaza de la Pila which is regarded to be the most beautiful plaza in the Canaries. San Marcos church makes for good sightseeing, as does the nearby park and the botanical gardens. Go to the Playa San Marcos, it is nicely protected by cliffs and covered entirely in black sand. Check out the Cueva del Viento – the largest volcanic cave and lava tube in the world. It is over 17 km long and boasts an amazing and unique fossilized fauna. Visit the amazing folklore festival Tablas de San Andrés on November 29. It involves tasting of the newly harvested wine and sliding through town on wooden boards in memory of the custom of transporting wood from higher parts of town down to the workshops. There are many more lovely traditional festivals throughout the year like Los Hachitos on June 23rd, which is a remnant of the summer solstice fire cult.

Attend the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and the Carnival of Las Palmas. They are amongst the most famous in Spain and celebrated on the streets between the months of February and March.

Check out the Canarian Olympic Sailing Week for Olympic classes and guest classes in December. It´s a high profile race with top sailors from all over Europe and part of the Spanish Olympic series.

Try out game fishing, play water sports and venture for whale, dolphin or turtle sighting. Go sightseeing in the historically beautiful capital Santa Cruz de Tenerife. And last not least, sample the local cuisine which is a fascinating mix of aboriginal, Latin American and African influences. In the Canaries, there is something for every taste!

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