Can't stop, I'm doing the Canary Islands' perpetual motion cultural desert tour

Restless Jeremy Atiyah turned his back on lazy Lanzarote's stationary beach bums and scurried round four islands in a single day

The stationary version of the Canary Islands holiday involves flying for four hours from Britain to islands with funny names but no identifiable location on the weather map.

The temperature is 25 degrees C, the cuisine is strangely familiar, the local people might be described as international types. Welcome to a country without a context. Why not call it Holidayland?

But is there anything remotely exciting in Holidayland? Not much, unless you are eighteen and single. Otherwise, you'll need the motion version of the Canary Islands holiday.

And the motion version requires context. You need to know for example that the Canaries comprise seven main islands, starting just 50 miles off the southern coast of Morocco and spanning 300 miles from east to west.

You also need to understand that the islands closest to Africa (Lanzarote and Fuerteventura) are virtually extensions of the Sahara Desert, while the islands furthest away (La Palma and Hierro) are relatively green and wet.

On the cultural front, it might help to know that the islands have been ruled by the Spanish since the fifteenth century, with the archipelago's original inhabitants (the Guanches) having disappeared virtually without trace.

Nothing too onerous there then. I chose a motion holiday taking in the main holiday centres. To make it really exciting, I would do it all in a single day: a round trip from Tenerife, via Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria - with no stopping allowed.

Breakfast: Funny how the north coast of Tenerife is green and hilly like the Dordogne. Funny because the rest of the island comprises barren volcanic rock that looks as if it has been worked over by a cosmic bulldozer.

Anyway, the 8am flight to Arrecife on Lanzarote takes 45 minutes (another 15 minutes in the same direction and we would be hitting Morocco).

From Lanzarote airport, stationary tourists head for Playa del Carmen; motion tourists jump into taxis and head south. "We like English tourists," explains my taxi driver. "But it is strange that you eat only English food and drink English beer. Are you not interested in our country?"

What country? Actually, the landscape here is just how England would look if no rain fell for about 50 years. There are brown, bald hills and relics of ancient agriculture; old walled plantations where tomatoes and water-melons once ripened, interspersed by white villages. On the right a colossal black larva plain ripples away into the horizon.

Twenty minutes later, and I'm done with this place. At Playa Blanca, on the southern tip of Lanzarote, I await the ferry to Fuerteventura. Here on the edge of the desert lies a small resort village of whitewashed cottages, Marrakesh-style hexagonal towers and palm trees. The waters are clean and a dessicating wind blows in from the shores of Africa.

Lunch: The boat journey to Fuerteventura takes just 35 minutes. I vaguely expect to find the boat full of Canarian commuters in suits, until I remember that this is a Sunday. Hence the day trippers decked out in trilbies.

My first view of Fuerteventura is of a sandy plain, a heat haze and air thick with dust. A colossal ziggurat seems to rise like a monument from old Babylon; this turns out to be a tourist hotel.

Fuerteventura is almost pure desert. And Corralejo, the small resort on the northern tip of the island, is a two-horse, shutter-banging-in- the-wind, vulture-wheeling-in-the-sky kind of resort. The main drag is bleak and hot, and restaurants have names like Willy's Pizzeria. "Drink two-and-a-quarter pints in 25 seconds and get it free", announces a sign in one pub. Opposite the small town beach rises the Isla de los Lobos, a black slag heap in the middle of the bay.

The serious beaches though are outside town. I see a sign pointing south to the "Grandes Playas". I tell myself that Saudi Arabia probably has some great beaches too. Catching a bus south from Corralejo, I pass the ziggurat, and giant sand vistas begin filling my horizon. The buttocks of tiny nude tourists can be glimpsed scuttling up and down the dunes like crabs.

Puerto de Rosario, the capital city of Fuerteventura, is a half-hour drive to the south. It's another dead little place, containing a blinding white church and a hot square where the entire populace gathers under a shady bandstand to drink beer on Sunday afternoons. I am in far too much of a hurry to join them.

Dinner: Instead it is time to move east, on the 2pm flight to Gran Canaria. In the airport bookshop I stumble across a fascinating little volume about the Guanchos, who are thought to be related to the Berbers of Morocco. These people not only developed the world's first whistling language but also learnt the skill of bounding around mountainous terrain on long poles at dizzying speed. The book strikes me as a small step along the road towards proclaiming an independence movement. Nowadays, trendy Canarians name their daughters after Guanchos princesses.

From the air, the true desolation of Fuerteventura is revealed in its dusty magnificence. Only the western hills reveal the faintest of green fuzzes, before we are jumping over the sea to Gran Canaria.

The two desert islands I have seen this morning do not prepare me for Las Palmas, the main city of the Canary Islands. This turns out to be a huge metropolis marooned in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, with roaring expressways lined by high-rise buildings.

Dazed, I wander into the old city, La Vegueta. Sweaty youths in basketball shirts lope past in pursuit of girls with delicate eyebrows. Old ladies lean over wrought-iron balconies, tiny cars muscle up tiny streets. Outrageous floral flourishes in plaster adorn the facades. I keep wondering whether this is Third World or First; the higher I walk the more precarious and provisional the houses become, like a Rio favela. Is this perhaps a Latin American city?

A stocky man in sunglasses who is washing his car vigorously looks up. "What do you expect?" he says. "We are half-way between Europe and Latin America. You can fly to Venezuela from here in only six hours."

With the oily broken tarmac, the smell of bubble gum and ducados, the modern buildings and traffic jams, this could easily be Caracas.

Nightcap: Like a vast apparition in the sunset, the volcanic dome of Mount Teide, Spain's tallest mountain, looms up out of the island of Tenerife, one hundred miles away across the dark sea. The highway along the north coast of Gran Canaria to the ferry port is as busy as the M25 during rush- hour but I am more stunned by the view.

We board in darkness, under a warm wind. Passengers range from glamorous Spaniards to chunky Canarians. There are no foreign tourists. The ship has boutiques, a bar and a restaurant and I feel like I must be in Dover.

Arrival at Sta Cruz de Tenerife is around 10.30pm. The crowds evaporate and I wander alone into town. There are cheap pensiones in these streets, where a bed will cost pounds 8 a night. It's time to get stationary.

Canary fact file

When to go

The weather in the Canary Islands is drier and sunnier in Lanzarote and Fuerteventura than in Tenerife. Nevertheless, all the islands are pleasantly mild in summer and winter alike.

Stationary holidays

Hundreds, if not thousands, of packages are available at any time of year, including large numbers of last-minute deals. Check teletext or visit a travel agent. Prices range from around pounds 200 to pounds 400 per person per week in a self-catering apartment, including flights from almost any airport in Britain. Quality of accommodation is not always high.

Motion holidays

All the islands are linked by ferry services. Sample prices on Fred Olsen Lines include Lanzarote to Fuerteventura: Pts 1,800 (pounds 8), and Gran Canaria to Tenerife: Pts 2,700 (pounds 12). Discounts for under-26s available. Buy tickets locally.

Flights on the local domestic airline Binter link up most of the islands. To book from the UK, call Iberia on 0171 830 0011. Sample fares include Tenerife to Lanzarote (pounds 43, plus tax, one way) and Fuerteventura to Gran Canaria (pounds 29, plus tax, one way).

Flight-only deals from Britain to the Canary Islands - to any of the islands - can start from around pounds 100 or even less on a last-minute charter seat booked through a tour operator. If you want scheduled flights, Monarch Airlines (01582 398333) flies direct, twice a week, from Luton to Tenerife. The fare until 18 December is pounds 170, plus pounds 14 tax.

Operators who offer tailor-made trips taking in some or all of the Canary Islands include Mundi Color (0171 282 6021), who also offer a cruise of the islands starting from the UK, Sovereign First Choice (01293 560777), Inntravel (01653 628811) and Magic of Spain (0181 748 4220).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice