Family adventures: Discover excitement around every corner in the Canary Islands
Saturday 31 October 2009
What more is there to do than build sandcastles?
Lots. Naturally, the beach plays an important part in most family forays to the Canaries, but there is a bucket-load of other things to do that will keep visitors of varying maturity amused. Each island is very diverse and offers a different landscape and opportunities for family fun some man-made, some natural and some a combination of both. The archipelago's towns also have a part to play in keeping children occupied. However, the vast majority of family adventures are of the outdoors type, so don't forget to plaster on the industrial-strength sun cream.
I want to explore
Anyone for a family camel ride? So long as you are aware beforehand that sitting atop a lurching camel is not especially comfortable, it makes for a fun adventure. A good place to experience the pleasure is the Echadero de los Camellos in Lanzarote's Timanfaya National Park. Caravans of humped beasts clump up and down the burnished red hills all day long, allowing their riders a glimpse of this volcanic landscape. Unescorted visits are prohibited, so guided tours are the only way to traverse the national park. To see a bit more of the astounding scenery, comfy air-conditioned buses operate along the Ruta de los Volcanes. Buses leave hourly from El Diablo restaurant at the heart of the park.
Horseback adventures are also a great way to see the islands' landscapes. Most of the islands have riding centres catering for family expeditions and riders of mixed ability. In Lanzarote, try Lanzarote a Caballo (00 34 928 830 038; lanzarotecaballo.com ), complete with mini-farm and ponies for junior adventurers.
In the south of Tenerife, try La Caldera del Rey (00 34 636 526 918; tenerifehorses.com ) a Canarian farm with stables, hacks and petting zoo only 10 minutes from Playa de las Americas.
Horseback adventures with Happy Horse (00 34 679 867 057; happy-horse.org ) in the south of Gran Canaria feature mountain, valley and beach rides.
It depends how fast you want to go. Those with older children should try "bike rafting" (00 34 699 944 622; raftingbike.com ), which involves 35km of gentle freewheeling through Tenerife's aromatic pine forests down to the coast of Los Cristianos. These half-day excursions operate on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; bikes are available for those aged eight upwards; the cost is 40 per person and includes transport, picnic and guide.
Fit families might like to take a guided cycle tour of Gran Canaria's fascinating capital, Las Palmas. Cycle Gran Canaria (00 34 928 769 508; cyclegrancanaria.com ) will show you how the city developed from a 15th- century fishing village into one of Spain's busiest ports. Tours last four hours and cost from 60 per person including lunch. Less urban cycling options throughout the island are also available.
Upping the pace a bit, a quad-bike safari is a popular way for families to experience the craggy terrain of northern Fuerteventura, up and down the island's sand dunes, volcanic craters and across the desert. Quad Adventure Excursions (00 34 928 866 552; quadadventure.net ) offers a half-day of kicking up the dust with mid-morning transfers from Corralejo. Drivers must hold a valid driving licence; cost is 65 for the driver, 38 per adult passenger, 28 for a child under 12.
To experience a side of Tenerife that most of its visitors don't get to see, you need to get off the beaten path. Tamará*4x4 Jeep Safaris (00 34 922 373 781; tamaran.com ) will take you to those parts other excursions don't reach. Tours are available in the north and south of the island, and also in La Gomera, where you can learn about El Silbo, a whistling language still used by locals to communicate across the valleys of this deeply gouged island.
How about a sailing adventure?
The waters between Tenerife and La Gomera are ideal for learning to sail. Enrol the whole family, and next time you hit the seas you'll have a ready-made crew, shipshape and Bristol-fashion. Andrew Williams runs the RYA-recognised Club Sail Sea School (020-8133 7228; clubsail.com ) out of Tenerife's San Miguel Marina on the south coast. The one-week "Competent Crew" course is for those with more enthusiasm than experience and takes in the somewhat essential matters like how to steer and handle the sails. All the lessons actually take place while cruising between the western isles, so not only do you get a headful of new skills, you also get to enjoy some dramatic coastlines. Courses start from 675 per person (excluding flights); minimum age for Competent Crew certification is eight; younger children and babies are welcome, and boats can be chartered for exclusive family use.
Anything less taxing?
If you prefer to just sit back and relax, there are plenty of boat adventures to choose from. There might only be seven major Canary Islands, but there are also a number of minor ones worth exploring. La Graciosa lies off the northern tip of Lanzarote. Until the late 19th century, the only inhabitants were a handful of pirates preying on trade ships passing between Africa and the Americas. Now it has a population of 700. Explore its unpaved sandy streets and spectacular beaches by taking the 35-minute ferry ride from Orzola in Lanzarote.
Fuerteventura also has its own secluded islet too. Los Lobos is a pretty nature reserve with a picture-postcard beach and excellent snorkelling conditions. Two glass-bottom boats make the 15-minute trip from Corralejo harbour at 10am, 10.15am, 11.45am, noon and 3.30pm.
Whale and dolphin excursions also provide a fun and relaxing family adventure, with boats departing every day of the week. Try the three-hour Must Cat catamaran (00 34 922 786 814; bit.ly/tfecat ) excursion, sailing from Las Galletas on Tenerife every day except Saturday; adults 41, children half-price.
For an underwater adventure where you don't get wet, hop aboard the Yellow Submarine (00 34 922 736 629; submarinesafaris.com ) to see the stingrays, barracudas and other marine life inhabiting San Miguel Marina in Tenerife. The one-hour dives take place five times a day, every day except Saturday; tickets cost 48 per adult, 28 per child.
Still in the water, if your family likes a holiday with a bit of "zip", hop on a twin-seater jet ski for a tour of Gran Canaria's south-west coastline (00 34 928 566 994; grancanariajetski.com ). A two-hour excursion costs 250 per jet ski (two passengers).
Where can we have a green adventure?
El Hierro and La Gomera have glorious landscapes that are great for families to explore.
Alternatively, try La Palma otherwise known as La Isla Bonita (the beautiful island). Soaking up most of the region's rainfall, it's the greenest of the seven islands. While the south remains bald and scalded by volcanic eruptions, the rest of the island is a natural paradise of dense forests, mountainous climbs and scenic treks.
If you need an objective, make the waterfall that spills into the Caldera de Marcos y Cordero your aim. Be warned, though: only physically fit families should attempt the steep four-mile trail. Amid the laurel, lime and chestnut trees of Los Tilos, a path cuts through several water canal tunnels carved into the mountainside before revealing the source of much of the island's water supply.
La Gomera also offers adventure for active families. Its interior hides mist-shrouded laurel forests amid the Garajonay National Park, where it's believed Christopher Columbus wooed local sweetheart Beatriz de Bobadilla.
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