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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Tips for cruising the Canary Islands

Only a few hours of flight-time separates the Canary Islands from most of Europe, but their vibrant mix of desert-island shores, bright green vegetation and volcanic rocks might give you the impression you're on another continent entirely. Their popularity shows no sign of waning, so as another season brings thousands of heat-seekers through the airports on their way to Tenerife and Lanzarote, it might be a good time to try traveling the Spanish archipelago a different way.

Cruises around the Canary Islands can offer a more relaxed approach to your Mediterranean holiday, and even cut out the airport completely. Many disembark from Spain, Italy or major cruise ports in the islands themselves, such as Las Palmas on Gran Canaria. However, some now sail directly from places like Southampton, giving UK passengers a leisurely few days to adjust at sea.

Tours typically last anything from a week to 12 days, although if you're looking to combine your trip with a few cultural stops around the Iberian Peninsula like Lisbon, or perhaps head onto Morocco afterwards, month-long itineraries are available.

Though temperatures are balmy year-round, the best time to cruise to the Canary Islands is generally outside of the July-September rush, or off-peak January to February. This said, it's worth looking out for last-minute summer deals online, as you may be able to get a full package for a fraction of the price, often with things like meals and drinks included.

Some cruise lines also include lesser-known Canary destinations; perfect for those looking to escape the tourist-heavy beaches elsewhere. The smaller islands boast a wealth of quiet beauty, from the lagoons of northern Fuerteventura to the lush Valle Gran Rey on tiny La Gomera. Wine-lovers should look out for cruises calling at the Portuguese island of Madeira, where the Botanical Gardens of port town Funchal are also worth a stroll.

Nearly all major cruise lines travel to the Canaries every year, so it should be fairly straightforward to find an itinerary to suit you. Another advantage of cruising Iberia and the Canary Islands is that you won't need to exchange your Euros every time you dock and with reliably warm weather throughout, there's no need to pack for different climates. Simply kick off your deck shoes and prepare to be escorted around some of the most enviable holiday destinations in Europe, all in the space of one trip.

Guided excursions on-shore are normally extra, but with historic cities like Santa Cruz de Tenerife, exploring independently is often just as appealing on a cruise stop here. Remember to check out the old town of Vegueta if your ship is calling at Las Palmas, and don't miss a day trip around the mountainous landscape of Timanfaya National Park on Lanzarote.

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