If you're looking for a winter sailing destination in Europe then look no further than the Canary Islands - a beautiful volcanic archipelago with a year-round warm climate and absolutely perfect for an on- or off-season sailing holiday. Although technically part of Spain, the Canaries are in fact well over a thousand kilometres south from the Spanish mainland and in fact much closer to Africa, rising up in the Atlantic Ocean just 100km away from the long Moroccan coastline. Despite being the EU's most outlying territory, that doesn't stop 12 million people visiting these fascinating isles each year, and let's be honest - as far as Europeans are concerned they are still much nearer than the Caribbean or the Bahamas if you're looking for winter sailing and sun!
The Canary Islands consist of 7 major islands and 6 islets, the major ones being Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro, and every since the 1960s they have been a popular holiday destination for Northern Europeans desperate for a bit of summer sizzling or to lift the winter blues. Sailing has long been a popular leisure pursuit here and many European yacht owners bring their boats down from the Mediterranean during the off-season, whilst others - following the precedent of Christopher Columbus - stop off here as they prepare to make the cross-Atlantic journey to the Caribbean. As such you'll find plenty of great marinas, some brand new, where you can charter everything from sailing yachts, luxury yachts, catamarans, and power/motor boats. Thanks to the great conditions, you'll also find many companies offering RYA-accredited courses if you're keen to spend a week or so learning the ropes.
Tenerife is probably the most famous of Spain's Canary Islands, as, apart from being the biggest, it is the home of the breath-taking Mount Teide, which at 3,700m high is the world's third largest volcano. (Although technically still active, holiday-makers will be pleased to know the last eruption was in 1909, so you'll to be pretty unlucky to get covered in lava). Ten million people visit the island every year to admire its volcanic landscapes, tropical forests and the historic beauty of its capital Santa Cruz de Tenerife, or - more simply - to enjoy a typically Spanish summer holiday in resorts like Playa de las Americas or Los Cristianos. Being a port city Santa Cruz makes a great base for any sailing vacation as from here you can cruise out onto the local waters and make your way to one of the island's amazing beaches, quite possibly sighting whales, dolphins and logger-head turtles en route. Back on terra firma and you can check out the city's famous Auditorium - modern symbol of the Canary Isles.
Mountains, desert, jungle, beaches, villages and high-rise resorts, Gran Canaria is often referred to as a 'miniature continent' owing to its diversity. With six marinas there's also plenty of opportunities to get sailing, and yacht charter companies will hire you a boat and a skipper to aid your nautical adventures. Fishers will be pleased to hear that the deep sea fishing, especially out of Puerto Rico marina, is fantastic with several varieties of tuna, marlin and swordfish fighting to get on the end of your hook. The El Cabron marine reserve is also great for diving (although obviously you won't be able to access the reserve by yacht!).
Fuerteventura, one of the Canaries' eastern isles, is famed for its beaches... so if you want to combine a spot of sailing with sunning yourself on fine sands it could be a good choice. The island still boasts the dramatic rocky volcanic landscapes inland, that characterise the archipelago, however sailors will be more interested in the isle's crystal clear Atlantic waters, home to whales, dolphins, porpoises, flying fish and other exotic marine life. It's worth anchoring at Ajuy village to check out the black sands of Caleta Negra. From Fuerteventura you can also sail easily enough to neighbouring Lanzarote...
Lanzarote was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1993 and once more visitors will be amazed at its unique scenery. With 300 volcanic craters a trip across the interior of the island is as close as you're ever likely to get to visiting the moon. Leaving the lunar landscapes behind travellers can charter yachts catamarans and boats from the likes of Puerto Calero and Puerto del Carmen. A popular (but by no means over-popular) trip is to head over to Fuerteventura via Los Lobos - a small island and stunning national park.
La Palma, whilst smaller than all of the above, still has three marinas from which to set sail from and several one-boat operators who offer charters and cruises. Known as La Isla Bonita ('The Pretty Island') La Palma is one of the greenest of the Canaries. As well as lush vegetation and of course lava fields, La Palma also boasts the most modern astronomical observatory in Europe. Plus plenty of picture perfect bays for weighing anchor for a spot of snorkelling and swimming.
As well as Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote a truly great sailing holiday in the Canary Islands will take in the delights of the entire archipelago - time permitting - and a trip to see the the misty rainforests of Garajonay National Park or the Valle Gran Rey ('Valley of the Great King') in La Gromera, or a cruise to the remote and tranquil isles of La Graciosa or El Hierro.
Bear in mind that, being out on the Atlantic Ocean, the Canaries are considerably more exposed to the elements than the Mediterranean for example and the strong winds that blow in from the North East and channel between the islands can provide for a much more challenging break, than say a sailing holiday in the Balearic Islands. Even with an ICC you may well be well-advised to opt for a skippered charter rather than for a bareboat charter, whereas novices of course will find that the boating companies will always provide a qualified captain to lead any cruise. The winds tend to be lightest in October and November making this a doubly good time to go on vacation, as temperatures should be in the 20-25 zone.
Canary Islands Travel Guides
Canary Islands Yacht Charter Companies