Each of the eight islands that form the Canary Islands Archipelago has its own identity and idiosyncrasy. That’s why talking about Canary Islands culture means talking about diversity and abundance, about fusion and foreign influence. Beyond learning about the lives of the first settlers, the iconic monuments, historical buildings and the works of artists that have made their mark, it’s also important to discover local festivities and deep-rooted customs that define the Canary Islands character. Open and friendly, calm and approachable, the people of the Canary Islands will make sure you feel right at home.
Islands with rhythm
Each island has its own music. That’s the explanation in the Canary Islands for all the different styles of folk music (‘parrandas’, ‘isas’, ‘malagueñas’, ‘seguidillas’ and ‘folías’) that accompany the various ‘romerías’, which are local festivities held in every town and village in the Canary Islands Archipelago. Along with the melodies played on typical local instruments, such as the ‘timple’ (a traditional string instrument) or ‘chácaras’ (a type of castanet used on La Gomera), there are also dances: the tango on El Hierro, the ‘tajaraste’ on La Gomera and the ‘sirinoque’ on La Palma, which the locals dance in beautiful traditional outfits embroidered by hand in colourful thread.
To learn more about the influences that have helped form the music of the Canary Islands, the best thing to do is visit the Timple House Museum in Teguise in Lanzarote or the Néstor Álamo Museum in Gran Canaria.
Artistic Canary Islanders
As well as internationally famous musicians, such as the great tenor Alfredo Kraus, one of the best opera singers of the 20th century, or the composer Teobaldo Power, the Canary Islands art scene also includes some internationally famous names, such as that of the artist César Manrique, who was from Lanzarote and was a true visionary and pioneer in ecologism; the painters Óscar Domínguez and Néstor Martín-Fernández de la Torre; or the sculptor Martín Chirino.
One of the most popular local festivities in the Canary Islands is carnival. Much more than a celebration, carnival is the quintessential Canary Island festivity. An explosion of joy and colour, of rhythm and movement, that floods the streets. All day and all night, to the beat of the drums and Latin music. The best way to enjoy it is to paint your face and merge into the crowds. There’s a reason why the carnivals on the islands, especially in Tenerife and Gran Canaria, are among the best in the world and attract thousands of tourists every year.
Canary Islands history
There are many places where you can learn about the history of the Canary Islands: exploring the islands’ first settlements, such as Risco Caído, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the Painted Cave and Valeron Monastery in Gran Canaria; the Belmaco Cave in La Palma; and El Julan in El Hierro, which is incredibly important archaeological heritage. The archaeological museums on La Gomera and in Tenerife are also key places to visit. The second of the two has a fascinating collection of Guanche mummies.
Nor can we forget that the fabulous geographical location and exceptional sailing conditions made the islands crucial ports for major historical milestones, such as the discovery of America. To this day, you can visit the buildings that housed Cristopher Columbus on La Gomera and in Gran Canaria during his stay in the archipelago en route to the New World.
Genuine Canary Islands
There are few things that are as authentic to the Canary Islands as the ‘silbo gomero’, an ancestral language that has been passed down through the generations for centuries. It was recognised as Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2009 and is fully integrated into the school curriculum, where it is taught as a compulsory subject to ensure its preservation.
Alongside the ‘romerías’ and carnivals, the Canary Islands are home to another big festivity that takes place in the islands every five years and is received with great enthusiasm: the ‘Bajadas’ (descents).These are processions through the streets carrying large, heavily ornate floats containing statues of Our Lady: the ‘Virgen de los Reyes’ (Our Lady of the Kings) on El Hierro, ‘Virgen de Guadalupe’ (Our Lady of Guadalupe) on La Gomera and ‘Virgen de Las Nieves’ (Our Lady of the Snows) on La Palma, with the famous, intimate ‘dance of the dwarves’. A magical spectacle that is as unique as the carpets of coloured sand that adorn the streets of La Orotava during Corpus Christi. True ephemeral works of art that are worth discovering.