Each of the eight islands that form the Canary Islands Archipelago has its own identity and idiosyncrasy. That’s why talking about Canary Islands heritage and 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 stories to tell
You can travel through time while you visit the Canary Islands: all you have to do is take a moment to discover their cultural heritage in order to appreciate the whole story behind each of the islands.
Of all these archaeological areas and historic sites, two in particular stand out, as UNESCO World Heritage Sites: El Risco Caído & Las Montañas Sagradas (Gran Canaria) and the historic town of La Laguna (Tenerife).
In addition to these two heritage sites there is another, intangible piece of heritage, also recognised by UNESCO: the whistled language of the island of La Gomera, a unique form of whistling that crosses mountains on this island.
But there are many more places on each of the islands where you can discover part of their history. Some examples are the town of Betancuria (Fuerteventura), the Archaeological Park of Cueva Pintada and Cenobio Valerón (Gran Canaria), the tower of Torre del Conde or the Belmaco archaeological site (La Palma), as well as the Cultural Park of El Julan (El Hierro).
Much of this cultural heritage is also kept in museums, such as the Silk Museum (La Palma), the César Manrique Foundation (Lanzarote) and the MUNA (Tenerife), which contains an interesting collection of Guanche mummies.
Artistic Canary Islander
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.
Very Canarian traditions
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.
The rhythm of the Canary Islands
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.