The Canary Islands is a member of the Spanish Autonomous Community and is an archipelago on the outermost portion of the European Union. These islands covers an area of twenty-eight hundred square miles and has a population of over two million residents. There are eight islands in the Canary Islands chain and these include Tenerife, La Graciosa, Gran Canaria, El Hierro, Lanzarote, La Gomera, La Palma and Fuerteventura. The entire Canary Island archipelago is about sixty-two miles west of the border between the Western Sahara and Morocco. Because of its location, the islands enjoy a sub tropical climate that are characterised by cool winters and long dry summers.
The discovery of the archipelago is often credited to Numidian King Juba II, though there were several distinct indigenous Neolithic tribes already living on the islands. Written records of this time are spotty, but many historians and archaeologists believe that these people were descendants of the North African Berbers. During the Middle Ages, the Canary Islands were explored by Arabs for possible commercial use. In 1402, the Castilians conquered the islands and Jean de Bethencourt was named King of the Canary Islands. He would then go on to set up a base on the island of La Gomera. Forty-five years later, Maciot de Bethencourt sold his lordship to the Portugal Prince named Henry the Navigator.
This action caused a revolt on the islands and resulted in the expulsion of the Portugese in 1459. The Canary Islands then reverted back to Castilian control. The Castilians established the growing of sugar cane and the production of wine. The islands also became an important way point for missionaries and conquistadors heading to the New World. This brought an age of prosperity to the islands and during this period magnificient palaces and places of worship were built there.
Today, the economy of the Canary Islands are mainly based around the tourist industry. This industry is so important that it accounts for over a third of the Gross Domestic Product of the islands. These islands attract over ten million tourists each year. Another large portion of the economy is construction which accounts for a fifth of the islands Gross Domestic Product. Agricultural products are another huge part of the economy. The islands produce many food staples which are exported around the world. Some of these food staples include bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, sugarcane, lemons, figs, wheat, grapes, dates, oranges, barley, corn, peaches, apricots and almonds. Other cash crops include tobacco and cochineal.
A popular Canary Islands attraction is Timanfaya National Park. This national park (called Parque Nacional de Timanfaya in Spanish) overlaps the Yaiza and Tinajo Municipalities on the southwestern portion of Lanzarote Island. It covers an area of almost twenty square miles and is composed of mainly volcanic earth. There has been reports of volcanic activity, but the last major eruption occured during the eighteenth century. The volcanic activity produces steam geysers which continue to draw visitors to the park. Because of the sensitive nature of the fauna and flora in the park, access to the public is regulated. Visitors can access the park by two footpaths. There is also a route where one can rent camels to traverse. Loro Parque is another popular attraction on the Canaries. This zoo is situated on the island of Tenerife, just outside Puerto de la Cruz.
It was opened in 1972, on twenty-nine thousand square feet of land and with an animal collection that only consisted of about a hundred parrots. Since that time, it has grown to cover over four hundred and five thousand square feet with a contingent of over three thousand animals. It claims to have the largest collection of parrots in the world. The zoo has set a number of records which include the longest European shark tunnel, the largest Thai village outside of Thailand and the largest exibition of penguins in the world. Some of the animals featured in this zoo’s collection include apes, chimpanzees, gorillas, pelicans, iguanas, sea lions, jaguars, tigers, marmosets, flamingos, parrots, tortoises, piranhas, sea horses, alligators, orcas and sharks.
Palmitos Park is another destination that is gaining popularity with visitors to the Canaries. Its a botanical garden that covers an area of six hundred thousand square feet and also contains an aviary. It is situated on Gran Canaria Island, about six miles from the beaches of Maspalomas. The botanical garden is located in the middle of the mountains, and as a result offers visitors a beautiful way to see some of the most incredible scenery of the island.
Areas of the park include a pond, butterfly house (the largest in Europe), glass hummingbird cages, orchid house, Amphitheater (has many daily bird shows), presentation room and an aquarium. Palmitos Park also has a collection of over fifteen hundred exotic birds, over a thousand palm trees and over one hundred and fifty different types of cacti. There are also animal exhibits here which include monkeys and crocodiles.