Canaries or Balearics: which islands are better?
The Canary and the Balearic Islands of Spain have so much in common; sun, sea and sand, and a loyal base of holiday-makers who tend to return year after year.
Ideally, you’d zip off to both destinations this year, but suppose you had to choose… which set of islands is better, and why?
The Canary Islands are only 4 hours flight away from the UK, but you can get to the Balearics in just 2 hours – the perfect short-haul destination, making even a weekend break there entirely doable.
The cost of a holiday
|Canary Islands||Balearic Islands|
|3 bedroom villa with pool, near beach||From £523 per week in Lanzarote||From £688 per week in Majorca|
|3-course meal for 2 in a mid-range restaurant||29 Euros||50 Euros|
|0.5 litre of beer||1.75 Euros||2.25 Euros|
|A reasonable quality bottle of wine in a shop||4 Euros||5.60 Euros|
|A bottle of cola||1 Euro||2.2 Euros|
Do bear in mind that there is variation within the islands, in particular in the Balearics. Ibiza and Formentera, in general, are more expensive than Majorca and Menorca for eating out. However, good value restaurants can be found all over both sets of islands if you are prepared to spend a little time researching and are happy to travel away from the more touristy areas, and of course, the price of accommodation varies wildly depending on what your specific requirements are.
Comparing the landscape
The Canary Islands offer unique volcanic landscapes; mountainous, with stretches of incredible moon-like plains, and the odd cactus reaching up from between rocky crags. The beaches vary from large, golden sands to black-sanded rocky coves. Gran Canaria boasts the famous Maspalomas dunes, and Lanzarote has the El Golfo cove, whose black sands contrast strikingly with its bright green lagoon. The incredible Canarian landscapes can be explored by quad-bike, or even on a camel ride.
The Balearics have a typical Mediterranean landscape; inland you’ll find hills and mountains carpeted with pine forests, olive, fig and almond trees. Spring time is beautiful here, with blossom and other flowers filling the countryside. Majorca has the impressive limestone Serra de Tramuntana mountains as well as some incredible caves; Menorca has pretty, tiny tree-lined beaches, and Formentera exquisite white sandy beaches. Ibiza has the National Park of Las Salinas – salt flats and wetlands which teem with birdlife. The Balearic Islands are perfect for exploring on foot, bike or horseback.
Canarian food vs Balearic food
The food in the Canary Islands is heavily influenced by its historical associations with Africa and Latin America and the subtropical climate allows for the cultivation of bananas, mangoes, avocados and pineapples. Unsurprisingly seafood is a key ingredient here too; the well-known salted fish dish is called sancocho canario. “Wrinkled potatoes” or papas arrugadas, and the delicious green and red mojos (sauces) are some of the most famous Canarian specialities. The Canary Islands also boast the highest vineyards in Europe, with grapes growing largely in volcanic terrain, and wines from these islands are enjoying an increasingly positive reputation.
The traditional food of the Balearics is similar to Catalan cuisine, but there are dishes that are typical of the islands. Pigs are farmed here, so pork is a popular meat, and seafood also features heavily. Lobster is plentiful in the waters around the islands. Many dishes feature almonds as these grow in abundance here. In Majorca, you will find a local speciality in the shape of a spiral-shaped sweet pastry called an ensaimada, as well as a spicy chorizo-like sausage called sobrisada, made from the black Balearic pig. Menorca produces its own cheese, called Mao, and across all the islands you will find a liqueur called Hierbas made from many herbs including anise, fennel, thyme, rosemary, mint, juniper and marjoram.
Of course, both islands offer much more than local specialities, and you’ll be able to find a great many restaurants serving a variety of cuisines wherever you go. If it’s haute cuisine you are after, Tenerife in the Canary Islands has four Michelin star restaurants, so on this front the Balearics wins, since Majorca has nine Michelin star restaurants.
Sightseeing and day trips
In the Canaries, you can visit an active volcano (Mount Tiede in Tenerife), the UNESCO World Heritage site of the city of San Cristobal de la Laguna on Tenerife, Timanfaya National Park on Lanzarote, Loro Park zoo in Tenerife, the botanical garden in Gran Canaria, the lava-formed caves Cueva de los Verdes in Lanzarote, and much more.
The Balearics offers, amongst other things, Palma Cathedral, the Joan Miro Foundation, the Alfabia Gardens, and the Soller vintage train ride, all in Majorca. Ibiza has the Ses Salines Natural Park, smugglers’ caves and a Phoenician necropolis, whilst Minorca has the fort of Isabel II and El Toro Mountain with its incredible panoramic views.
Let’s face it – you’re not going to be bored on either archipelago.
Whether you visit the Balearics or the Canaries in June, July or August, in the main you will experience similar weather. You can expect average temperatures of between 22°C and 25°C, with highs of around 30°C, and at least 10 hours of sunshine each day. You might see a little rain in the Balearics, but it’s not highly likely. The sea will be a pleasant temperature to swim in around both sets of islands.
However, where the Canaries wins without question is during the winter months. Even in December, January and February average temperatures are around 20 or 21°C – so if the idea of sunbathing on New Year’s Eve, or swimming in the sea during February half term appeals to you, then book yourself a villa in Tenerife!