Déjà vu… heard of it… didn’t really believe in it …until my plane landed. My ticket read Spain but this destination looks just like Hawaii. Readers, I only had one glass of wine on the plane—okay make that two, but it was Spanish wine and I was doing research for you! So if I wasn’t inebriated why did I feel like the airline passenger who was trying to get to Auckland and ended up in Oakland?

It’s because the Canary Islands are kissing cousins with the Hawaiian isles.

Where are the Canary Islands?

It looks so familiar, bright red anthuriums and orange bird of paradise dot green mountains, Canary palm trees circle golden sandy beaches, and whales spout in clear blue water. But turn toward town and you notice clothes drying on iron filigree balconies in apartment buildings painted like a child’s crayon dream—fuchsia, blue, purple and yellow.

Canary Islands

Hola echoes off the cobblestone streets and the smell of spicy red and green mojo sauce lures hungry tourists into restaurants with tiled roofs and exposed bricks. Fishermen haul in octopus below a huge white ship…wait, no, on second glance it’s the auditorium designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calaveros. This is Hawaii with a European pedigree.

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Canary Islands. Photo by Ruth Wertzberger Carlson

The Canary Islands have an identity issue. Geographically located in Africa, the Spanish flag flies from Canary Island government buildings, and to make matters even more complicated, locals don’t identify with either country—they call themselves Canarians.

Many believe the Canaries are the remains of the lost city of Atlantis and also part of the Bermuda Triangle. Perhaps they’re just confused by the number of people who visit here and disappear. Many tourists never return home. Can you blame them? Some claim it’s the best climate in the world, sunny with predictable trade winds and only a few weeks of rain annually.

One of the islands appears to be from another world. On Lanzorate, which resembles the Big Island of Hawaii, volcanic eruptions have created an eerie landscape of black lava, caverns, caves and craters. Suddenly, I understood all those conspiracy theorists who believe we never landed on the moon. If you want to fake an outer space photo this is the place to do it. Many movies have been filmed here including One Million Years B.C. starring Raquel Welch in that infamous bathing suit.

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Volcano on Lanzorate in the Canary Islands

Dinner in The Cave on the Canary Islands

My initiation to this Flintstone world began with dinner in a cave…yes you heard me right, a dark scary cave. Before ushering me through the round doorway, the maître de’ at the Jameos del Agua cave advised, “Turn away from the sun so you can adjust to the dark. “ I tried but the dark side did not embrace me.

Creeping along an uneven rocky ledge, my high heels wobbled and my fingernails scratched the moist wall. A rope stanchion on the other side was the only thing preventing me from falling into a fellow diner’s bowl of mussels, but thanks to the Island’s mysterious forces I somehow made it safely to my table.

Following a four-course dinner on white tablecloths, diners got up to sit on natural chairs—boulders smoothed by past visitors. It was easy to imagine how the original inhabitants, hiding from pirates, made music to pass the time.

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Exploring the cave at Jameos del agua. Canary Islands. Photo by Ruth Wertzberger Carlson

This cave fascinated me, so I returned and visited during daylight. The tour guide led us through a maze of narrow passages, hidden corridors, rock stairs overlooking underground lakes and stalactites—a Scrabble word if I ever heard one.

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Inside Jameos del agua on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands

The Cave’s subtle illumination was created by local artist Cesar Manrique, who liked grottos so much he lived in one! His honeycomb home, a tunnel of connecting caves, is now a tourist attraction. Each bubble or room has a different vibrant color scheme. Manrique saw paradise where others saw a barren wasteland and he was responsible for the law ordering all homes on the island be painted white to contrast with the black sand and blue water.

Canary Islands

Thanks to this visionary artist, architect and environmentalist, Lanzarote residents who used to say, “God forgot us on the 7th day of creation,” are proud of their island. Manrique died in a car accident in 1992 but his vision lives on in the low skyline…he was able to ban high-rises.

Exploring Lanzarote Island

If you want to see more rocks up close you can take a bus around the Timanfaya National Park.

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Timanfaya National Park on Lanzarote Island in the Canary Islands.

However, I recommend the four legged tour…camels. Before private planes, VIPs rode on cushioned wooden chairs atop these proud beasts. The scariest part is making sure you stay in your seat when the camel stands up and sits down, but those spindly legs are surprisingly strong. In between it feels like you are rocking on a sailboat.

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Take a camel ride on Lanzarote Island in the Canary Islands. Photo by Ruth Wertzberger Carlson

Relax from your exhausting adventure on this moonscape of the Canary Islands, I suggest sampling wine at Museo del vino Lanzarote. This is a bodega dating back to 1775, which may have helped America’s founders form our country. Ancient manuscripts on display in the tasting room reveal that William Shakespeare praised the wine and American forefathers sipped it after signing the Declaration of Independence. Wine snobs seek out Malvasia because it is so rare. When the phalanx disease wiped out all the crops in Europe, this isolated archipelago’s vines were too remote to be affected.

Beaches, caves, fresh fish…who wouldn’t want that déjà vu experience? The good news is you can have it over and over again by visiting the Canary Islands. For more on visiting, check out the website at spain.info.


Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations, meals, tours and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

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