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Out of Africa

8 stunning wildlife-packed islands you never knew existed

Canary Islands cruise vacations are enormously popular with British travelers – but the Spanish archipelago has some islands you might never have heard of.

Holidays to off-the-beaten-track destinations are increasing in popularity as tourists seek to steer clear of hordes of jet-setters and carve out their own, unique adventures.

Sometimes traveling far from the madding crowd can unearth some truly amazing hotspots you never knew were there.

Sure, you’ve heard of Tenerife and Gran Canaria, but what about the much smaller islands in the Canaries that aren’t brimming with sun-cream-lathered, burnt Brits?

Or maybe the Azores and Cape Verde – both archipelagos many vacationmakers forget exist.

These lesser-known lands are packed fun of incredible wildlife, splendid scenery and all manner of escapades you might never have thought to embark on.

Here are just eight amazing islands you can visit with expedition cruise lines.

Canary Islands

Bananas & explorers

Expedition cruise lines tend to steer clear of tourist-packed Canary Islands such as Gran Canaria or Tenerife, instead stopping at the smaller, lesser-known islands of El Hierro and La Gomera.

El Hierro is the smallest of all the Canaries as well as the most south-westerly. Hugely popular with scuba divers and snorkellers, the tiny island is known for its amazing rock formations, volcanic terrain and diverse flora.

In the sleepy capital of Valverde, you’ll admire the delightful 18th-century church Nuestra Señora de La Concepción before driving through verdant valleys where pineapple, banana, papaya and mango are grown.

La Gomera is the second smallest of the Canary Islands and is best explored on foot. Fun fact: famous explorer Christopher Columbus set sail for America from here.

Highlights include the beautiful church, Iglesia de la Virgen de la Asunción in the capital San Sebastian, La Gomera’s national park (home to one of the oldest laurel forests in the world), and the lush valley of Hermigua and its banana plantations.

Cape Verde

Volcanoes & whales

In Cape Verde, a formerly Portuguese archipelago in the central Atlantic Ocean off the coast of West Africa, travelers can visit Fogo Island, Boa Visit Island and Santo Antão.

Fogo is known as the ‘black pearl’ of Cape Verde for its black volcanic sand and here you’ll call at the colorful Portuguese colonial town of São Filipe with its lively market, cobbled streets and local museum.

Parque Natural do Fogo is home to Fogo volcano which has served to mould the island into the dramatic landscape you see today, brimming with collapsed calderas, lava fields and craters. The volcano itself is 9,281ft tall and is the highest point in the Cape Verde Islands.

Boa Vista is known for its 55km of beaches and vast sand dunes. There is oodles of wildlife, too, from marine turtles to humpback whales. The capital Sal Rei has a charming main square, Praça da Santa.

Santo Antão has an impressive landscape, too. Adventurers will drive through the island’s mountainous interior with deep, rocky ravines and lush forest.

Breadfruit, bananas, papaya and sugar cane are farmed here with the latter being made into Cape Verde’s national drink. It will be easy getting your five a day in this place!


Waterfalls & birdwatching

An autonomous region of Portugal, the Azores are an archipelago composed of nine volcanic islands in the mid-Atlantic known for attracting both whales and adventurous sailors.  Three of the islands visited with expedition cruise lines are Flores, Graciosa and Terceira.

Flores is known for the beauty of its natural waterfalls and lakes carved out by volcanoes and is brilliant for walking trails. The Portuguese architecture is also impressive, don’t miss the 19th-century church Nossa Senhora da Conceição and the Flores Museum.

Graciosa is also perfect for keen walkers – offering hikes both along the coast and along the perimeter of the volcanic cone Furna do Enxofre which still puffs out fumes and oozes bubbling mud pools. Whale watching and swimming with dolphins are both popular activities here.

These are also available on calls at Terceira along with top birdwatching. The island is most famous for its rich historical heritage, however.

UNESCO has classified Terceira’s city of Angra do Heroismo as a World Heritage Site and here you can explore botanical gardens and the main cathedral. Algar do Carvão is a beloved excursion – the volcanic cave boasts jaw-dropping stalactites and stalagmites of amorphous silica.

Published 08.04.22