The Canaries are off the north west coast of Africa, so winter sun is pretty well guaranteed, but we had a couple of dull days to begin with. Turns out it was dust and sand in the air, coming from the Sahara.
You can click on the map to enlarge it. These are contour maps, so you can see the islands are hilly and volcanic. Lanzarote at the top is largely a lava desert because of a massive eruption in the 18th century.
"From 1730 to 1736 (for 2,053 days), the island was hit by a series of volcanic eruptions, producing 32 new volcanoes in a stretch of 18 km (11 mi). The minister of Yaiza, Don Andrés Lorenzo Curbelo documented the eruption in detail until 1731. Lava covered a quarter of the island's surface, including the most fertile soil and eleven villages. One hundred smaller volcanoes were located in the area called Montañas del Fuego, the "Mountains of Fire".
In 1768, drought affected the deforested island, and winter rains did not fall. Much of the population was forced to emigrate to Cuba and the Americas. Another volcanic eruption occurred within the range of Tiagua in 1824 which was less violent than the major eruption between 1730 and 1736." Wikipedia
All the same, it has popular coastal resorts, mostly with volcanic black sand beaches.
El Hierro, the small island in the bottom left is active at the moment, though there hasn't been significant action in the past few years.
Not being adventurous souls, we visited Gran Canaria, in the middle, where the volcanoes are dormant. To give a sense of scale, it's about the size of Greater London — about 600 square miles, and has close to a million inhabitants, nearly all of them around the edge. We stayed in Maspalomas, down on the bottom edge. Above is a picture from our balcony of the beach, with the town of Maspalomas in the distance. Most of the tourist resorts are around the bottom curve. We discovered why when we took a coach trip of the island.
The south is rugged and dry, as above — and the roads are often narrow and zig-zag up and down hillsides. The north is quite lush and it was raining when we got up there, which isn't uncommon in the winter. One interesting feature is the Canary Island Pine. This has very long needles, and uses them to trap moisture from the air. Part of this is used by the tree, but much drips off the needles in a sort of rain to support other vegetation. At one point they were cutting down the trees, but then they realized how vital they are. We had a demonstration when we stopped for lunch in the north part of the island and it rained. The rain had stopped by the time we came out, but it was raining under the pines!
Overall water is scarce on the island. In the south they collect what rain falls in reservoirs in the deep clefts between mountains and use it for irrigation. It's too full of algae for drinking.
They use desalination of sea water for domestic use, which is why it doesn't taste very good — a bit of salt and lots of chlorine. However, there are natural water sources in the north which are used for bottled water, along with imported bottle water from elsewhere.
The original inhabitants seem to have been genetically linked to North Africa, but they were wiped out by waves of European attempts to claim the islands. They lived mostly inland in natural caves formed by air pockets in the lava, and people living inland still live in cave houses today. They are prized because they keep a moderate temperature all year round. They have a normal frontage, but most of the house is out of sight. It seems to me it'd be dark, but I didn't get a chance to ask.
As for the invaders in the end Spain won and the Canaries are now Spanish. Tourism is a large part of the economy, especially on the larger islands, but they grow bananas, tobacco and tomatoes. They also produce cochineal, a red dye that comes from insects that live on cactus.
You may think the islands get their name from the bird, but in fact it's probably from dogs. The commonest explanation is that the island of Gran Canaria was called Canariae Insulae by the Romans because of large dogs there, but there is debate. Definitely not the birds, though. What's more, Gran Canaria might sound like the largest island, but it's not. That's Tenerife. Gran Canaria — large dogs.
So that's where I went on my winter holidays. Here's a photo from our balcony at night. It was lovely to have the constant sound of the sea.
And lastly, those dunes in the back of the first picture. The Maspalomas dunes are famous, and include at the edges a nature reserve. You can walk through them, but everyone agrees it's pretty hard going, as soft sand usually is. So we didn't.