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Interesting facts about the Canary Islands

The Canary Islands are a collection of beautiful Spanish islands but they're actually far closer to Africa than Spain.

When you head off on your holiday to Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote or Fuerteventura you might want the scoop to impress your friends and family with.

So, from wrestling and astronomy to sea lions and whistling, we've compiled some interesting facts about the Canary Islands to know before you go.

The islands were named after dogs, not birds

The chirpy canary bird does come from the Canary Islands.

But, the name actually originated from the Latin word for dogs – canaria. Most likely, the name developed from the resident sea lions on the island, which the Romans called sea dogs.

Originally only the rich owned canary birds

The domestic canary comes from a songbird species which originated in the Azores, Madeira, and the Canary Islands.

They were brought to Europe by Spanish sailors and have been bred for their beautiful voices since the 17th century. Only the males sing, so they were in short supply and very expensive, meaning originally only the rich could afford them.

The islands are closer to Africa than Spain

The Canary Islands lie off the northwest coast of Africa, very close to the equator. This position allows for their year-round, gloriously hot and sub-tropical climate. They sit just 100 kilometres from Africa but 1,056 kilometres from mainland Spain.

Even so, they maintain the Spanish language and its delicious cuisine.

The Canary Islands have the highest point in Spain

The Spanish mainland holds the majestic Pyrenees Mountains, but the highest peak in Spain is on the Canary Island of Tenerife.

Mount Teide, also known as El Teide, is a dormant volcano standing 3,718 metres high. It's also the highest point above sea level on any of the Atlantic islands, and the third largest volcano in the world.

Tenerife's volcanic history has created fine black sands on many of its beaches, giving them a very distinctive look.

The world’s biggest telescope is in the Canary Islands

The Roque de los Muchachos Mountain on the island of La Palma is home to the observatory of the same name, which holds the Gran Telescopio Canarias - GTC telescope.

Completed in 2009 and with an aperture of 10.4 metres, the GTC is the biggest telescope in the world, able to gather precise astronomical information from across the skies.

You can have a volcano-cooked meal

The Canary Islands are made up of a collection of long-dormant volcanoes.

Fortunately, the last eruption was in 1824 but plenty of thermal activity still exists below the surface. In Timanfaya National Park in Lanzarote, you can dine at El Diablo Restaurant where all the food is cooked using only natural volcanic heat.

They have their own whistling language

On the small island of La Gomera the local population developed their own whistling language, called Silbo Gomero, to help them communicate across the rugged landscape.

Still taught in local schools, it's used for news and announcements and is UNESCO listed as a 'Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity'.

The islands’ original sport is Canarian wrestling

Canarian wrestling, known as Lucha Canaria, was the sport of the island's earliest inhabitants, the Guanches.

Originating from the 15th century, this form of wrestling retains many original rules and techniques. The object of matches is to make your opponent touch the sand with any part of the body except the feet.

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