A volcano that created ‘one of the best climates in the world'

Poor weather can ruin vacation plans made months in advance, but one group of islands is world-famous in part due to the pristine, mild weather that it offers year-round.

Spain's Canary Islands are located just off the coast of northwestern Africa and are among the most popular travel destinations for Europeans looking to spend a holiday away from home. In 2015, more people stayed in the Canary Islands than any other tourist region in Europe, the World Economic Forum reported.

Mount Teide, the tallest mountain in the Canary Islands, seen in the background of a resort. (Hans Braxmeier)

The Canary Islands were created by volcanic eruptions over the course of millions of years and are still active to this day. Eruptions have occurred as recently as 2012 and 1971, according to ScienceDirect.

Tenerife is the tallest of the islands, with the volcanic peak jetting more than 12,000 feet above sea level, making it a great spot for deep-space telescopes and visitors interested in general stargazing.

Tenerife is around 24,600 feet tall, making it one of the tallest mountains in the world, measured from the seafloor to the top of the volcano. Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii holds this record and is more than a mile taller, measuring more than 33,000 feet from the ocean floor to the summit.

One of the biggest draws is not the volcanic scenery or the popular Teide National Park, located on Tenerife, but the picture-perfect weather on part of the islands year-round is due to the island's topography.

"For many, the climate of the Canary Islands is considered one of the best climates in the world," TravelGuide.org has declared.

An overlook showing one of the beaches along the coast of Tenerife. (Image/ hjrivas)

Winds around the Canaries often blow from the north, and as air plows into the islands, it is forced up and around the volcanic landscape. As a result, the north-facing side of the taller islands are often cloudy, cool and wetter than the southern side of the islands that are left in a "rain shadow."

The south-facing side of the islands is where millions of tourists flock to every year to enjoy the mild and sunny weather in the rain shadow, even during the winter.

"The mild and constant temperatures throughout the year, the low rainfall, the high number of sunny days make this Spanish archipelago a very popular destination both for tourists and for those who choose to spend part of their lives here," TravelGuide.org added.

Tenerife Sur, located on the southern part of the largest island in the Canaries, experiences high temperatures in the low 70s F during the middle of winter and in the mid-80s F during the middle of the summer. On the hottest days of the summer, temperatures top out in the 90s F, but people can get relief from the heat by taking a dip in the ocean or heading to the higher elevations of the island, where it is cooler.

The same factors that create perfect weather for vacationers also create microclimates all across the islands that harbor unique plants, including one that is known as the "tower-of-jewels."

Microclimates are pockets on the island where specific weather conditions occur due to the elevation or the weather created by the island's terrain, making the area different from elsewhere in the Canaries.

One of these microclimates on Tenerife is home to an enchanting plant known as Echium Wildpretii, which cannot be found naturally anywhere else on the planet. This unique plant can grow 7 feet tall and eventually blossom with salmon-colored flowers with tendrils sticking out like spikes.

Longwood Gardens, founded in the early 1900s by industrialist Pierre S. du Pont and located west of Philadelphia, is one of the only places outside of Tenerife where people can see this exotic plant. Workers at the conservancy tried growing the plant back in 1983 but could not successfully grow Echium Wildpretii until 1991, Longwood Gardens said on its website.

Echium Wildpretii growing in the wild on the island of Tenerife. (Hans Braxmeier)

After blooming in the wild, the arid microclimate on Tenerife where Echium Wildpretii grows causes the plants to dry out and turn into skeletons scattered across the dry landscape.


The shape of the Canary Islands can also create a mesmerizing weather phenomenon that can only be seen from space.

Swirls in the clouds, known as von Karman vortices , seen downwind of the Canary Islands on May 29, 2019. (NASA Worldview)

"The unique flow occurs as winds rush past the tall peaks on the volcanic islands," NASA explains. "As winds are diverted around these high areas, the disturbance in the flow propagates downstream in the form of vortices that alternate their direction of rotation."

As wind and clouds plow into the tall islands, the land disrupts the flow of air to create swirls in the clouds downwind known as von Kármán vortex vortices.

Von Kármán vortices appearing in clouds like the ones pictured above most commonly occur downwind of an island in the ocean rather than over land and have been documented around the world, including around Guadalupe Island near Chile, Jan Mayen Island near Greenland and Cape Verde south of the Canary Islands.

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