Canary Islands (Spanish: Islas Canarias), a group of 13 volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of Africa. Politically, they are an integral part of Spain. Because of their splendid scenery, sandy beaches, and subtropical climate the Canaries attract many tourists, particularly during winter. The total area is 2,808 square miles (7,273 km2). The major islands are Tenerife, Grand Canary, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, La Palma, Gomera, and Hierro. Together with a number of islets they make up the Spanish provinces of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas.
All the islands are mountainous, and have some semidesert regions as well as fertile valleys. Pico de Teide, 12,198 feet (3,718 m) above sea level, on Tenerife is the highest peak. Rainfall is very light, and there are no rivers.
Tourism is the mainstay of the economy. There is some farming, manufacturing, and fishing. Virtually all the people are of Spanish descent. Spanish is the language of the islands, Roman Catholicism the religion. Las Palmas and Santa Cruz are the largest cities, chief ports, and main tourist centers. In 1991 the population of the islands was 1,493,784.
The Canaries were known to the ancient Romans, probably by the name Fortunate Islands. Later, they were forgotten until visited by the Arabs and Europeans during the Middle Ages. The Canaries came under Spanish rule in 1479. Conquest of the Guanches, the original inhabitants, was completed by 1500. About the same time the Canaries became a base for voyages between Europe and the Americas and the Far East.