Cruise through the natural oddities of the Canary Islands

Cathedral of Santa Ana, Las Palmas, Canary Islands
Cathedral of Santa Ana, Las Palmas, Canary Islands

With seven main islands located more than 600 miles off the Spanish mainland, the Canary Islands are an ideal retreat for European cruise passengers who want to escape from tourist-heavy destinations and embark on a journey through a unique and stark landscape. This volcanic archipelago was formed thousands of years ago following intense volcanic activity.

Despite their Mars-like exterior, the Canary Islands contain rich soils that have allowed farmers to produce numerous crops of tomatoes, onions, melons and figs, which are all a staple of locals' diets. The islands' tropical climate has lured European and international travelers for decades, and those lucky enough to be on a cruise won't want to miss out on a shore excursion to Gran Canaria, the third-largest and most beautiful of all the Canary Islands.

Take an excursion to the Maspalomas dunes

A popular spot for local sunbathers, the Maspalomas sand dunes consist of numerous beach resorts and boast an ironic landscape of desert-like hillsides and tropical turquoise waters. With more than 2,000 hectares of land to explore, Maspalomas is an ideal destination for families and sun-hungry passengers on a Spain cruise.

El Oasis is all that remains of a sea-water lagoon where migratory birds still gather on their yearly flights from Europe to Africa. Seemingly desolate, the dunes host hundreds of different plant, reptile, bird and amphibian species found only in the Canary Islands. Dotted with palm trees and desert flora, the oasis is a great place to sit in the shade before checking out nearby Faro de Maspalomas, a 125-year-old lighthouse. Reaching a height of more than 210 feet, this lighthouse is a towering figure that still serves as a beacon for seafaring ships sailing through the warm Spanish waters.

Stroll through the Jardin de la Marquesa de Arucas

The botanical gardens of the Duchess of Arucas were established in 1880 by Gran Canaria's first Marquis and his wife. Boasting more than 2,500 varieties of tropical plants, these gardens are a romantic hideaway where couples can walk hand-in-hand through whimsical and lush forests. Nearly every acre of the gardens features different plant varieties and sceneries, from tranquil ponds to 30-foot-tall poinsettia plants.

Passengers on Spanish cruises will have about an hour to stroll through the park at their leisure, and visitors should have their cameras poised and ready to snap a photo of a peacock as it gracefully passes through tropical flora.

Snap a photo at the Bandama Natural Monument

Teeming with volcanic wonders, Gran Canaria is a geological masterpiece, and the Bandama Natural Monument is the epitome of the Canary Islands' tumultuous seismic history. Located nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, this volcanic crater spans for more than half a mile and plunges about 650 feet deep. Kaleidoscopic hues play tricks on the eye as a result of rich soils and thousands of years of geological activity.

An abandoned farmhouse sits in the center of the crater, serving as the only sign of habitation within the vast area. Fruit trees and native cacti fill the caldera thanks to mineral-heavy soils and continuous evening rainfall.

From the top of the crater, Princess passengers will have the opportunity to take in panoramic vistas of nearly all of Gran Canaria, from the island's charming seaside villages to the towering Artiles Cave, which rises more than 6,000 feet above sea level.