30 May 2018

Until last year, I'd never heard the word "Macaronesia" to describe the four clusters of islands in the eastern side of the North Atlantic.

Adventures Abroad constructed a new island hopping tour to hit all these archipelagos, visiting a total of ten islands. It was a great way to see so much with all the complicated prep work ― flights, ferries, buses, hikes, hotels ― arranged by the AA team.

I'll soon post separate pics from each island group, but I wanted to "introduce" the four at the outset. All four clusters have a number of things in common, for example:
  • Formed by volcanoes erupting from the ocean floor.
  • High volcanic mountain peaks.
  • Dramatic mountainous scenery.
  • High black volcanic cliffs along most coastlines.
  • Only very short stretches of sandy beaches.
  • Fairly small in total land mass.
  • Some endemic species of fauna and flora.
  • Colonized by the Portuguese or Spanish.
  • Overwhelmingly (at least nominally) Catholic populations.

 Country   Population    GDP € 
 per capita 
Sq Miles
 Sq Miles
 Azores (Port.)    250,000 14,900 270   922
 Madeira (Port.)    290,000 21,100 800   286
 Canaries (Spain)  2,100,000 24,100 730 2,893
 Cabo Verde   540,000   5,900 320 1,557

The most noteworthy differences to me:
  • The Canary Islands have more total land area and more inhabitants than the other three combined.
  • Cabo Verde (aka Cape Verde) is by far the poorest and is the only one that has become an independent country, instead of being an integral part of Portugal or Spain (and the EU) like the others.
  • Madeira is clearly the most dependent on tourism.

The crew who signed up for the launch of AA's Macaronesia island hopping.

Overall, I suppose the biggest surprises to me were:
  • Dazzling vistas everywhere.
  • The great height of the mountains.
  • So many colorful gardens and elegant parks.
  • So many well restored and lively "old towns."
  • Superb infrastructure of bridges, tunnels, and highways in the three "EU" islands (Azores, Madeira, Canaries).
  • The big dairy economy in the Azores.
  • Lack of sandy beaches (OK with me).
  • The surging Chinese presence in Cabo Verde since I visited in 2013.  
  • The wide variety of activities that AA assembled for us (e.g., whale watching, wine tasting, volcano climbing, cheese making, hot springs soaking, lava tubing, varied gourmet meals, on and on).

 Country  Tallest
 Azores (Port.)   Ponta do Pico     7,713 2,351
 Madeira (Port.) Pico Ruivo   6,109 1,862
 Canaries (Spain)  Teide 12,198 3,718
 Cabo Verde Pico do Fogo   9,281 2,829

Clockwise from top left
AZORES: Ponta de Pico (highest point in Portugal).
MADEIRA: Pico Ruivo viewed from Pico do Arieiro.
CANARIES: Teide (highest point in Spain and Macaronesia).
CABO VERDE: Pico do Fogo (highest point in Cabo Verde).

By the way, the last eruption from at least one of the now "dormant" volcanoes on these islands was not too long ago:
  • Cabo Verde: 2014 (5 years ago)
  • Canaries: 1971 (47 years ago)
  • Azores: 1958 (60 years ago)
  • Madeira: 4500 BC (6500 years ago)

Forthcoming posts will cover highlights in each set of islands: