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Hopping Off Windstar Cruises – Our Captivating Canary Islands Shore Excursions

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As divine as being on the water is, a real highlight of cruising is the amazing destinations you can visit. Over the course of our eight day Captivating Canary Islands cruise with Windstar, we had five stops. We chose to do a mix of self-guided adventures and two official tours. Join us as we hop off the Windstar Star Pride on our Captivating Canary Islands shore excursions.

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Arrecife, Lanzarote (Spain)

Did We Book an Excursion?

No – I fancied having a relaxing wander by ourselves to really get into the holiday mood. Turns out, it was a bit too relaxing.

What Did We Do Instead?

Walking from the ship to town took around 30 minutes, first through the port with lots of shops and restaurants and then around the Charco San Gines lagoon. Apart from a church was passed, it slowly dawned on us that everything was shut. Sunday in Spain…the day of rest. The shopping street was shut, most of the restaurants were shut and the Castillo de San Gabriel museum…well, you get it. We walked up to the museum to look at the cannons but with it being shut, things seemed a little sad. I was just thinking that doing our own thing may have been a mistake but luckily, we found two lovely spots to sit and have a drink.

Islote de la Fermina

The first, where I enjoyed a freshly squeezed juice, was the Cafetería Islote de la Fermina. Located on a island/pier that extends into the sea, this strange venue is home to a nice cafe and a bright white salt water pool. This was the brain child of architect César Manrique. He designed it in the 1970s and at the time, you could swim in the pool. Sadly, it is now just for looks. I hope that changes again.

Blue 17

Overlooking the island is the Arrecife Gran Hotel & Spa, our second spot. Up on the 17th floor is a rather lovely bar called Blue 17 with views across the lovely beach and to the hills behind. I know that 17 floors may not sound that impressive but it was this skyscraper, the first on the island, that convinced Lanzarote it didn’t want any more. It was left up as an ugly reminder to any wannabe skyscraper designers not to bother. Taking the glass lift up, we grabbed a window table and ordered a couple of cocktails. We also tried a couple of local dishes, “Wrinkly potatoes with mojo sauce” and croquettes. The potatoes were very nice and seemed easy enough to cook so I may give that a go one day.

After a quick walk through the main squares and pedestrianised hopping street (all shut of course), we made our way back to the port.

San Sebastian, La Gomera (Spain)

Did We Book an Excursion?

Yes – There were a few Captivating Canary Islands shore excursions on offer and after some deliberation, we opted to take the Short Island Tour.

The Short Island Tour

A coach trip around the island of La Gomera is the best way to see it. The rugged terrain, terraced farms and winding roads are not good for strolling. That is why we made sure we had a spot on one of the tours. The group, despite probably fitting on one coach was split onto two. This was nice, making it feel like a smaller tour but it did mean two coaches idling when there could have just been one. It wasn’t a hot day so we didn’t need the air conditioning running continuously. I was a little let down for a cruise line that prides itself on being more sustainable than most.

Our Stops

The short island tour stopped at some gorgeous viewpoints. The greenery was apparently less lush than most years as they had experienced a really dry winter (in comparison to our record-breakingly wet one). I thought it added to the dramatic vistas. The tour lasted four hours and most of it was great. There visitor centre stop had a lovely lookout point, two small museum rooms (one about the flora and fauna and one about wild fires) and a shop selling weird and wonderful cookies.

The Lagoon

There was one spot, however, that I was a little disappointed in. The final spot was “The Lagoon”. The entire coach thought we were going to a lake. Turns out, it was a field high up in the hills, known as the Lagoon as it used to flood in high rains. The surrounding forest was ancient and intriguing but we didn’t have long to explore. The more adventurous of the guests made their way down the first section of a long walk but most just hung around at the cafe looking awkward. It was only five minutes before we left that I found a sign for twenty minute round trip walk. We could have all done this and I was so confused that the guide didn’t mention it.

All in all, I am so glad we did the tour but it could use a few tweaks. Windstar Cruises is going to start cruising here regularly so I am sure this can be done.

One of the things I was sad to miss on the longer tour was a demonstration of the totally unique whistling language used on La Gomera. It is UNESCO protected and fascinating. Happily, there was a presentation of it back on the Windstar Pride itself so it was win-win.

Santa Cruz de Tenerife (Spain)

Did We Book an Excursion?

Yes – One of the most popular Captivating Canary Islands shore excursions gives passengers the chance to visit the Teide National Park and then do some star-gazing. We were on the waiting list and luckily, some people changed their minds and we jumped straight into their spots.

Teide National Park with Dinner and Stargazing
The Cloud Sea

Moisture forms on the north side of the island and creates clouds. These drift south and collect against the mountains, remaining there in a duvet of fluffy white clouds. This cloud sea is unlike anything we had seen before and it was so stunning. We got a chance to stop and snap for a while as we drove up the winding hill roads. I was far too excited!

Parque Nacional del Teide

The main attraction of the tour was the chance to visit the Teide National Park. In the centre lies the Teide Volcano, rising up to 3,718m. As we drove through the rugged landscape we could see different lava flows that had hardened and changed colour throughout the centuries. We pulled up to the head of a big valley with a collection of crazy rocks. It was a gorgeous viewpoint from which we could see the volcano above us. There, in the distance, was the cable car that ascended to the peak (available as a different tour Windstar offered). It was stark and stunning.


We were taken back to the restaurant for dinner. Turns out, there was a HUGE room in the backand the whole thing was full of tour groups. It waqs a little overwhelming. We were offered wine, beer or soft drinks and then the food started to appear. The soup starter was very good, butternut I think. The breaded chicken main was tender but the veg seemed quite cheap. Clearly I had been spoiled by the superior cuisine of the Windstar Pride’s chefs. I didn’t really like the chocolate mousse dessert but did my bit to prevent food waste, scoffing it down with gusto.


Back on the coach, we drove a little way away to a layby just below the observatory in the national park. They have a proper dark sky area here, and with the nice, high elevation, it is perfect for stargazing. Everyone was poured a glass of bubbly and we enjoyed the sunset. The clouds really started to roll in over the hour, and it didn’t look great for our stargazing experience.

Star Gazing

I’m not going to lie, I definitely thought Windstar had organised a session at the observatory. Turns out, it was back at the restaurant which at first, we were a bit disappointed about. However, when we got a look at the very cool telescopes we were going to use, that totally left us. These programmable, powerful scopes were so cool and we managed to see a few things before the clouds really obscured the sky. It was really cool to see a cluster of stars all together (something I can never see with my terrible eyesight). We then had an interesting talk (usually accompanied by spotting stars but of course, the clouds made that impossible). It was a lovely end to the evening.

This was a great tour and it was a shame that mother nature decided she didn’t fancy showing off at the end. Our tour guide was still super interesting and engagin for that portion though so it was still totally worth it.

What Else Did We Do?
Santa Cruz Wanderings

On our first day, before our tour, we wanted to pop into Santa Cruz and have a look around. Some of favourite spots were:

  • The tourist office right by the port is housed in a lovely old mansion that is worth a quick look.
  • The Nuestra Señora de África Market (Market of Our Lady of Africa) is located in a Moorish-style buuilding. Downstairs is a fish market room which has loads of sit and sip bar/restaurants with all kinds of fresh seafood. We were sad that it wasn’t lunch time or champagne and sardines would have been on the menu.
  • The pedestrianised Castillo street shopping area was an excellent place to enjoy the passeggiata (a nice pre-dinner walk). A the top was the pretty little park, Fountain Square Weyler, that was sadly fenced up when we visited.
  • Close by, the Plaza de los Patos with its tiled benches and Fountain of the Frogs is a visual feast. Covered in traditional Seville-style benches it takes a minute to realise they are advertising modern companies.
  • Parque García Sanabria is a large green space with some nice fountains and large statues.
  • On the way back to the port we stopped into the dark but beautiful interior of the Parish of St. Francisco de Asís.
Castillo de San Cristobal

Under the lake just next to the port entrance (the green bridge) is a buried fort. The San Cristobel Castle has a free museum so we thought we would pop in and have a look. It was pretty good but much of it was only in Spanish. The most unexpected artifact was a large cannon called “El Tigre”. It shot the arm off Admiral Nelson (the guy on the column in Trafalgar Square, London). Apparently, the British tried to take the Canary Islands from the Spanish and it didn’t go well. Always fun to learn new history when we are away.

Santa Cruz Icons

Having another morning to play with, we walked south along the road. We passed the striking Auditorio de Tenerife Adán Martín, a concert hall that is often reffered to as a mini Sydney Opera House. Next, we gazed over the Parque Marítimo César Manrique which seemed half closed. I think it was too early in the season as only one main pool was open. The architect of the distinctive swimming pools has his stamp across the Canary Islands (remember the island in Arrecife?)

The Palmetun

After about half an hour, we reached the Palmetun. This botanical garden is dedicated to palms in all their many forms. That is unusual enough as it is, but the coolest thing is the location. It is all perched atop a hill with great views over the town and across the sea. More than that, the hill is manmade created by a huge rubbish dump. It was so great to see it developing and having transformed into such a nice place for a walk.

I finally remembered to buy a Barraquito. I got to try one of these at Walt Disney World Resort of all places and it was so good that I was super excited for a second round. Well, it didn’t disappoint. The layers of espresso, condensed milk, Licor 43 and frothy milk, topped with cinnamon a squeeze of lemon is at once comforting and a really naughty treat.

A Quick Trip

On the way back, we realised we had an hour to kill so we popped into the pretty Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Concepción church on the edge of the old town. We were sad we hadn’t been into more of the area but it was time to go!

Interestingly, it looks like most of the cruises offered now start or end in Santa Cruz de Tenerife so I am not sure if they will offer the tour we did, but you will have the chance to see some of the other things we did if you get there early or stay on for a bit.

Funchal, Madeira (Portugal)

Did We Book an Excursion?

No – This was our second trip to Madeira, and we had unfinished business!

What Did We Do Instead?
The Cable Car

As soon as we docked, we were off and speed-walking along the coastal walk to the cable car. The teleferico whisks people up to the high suburb of Monte at just over 1000m. Each gondola hold 6 people so we shared with some strangers and we all went our separate ways at the top. We had a quick wander around and popped into the simple church up there. I had wanted to go into the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens but at 20 each, we decided to just hang over the edge and see what we could see for free.

The Toboggans

Joining a long queue, we settled in to wait for the main reason we made our way up here. The wicker toboggans that are controlled by the gentlemen in white suits (Carreiros) are a unique Madeiran experience. Originally used as way to transport wealthy locals into town, the baskets with wooden sliders on the bottom have been hurtling through these streets for over 100 years. There is no motor just the power of gravity. It was a crazy experience , especially knowing we were on the roads with actual traffic, but so fun. The run is only about 2km and so we made our way down the rest of the steep hills on foot. Finding a little pastel de nata cafe at the bottom was a delight. It had a custard tart and little coffee for just 1.50 so we indulged.

Drinks (1)

Back in town and I wanted to go on a poncha crawl. Poncha is a rum-based drink which is a local speciality. We hopped from bar to bar, trying the original (lemon and orange), strawberry and passionfruit varieties. It used to be made with local sugarcane rum but uses an import these day…they are still distinctly delicious. We also popped to The Ritz for another drink. The Ritz in Funchal is actually a fancy cafe rather than a branch of the famous hotels. They made a decent passionfruit majito but it was a bit too sweet to stay for a second.

Full of rum and with the temperature dropping with the sunset, we decided to head back to the ship for dinner.

What Else Did We Do?
Drinks (2)

Our itinerary had us staying overnight in Funchal so we could get back out, bright and early for some more time in town. We had a tour booked for some rathe rearly drinking. Blandy’s Wine Lodge is an iconic Madeiran institution, producing table wines and the fortified Madeira wine that is drunk the world over.

The tour of the lodge took around 45 minutes and was packed full of information. There was a glimpse of huge barrels full of aging vino, and a museum that all about the family and company. They did so much over the centuries that we didn’t get through it all before it was time for the tasting. The kind folks at Blandy’s had us signed up for a different tasting than the free one that normally comes with the tour. We got to try four different ages of Madeira with some paired nibbles, all served in their tasting room. It was lined with bottles and very atmospheric. We sipped slowly through the four different options, comparing the sweetness and acidity levels. Strangely, I like the oldest and youngest most…go figure?

With time marching on, we bought four tasty chocolates to take with us and wobbled slightly back to the boat.

Lisbon (Portugal)

Did We Book an Excursion?

No – We had an idea to stay in Lisbon but a work shift popped up so we had to dash straight through. We have been to Lisbon before tough and loved it.

You can check out blog post all about how to spend the perfect day in Lisbon here.

What Did We Do Instead?

We caught a taxi straight t the airport. It didn’t take very long, and was very cheap when compared with most airport transfers. Having not pre-arranged an Uber, it took a few failed attempts to find one but it was so much cheaper that it was worth the faff.

Final Thoughts on Our Captivating Canary Islands Shore Excursions

The Canary Islands is often referred to as the Hawaii of Europe and it was so magical to get a chance to see why. There was no way we would have been able to visit those incredible views travelling independently so I am really glad we did the tour that we did. If we had a chance to pick the Canary Islands shore excursions again, I would have included seeing some of Lanzarote with them too. I do love being an independent traveller but with the short time frames of a cruise, taking these tours was a must. That being said, doing Funchal by ourselves was absolutely the right move! We are intrigued to see what it would be like to sail with them through Tahiti where there aren’t cities to storm around so taking the arranghed tours is probably the only way to go….one day!

Rosie xx

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