Where in the world is Macaronesia?!

Mount Pico in the Azores - just one of the lesser heralded aspects of Macaronesia you've never heard about before...

Ever hear of Macaronesia? If you haven’t, don’t be too hard on yourself … unless you’re a geography geek, neither have 98% of the rest of us. Macaronesia is the name for a wide swath of islands in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean with Mediterranean to sub-tropical climates, formed by volcanic action over millions of years.

While some of these isles are quite popular among the travel set, others sit there alone in the Atlantic, shrouded by a fog of obscurity, mainly due to the lack of proper promotion by local authorities. These places may be isolated, but they hold a charm all their own, so if you’re looking for Majorca flights, consider a trip to some of the outlying islands of Macaronesia before or after your time on the Balearic Islands.

By injecting a taste of the unknown and destinations off the beaten track into your wanderings, it will prove be a side quest that you’ll remember for the rest of your life!

The Azores

Unlike some of the other islands in this article, the Azores are not a tropical sun destination, but this doesn’t mean that the weather here is unpleasant in the winter. The average high during the day during the winter hangs about 16 degrees Celsius, with the night time low usually sticking around the 10 degree mark. Summers are warm but not hot, and rainfall is variable, falling heavily on windward slopes and in lighter amounts on the lee sides of the volcanic mountains that proliferate here.

Vegetation is lush, as one will see while staring at the Azores’ tallest peak, the volcanic Mount Pico. Fringed with snow in winter, it is a perfect backdrop as you explore Portuguese architecture in the island’s many small towns and cities.

Madeira Islands

Best known throughout the world as the islands of Eternal Spring, the Madeira Islands are situated further south than the Azores, enough to raise the average winter high temperature to 20 degrees, while summers experience a comfortable maximum of about 27 degrees on most days. The volcanic origins of these islands have created spectacular landscapes, such as the highest sea cliffs in the world, which drop almost 600 metres or just under 2,000 feet from the crest of Cabo Girao to the ocean below.

Abundant rainfall through the year has created lush slopes, and have encouraged the locals to tend to beautifully maintained gardens that will inspire visitors to green thumb greatness when they return home.

Canary Islands

Out of all the archipelagos that comprise Macaronesia, the Canaries are the best known of the lot. Tenerife contains Mount Teide, the highest peak in Spain at over 12,000 feet, and a beach and party culture that has attained legendary status over the years. Fuerteventura offers some of the best surfing in the world, while Grand Canaria offers the most in the way of urban amenities, as it has a population just under one million people.

Unlike Madeira and the Azores though, the Canaries enjoy year round dry weather, with scarcely more than 200 millimetres of rain falling per year, meaning that (fingers crossed) anytime you go, you’re generally assured of at least some sunshine.

Cape Verde Islands

The most southerly and least known of the Macaronesia chain of islands, the Cape Verde Islands are the only ones to lie fully within the tropics, and with a mix of people of Portuguese, Creole, and African descent, it is by far the most ethnically diverse. The dry air associated with the Sahelian arid belt (the same effect which produced the Sahara desert on the African mainland) results in a climate where rain does not fall seven months of the year (December to June).

This has produced a chain of islands with extensive beaches where sun is guaranteed much of the year (and even when it does rain, it doesn’t last long), yet due to its lack of promotion and proximity of Africa, most causal tourists have been scared off. The intrepid traveler can enjoy a peaceful holiday as a result, luxuriating on empty stretches of sand while connecting with a local culture that has not been corrupted by mass tourism … just perfect, eh?

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