Europe's West and Atlantic islands lie between the continents of Europe and Africa, ranging up the Atlantic Coast from Spain to Germany. Consisting of the Azores, the Canary Islands, Cape Verde and Madeira, these diverse islands feature a surprising variety of landscapes for nature lovers, from rainforests to deserts and volcanic crater lakes.
Many northern summer cruise routes combine the major islands of Madeira, Gran Canaria and Tenerife with destinations on Europe's Atlantic Coast; making it the perfect way to include tours of France's wine country, Portugal's Algarve and the United Kingdom.
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The flora and fauna of the Atlantic archipelagos developed independently of any continent, resulting in a variety of unique ecosystems. The region is a melting pot of European and African influences, particularly in independent Cape Verde.
- Currency - the euro is used throughout the region with the exception of Cape Verde, which operates its own currency, the Escudo. This currency cannot be used anywhere else in the world so exchange any remaining escudos prior to departure.
- Population - the Canaries are the most populous islands in the region with 2.1 million inhabitants. Cape Verde is home to approximately 450,000 residents, with Madeira totalling 268,000 and Azores 246,000.
- Language - similar to standard Spanish, Canarian Spanish is spoken in the Canary Islands. Portuguese is the dominant language in Madeira and the Azores, though English is also widely spoken. The people of Cape Verde speak a Portuguese creole.
- Time Zone - Madeira and the Canaries in the east follow Western European Time (UTC+0), while the Azores and Cape Verde to the west are 1 hour behind (UTC-1).
- Weather - the region experiences a warm and pleasant climate with average temperatures around 20 degrees Celsius. Temperatures rarely drop below 8 degrees in winter and average in the high 20s in summer.
Who goes there?
Departing from ports in the UK and Europe, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and P&O International operate cruises all year round. Other cruise lines operate in the summer months, including Celebrity Cruises, Cunard and Princess Cruises.
Best time to go?
The Atlantic islands receive the highest concentration of visitors in late autumn to early spring, between October and March. Cruises combining the islands with destinations in Europe are most frequent in summer, between May and September.
Things to See and Do
- Canary Islands - these 7 islands off the coast of Morocco used to be among the poorest regions of Spain, but decades of tourism have helped level the playing field. Cruises of the Canaries take in the colonial architecture of Gran Canaria, the rainforests of Tenerife, the volcanic landscape of Lanzarote and the world-class beaches throughout the region.
- Madeira - discover the diverse flora of the Garden Island, from the cultivated specimens of the botanical gardens to the wild mountains. Browse the colourful market stalls of Funchal to find bargains on locally made handicrafts and the famous Madeira wine.
- Azores - once a haven for sailors making the transatlantic voyage to the New World, the 9 volcanic Azorean Islands are among the most picturesque on Earth. Sink into hot springs, hike to the top of calderas and admire the exotic flowers at Terra Nostra Park.
- Cape Verde - achieving independence from Portugal in 1975, the islands of Cape Verde have shaken off much of their colonial influence to offer a finer blend of Europe and Africa. Often overlooked on tours of the region, these islands feature unspoiled beaches on Boa Vista, ideal conditions for water sports on Sal and bustling markets on Santiago.