The Canary Islands’ vocabulary you should know before travelling to the archipelago

By | 9 June, 2021 | 2 comments

If you are thinking about visiting the Canaries, then you probably know that they are renowned for infinite golden beaches and their distinctive cuisine. The Canary Islands’ vocabulary may attract your attention when you first land on the archipelago.

In the islands, the official language is Spanish, but, as in other Spanish regions, there are some typical words and expressions that you will hear in daily life. So let’s try to pick up a little of that Canary Islands’ vocabulary before you start your trip! Maybe you’ve already heard some of these words and expressions, but let’s take a look at some of the most commonly used vocabulary in the Canary Islands. 

The unique vocabulary of the Canary Islands 

The Canary Islands are located in a privileged geographical location that has long facilitated the arrival of visitors from the UK, France or Portugal, among others. However, many Canarians were forced to migrate during the Civil War to reconstruct their lives. Although many islanders travelled to Europe, others decided to cross the Atlantic Ocean to Venezuela or Cuba, which at that time were prosperous countries, with the final objective of returning to the Canary Islands when the war ended.

The numerous visits by foreign boats and the return of many Canarians from Latin America gave rise to a specific way of speaking that differs in three main aspects from mainland Spanish. On the one hand, Canarians pronounce both “c” and “z” as though they were an “s”. They do not usually pronounce the “s” at the end of word, instead creating an aspirate “h” sound. The most immediately notable change with mainland Spanish is the use of “ustedes” instead of “vosotros” when referring to “you” in the plural.

Maybe you already knew these differences, but there are also some typical words and expressions in the Canary Islands’ vocabulary whose acquaintance you will make in the archipelago. 


If you want to take public transport in the archipelago, don’t ask about the bus, because in the Canary Islands a bus is known as a guagua. There are several theories about the origin of this word. The best-known theory states that the name comes from Wa & Wa Co. Inc. (Washington, Walton, and Company Incorporated), the company that brought the bus to Cuba. 


Although the average temperature in the Archipelago ranges between 26ºC and 28ºC, it can occasionally rise to 30ºC. This is when you’ll hear Canarians say that “hace calufa”, or it’s too hot


This is one of the most commonly used words in the Canary Islands’ vocabulary. You will normally hear it in informal situations to react to something or demonstrate surprise. It can be used in many different contexts, but in the majority of situations it is the equivalent of the Spanish “tío” or “jolines“, or “wow” or “gosh” in English. 

Cholas or Chanclas

They’re not shoes or sandals! Don’t forget to pick your “chanclas” or “cholas” (flip-flops) to hit those island beaches. 

Roscas and cotufas

A true Canarian never asks for “palomitas” (popcorn). Instead, they ask for “roscas” or “cotufas” when they’re looking for a tasty snack to accompany a movie. Generally, the word “cotufa” is used in the province of Santa Cruz, while “rosca” is used in the province of Las Palmas. 


As you may know, in the Canary Islands, potatoes are not called “patatas” but rather “papas”. A common gastronomic delight are the “papas arrugadas con mojo picón”, which quite literally translates to “wrinkled potatoes” and are an important part of the Canarian gastronomic identity. 

Pez “Vieja”

It is one of the most popular and much-loved fish of the Canary Islands. Recognisable for its intense colours and strong jaw, the Mediterranean Parrotfish is incredibly important in the cuisine of the Canary Islands. It is most abundant in the Islands’ waters from May to November. 


These are typical restaurants in the archipelago that are located in private homes, often in courtyards and or even garages, where traditional Canarian food is served. The best known among them are located in the north of the island of Tenerife, although they do exist throughout the other islands. 


This is a flour that was produced by the indigenous Canarian population and is obtained by grinding corn, which is known locally as “millo”. Gofio is a grain with a high-energy value that is widely used in the Canary Islands, frequently served as a side dish due to its mild flavour. 


If you cross paths with a Canarian on a cold winter’s night, they will probably tell you that they feel “pelete” which refers to the intense cold felt when the temperature suddenly drops after the sun has set.

Categories: Canaries, Tips


  1. Vinciane Triffaut says:

    J adore l’idée d’en apprendre sur ce qui fait la spécificité culturelle de celles que les anciens appelaient les îles fortunées

  2. Melysa says:


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