Lanzarote is the most easterly of the Canary Islands and, as such, is part of Spain. This means they speak Spanish1 and their currency is the Euro. The tourist airport is located in the capital, Arrecife, and the island is such a size (approximately 40 miles long and 13 miles wide) that everywhere can be reached fairly easily.
Lanzarote enjoys hot weather and little rain. It only rains for about 16 days a year – the least of all the Canary Islands, and generally only in the winter. While the weather is hot, the effect is not unpleasant as there are also strong breezes across the island – too strong at times. Most visitors are British, Irish, German or Dutch.
Lanzarote, like the rest of the Canary Islands, was formed in volcanic activity about three million years ago. This is still obvious in the landscape, which is mostly devoid of trees. The soil and some of the sand is clearly volcanic, while the malpais (volcanic badlands) cover large portions of the west of the island. Lanzarote is a UNESCO2 Biosphere reserve, with the aim of protecting its cultural heritage. The island has enough tourist attractions to pleasantly pass a fortnight there.
The Influence of Cesar Manrique
Manrique was a Lanzarotean artist who had a great deal of impact on his island. He wanted to use his art to take full advantage of the natural features of the island and turn them into tourist attractions. His influence in this can be seen primarily at Jardin de Cactus, Mirador del Rio and Jameos del Agua. You can also visit his house, from where the Cesar Manrique foundation is run, which continues his good work. He also designed the mobiles which add interest at many of the roundabouts of the island. Manrique was tragically killed in a car accident in 1992 at the age of 73.
Mirador del Rio
As in Jardin de Cactus, the exterior hides what is inside, which is a lookout point, designed by Manrique, perched on the northern tip of the island overlooking the small Isla Graciosa as well as three smaller islands. It was built in a natural hollow in the cliffs, with outdoor viewing platforms and an evening restaurant with fabulous views.
Jameos del Agua
This not-to-be-missed site was also improved by Manrique. It can be, perhaps, best described as a grotto. It was created when Mount Corona erupted 3,000 years ago, leaving lava tunnels underground. The first thing you see is a restaurant, but the main site is just around the corner. This is an astonishingly clear lagoon filled with blind albino crabs, a species not found anywhere else in the world.
At the other side, Manrique has covered an area of the lava in white (the contrast between the dark lava and the white is a trademark found at most of his sites) and filled it with a swimming pool, although it's only for show! Further along still is a beautiful underground concert hall, built there to take advantage of the acoustics. Above the pool are shops and an exhibition discussing the volcanic activity.
Cueva de los Verdes
This means 'Cave of the Greens'. The Greens was a nickname for a group of locals who used this volcanic four-mile cave system (part of the same system as Jameos del Agua) as a hideout from pirates and slavers. Guides take you on a tour through approximately one mile of it, talking in English and Spanish, and there is a surprise at the end – take a camera with flash. The tour takes about 50 minutes but some passages are narrow or low, so you have to be at least averagely agile.
Jardin de Cactus
This cactus garden has been built in a disused quarry. Manrique bordered the garden, rising on several different levels, with the local volcanic stone. The soil is also volcanic but is broken up by the addition of many different species of cactus. There are a series of small pools filled with fish and a windmill from which great views can be seen. There is also a nice restaurant for lunch and a small souvenir shop.
Cesar Manrique's House
The modern-day headquarters of the Cesar Manrique Foundation are in his old house, which in itself is very unusual. The outside is designed to fit in with the traditional architecture of the region, although embellished with sculptures, a mural and a mobile. The lower levels of the house, however, are made from lava tunnels. As this was Manrique's house, they are, of course, whitewashed. Each room is different – one has a tree growing up through a hole in the roof, another has a fountain. Outside is Manrique's swimming pool. There is also a souvenir shop and café.
The capital is mainly worth a visit for its shopping. The only place on the whole island that is clearly a city (although a small one), it has a range of shops, many more than other towns in Lanzarote. Dominating the skyline is the only high-rise building on the island, which was gutted by fire a few years ago.
Castillo de San Gabriel - This tower, connected to the city centre by a bridge, is now an archaeological museum. It shows artefacts as well as the skeleton of a Guanche, one of the original inhabitants of the island before the Spanish took over. There is an observatory on the roof.
Castillo de San Jose - This tiny fort was built as part of a job creation scheme in the late 17th Century, when locals were starving after major volcanic eruptions (see Timanfaya National Park, below). It is now a museum of modern art housing some of the work of local artists including Manrique. Entry is free.
Timanfaya National Park
In 1730, a series of volcanic eruptions began which were to eventually cover a third of the island, including some of its best agricultural land (causing great food shortages on the rest of the island) and burying 11 villages. This activity left behind many volcanoes including the 'Mountains of Fire', as they are known. The eerie malpais lava field covers 20 square miles and photographs of this area were shown to the first astronauts in order to prepare them for the Moon! The area was made a National Park in 1974.
All of the main features are at the car park area, including El Diablo (the Devil) restaurant and an area where attendants demonstrate the volcanic heat under the surface by pouring water down a tube into the ground - a few seconds later it shoots up like a geyser. They also put dry scrub into an open hole where it takes just seconds to catch fire from the subterranean heat. The only way to explore the park is on one of the coach tours. These are free once you have paid for entry into the park and give commentary in English, German and Spanish. It is also possible to take a 20-minute camel tour.
Other Places of Interest
Good beaches can be found all over the island, although it is worth bearing in mind that some are volcanic beaches of black sand. Some of the best beaches on the island can be found at Playa Blanca, the most southerly resort on the island. Boat trips also leave from here for nearby Fuerteventura.
Puerto Calero has one of the nicest marinas on the island, from which boat and submarine tours leave regularly.
Lanzarote is a popular place for windsurfers – particularly on the east coast, and scuba divers are also well catered for in Lanzarote.
Puerto del Carmen is the liveliest resort, with a mixture of bars, clubs and restaurants lining the main road through the town for several miles. It also has a casino.