If you’re not the kind of person that loves package holidays, English breakfasts in non-English places and sunbathing until you’re red as a lobster, you might be thinking Lanzarote is not the location for you. Well YOU THOUGHT WRONG, MY FRIEND!!! Not only did my grandad live there back in the day, but in more recent times I’ve also been able to explore regularly whilst working on a cruise ship. One of the Canary Islands which lie off the coast of West Africa, once you get past the major touristy areas and into the rest of the island, it is a beaut place to be with a unique landscape unlike any I’ve ever seen before. The whole island has been molded by it’s volcanic past, growing mountains and carving caves through the bizarre landscape of rocks, black sand and every now and again a sprawl of succulents and cacti.
Tour the island by car
For the duration of my cruise ship visits, we only had one day at a time to explore, which obviously cut down our ability to see or do certain things. So although there is public transport available in the form of buses, we decided that the most effective way of seeing Lanzarote would definitely be by car; first in the form of a taxi. This was the day that we decided to go and visit the camels at Timanfaya (more on that later). Our lovely taxi driver/tour guide took us on a slightly longer route which we agreed on prior to getting in the car, involving a drive through several of the smaller villages of the island and stopping off at a few places that he insisted it was very important we see. As well as visiting the good old camels which we were very keen on meeting, of course. What a chap! Not only did he tell us some highly interesting things which we wouldn’t have known about had we gone it alone (for example, a massive cloud in the distance rolling in from the sea which was in actual fact sand rolling over from Africa after a sandstorm), he also pointed out the seemingly obvious, e.g. ‘Ah! A young couple! They are in love! For now. Heh, heh, heh.’ and ‘look. A supermarket.’ What a legend.
We also hired a car between us, driven by one of the dancers from the ship who apparently also moonlights as a Formula One driver. At least that’s what it felt like. Let me tell you there is something very funny about zooming around volcanoes with Russian rap music blaring out from the speakers, eating boiled eggs which another dancer snuck out from the crew mess.
A route was planned out before we left, and it meant we could go on a whistlestop tour of everything we wanted to see in our own time, crisscrossing back and forth across the island, which is pretty bloody fabulous if you ask me.
If you’ve got more time to spare than a mere day, Eleonor Everywhere’s blog on hiring a van in Lanzarote and road tripping around was an inspirational read, and definitely something I’d consider doing myself given the opportunity.
Climb a volcano
Timanfaya National Park is quite frankly fascinating. The landscape so closely resembles the surface of the moon (apparently…I mean I’ve not visited myself so what do I know!?) that several lunar-based movies have been filmed here. Timanfaya itself is the only active volcano left on the island, where nowadays a restaurant perched up on the top barbecues chicken over the heat it gives off. What a laugh!
Visitors to Timanfaya have to park outside the National Park and then drive in via coach as the road, sometimes surrounded on both sides by high natural walls of now solid volcanic lava, is closed to normal vehicles. Even aside from the awesomeness of climbing up a real live volcano, this place is also worth a visit for the views of the rest of the island, stretching out across the sloping red mountains and into the sea.
Appreciate César Manrique
What a legendary lad this guy was! César Manrique, an artist and architect who was born in Lanzarote, had such a massive influence on the aesthetic of the island that it’s still evident basically wherever you look. After he realised what a massive potential the island had for tourism, he helped to both preserve and improve the development of Lanzarote, ensuring that no high-rise buildings were allowed to be built (unlike its neighbouring islands), and that all new buildings were kept to the trademark colours of white and green.
He then fused the natural volcanic landscape with modern architecture, creating places that quite frankly look as if they could be locations for Bond film from the seventies, for example Los Jameos del Agua, a venue formed naturally out of a volcanic cave, and his own home which is now a museum, which was built into a volcanic bubble. These are the types of places that need to be seen to be truly appreciated for how clever they are.
Explore under the surface
Of course there is the previously mentioned Jameos del Agua, but nearby is the Cueva de Los Verdes (actually named after the Verde family, not because the caves themselves are actually green), both of which are part of a really really really long lava tube formed over 4,000 years ago when a volcano had a paddy. The tube is so long that it extends underneath the actual sea.
Los Jameos del Agua is fascinating in part due to the architecture, but also due to the fact that it contains a large salt lake which is home to lots of tiny albino crabs scuttling blindly about underneath the surface of the water. Poor little buggers. But the cool thing about these guys is Lanzarote is the only place in the entire world that they can be found.
Entrance to the much more extensive Cueva de Los Verdes is with a tour guide only, who explains things first in Spanish and then English. All I’m saying is, pray you get a guide who knows how to project their voice as the microphones they wear aren’t fantastic.
Make friends with a camel
Back in the day, camels were brought over to Lanzarote from Africa to help out with farming, and generally shifting things around, however these days the camels on the edge of Timanfaya National Park are basically there just as a tourist attraction, taking people on a pathway through the park that they would normally be forbidden from taking. Having been to visit and take a ride on these bad boys, I now have mixed feelings about the ethics of making a camel carry you up steep slopes for a laugh…none of the camels looked miserable but I feel like it would be difficult to truly understand the complex emotions of a camel, you know?
Anyway, the camels all hang out in a line sitting down and awaiting their passengers, who are then seated one either side of the camels back, although I had a bag of sand on the opposite side seat to me as I didn’t have a partner, sad times. Just me and my bag of sand, going for a light camel trek together. BEWARE! You may already know this but camels do stand up back legs first, which can fling you unexpectedly forwards and cause nervous hysterical laughter. Also, BEWARE! The camel behind you in the line may become curious about who you are and decide to have a sniff of your hair or something, in which case you should just go with it.
Eat Canarian Tapas and have a leche leche
The main reason for my wanting to order the traditional Canadian drink of Leche Leche wherever I went is actually because my grandad used to love it and it’s something that reminded me of him. But, second to that, it is full on delicious if you have a sweet tooth. Leche Leche is coffee with milk, and condensed milk. So you can imagine. That is one sweet beverage.
Obviously tapas is a very traditional Spanish food, however Canarian tapas should include a few elements which aren’t so common in mainland Spain. Mojo sauce is famous round these parts, both in it’s green and red forms- consisting of either green or red peppers with lots of garlic involved as well. Papas arrugadas are boiled new potatoes which are then left to dry until they’re shrivelled and wrinkly with a salt crust from the salted water they were cooked in.
Black beaches and green lagoons…
There are some very strange colourings going on in the great outdoors of Lanzarote; the type which you would expect to see in a Dr. Seuss book as opposed to a Spanish island. But that is what makes it such an awesome place, my friends! Whilst there are normal beaches of normal-coloured sand around (like those at the lovely resort of Puerto del Carmen), you can also find the odd volcanic Beach made of black sand like the one at El Golfo.
El Charco de Los Clicos is the lagoon right by El Golfo, made out of an extinct volcano crater and completely green in colour due to the algae which live at the bottom. Rather strange looking but also rather full on COOL.
Visit a secret island
The island of La Graciosa is so close to Lanzarote that it can be seen from the viewpoint of El Mirador del Rio, which is pretty darn spectacular if you ask me. Also rather windy. The island can be reached by ferry from Orzola, and once you reach it there are no cars, no roads, and not all that many people either. Now that is my kind of place!!
- If you’re heading to the beach but you want a more secluded location, just make sure you check the rules on swimming before you jump on into the sea. Some of the more isolated beaches have a strong hidden current that have caught people unawares and landed them in a right bit of danger! I myself was invited to go surfing one day; when it came up in conversation that several people have died at the particular spot we were headed to I decided I CHOOSE LIFE and swiftly U-turned my invitation acceptance.
- Drink bottled water, not the tap stuff.
- It’s pretty darn cheap round these parts! The Canary Islands in general are a highly affordable place to eat, so you don’t need to worry about bringing piles of money with you as it just is not necessary my friends.
- Arrecife (Lanzarote’s capital), is home to it’s only airport. I would definitely recommend using visiting for the airport alone as the city itself is not spectacular. No offence, Arrecife.