Jameos del Agua in Haria, north Lanzarote, another project designed by brilliant César Manrique. Photo by Norbert Nagel.
Lava louts on Los Hervideros. Photo by Luis Bugallo Sanchez.
The quirky – you might even say arty touristic choice among Spain’s Canary Islands, Lanzarote offers volcanic minimalism – black, bleak and blasted landscapes dotted with flashes of colour from iridescent birds, jade palms, azure skies and seas and colonial-style white buildings including a trend towards quietly chic, eco-friendly places to stay.
Much of the restrained development and artistic sights around the island are thanks to Lanzarote’s greatest artist and architect, César Manrique.
Lanzarote is not a soft option but still offers unseasonal warmth, lunar landscapes, awesome volcano-oriented experiences, some fine architecture, large and small sandy beaches (albeit without shade), decent snorkeling and sensational board surfing.
The island’s main towns of Playa Blanca, Puerto del Carmen and Costa Teguise offer a large selection of good family hotels and resorts while out of the towns are many more individual offering ranging from comfortable sea-view bungalows, to tradional cottages and boutique hotels.
Like the other Canary Islands Lanzarote’s climate is good year-round, drier if anything due to it being the closest island to Africa (70 miles), but regularly breezy April-October, especially in July. The north of the island tends to have more wind than the south.
Average minimum temperature in January is 17C and average maximum in August 25C so the temperature is perfect while the sea temperature generally hovers around 19C and up so sea swimming year round is possible tho if you really want to swim in winter choose a hotel with a heated pool!
Puerto del Carmen. Photo by Luis Bugallo Sanchez.
Best Places to Go (towns)
• Arrecife, the island’s capital is near the airport and also houses the island’s main sea port with ferries to the European mainland. Arrecife is home to half Lanzarote’s population but is not a serious tourist destination with no more than a couple of ruined castles and one protected beach, El Reducto.
Plaza de la Constitución in Lanzarote’s best historic town, Teguise. Photo by H. Zell.
• Teguise is one of the best preserved towns in the entire Canary Islands with fine historic buildings – many constructed from volcanic stone and enclosing cute courtyards – a la Morocco.
• Costa Teguise, not to be confused with nearby Teguise, is one of the three main beach resorts that believe in hard partying (the other two are below) with a wide variety of bars and clubs on offer. The town has four main beaches all of which are natural and none outstanding: Playa de los Charcos, Playa de las Cucharas, Playa del Jablillo and Playa Bastián. Costa Teguise is notable for its winds, particularly during the summer, so wind or kite surfers welcome but sunbathers can find the endless wind tiresome!
• Puerto del Carmen on Lanzarote’s east side is the primary tourist destination on the island and probably the cause of the original Lanzagrotti tag but they’re working on improving their image though chips and Sky TV are still ubiquitous, along with German and Scandinavian alternatives.
Avenida de las Playas is the main street stretching about 7 kms along the coast with beaches on one side and restaurants, bars, shops and scuba centres on the other side; accommodation is scattered behind that coastal strip.
The pleasant old town includes the harbour/marina and offers more old-fashioned eating and drinking opportunities along with grand views of volcanoes and the neighbouring island of Fuerteventura.
• Playa Blanca is a rapidly expanding resort/port in the south of Lanzarote that offers all the services a sun and sangria seeker needs including varied walking trails such as to and around the rim of the adjacent dormant volcano, Montana Roja. There is also easy access to some of Lanzarote’s best beaches. Playa Blanca is beginning to overtake Puerto del Carmen in size and threatening their position as a low-cost holiday destination.
Things to do
Fundacion César Manrique, home of the grand Canary himself. Photo by Gernot Keller.
• Nightlife is confined mainly to the big three towns, but particularly Puerto del Carmen for light entertainment, shows, clubs. For a look at Spanish nightlife head for Arrecife. n. b. a ‘nightclub’ often means a brothel. If you wish to dance, try a ‘discoteca’!
• Rancho Texas Wild West Park, near Puerto del Carmen, is the family fun park on the island.
• Guinate Tropical Park, north Lanzarote near Maguez, offers well over 1, 000 exotic animals and birds set among tropical gardens and lakes.
• Go Karts, between Arrecife and Tias.
• Aquapark, a rather modest, unheated water park near Costa Teguise.
• Horse Riding.
• Shopping. The most popular island souvenirs are jewellery using peridot, a semi-precious stone green found in volcanic soil, anything sporting César Manrique logos/designs and locally-produced wines though this won’t be possible if you’re flying home.
The Sunday morning Teguise street market is lively but touristy or try Haría on Saturday morning for a more authentic craft.
• More below. . .
• The former home of César Manrique, Jameos Del Agua, is a bizarre, collapsed lava tube with green lagoon and blind albino crabs in the north of the island near Punta Mujeres, not far from Puerto del Carmen BUT this sight is not suitable for those with mobility problems as there are at least 30m of steps to climb up and down. Jameos Del Agua is Lanzarote’s second biggest attraction (photo at top of page) after Timanfaya volcano park.
Lanzarote’s superb artist and architect is mainly responsible for the island’s low-commerce style and high artistic development is another sensational tourist experience.
Timanfaya Volcano National Park
Timanfaya Volcano zone with park tour bus just visible on the right.
• Timanfaya contains a cluster of live volcanoes such as la Montaña de Fuego (Fire Mountain)and la Caldera del Corazoncillo (Little Heart Cauldron) in a hellish, barren but colourfully mineralised moonscape, this is Lanzarote’s biggest tourist draw. The hub of a lunar landscape is the Islote de Hilario volcano.
The park opens in summer 9 am – 7 pm and in winter 9 am – 5 pm and includes a restaurant called El Diablo (the Devil) where they cook traditional dishes over volcanic vents!
Buses tour the park and visit primary attractions including the restaurant designed by César Manrique. Visitors can also take camel safaris around the park, bookable in Yaiza village.
Cueva de los Verdes. Photo by Lviatour.
• More volcanic stuff in the shape of the Green Caves, aka Cuevas de los Verdes, a 2km tunnel of caves beautifully illuminated and near to Jameos del Agua (above) – which is actually the same lava tube system.
• The Cactus Garden (Jardin de Cactus) is one of the world’s best laid out and effective cactus collections, on a terraced amphitheatre with cactus motifs everywhere including an 8m high metal jobbie in the centre. This was all designed by the ubiquitous Cesar Manrique and is in the north of Lanzarote, Guatiza.
• Castles and museums. Four little anti-pirate castles protect the Lanzarote capital, Arrecife, Teguise and Playa Blanca. Some of these have been redeveloped as museums, The Castillo de San Jose in Arrecife by no other than Sr. Cesar M.
La Geria vines protected by volcanic lapilli (arced walls).
Lanzarote Walking or Cycling
Hikes here are best in the winter months when skies are clear and heat is down. February and March see a profusion of wild flowers on the hillsides.
Some of the popular trekking areas
• Along the north-west coast for dramatic landscapes and seascapes.
• The Winefields, a strange volcanic area in Lanzarote’s centre that has proven perfect for growing the sweet Malvasia grape also provides superb walks on calm, rural paths. And hey! It’s not difficult to find a drink en route!
• The Valley of 1, 000 palms is in the north of the island, a green and picturesque area.
• Around La Graciosa, Famara beach and Caleta de Famara for stunning cliff, beach and sea views.
Cycling is increasingly popular on Lanzarote and a network of excellent cycle trails is becoming increasingly popular.
• Whale Watching from Puerto Colon, Los Gigantes or Los Cristianos with different tour operators and different styles – swim off the back of the boat, sail on a catamaran, have a generous picnic aboard.
Bottlenose Dolphins and Pilot Whales are most-spotted but sometimes Sperm or White Whales pop their flukes up.
• Surfing and board surfing from April to October is sensational and best at 4km long Famara Beach. The town of Caleta de Famara hosts many kite-surf schools.
• Submarine safaris, based in Puerto Calero, diving to the floor of the Atlantic Ocean four times a day.
• Sport fishing (permit from Arrecife).
• Sailing, yachts and catamarans for hire.
• Golf on two courses near Costa Teguise or Puerto del Carmen.
• Scuba diving, both shore and boat dives, via many dive centres in the large towns but especially Puerto del Carmen where there’s even a purpose-built Marine Park off the coast. Water visibility is generally good at 10-30m, water temperature between 18C (winter)-23C(summer), and plenty of action with varied fish, volcanic caves, reefs and wrecks.
Lanzarote’s Best Beaches
Playa Papagayo, nearish to Playa Blanca town.
The island doesn’t have a huge number of good, non-windy beaches so pay-sun loungers and parasols can often jam sand space on better protected beaches.
The three main resorts areas – Puerto del Carmen, Costa Teguise and Playa Blanca – have a variety of very clean Blue Flag beaches providing all the usual facilities, such as loungers, parasols and toilets. More remote beaches are frequently accessible by local buses (guagua).
Puerto del Carmen
Puerto del Carmen’s Playa Grande. Photo by Bayreuth2009.
• Puerto del Carmen, Lanzarote’s most popular resort (and that means neither tranquil nor romantic! ) is encompassed by around 6 km of ‘golden’ (i. e. light brown) sand.
Playa Blanca, known as Playa Grande by the locals in order to distinguish it from Playa Blanca in the south (which is less than special and often has bathing forbidden posted), is the biggest strand, a busy, full-service beach of fine brown sand over a kilometre long, washed by calm waters. It has lifeguards, showers, changing areas, washrooms, parasols, and varied water sports equipment.
• Costa Teguise is another tourist-specific resort town but classier and costlier than Puerto del Carmen and hugged by a couple of decent beaches but beset by frequent winds in summertime. It’s just 15 minutes drive from delightful old Teguise.
Nearby are similar large beaches with fine sand, calm waters and good facilities, such as Los Pocillos, Matagorda and Lima, followed by smaller versions – Peña Grande, Pila de la Barilla and Fariones.
Playa Blanca (town)
Playa de Mujeres, near to Playa Blanca town. Photo by Frank Vincentz.
• Playa Blanca is not a beach but a new resort town near to several impressive beaches such as this one, Playa Mujeres, and the diminutive Papagayo further along the coast.
Playa Papagayo. Photo by Mr Hicks46.
• Papagayo beach, thought to be the most beautiful beach on Lanzarote, is in Los Ajaches nature reserve on the southern tip of the island not far from Playa Blanca town. It is actually a cluster of bays, not easy to get to and offering zero shade but uncrowded much of the year (tho’ it does get stuffed in the summertime), natural and secluded with one primitive but pleasant little café beside the car park above the beach.
If Papagayo is too busy for your taste it’s an easy walk to a larger, quieter neighbouring bay such as spacious Las Mujeres (photo above), Pozo, Congrío or Muelas, though you may find yourself among nudists.
Getting there: An easy access solution is to catch a taxi boat from Playa Blanca, or take a 15 minute drive from the town to the hill-top car park and walk down the steep incline.
El Golfo tidal pool inside an extinct and heavily eroded volcanic cone. Photo by Stefan Krause.
El Golfo’s unusual and striking beach is 20 minute’s drive north of Playa Blanca. Lago Verde, the brilliant green crescent-moon lagoon, is caused by volcanic minerals and not by algae. The lagoon is near El Golfo village where fish restaurants are good, cheap plentiful if you can scramble over over the loose scree wall separating them from the beach.
Good isolated beaches
• Famara is a large and unspoilt beach well away from Lanzarote’s resorts on the northwest coast. It is coated with firm brown sand and bordered by tall pink-brown cliffs but usually windy so excellent for wind or kite boarding, surfing (hire a board or find tuition in the town), walking or even hang gliding off the cliffs, but not really a place for tranquil sunbathing.
There are no facilities around the beach, but the village of La Caleta de Famara has a decent selection of cafés, bars and restaurants.
Getting there: take the LZ-30 main road then turn off onto the LZ-401 or LZ-402, which both lead to Famara.
• Caleta del Mero in north Lanzarote is 500m long, in a rural setting with coarse white sand and on a frequent bus route. It’s used by naturists as well as bathing suitists.
• Cantería Beach, Orzola, is the last beach in the north of Lanzarote and popular with surfers when the wind comes from the south, or regular folk when the wind is elsewhere. Cantería has a lovely location below the dramatic Famara cliff and is near volcanic caves that are ripe for exploration.
• Caletón Blanco is a cluster of white-sand coves with calm waters that offer pleasant snorkeling in the far northeast coast of Lanzarote near Orzola town – which is the place to find good eats and drinks.
Getting there: Drive north on LZ1 and after passing Los Jameos del Agua, check on the right for car parks on the coastal strip and then choose a cove that suits you.