Visiting Lanzarote is like leaving Earth. From its volcanic, lunar landscapes and Mars-like sands to its delicious wine and seafood, there are countless reasons to visit this Canary Island. Here are the top ones.
With its white, cubic architecture set against undulating volcanoes and lava fields, Lanzarote delivers a visual feast like no other. Part of the Canary Islands, an archipelago off the coast of Morocco, the island is known for its vineyards, rocky hiking trails and cultural attractions (thanks to artist César Manrique), as well as beaches, water sports and tapas. It’s also home to charming boutique hotels that are a great bet for travellers looking to avoid package tourism. Here are the top reasons why you should put this unique, year-round destination on your bucket list.
In Lanzarote, there’s a beautiful black, golden or white-sand beach for every mood and location. Even on the south coast, where holiday resorts are located, popular beaches like Playa del Reducto (in Arrecife) have been awarded Blue Flag status for their cleanliness and safety. To the north, the beaches are long and windswept, with black sands on Playa de Famara and crashing waves that draw surfers and kiteboarders. Then there’s Caletón Blanco with soft white sand and shallow splash pools that are great for families. Meanwhile in the south, Playa Papagayo offers a string of golden-sand coves interrupted by volcanic rock.
Lanzarote is blessed with clean, crystal-clear ocean water, providing excellent visibility to see a vast selection of sea life for scuba divers and snorkellers. Beginner divers can pick between several schools offering PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) courses, while experienced divers can enjoy various locations around the island like Charco del Palo and Puerto del Carmen. One must-visit spot is an underwater sculpture museum called Museo Atlantico, located 12m (39ft) below the surface, which scuba divers have access to. As for snorkelling, Playa de Papagayo’s five beaches provide calm, almost emerald-green water, while Playa del Jablillo is known for its low tide. Another snorkelling spot for novices is Playa Chica. The water is safe and warm for optimal underwater viewing.
Lanzarote’s unique architectural style is largely due to the avant-garde designs of Spanish artist-architect César Manrique, who spent much of his life on the island. Also a nature activist, Manrique was influential to the island’s growth and success and helped lobby to keep developments sustainable, low-rise and traditional. (Expect a lot of charming whitewashed homes here; billboards are also forbidden.) Manrique also helped create and curate many of the island’s most impressive art and cultural attractions, like Jameos del Agua, a series of lava caves, plus public sculptures, gardens and even a restaurant. A must-see is Manrique’s former home, dubbed the Volcano House and one of the island’s most popular tourist spots.
Again, thanks in part to Manrique’s conservation efforts, buildings higher than two storeys are not allowed in most places on the island. One exception is the south coast, where holiday resorts are located. But it’s not difficult for travellers looking to keep with Lanzarote traditions to book a room in one of the whitewashed, eco-friendly boutique hotels sprinkled around the island. Consider Alondras Villas Y Suites, which has 42 villas, mostly with private pools; Casa Camella, a luxury villa and cottage located in the countryside with an ocean view; and Palacio Ico, a charming nine-room hotel surrounded by cobblestone streets in the historic town of Teguise.
Given the volcanic soil and tough growing conditions, Lanzarote’s quality food options may come as a surprise. Of course, the surrounding waters provide fresh seafood such as shrimp, squid, boquerones (anchovies), dorada (sea bream) and vieja (parrotfish). On land, goat herds lend themselves to local stews and delicious white cheeses, which can be found in most markets. When looking at a menu, check out Canarian favourites like papas arrugadas. These local potatoes are boiled in salt water that turns skins wrinkly and are dipped in mojo sauce: either spicy red or garlicky green. There are plenty of casual tapas bars, chiringuitos (beach shacks) and restaurants to choose from, but don’t miss El Diablo in Timanfaya National Park, which grills food from a large 400C (752F) volcanic hole in the ground.
When planning a trip to Lanzarote, consider timing it around one of the island’s many concerts, sports matches or carnivals. One event you won’t find anywhere else is the Lanzarote Wine Run each June, drawing a few thousand contestants who run or walk 7.5mi (12km) through the wine region, stopping along the way to taste tapas and wine from local producers. At the end of the trail, there’s a celebration called the Traditional Cuisine Festival. If you want to skip the exercise, then simply head to the festival to sample an assortment of food, wine and beer. It’s free to enter and open to everyone.
You may be surprised to learn that the Canary Islands’ desert climate can grow grapes. Lanzarote produces white, red and rosé wines, but the Malvasia Volcanica is the variety that stands out for its history and artisan farming methods. After a series of volcanic eruptions in the 18th century destroyed wheat crops, farmers dug through the ash in search of fertile soil and discovered that grape vines could grow when planted in the soil. This began the movement of planting vines in distinct, conical ditches surrounded by semi-circular lava stone walls to protect them from the winds. Wine is still produced this way today. Set up a private tour or vineyard walk with Wine Tours Lanzarote to see (and try) it for yourself.
Looking to do a little island hopping? Lanzarote is in close proximity to next-door Canary Island Fuerteventura, which is accessible via a 30-minute ferry from Playa Blanca. Many visitors head to Parque Natural de Corralejo to see the expansive sand dunes, or they have lunch in the two neighbouring surf towns called Lajeres and El Cotillo, teeming with laid-back hipsters. A more remote day trip from Lanzarote is to the island of La Graciosa, northeast of Lanzarote and less crowded than the rest of the archipelago. Orzola Port offers 20 daily ferry crossings to La Graciosa, taking 25 minutes. Pack a picnic and explore the island on foot or bicycle (rentals are available), especially the soft-sand beach and turquoise shallows of Playa de las Conchas.
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