The Canary Islands weren’t somewhere I had any intention of going to. I’d always had the impression that it was a Brits in the sun island with a lack of home-grown Spanish culture and lots of all day English breakfasts. I was wrong, however.
One of the benefits of a holiday in Lanzarote is that heading to the most Eastern of the Canaries, not far off the coast of Africa, is relatively inexpensive as there are a choice of carriers plus of course you get the sun just about all year round – the average temperature in December is 17°C, for goodness sake. Distances from Lanzarote Airport are nothing – Playa Blanca’s way down south but it’s only 30 minutes away by car.
Enough of that. Let’s get down to the quirky.
Timanfaya National Park
This should be your number one reason for visiting Lanzarote. As with all the Canaries, this island was formed as a result of volcanic activity (there’s actually a possible new one in the making according to this Telegraph article)
And it was created by the eruptions that occurred between 1730 and 1736, creating 100 new volcanoes over a 50km² area and destroying villages and livelihoods into the bargain. It’s one of the newest places on earth. And one of the most beautiful.
Most people take a bus tour round the park, either by coming in on a coach or parking up and jumping on one of the buses run by the park itself. Apparently you’ll be treated to experiments that demonstrate the intense heat just under the ground you’re standing on. And you’ll be taken to a Manrique-designed restaurant (more below) where meat is cooked on the volcanic heat.
However, a wonderful way to visit the park that not everyone seems to know about (according to TripAdvisor, anyway) is to take a free English or Spanish language guided walk. It takes a bit of planning but is well worth it. There are two routes around the park (you can’t walk round on your own – it’s a fragile and protected area with flora reappearing on the lava flows.)
Book well in advance as numbers are severely restricted (which means you’re part of a small group) by ringing the number on the Timfanfaya website And then you’ll need to ring again 48 hours in advance to reconfirm. This caused us a bit of a panic because we didn’t realise we were trying to ring on a National Holiday. They took our confirmation the next day, thank goodness.
The walk’s easy and memorable. There’s a lot of information on the different lava formations you’ll be seeing and the wildlife that makes its home there. The landscape is spectacular and regularly compared to that on Mars.
Here’s a lovely guide to the Timanfaya area by the way.
If you’re coming in by car, try early in the morning before the coach parties arrive, or later in the afternoon – after 4pm should see smaller queues. And staying in Playa Blanca, as we did, will mean that you get to see lots of volcanoes as you drive up and down the coast visiting other resorts. Volcano heaven!
One thing you’ll see a lot of around Timanfaya are the devil sign (one’s in the picture at the beginning of this post). “El Diablo” was designed by the person responsible for our next reason to visit Lanzarote – the artist and architect César Manrique.
Manrique was born on the island in 1919 and had a huge impact on the way in which it developed. Instead of the soulless high rises blighting other Spanish resorts, there are few on the island because he had the local council dictate that houses should be no higher than a palm tree. There is one high-rise development, but that happened when he was away from the island.
He also recommended that locals paint their houses only in white or green, or blue on the coast. Because of him, electrical cables were laid underground and roadside signs were banned. Importantly, the ecology and landscape of the island was protected and respected largely because of his efforts and he received some major awards for conservation.
He left behind a series of public works and buildings around the island and it’s well worth your time driving around Manrique-spotting.
You can see the works of Manrique in the following places:
Fundación César Manrique
The artist’s self-designed home was built overlooking the 18th century lava flows and it’s fully in keeping with its landscape. Part of a flow of lava even appears to flow through a window into his house.
It’s a beautiful development that makes use of five large bubbles in the lava, with corridors linking them all and gorgeous 1970s furnishings, fountains and extensive sunken gardens.
The above ground level part houses his works (think Picasso or Miro) as well as paintings by the two aforementioned artists. Manrique himself set up the Foundation in 1982 but it officially opened to tourists in 1992. It’s a magical place well worth a visit.
Jameos del Agua
The Jameos del Agua are to be found at the foot of the volcano Monte de la Corona in the north of the island. This is another development made from bubbles in the Lanzarotean lava – it consists of an open-roofed bubble with swimming pool and a gorgeous garden and cave where musical events are held due to the fantastic acoustics. If you find a way to bribe an official to let you see the place alone, do it – it was very busy when we visited so it’s probably worth going early or late in the day.
Mirador del Rio
The Mirador is a viewpoint looking out over the strait of Rio towards the island of La Graciosa. It, along with Timanfaya featured in the 1983 series of Dr Who disguised as Sarn, the “Planet of Fire”. You’ll find a 70’s style futuristic sci-fi type cafe, shop and balcony with a beautiful view.
Jardin de Cactus
There was no stopping this man. He went to bed early and got up at dawn and packed in a lot! Another project he oversaw was this cactus garden – 10,000 plants in a former quarry. It’s a very impressive place to visit and you’ll come away with a million photographs of weird and wonderful cacti. There’s even a windmill and a giant metallic cactus to gawp at.
Monumento al Campesino (Fecundidad) and Casa Museum
The monument is in memory of the agricultural workers of Lanzarote and is also dedicated to fertility – it’s made out of old water tanks. (You could’ve guessed that, couldn’t you..?) It sits on a volcanic outcrop that has been left as a reminder of the landscape before the surrounding area was developed. There’s a nearby museum with artisan workshops and a tapas restaurant that serves tapas at 4 euros a plate.
Other Works by Manrique
- Taro de Tahíche (his house near Teguise).
- Museo Internacional de Arte Contemporaneo (International Museum of Contemporary Arts in Castillo de San José – houses works by Miró, Manrique and more).
- El Almacé (cultural centre, Arrecife).
- Garden and swimming pools of the Las Salinas hotel in Costa Teguise.
- El triunfador (sculpture near the Fundacion César Manrique).
- Juguetes del viento (a windmill Arrieta).
So, why are you sitting there? Get yourself to Lanzarote!