Lanzarote is the fourth largest of the Canary Islands and sits in the Atlantic Ocean about 125 km off the west coast of Africa. It’s a small island with remarkable volcanic landscapes and pretty much good weather all year round. As well as some gorgeous beaches, white-washed villages and fishing ports the island is home to some unique visitor attractions.
When I visited Lanzarote I discovered that this little island has some unusual and fascinating sights and at just 60 km (37 mi) long and 25 km (16 mi) wide it’s ideal to explore by car. Here are my top five things to see and do in Lanzarote.
Lanzarote’s famous architect, César Manrique, had a major influence on the island’s planning regulations and he lobbied successfully to make sure that any new buildings are in keeping with the island’s traditional colours and style. His ethos was to combine art and nature in a unique way and on a sustainable level. No high-rise buildings are allowed which means the coastline has no ugly tower-blocks which gives the island a more traditional feel. Some of Lanzarote’s top sights include those created by César Manrique so I’m going to start with some of them.
1. Jardin de Cactus
A visit to the Cactus garden, even if you’re not that into cacti, is a fun way to fill an hour ot two. The Jardin de Cactus is a César Manrique creation built into an old quarry; a perfect example of architecture integrated into the landscape. It’s in the north of the island between Mala and Guatiza.
The garden houses over 7,500 cacti from around the world and as it’s now been established for over 20 years some of them are pretty big. The dark grey lava stone used to build the walls and terraces make a nice contrast to the prickly plants and make for some lovely photo opportunities. The cacti are interspersed with volcanic stone sculptures and there are Manrique touches throughout from quirky cactus-shaped door handles to the unusual signs for the toilets.
Most of the garden is explored by walking along sloping pathways and ramps but there are some steps which are quite steep so not suitable for everybody. You can climb up the curved wooden stairs inside the windmill to see its workings and there are wonderful views across the gardens from its base.
The Jardín de Cactus is open every day from 10:00 to 17:45, it costs €5 per adult and €2.50 per child (7-12 years).
2. Jameos del Agua
Los Jameos del Agua is inside a lava tube, or volcanic tunnel, which formed when Volcano La Corona erupted three to four thousand years ago. The idea of exploring a lava tube was a definitely must-see for me. A ‘Jameo’ is a volcanic cave with a collapsed roof and there are many of these in Lanzarote but del Agua is probably the best known. It’s situated in the north of the island and is part of the Atlantida cave system.
Cesar Manrique had the idea of turning the ‘jameos’ into a visitor centre with restaurant, museum, tropical gardens, swimming pool and 600 seat auditorium all within the lava tube. First I descended a spiral staircase down to an underground salt-water lagoon, Jameo Chico, (small Jameo) with crystal clear waters. Here I spotted the tiny, glow in the dark, blind albino crabs (Munidopsis Polimorpha) which are the symbol of Jameo Agua and dot the floor of the lake like a starry sky.
A walk alongside the lake through the lava tube brings you to a garden of plants and a vivid turquoise pool which a solitary palm bowing over it. It’s picture postcard perfect. The 600 seater auditorium, added in 1987, is a venue for concerts and festivals and takes up the whole of an underground lava bubble.
Opening hours at Jameo Agua are every day from 10:00 to 18:30 and Saturday from 10:00 to 22:00. The restaurant is open from 11:30 to 16:30 and the cafeteria from 10:00 to 18:30. It costs €9 for Adults and €4,50 per child (7-12 years).
3. Mirador del Rio
El Mirador del Río is an observation point sitting high up on the Risco de Famara, in the north of the Island. It’s barely visible from the outside as it’s been integrated and blends completely into the volcanic lava cliff face – of course it’s another César Manrique creation. At an altitude of 474 metres it’s home to one of Lanzarote´s most spectacular views – the Archipiélago Chinijo Nature Reserve, Graciosa Island, Famara Cliff and down the North West coast of the island.
Inside the building are two white cavernous rooms, the curved, smooth walls contrast with the dark porous texture of the volcanic lava outside. Two huge picture windows open out onto the incredible view but I preferred to enjoy it from the outdoor terrace.
The island of La Graciosa is separated from Lanzarote by a narrow strip of sea called “El Río” (The River) and it’s this that gives its name to the observation point. There are good views from the terrace of the Famara Cliff and the red-coloured “Salinas del Río” of “Guza”, the oldest salt mines of the Island.
Mirador del Rio is open everyday from 10.00 – 18.00 and admission is €4.70.
All three of the above attractions are near to each other on the north side of the island so worth planning to see on the same day.
4. La Geria and the Vineyards
Lanzarote has a wine-producing tradition that began as far back as the 15th century. Heading towards the centre of the island on the road from San Bartolomé to Playa Blanca you’ll find La Geria, an area of vineyards and wineries in the shadow of a brooding volcano range.
The vineyards in Lanzarote aren’t like any you’ll have ever seen before. A massive eruption in 1730 lasting six years covered this part of the island in thick, black volcanic ash and put a stop to any cultivation except for the grapevine. Each vine is grown in a round hollow and surrounded by a small crescent-shaped wall called a Zocos which protects it from the near-constant winds. There’s little rainfall in Lanzarote and the volcanic ash preserves soil moisture around the plant ensuring it has enough water to grow.
When I visited in February the vines weren’t sprouting yet but it was still worth visiting to see the surreal sight of row upon row of Zocos sitting in seas of black sand. There are plenty of bodegas to stop at for a tapas lunch, and of course the wine is excellent…
5. Timanfaya National Park
I’ve saved the best until last. The volcanoes and lava fields of Timanfaya National Park were the most breath-taking of the sights I saw in Lanzarote. Covering an area of over 51 square km in the South West of the island these are the same volcanoes that blew their tops in 1730 covering La Geria wine area in black ash and small pebbles of lapilli.
A group of over 100 volcanoes, Montañas del Fuego (Fire Mountains) and their massive rippling lava fields make up Timanfaya National Park and it’s the main focus of Lanzarote’s UNESCO biosphere reserve.
Intense heat rages under the earth here and I watched as a park ranger poured a bucket of water into a small hole and it burst back out seconds later in a plume of hot water and steam.
To protect the unique flora and fauna from trampling boots visitors are not allowed unescorted walking but if you’re really keen to explore you can take the Ruta de Tremesana, a three-hour walk, with a park ranger. It’s advisable to book as they get busy. If you’re not feeling energetic then El Diablo buses leave from the nearby car park every 20 minutes for a tour around the volcano craters and lava field. Pre-recorded commentaries in three languages impart interesting facts and the views are spectacular.
The road ribbons through the lava field which, in places, looks as though it’s only just solidified from its cascading, bubbling path towards the coast. The scenery we passed was incredible with steep slopes of grey and black around the gaping mouths of the cones. Rust, orange and maroon peaks contrasted with ochre sands while scrubby plants clung to the slopes of picon. The driver navigated some pretty tight bends to get the best views into some of the peaks. If you just see one thing in Lanzarote make sure it’s Timanfaya.
The park is open daily from 10.00 – 17.45. The El Diablo buses cost €8 adults and €4 for children. Worth every last cent.