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, beautiful beaches and good weather pretty much all year round.
As well as wineries, white-washed villages, luxury villas and fishing ports the island is home to some unique visitor attractions. The island might be small but it punches well above its weight in terms of sightseeing. Read on for the best things to see and do in Lanzarote…
Post updated November 2019
When I visited I discovered that this little island has some unusual and fascinating sights. Small, at just 60 km (37 mi) long and 25 km (16 mi) wide, it’s ideal to explore by car. Here’s what to do in Lanzarote.
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What to do in Lanzarote
Lanzarote’s famous architect, César Manrique, had a major influence on the island’s planning regulations. He lobbied successfully to make sure that any new buildings are in keeping with the island’s traditional colours and style. Because of this, the coastline has no ugly tower-blocks which gives the island a more traditional Spanish feel than some other Canary Islands.
Manrique’s ethos was to combine art and nature in a unique way and on a sustainable level. He was well ahead of his time. Visiting some of the César Manrique sights were top of my list of things to do in Lanzarote so that’s where I’m going to start.
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 they’re very photogenic. The garden has been established for over 20 years so some of the cacti are pretty big.
The dark grey lava stone used to build the walls and terraces make a nice contrast to the prickly plants. The cacti are interspersed with volcanic stone sculptures and there are Manrique design touches throughout from quirky cactus-shaped door handles to unusual signs for the toilets.
Jardin de Cactus, Lanzarote
Most of the cactus 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 €5.80 per adult and €2.90 per child (7-12 years). Discounts for residents apply.
Jameos del Agua
Los Jameos del Agua is inside a lava tube. The volcanic tunnel was formed when Volcano La Corona erupted three to four thousand years ago. The idea of exploring a lava tube was a definite must-see for me.
A ‘Jameo’ is a volcanic cave made of lava rock and has a collapsed roof. There are many of these caves, or tubes, on the island but del Agua is probably the best known. It’s located in the north of Lanzarote 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 this within a lava tube makes a very unique attraction.
When we arrived we made our way down a spiral staircase to an underground salt-water lagoon, Jameo Chico, (small Jameo) which has crystal clear waters.
Tiny, blind albino crabs (Munidopsis Polimorpha) live in the lagoon. They’re are the symbol of Jameo Agua and dot the floor of the lake like a starry sky. Look closely you’ll see thousands of the ‘glow in the dark’ crabs.
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. The lagoon is picture postcard perfect.
A 600 seater auditorium, added in 1987, is a venue for concerts and festivals and takes up the whole of an underground lava bubble. You can take a look during the day but I imagine going in the evening for a concert would be wonderful. The acoustics are pretty amazing in there.
Opening hours at Jameos del Agua are every day from 10:00 to 18:30 and special opening from 19:00 – 01:00 Saturday and Tuesday. The restaurant is open from 11:30 to 16:30 and the cafeteria from 10:00 to 18:30. It costs €9.50 for Adults and €4,75 per child (7-12 years).
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 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 some 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 Opening Hours: 10:00 to 17:45 Summer opening hours (15 July to 15 September): 10:00 to 18:45 Closes at 16:45 on 24 and 31 December
Admission is €4.75 for adults and €2.70 for children – reductions apply for Canarian residents
Rent a car and explore Lanzarote
All three of the above attractions are near to each other on the north side of the island so it’s worth planning to see all of them on the same day.
We hired a car and got around all the sights in this post in one day – it’s the way to go if you like to explore independently. Car rental was extremely affordable at under €40 for the day and as it’s a small island we didn’t spend a fortune on fuel, in fact it came to under €10. So with four of us in the car the total cost was less than €13 per person to get around the whole island. The best part of renting a car is stopping when something catches your attention – you can pull over and check it out and I can assure you we did!
Buy your map of Lanzarote to help with your journey.
There are also excursions and coach tours available. If you arrive on Lanzarote by cruise ship you can take a day tour of the island. Check rates and availability.
La Geria and Lanzarote’s 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. It’s an area of vineyards and wineries in the shadow of a brooding volcano range. It’s one of the more unusal sights in the Canary Islands.
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. These protect the vines 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. The sight of row upon row of Zocos sitting in seas of black sand was surreal. There are plenty of bodegas to stop at for a tapas lunch, and of course the wine is excellent…
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 Lanzarote attractions. 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.
Lanzarote’s Volcanoes – Fire Mountains
A group of over 100 volcanoes, Montañas del Fuego (Fire Mountains) and their massive rippling lava fields make up Timanfaya National Park. It’s the main focus of Lanzarote’s UNESCO biosphere reserve.
Intense heat rages under the earth here. We watched as a park ranger poured a bucket of water into a small hole in the lava. It burst back out seconds later in a plume of hot water and steam. You wouldn’t want to get too close.
Geyser spout at Timanfaya
To protect the unique flora and fauna from trampling boots visitors are not allowed to walk unescorted. 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.
El Diablo Bus Tour
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 tell interesting facts about the area and pass some spectacular views of the craters and landscape.
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 National Park.
The park is open daily from 10.00 – 17.45. The El Diablo buses cost €10 adults and €5 for children. Worth every last cent.
If you plan to see more than two of these sights during your stay you might want to buy a combo ticket for a group of attractions and save a few euros.
Ready to plan your holiday to Lanzarote?
I hope you enjoyed this round up of things to do in Lanzarote. If you have any more suggestions let us know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you…
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