Nowhere is the Canaries’ volcanic past more evident than on the island of Lanzarote. This northernmost island of the archipelago was the first to break the sea’s surface some 16—20 million years ago. Over time, periodic eruptions created new volcanoes and new land. Today, there are over 300 volcanoes on the island, and much of the land they have created – some 41% of it – has been designated protected area by the Spanish government.
Ships dock at the Muelle de los Marmoles in the capital of Arrecife. The walk from the pier into town takes about 30 minutes; better to take the shuttle bus, which leaves you at the Charco de San Gines, close to the center of town. The ride takes about 12 minutes, and is free. There is a Tourist Information Office on the Avenida del Coll, close to the Puente de las Bolas.
Arrecife has been the capital of Lanzarote since 1852, and approximately half of Lanzarote’s population lives there. First settled as a fishing village in the 15th century, the town grew in importance in the 16th an 17th centuries, when it served as a way station for trade between the Old World and the New. Arrecife is still a working town, and tourist sites are few; the big draws on this island are the beaches and the otherworldly volcanic landscapes.
Charco de San Ginés – This salt-water lagoon in the city center is a picturesque memento of Arrecife’s early days as a fishing port. Small boats float on its azure waters, and white-washed fishermen’s cottages sit among the apartment blocks that surround it. A waterfront promenade, dotted with palm tress, shops, bars and restaurants, encircles the Charco, making it a pleasant place for a leisurely stroll or to relax and watch the world go by.
Church of San Ginés (Plaza de las Palmas) – Distinguished by its graceful white bell tower and wooden Mudejar ceiling, this church began as a 16th century hermitage holding images of St. Peter and St. Ginés, the patron saint of Arrecife. The hermitage was flooded in the 17th century, and the present day church, which was expanded in the 18th and 19th centuries, built in its place. On Saturday, a traditional market operates on the streets between the Plaza and Calle Leon y Castillo.
Casa de Los Arroyo (Av. del Coll, 3) – Built in 1739 by the military governor of the island, this plain, white, two-story building now houses the offices of the Publications Service and the Society for the Study of Cetaceans.
Castle of San Jose (Puerto de Naos) – A make-work project of the late 18th century, this fortress was not built for any truly defensive purpose, but to alleviate poverty. For that reason, it became known as the “Fortress of Hunger.” Today, the Castle holds the Museum of Contemporary Art (Open 10am-8pm – Admission: €4). Two domed rooms hold the Museum’s collection of Abstract art, while two additional galleries host temporary art exhibits, recitals and concerts. The Cesar Manrique designed bar/restaurant on the ground floor offers spectacular views of the port.
Castle of San Gabriel – This fortress, built on an island in the harbour, did have a defensive purpose. Constructed in 1574, it was destroyed by pirates in 1786, and rebuilt in 1592. Today the Castle holds the History Museum; it is joined to the mainland by the scenic Puente de las Bolas.
Casa de la Cultura Agustin de la Hoz (Av de la Marina, 7) – This mid-19th century townhouse, and the Cesar Manrique murals uncovered there, underwent restoration between 2007-10. The newly renovated building hosts temporary exhibitions and provides space for classes and seminars of a scientific or cultural nature.
Reducto Beach – This 500 meter long stretch of sand in the heart of Arrecife has restaurants, showers, changing rooms, toilets and telephones, and is literally across the street from scores of hotels and restaurants.
If your idea of a great day is a beach day, then Puerto del Carmen is for you. The town has 6 km of beautiful, sheltered beaches, a full range of water activities, and a host of bars, restaurants and shops to keep you busy. By taxi, it’s about 20 minutes from Arrecife, and should cost €30-35 one-way from the port. However, public buses are inexpensive and run often. Timetables and fares can be found at http://www.intercitybuslanzarote.es/index.php?lang=en
The Villa of Teguise (not to be confused with the coastal resort town of Costa Teguise) was founded in 1418, and was Lazarote’s capitol until 1852. Don’t-miss sites include:
Plaza de la Constitution – This is the main square of Teguise. Every Sunday morning, people come from all over the island to attend a crafts market that spills out of the square into the surrounding streets and alleys.
Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe – This 16th century church sits on one side of Plaza de la Constitution, and is distinguished by its imposing red and black stone bell tower.
Casa Museo Palacio Spinola – Opposite Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe is this 18th century mansion, originally known as “the Inquisitor’s House.” The Palacio was restored in 1974, and serves as an official residence when the Governor visits Lanzarote. Visitors can take a self-guided tour through its rooms and patios. (Open Mon-Fri, 9am-4pm, Sat & Sun, 9:30am-3pm – Admission: €3 for Adults, Free for Children under 12)
Convent of San Francisco – This late 16th century convent, founded by Franciscan missionaries, today houses the Museum of Sacred Art. The stone and masonry altar in a small chapel on the left side of the church is unique on the island. (Open Mon-Fri, 9am-3pm, Sat & Sun, 9:30am-2pm, Closed Tuesdays)
Convent of Santo Domingo – Four black and red stone arches separate the two naves of this 18th century Dominican convent. The space has been re-purposed as an art gallery, and hosts temporary exhibits of contemporary art. (Open Sun-Fri, 10am-3pm, Closed Saturdays)
Castillo de Santa Barbara – Perched on the rim of the Guanapay volcano, this 16th century fortress is the home of the Museo de la Pirateria. This museum tells the story of piracy in the Canaries, which raiders plundered for wheat, meat and slaves and where pirate ships lay in wait for the Spanish treasure fleet as it made its way from the Americas to Spain. (Open Mon-Fri, 9am-4pm, Sun & Holiday, 9:30am-3pm, Closed Saturdays – Admission: Adults €3, Children €1.50)
Lanzarote as we know it today only dates from about 5,000 years ago, when volcanic eruptions joined two smaller islands. Monte Corona was largely responsible for the formation of the northern part of the island. Ash from the eruptions blew southeast, and formed farmland; lava flowed directly east, and created the Malpais. The lava on the top cooled and formed a crust, while the hot lava beneath slowly drained away, creating the Atlantida Tunnel. This tubular cave system extends about 6 km above sea level and 1.5 km below the water. The two sections of the tunnel that are open to tourists are the Cuevas de los Verdes and the Jameos del Agua.
Cuevas de los Verdes – Some say the caves were named for the colour of the rock there; others say it was the property of a local family named Verde, who claimed the caves as part of their land. What is not in dispute is that the caves have been used as shelter from volcanic eruptions and marauding pirates since the time of the aboriginal Guanches. Los Verdes has been maintained in its natural state, though a few improvements have been made to facilitate tourist visits. In 1964, a 2 km pathway was opened, giving access to three levels of galleries connected by vertical passages. A lighting system designed by artist Jesus Soto illuminates the cave walls, and casts eerie shadows created by some of the unworldly formations found below. The colours of the galleries are also spectacular, ranging from red and ochre through the afore-mentioned green. Guided visits last about 1 hour, and can be strenuous in places. (Open daily 10am-6pm – Admission: €9 for Adults, €4.50 for Children under 12)
Jameos del Agua – Where the roof of a lava tunnel collapses, it forms an open cavern known as a “jameo.” The Jameos del Agua is in a lower section of the Atlantida Tunnel, nearer the ocean, and is another of the many projects of artist Cesar Manrique, a native of Arrecife. Entrance to the Jameos is via a spiral staircase, which descends into the “Jameo Chico.” Inside the cave is a natural lake that is home to several interesting species, including the famous blind albino crabs. A small footbridge over the lake leads visitors through a landscaped wall and into the “Jameo Grande,” which Manrique transformed into an underground oasis, complete with lush vegetation and a pool. Beyond the Jameo Grande is another grotto, which Manrique transformed into an Auditorium. As with the Cuevas de los Verdes, visits here last about 1 hour. (Open daily 10am-6pm – Admission: €9 for Adults, €4.50 for Children under 12)
Mirador del Rio – This historic lookout (the islanders used it to keep an eye out for pirates as long ago as the 16th century) was fortified with a small fortress and gun battery in 1898, during the Spanish American War. An American invasion never materialized, and the guns were removed; the site languished until 19974, when Cesar Manrique set about creating a restaurant on the site of the old battery. He hollowed out a large space in the hillside, covered it over with earth, and installed curved windows to open up the magnificent view. The restaurant was scrapped, though snacks are still sold there, and the site turned into a scenic overlook of the narrow channel between Lanzarote and Graciosa, and of the Playa el Risco far below. (Open Daily 10am-5:45pm – Admission €4.50, Children €2.25)
The other-worldly landscape of the Timanfaya National Park covers about 1/3 of the island, and owes its existence to the volcanic eruptions of the 1730s. Because the area is so arid, there has been little erosion, and Timanfaya looks largely as it did nearly three centuries ago. Although there is only one active volcano in the park (Mt. Timanfaya), volcanic activity continues beneath the surface to this day: lava located 13 meters (43 Feet) beneath the surface is so hot (100-600°C) that water poured on the ground immediately turns to steam. Visitors are not permitted to walk unescorted through the park, but there are ranger-escorted tours available 4 times a week. These last 3 hours, and must be booked in advance at the Visitor’s Center or via e-mail. Camel rides are also available at the Visitor’s Center, and cost €12. (Visits last about 2 hours. Park Open Daily, 9am-5:45pm; Last bus trip at 5pm – Admission €9 for Adults, €4.50 for Children under 12.)