We Irish have a long-time love affair with Lanzarote. Over generations, this Canary Island has become as familiar a holiday as Ballybunion or Killarney… but just how well do we really know it?
Where is Lanzarote’s most sheltered beach?
Have you been to one of its volcanoes? Or did you know that those untidy looking fields of cactus contain a unique ‘secret’ treasure?
I drove and walked much of this low-rise, volcano-blackened gem of an isle to seek out the best of what it has to offer — some of it well known, more of it less so.
1. Four fab Beaches
Puerto del Carmen’s Playa Chica (above) might not turn your head at first (the stretch of sand immediately to the east is much grander looking), but it offers the most sheltered swimming on the island, and is a superb spot for snorkelling.
If you haven’t time for the ferry to the satellite island of La Graciosa, check out the splendid northern beach of Famara (below) with its dramatic Atlantic rollers.
If an all-over tan is your thing, head for the naturists’ haven of Charco del Palo, also in the north. Finally, the stretch of black sand just south of El Golfo is like a film set from some high-fantasy blockbuster… the dark sand, brooding cliffs, sharp magma rocks and shiny black pebbles are dramatic Lanzarote at its best.
More: Roz Purcell’s Lanzarote: Six places for your Little Black Book
2. In vino veritas
The Bodega in the La Geria area of Lanzarote (lageria.com) is the island’s foremost vineyard. After 18th-century eruptions wiped out much of the previously green countryside, locals were forced to adapt — they discovered that the black volcanic ash had great water-retention properties and, provided plants were protected from the ever-present wind, healthy vines could be grown (their roots spread out laterally to find the moist earth beneath).
Here, you’ll see vineyards like no other on earth — half-moon shaped walls made of hand-picked stone surrounding each and every vine. Most of what they make is consumed in the Canaries, including whites, reds and a sweet but refreshingly non-syrupy dessert wine. It’s a fascinating place, and most importantly of all, the wine is damn good.
Do it: Bus No. 5 (Arrecife-Femés). Get off at Uga and take a taxi for the last 2km.
3. Hit the road
We explored the island’s wild northern landscape with Kayak Tours. Over four hours, our superb guide Carlos shared his passion and love for Lanzarote — whoever thought that a short hike up to a water reservoir could be so interesting? Water is like gold here, mined out of the rock, collected and hoarded carefully (note all the flat roofs with little walls to retain rain) long before there were such things as desalination plants.
We also learned that those untidy-looking fields of cactus exist mainly for the harvest of the tiny cochineal insect. A strong red dye extracted from the creature is a local treasure used to colour food and cosmetics.
Do it: kayaklanzarote.com
4. Lay your Head Down
Puerto del Carmen offers by far the widest accommodation choices of the three resort towns (the others being Playa Blanca and Costa Teguise). Self-catering starts from around €250 per week for a two-bed apartment without pool, if you hunt around.
For half-board, an excellent option is the increasingly popular Aqua Suites (aquasuiteslanzarote.com; from €180 per night), set on a quiet road off the main strip in Puerto del Carmen. This Irish-managed hotel offers relaxed living with a friendly communal touch, with airy suites gathered around a sheltered sunken swimming pool. The food is simple and fresh (try the signature seafood paella) and the service is very helpful.
Do it: Bus No. 161 (Aeropuerto-Puerto del Carmen) drops you within five minutes.
5. Get offshore to a graceful place
The island of La Graciosa — just offshore to the north of Lanzarote — is so close that there’s an annual swimming race from one to the other. Life runs at an even more relaxed pace on La Graciosa, where there are just two small settlements and precious little by way of tarred roads.
If you don’t fancy hours-long walks, you can hire 4WDs in Caleta del Sebo to take you to the northern side where you’ll find Playa de Las Conchas, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Do it: Bus No. 9 (Arrecife to Órzola). Pick up the ferry at the end of the line.
6. An Underwater Paradise
The Museo Atlantico in Playa Blanca is Europe’s first underwater museum. For anyone with a small bit of diving experience, it’s a doable depth of 15m or so. For novices, you can do an introductory course in the morning that will leave you ready to have a go at it in the afternoon.
The effect is wonderful. A collection of sunken sculptures is the work of British artist Jason deCaires Taylor, who used locals to cast thought-provoking exhibits in the eerie and beautiful setting — a group of kids in little brass boats, for example, or a couple taking a selfie.
After three years, all kinds of sea life has built up around this man-made reef, with sea lichen and seaweed coating the sculpture pieces and shoals upon shoals of large fish.
Do it: Pick up Bus No. 30 in Playa Blanca, get off at Las Coloradas and walk to the pier. underwatermuseumlanzarote.com.
7. Magnificent Mountains of Fire
The Montañas del Fuego are in the huge Timanfaya National Park. Once you go past the entrance gate, you’re essentially in an uninhabited landscape that looks like Mars. Bus tours leave regularly from the car park and visitor centre and bring you on a half-hour tour that winds through the volcanoes to the accompaniment of atmospheric music and commentary in English, Spanish and German. These volcanoes erupted between the mid-18th century and 1824, but look like they only just cooled down last week.
Do it: No public buses — take a hire car or taxi. Tours cost €8.
8. Stunning Tunnels
The eruption of La Corona volcano created a 7km tunnel under the thick layer of lava that runs to the sea and continues underneath the ocean for another kilometre. Sometime between then and now, holes on the surface collapsed, exposing the enormous natural magma galleries.
At the Jameos del Agua (cactlanza rote.com) you walk down into a section of the lava tunnel, which was refurbished to amazing effect by local artist extraordinaire César Manrique (a man who left his impression on virtually every corner of Lanzarote).
Less than a kilometre further inland, you can explore even more of the double-decker gallery, including a concert hall, at the Cuevo de los Verdes — a cave where locals used to shelter from intermittent attacks from British and Algerian pirates.
Do it: Bus No. 9 (Arrecife to Órzola); get off at Jameos del Agua.
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9. A Castle of Canarian Art
The MIAC (Museo Internacional de Arte Contemporanéo) is located in a castle overlooking the harbour of Lanzarote’s industrialised capital, Arrecife. Inside the thick walls, you’ll find a series of playful and imaginative works from local artists — many of whom have found huge international fame. Downstairs (and accessible without visiting the museum) is a gem of a restaurant with quirky décor, excellent food and a superb view over the water.
Do it: Bus No. 1 from Arrecife to Costa Teguisa. Get off at Ikea (7 min walk).
More: Travel TV: Ireland’s Lanzarote love affair
10. Drink & be Merry
The range of drinking spots on Lanzarote is mind-boggling. Many of the English-style bars do happy hours, where pints of lager are as cheap as €1.50. Needless to say, there are lots of Irish bars too — for a civilised pint in the Old Town of Puerto del Carmen, try the newly-opened Shamrock, nestled in an enclave just off Calle Roque Nublo.
Just up the street and directly across the road from a branch of Santander bank is a discreet doorway entrance to the only real “local” bar that you’ll find in the town. Over the door, it says simply “El Bar” and known to locals as Kiko’s Bar, it’s a lively spot with a regular guitar-playing duo giving it welly in local music in an overwhelmingly tourist town.
Do it: For more information, see turismolanzarote.com or spain.info.
Ryanair and Aer Lingus both fly to Lanzarote, and the island is widely served by Irish tour operators. The bus system isn’t half bad, either. They come every half an hour on weekdays and a trip from Puerto del Carmen to Playa Blanca will cost you just over €5 return. A contactless card from the station in Arrecife gives a 20pc discount on fares. For a comprehensive look, hire a car. Prices range from around €12 to €100 per day.
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