Located just off the west coast of Africa, Lanzarote - one of the Canary Islands - is famous for its mild and warm climate, beaches and volcanic landscapes. But the island is also a popular tourist destination because of its peculiar character, a clever mix of nature, art and traditions, which makes it different from the other islands of the archipelago and which is manifested in the presence of the so-called CACTs - Centres of Art, Culture and Tourism. They are mostly natural attractions put at the service of tourism through the careful work and creative genius of César Manrique. CACTs are the core of tourism on the island and in this article we give you some advice on how best to visit them and which ones you should not miss.
If the Canaries are notoriously the islands of endless Spring because of their mild and warm climate all year round, Lanzarote is certainly an excellent example. Located in the ocean, off the west coast of Africa, the island is a popular tourist destination not only because it offers beautiful beaches and coastline, but above all because of its amazing natural landscape, which lends itself perfectly to discovery by car, as well as on foot or by bicycle. The island also has a lively and intense cultural life, which manifests itself in the so-called CACTs – Centres of Art, Culture and Tourism. They are mostly natural attractions put at the service of tourism through the careful work and creative genius of César Manrique. César Manrique was a multifaceted artist, painter, sculptor, architect, ecologist, and many other things, who was born and worked right here in Lanzarote. Here is some more information about the CACTs and some tips on how to visit them.
Arriving by plane
Lanzarote is easily accessible by plane from all major European cities. From Switzerland, there are flights operated by Swiss* from Zurich. Furthermore, the low-cost airline Easyjet offers flights to Lanzarote from Basel airport, normally departing twice a week. In both cases, the flight time is about four hours. The airport of Lanzarote is located on the east coast, in the area of Arrecife. It is a small airport but is well organised. Inside the airport you will also find the main car rental companies to collect your rental car once you arrive at your destination.
CACT: what they are and how to plan a visit
Created in the 1960s, CACTs – Lanzarote’s Centres of Art, Culture and Tourism – are certainly the most important tourist attractions on the island. Their realisation is the result of the creative genius of César Manrique, a local artist of international prestige who, in his continuous search for a balance between man’s hand and nature, designed and built these structures with the aim of implementing a sustainable model of tourism. The CACTs can be found almost everywhere on the island and you will need several days to visit them all. With the exception of the Casa-Museo del Campesino, you will need to purchase an entrance ticket to visit. Depending on the location, the price varies from € 5.00 to € 12.00. There are also combined tickets that allow you to choose (among several possible options) 3, 4 or 6 centres at a reduced cost. There are 8 CACTs: Casa-Museo del Campesino, Montañas del Fuego (Timanfaya National Park), Cueva de Los Verdes, Jameos del Agua, Jardín de Cactus, Mirador del Río, the MIAC – Castillo de San José and the Casa Amarilla in Arrecife. Following are the ones that, in our opinion, are absolutely unmissable. However, we will talk about the Montañas del Fuego (Timanfaya National Park) in a dedicated post. Tickets can be purchased at the box office of each location, but if you want to avoid the queue, which can be stressful during the summer, the advice is to pre-purchase them online at the official website. You can find out more about CACT at this link.
CACTs not to be missed
Casa-Museo del Campesino
Located in the centre of the island, in the territory of San Bartolomé, the Casa-Museo del Campesino is a faithful reconstruction of a typical Lanzarote farmhouse. In Manrique’s intentions, it is also a celebration of the hard work done by humans to make this inhospitable and waterless land productive. Its white walls and bright green windows will fascinate you! But as you explore the place, you can learn all about the island’s rural life and the tools used. Also iconic is the 15-metre high Fertility Monument, which attracts the curiosity of all who pass by. Inside the building are several craft shops, where you can buy local products such as cheeses, jams, clothes, hats and much more. The Casa-Museo del Campesino can be visited every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is the only CACT for which there is no entrance fee. There is a large parking next to the building. We recommend you to plan about 45 minutes for the visit.
Cueva de los Verdes
Lanzarote is not only peculiar on the surface, but also underground! The island has been shaped by millennia of volcanic activity. For example, the underground tunnel formed by the eruption of the Corona Volcano is over 6 km long and, starting from the volcano’s crater, reaches the sea. A visit to the Cueva de los Verdes will allow you to discover part of it, while the final part of the tunnel can be visited by accessing the Jameos del Agua. Although in some pictures the rock walls of this fascinating underground tunnel appear bright green, in reality the site takes its name from the family that raised cattle in the area. The visiting route and the lighting are designed by Fuerteventura artist Jesús Soto, who collaborated with Manrique to make this natural place safe to visit. The tunnel can only be visited by guided tours that leave from the box office several times a day between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tickets, which cost € 10.00 (CHF 10,30), can be purchased at the box office at the time of your visit or pre-purchased online. We recommend you to plan approximately 60 minutes for your visit. Moreover, as it can get quite cold in the caves even during the Summer, we suggest that you bring a light jacket or jumper and wear good rubber-soled shoes.
Jameos del Agua
Jameos del Agua are located on the final part – the one closest to the ocean – of the tunnel created by the eruption of the Corona Volcano, the same as the Cueva de los Verdes. This fascinating place takes its name from the presence, inside the tunnel, of a seawater lake that is considered a truly unique geological formation and is famous for being home to Munidopsis Polimorpha, an endemic species of tiny white crabs that only live here. The tunnel and underground lake were made accessible to tourism by Manrique and they represent his first work in Lanzarote and, probably, the one that best represents his ideals of environmental sustainability. During your visit you will be amazed by the colours of the place, the reflections of light and the extraordinary nature that lives and grows here. The Jameo also houses a large auditorium for concerts and performances. The tunnel can be visited independently between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. (last admission 5.15 p.m.). Tickets, which cost € 10.00 (CHF 10,30), can be purchased at the box office at the time of your visit or pre-purchased online. However, the Auditorium and the Jameo de ‘La Cazuela’, the last part of the tunnel, are excluded from the ordinary visit. To visit them, you will have to participate in the ‘Insólita Jameos del Agua’ guided tour, at a cost of € 35.00. We did so and we are satisfied not only because we had the opportunity to visit otherwise inaccessible places, but also because the guided tour best explains how the Jameos were created and what they represent for the island today. In addition, the visit also includes a little tasting of appetisers with local products and wine from Lanzarote. We recommend that you plan about 90 minutes to complete the visit.
Jardín de Cactus
Perfectly integrated into the surrounding landscape, in an area dedicated to the cultivation of cactuses for the production of cochineal, the Jardín de Cactus is César Manrique’s latest work on the island. Designed for the recovery of an old rofera – a quarry used to extract crushed stone – today this place is a huge garden housing more than 4,500 cactuses belonging to over 450 species from all over the world. Don’t miss a walk along its paths and on the terraces surrounding the large central plain! But be careful, because while some cactus are so large as to amaze, others are so small that they can easily be stepped on! The garden can be visited independently between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. (last admission 4.30 p.m.). Tickets, which cost € 6.50 (CHF 6,70), can be purchased at the box office at the time of your visit or pre-purchased online. We recommend that you plan at least 90 minutes to complete your visit.
Mirador del Río
As its name suggests, the main purpose of the Mirador is to be a privileged observation point over ‘El Río’, the narrow stretch of sea separating Lanzarote from La Graciosa, the eighth island of the Canary Islands archipelago. Built at a height of about 400 metres on the Risco de Famara promontory, the Mirador del Río is also a work by César Manrique and, as in his style, the building is perfectly integrated into the rock so as to be almost invisible to the human eye. The amazing view it offers of the Rio, La Graciosa and the many small islands in the area is worth the small price of admission, although, to be honest, a comparable view can also be appreciated for free from the road and the cliffs surrounding the Mirador. The structure, which also houses a café, can be visited independently between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Tickets, which cost € 5.00 (CHF 5,15), can be purchased at the box office at the time of your visit or pre-purchased online. To complete your visit, we recommend that you plan at least 30 minutes and bring a jacket or jumper because of the strong wind.
In addition to the purchase of single tickets, the Lanzarote Tourist Office offers some combined tickets for visiting the CACTs which, at a reduced cost, allow you to choose 3, 4 or 6 centres. But be aware, because the choice is not completely free and it is only possible within a range of options. You can find all the information at this link. However, our advice is to exclude Montañas del Fuego (Timanfaya National Park) from the selection and to visit it with a guided tour. We will give you more details in a dedicated post.
Almost all CACTs offer visitors the possibility of purchasing a ticket for an ‘Insólita’ experience. Usually, this is a guided tour – more expensive than a normal entrance ticket – which includes a food and wine tasting at the end of the visit and, in some cases, access to some areas normally closed to the public. We chose to buy it only for Jameos del Agua. Alternatively, we suggest you treat yourself with a truly unique experience and check if there is a chance to attend one of the musical events taking place at both Jameos del Agua and the Cueva de los Verdes during your stay.