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! But Lanzarote is not just CACTs! Instead, there are plenty of places not to be missed and a lot of things to do on this small but truly fascinating island! So here are some tips and places not to be missed during your visit here, CACT aside!
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. But Lanzarote is not just CACTs! There are many must-see attractions from north to south of the island, some of which are often overlooked by visitors. So here is some more information and some advice on what you should not miss during a visit to the island.
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.
Timanfaya National Park
As mentioned, Lanzarote is the result of millennia of strong volcanic activity still operating underground. The last major eruption was that of the Timanfaya volcano, which continued for six years between 1730 and 1736, destroying most of the historic towns in the central south of the island and covering almost a third of its surface with volcanic rock. The eruption was a true cataclysm, forcing the remaining population to evacuate to the north and find new ways to survive, in a land that was previously inhospitable and, after the eruption, even more resource-hungry. However, today the Timanfaya National Park is one of the main tourist destinations on the island because it offers a magnificent lunar landscape and best represents the essence of this hard spot of land. In 1993, the park was recognised as a Biosphere Reserve by Unesco.
We suggest you start your visit at the visitors’ centre, located near Mancha Blanca, where you can enjoy an exhibition and a short video explaining the origins of the park and its main features free of charge.
From here, we suggest you reach the Montañas del Fuego, one of the CACTs identified by the local tourist board. At its heart, stands the Islote de Hilario, a small island of land surrounded by a 200 square kilometre sea of lava. It was here that Manrique built El Diablo, a restaurant where food is cooked using heat from underground.
At the restaurant El Diablo begins your visit to the heart of the park. But be aware that, in order to protect the delicate balance of the area, access to the park is restricted and only allowed after payment of an entrance fee. Moreover, once inside, you can drive your car to Islote de Hilario and, from there, only continue by bus, which will take you along the Ruta de los Volcanes, a paved road that will allow you to discover the landscape and craters of the area. Based on what we saw with our own eyes, the queue by car at the entrance can really be exhausting and it is easy for the experience to turn into a nightmare. For this reason, our advice is to visit the area using one of the guided tours offered by several local companies. We chose this one by Lanzarote Experience, which also includes a visit to the green lake of El Golfo and a wine tasting at the Bodega La Geria. But if this tour is not for you, you can find several at this link*.
If, on the other hand, you prefer to take the tour on your own, we suggest that you plan your visit around lunchtime, when the number of visitors is generally lower. Montañas del Fuego is accessible from 9:30 to 15:45 and the ticket, which costs € 12.00 (CHF 12,30), can be purchased at the box office or online at the official website. However, this will not allow you to skip the line at the entrance.
Finally, once you have finished your visit to the Montañas del Fuego, you can continue along the LZ-67 towards Yaiza and reach the Echadero de camellos, where you can take a short camel ride. This unusual experience costs € 6,00 (CHF 6,15) but, to be fair, it is not among the most unforgettable we have experienced on the island. The choice is yours!
The area of La Geria certainly offers one of the most iconic and distinctive landscapes on the island. It is a large area of vineyards cultivated according to a special technique invented by local farmers in order to use the fertile land otherwise unusable due to the great eruption of the Timanfaya volcano, which covered the entire area with lava and lapilli. In order to cultivate grapes, the farmers dug more than ten thousand hollows in the rock and planted vines in them, taking care immediately afterwards to cover the earth with thick layers of porous volcanic granules, which retain humidity at night to feed the plants. In fact, the island has no water sources! Finally, each hole is surrounded by low semi-circular walls, which protect the vines from the island’s strong winds. The result is a decidedly ‘artistic’ landscape, an original and absolutely memorable pattern. The best way to explore the area is by car, following the LZ-30 road. Along the way, make a stop to visit one of the many wineries, where you can enjoy a wine tasting. Many visitors head directly to the Bodega ‘La Geria’, but we suggest a guided tour a little further north, at the wineries El Grifo. Here, in addition to the guided tour and wine tasting, you can visit the small wine museum, which exhibits equipment and materials once used for wine production. You can pre-purchase tickets at this link.
The Janubio salt pans
The Janubio salt pans, in the south-west of the island, are the largest in the Canaries and, if you have never visited salt pans elsewhere in the world, a visit will certainly be a surprise. They were built within a lagoon created by volcanic eruptions, when a lava flow formed the barrier that now closes the bay. The multicoloured pattern created by the salt ponds is certainly fascinating. It is best seen from the viewpoint along the road, just above the salt pans. But our suggestion is not to miss the opportunity to take a guided walk along the salt pans. You can buy it at this link* and it also includes a short salt tasting, accompanied by the island’s wine. You can find more information at this link.
The Manrique Foundation
After returning from New York, where he lived for a long time, Manrique decided to stay in Lanzarote and therefore built a large house for himself, located in the municipality of Tahíche. For the building, the artist chose an area of more than 30,000 square metres in the middle of a lava flow, originating from the eruptions of 1730-1736. The building, which can be visited in its entirety and now houses a permanent exhibition on the artist, is inspired on the upper floor by the traditional architecture of Lanzarote, while the lower floor uses five natural volcanic bubbles to house spaces for relaxation and recreation. The Manrique Foundation can be visited every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (the ticket office closes at 5.30 p.m.) and the cost of the entrance ticket, which can be purchased on site, is € 10.00 (CHF 10,30). But there is also a cumulative ticket available, at a cost of € 17.00 (CHF 17,50), which allows you to visit both the Foundation and Manrique’s House-Museum located in the town of Haría. So, if you plan to visit both, it is a good choice!
The LagOmar house-museum is a real little surprise! Located a short distance from the historic town of Teguise, it is a residential building constructed by incorporating rocks and cavities in the volcanic terrain. The original design is by artist Jesús Soto, who conceived it from an idea by Manrique. The place takes its name from the actor Omar Sharif who, according to the chronicles, came to Lanzarote in the 1970s to film ‘The Mysterious Island’ and, falling in love with this house, bought it only to lose it a few days later at a bridge game. It is unclear how much truth there is to this story, but what is certain is that the house is truly fascinating and well worth a visit. Inside you will find a bar, a restaurant, two apartments (rentable weekly) and a swimming pool, all surrounded by gardens where the local flora dominates. The LagOmar house-museum can be visited every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets, which cost € 6.00 (CHF 6,20), can be purchased at the box office at the time of your visit. You can find more information at this link.
Usually cities and towns are not the main attractions on Lanzarote. This is because most of the historic towns were completely wiped out by the great eruptions of the 1700s and very few towns survived, mostly located in the north of the island. So here are four urban (more or less) areas that we suggest you visit!
Teguise: located in the centre of the island, north of Arrecife and south of Haría, Teguise is the oldest of the island’s towns and, when you visit it, you will realise this. In fact, the town centre is full of historical buildings such as the 16th century church of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, the 18th century Spínola Palace and the Santa Bárbara Castle, a 16th century fortress that now houses the Museo de la Pirateria (currently closed for restoration). The city offers many leisure and dining options and a famous open-air market that normally takes place on Sunday mornings. The market, one of the largest on the island, is worth a visit for its section dedicated to local handicrafts and typical products, located at the top of the steps on the right, just after the entrance to the market area.
Arrieta: This is a very small coastal town on the east coast, close to the Jardin de Cactus and the Jameos del Aqua. We mention it not for the town itself, which is not much more than a coastal village with a sandy beach, but mainly because it has some excellent restaurants and is a good option for lunch while visiting one of the CACTs in the area.
Haría: located in the north of the island, it enjoys a special microclimate that makes it particularly green and lively. It is known as the city of a thousand palm trees, due to the tradition of planting a palm tree for every new birth in the city, so that today the entire valley is full of palm trees, from the youngest to the oldest and tallest. In Haría you will find a small centre dedicated to local handicrafts and a weekly market – probably the most authentic and least touristy on the island – dedicated to handicrafts and local foods held every Saturday morning. We recommend a visit. Finally, here is Manrique’s house-museum, a smaller and simpler house than the one in Tahíche but equally interesting. The house-museum can be visited every day from 10.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the entrance fee, which can be purchased on site, is € 10.00 (CHF 10,30). But a cumulative ticket is also available, at a cost of € 17.00 (CHF 17,50), which allows you to visit both the House-Museum and the Manrique Foundation, located in the town of Tahíche.
Tenesar: technically it is not a town. In fact, it is just a group of houses on the west coast of the island, many of them abandoned or uninhabited. However, this little corner of Lanzarote charmed us! To reach it, you will drive along an almost empty road that passes through the vineyards of La Geria and some other fields, but on arrival you will find yourself in front of a small white urban agglomeration surrounded by black volcanic rocks and a rushing sea. We reached this place at sunset and it was truly beautiful. Our advice is therefore to bring with you the essentials for a picnic or an aperitif on the rocks, because you really won’t find anything here: neither restaurants nor cafés or ice-cream shops. Just so much beauty!
If you are stopping in Arrieta for lunch, we suggest Restaurant Amanecer, Calle la Garita 46. We have been there twice, because the food is excellent, well cooked and at a good price. The restaurant also has a beautiful terrace overlooking the sea, but does not accept reservations and it is therefore very difficult to find a free table outside. If, on the other hand, you are in the neighbourhood of Haría, we recommend the restaurant El Cortijo: great food, fair prices and a large car park!