Things to Do in Lanzarote
With its still-steaming mounds of volcanic tuff and eerily barren lava fields, the volcanic terrain of Timanfaya National Park is a world away from the lively beach towns that Lanzarote is best known for. The focal point of the protected area is the dramatic red and black-rock mountain range, aptly named the Fire Mountains (Montañas de Fuego) after a series of eruptions in the 18th century that covered the entire island with volcanic ash and lava, completely reshaping the its topography.
Today, the volcanoes lie dormant, but the area remains a potent source of geothermal energy thanks to a residual magma chamber – a fact enthusiastically demonstrated by tour guides who toss bundles of branches into the steaming pits, where the wood rapidly burst into flames. Access to Timanfaya National Park is restricted to guided tours, and most visitors to the park opt to take the guided coach tours included in the admission price.
An extraordinary collage of rocks, caves and lava tubes looming over Lanzarote’s west coast, the coastal cliffs of Los Hervideros rank among the island’s most unusual geological attractions. Formed during the 18th-century eruptions of the Timanfaya volcanoes, the dramatic coastline is now adorned with sharp rock columns, oddly shaped archways and natural rock sculptures, created as the hot lava met with the icy waves.
While the unique landscape makes for some remarkable photo opportunities, the real highlight of visiting Los Hervideros is watching the waves crash against the coast. Looking out from the cliff top, visitors can witness the all-natural spectacle as the waves explode against the rocks and the water funnels through the spillways, sending spurts of sea water roaring into the air – a fitting example of how the cliffs got their name - Los Hervideros is Spanish for "boiling waters."
Part natural wonder, part lavish beach resort, Jameos del Agua is one of the Canary Islands’ most distinctive attractions, built within a series of lava caves on Lanzarote’s northeastern coast. The masterwork of local artist and architect César Manrique, the underground complex makes innovative use of the natural volcanic landscape, formed by the eruption of the La Corona volcano some 4,000 years ago, and boasts a bar, restaurant, nightclub and swimming pool.
Built in 1968, Manrique’s creative vision centers around a series of collapsed lava tubes, or ‘Jameos’, where pressure build-up had caused the roofs to fall in, making an atmospheric location for an open-top swimming pool. Additional highlights include a series of underground galleries devoted to the island’s volcanic history, a concert hall that makes use of the natural cave acoustics, and an underground lake, famous for its endemic population of blind Albino Crab (a species found only on Lanzarote).
One of a string of sandy beaches and bays lining Lanzarote’s southern coast, Papagayo Beach (Playa de Papagayo) lies within the Monumento Natural de Los Ajaches Natural Park and is largely regarded as one of the island’s most beautiful beaches. A horseshoe-shaped bay cocooned between sea cliffs and blessed with swaths of pale gold sand, Papagayo is a top choice for swimming, snorkeling and water sports.
A visit to Papagayo Beach is easily combined with exploring the five neighboring beaches - Playa de Afe, Playa de Mujeres, Playa Pozo, Playa de Afe,] and Playa de la Cera – often collectively referred to as the ‘Papagayo beaches’. The beaches are linked by a coastal walk, which runs all the way from Punta Papagayo to Playa Blanca, and are famous for their fine sands, warm, clear waters and abundance of exotic fish.
Far removed from the golden sands and azure waters of Lanzarote’s principal beach resorts, the coastal landscape of El Golfo harbors one of the island’s most unique geological areas. A rare example of an ancient hydro-volcano, a combination of volcanic eruptions and sea erosions have imprinted the shore with a half-moon shaped crater lake, Lago Verde (Green Lake), separated from the sea by a stretch of black sand.
Looking down over the beach from the surrounding cliff tops is the best way to view the site, an otherworldly landscape famous for its startling contrasts of colors and shapes. The lime-green waters of the crater lake (the result of the Ruppia Maritima algae that lives in the waters) appear almost luminous against the black sand beach, itself a peculiar blend of black volcanic sand and green Olivine stones, and the small bay is framed by a rugged chain of eroded volcanic rocks.
You can smell the salty air as the edges of white waves crash into the black sands of Playa del Janubio. Beside the beautiful beach, historic salt ponds sit that have been used to collect and extract salt from the seawater for centuries. Water evaporates in the shallow lagoons, leaving the salt behind. In the days before refrigeration, salt was even more prized for its food preservation qualities. Remnants of the old salt production and trade here, including a small windmill, remind of the area’s past.
Today the beach, formed by the breakdown of black volcanic rock, is still a lovely place to stroll by the sea. Depending on the season you may see a variety of local birds as well. Currents are often quite strong on the beach, and the powerful waves are beautiful to watch from the shore.
Get a taste of Lanzarote in more ways than one at LagOmar, where its museum, restaurant, bar and cottages are all wrapped into one magical lava-rock landscape. Once a private home, the structure was built into a volcanic quarry, lending to an oasis-like setting filled with caves, spectacular island views and unique gardens and architecture.
The private property was conceived by local artist and architect César Manrique, designed by José Soto and later completed by other architects. Perhaps more famous than LagOmar’s creators is the story of its once owner, actor Omar Sharif, who came to the island to film a movie, fell in love with the property and purchased it. But alas, rumor has it that he owned it for only one day before losing it in a bet over a bridge game. Whatever the history, today’s property can be visited and enjoyed in a variety of ways. Go there to check out its museum, where you can learn more about LagOmar and also view revolving art exhibitions.
A 1.8-mile-long stretch of golden sand fringed by soaring sea cliffs, the picturesque setting of Famara Beach (Playa de Famara) has earned it a legion of fans, among them renowned local artist César Manrique and Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar. The dramatic surroundings make the beach extremely popular among locals, and there are ample opportunities for exploring, like walking in the sand dunes, hiking across the cliff tops of El Risco (Lanzarote’s highest peak) or tucking into fresh seafood in the traditional fishing village of Caleta de Famara.
Benefiting from consistent winds and world-class reef breaks, the beach is also a hot spot for water sports, with popular activities including surfing, windsurfing and kiteboarding, as well as hang-gliding from the coastal cliffs.
Cactus gets its due respect at this wildly prickly Lanzarote garden, which was inaugurated in 1990. The Jardín de Cactus is the final brainchild of beloved island native César Manrique, the painter, sculptor and architect whose work famously balanced both art and nature. The cactarium, which occupies a former quarry, is home to 7,200 cactus plants and 1,100 different species, all originating from far-off places such as the Americas and Africa.
While there, you can wander the various levels of the amphitheater-shaped garden by traversing its many paths, all lined by peculiar rock formations, various water features and of course, the thorny plants themselves. Spy the giant Don Quijote-style windmill that tops the garden, then take a garden-break by visiting the artisanal goods-filled shop, or by grabbing a bite to eat at the restaurant and terrace.
Art and architecture meet nature at the César Manrique Foundation. Situated in Manrique’s former home, the foundation melds into a landscape of lava rock and provides a visually stunning glimpse into the Lanzarote native’s craft.
Manrique, an artist and architect, left an indelible mark on the island, and not just through his creations—he even impacted the Lanzarote skyline. Indeed, thanks to his efforts, he helped to ensure that growing tourism didn’t result in growing skyscrapers. It’s a mission that continues to this day via the foundation, which aims to not only preserve Manrique’s work, but to also advance the environmental and artistic causes he valued.
The house itself sits on the aftermath of an 18th-century volcanic eruption that vastly changed the Lanzarote terrain. But it isn’t just built on the frozen-in-time lava, but among it, with the bottom living space occupying five volcanic bubbles.
More Things to Do in Lanzarote
Those looking a change of pace from the busy beach resorts and lively nightlife of mainland Lanzarote will find the tranquil isle of La Graciosa to be an enchanting place, just a short boat ride from the island’s northern coast. The largest and only inhabited inland of the small Chinijo archipelago, La Graciosa is home to just 600 people, has no roads or natural water supply, and no hotels, making it the perfect spot to get away from it all. With its dreamlike landscape of sandy beaches, sweeping dunes and volcanic hills, most visitors come to La Graciosa to soak up the scenery and getting around the 30 square-kilometer island is easily done on foot, by jeep or water taxi. Along with swimming and sunbathing, the most popular pastimes for day-trippers include cruising around the surrounding isles, cycling along the coast or scuba diving in the surrounding marine reserve, whereas holidaymakers can rent out one of the traditional whitewashed cottages by the Caleta del Sebo harbor.
Lanzarote’s rugged volcanic terrain might not seem like the ideal climate for wine growing, but the Canary Islands are renowned for their traditional cultivation of Malvasia grapes, producing the famous sweet Malmsey wine, among others. The La Geria district of Lanzarote has long been celebrated for producing the islands’ best wines, and touring the wineries (bodegas) has become a popular pastime among visitors, affording the chance to taste a range of local white, red and rosé varieties.
Aside from the wine tasting, it’s the vineyards’ moonlike landscape that is La Geria’s biggest attraction. Unlike the tiered vineyards more typically associated with grape growing, here each vine is planted in a "zoco" - an individual three-foot-deep pit, protected from the elements by a semi-circular stone wall.
A vast range of black and red peaks dominating the landscape of the Timanfaya National Park, the evocatively named Fire Mountains (Montañas de Fuego) serve as a lasting reminder of Lanzarote’s explosive past. Although the last eruption was recorded in 1824, it was a series of eruptions in the 18th century that was most memorable – the blasts covered a large portion of Lanzarote with hot ash and lava and created much of the island’s unearthly topography, including natural wonders like the El Golfo crater lake and the Los Hervideros cliffs.
Today, the mountains are classed as dormant, but an anomalous magma chamber still remains under the surface, leaving a geothermic area riddled with steaming vents and fire pits. Due to the intense heat and geothermal activity, hiking around the Fire Mountains is prohibited and the best way to take in the views is on a guided coach tour around the scenic Route of the Volcanoes.
Salt has played an important role in Lanzarote since the late 19th century, accounting for a large percentage of the island’s industrial income and even making its mark on local culture – during the traditional Corpus Christi festival, brightly-dyed salts are used to decorate the street with large colorful artworks. Today, the salt industry has fallen into decline, but a number of the island’s traditional salt pans remain in use – manmade flats where the sea water is channeled and left to crystalize, allowing the sea salt to be harvested.
The Janubio Salt Pans are the island’s most famous, created in the early 20th century by Victor Fernandez and consisting of over 440,000 square meters of pans, making it the biggest salt refinery in the Canary Islands. Today, the area is a protected National Heritage site and produces up to 10,000 tons of salt each year, harvested by hand during the summer months.
Back in the 1400s, Villa de Teguise sat at the heart of Lanzarote life, serving as the island’s capital until the 19th century. Its location was especially advantageous: Mount Guanapay, upon which the town was built, made for an ideal lookout point, providing views of nearly all sides of the island’s coasts, and therefore protecting it from pirates.
While La Villa (as it is known by locals) is no longer the capital, it remains one of the best-preserved old villages in the Canaries. A wander through its whitewashed building-lined streets provides a glimpse into the past, via sights such as the 15th-century Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Church and Santa Barbara Castle. The tower-turned-fortress now houses a Pirate Museum, which offers up history as well as phenomenal views.
If white-sanded beaches are your thing, then look no further than Playa Blanca (quite literally meaning “white beach”) in Lanzarote. This once-humble fishing village offers more than just a beach, though, but several beaches, as well as a lively restaurant and shopping scene.
Though the southern town is home to a cluster of resorts, it still retains a low-key vibe, minus much of the nightlife buzz found in Puerto del Carmen. It is, however, ripe with restaurants, bars and harbor-front seafood establishments eager to satisfy visitors’ cravings for the kind of mellow but swanky beach holiday that comes along with some good eats. If beaches are indeed what you came for, though, head just a little west of the harbor and you’ll be rewarded by attractive shores, including those found at Playa Dorada and Playa Flamingo.
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