Lanzarote is a small volcanic island that makes up part of the Canary Islands archipelago that belongs to Spain. Located in the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Morocco, Lanzarote is a popular holiday destination for Europeans looking to bask in year-long sunshine, on soft sandy beaches, in a fairly cheap way.
I have to admit that I’ve always had a preconceived misconception that the Canary Islands are just a place for British party-goers and packaged holiday makers to visit. Whilst there’s definitely an element of that present around the island (some of the most touristy spots could be a small town in the UK!), I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there’s actually a whole other side to the island which makes it an altogether amazing island to visit for outdoor enthusiasts.
My primary reason for visiting Lanzarote was actually to learn surfing. I had decided, very last minute, to take a week off work, which resulted in me looking for and booking flights, accommodation and a surfing course on Saturday, then flying to Lanzarote from London at 7am on Sunday. Lanzarote is in the same timezone as the UK, so there was no jet-lag to contend with, but the direct flight takes about 3.5 hours.
I spent a total of 6 days on the island, with 5 of those days spent in Famara Beach, learning to surf with some awesome instructors and fellow surfing noobs. Surfing classes ended at about 4pm daily when I’d then spend the rest of the day exploring the island and all its natural wonders on offer.
What I thought I’d blog about here therefore, is a summary of my top highlights of Lanzarote, and what I’d recommend travellers do, if they’re looking to get away from the humdrum package holiday environment or typical tourist traps. 🙂
Top 5 things to do in Lanzarote
1. Surfing at Famara Beach
You knew this was coming! Lanzarote is well-known for having some of the best surfing spots in Europe. The water is relatively warm all year round, with no real need for a wetsuit at this time of year (summer). There are some good strong waves, with a range of options available for surfers of all abilities.
2. Local, soft sandy beaches
On a related note, stay away from the main tourist beach towns and look to spend time in the less well-known beaches that are dotted all over the coast of Lanzarote. Famara Beach for instance, is located on the quieter northern side of the island, and is mostly frequented by surfers and locals. Some of the more local beach spots I came across were located at El Golfo, Salinas de Janubio, Punta Mujeres and Arrieta. I did visit some of the bigger beaches as well, at Playa Blanca and Puerto del Carmen, but it was well after peak time when the sun was nearly setting and when most people had left the beach for dinner.
3. Coastal views and drives through the island
If you are able to, I’d highly recommend renting a car to give yourself the flexibility of leisurely driving around some of the less frequented parts of the islands. Some of the coastal drives were just stunning, with birds’ eye views of the beaches, ocean and beyond. Some of my favourite spots include the coastal road by the Mirador del Rio, the drive south by Orzola and the road taking you from El Golfo to Salinas de Janubio (the salt plains).
When you get board of the sea, head inland to check out some of the cloud-covered mountain tops, terraced hills and vineyards. Roads when marked on a map are well-built and of good condition. There are smaller, dusty dirt paths as well, but I wouldn’t recommend driving on them unless you have a good 4×4 as they tend to be pretty rocky. If possible, use a GPS device as signposts and directions are not always clearly marked.
4. The food!
As the entire island is pretty much covered in volcanic soil, land is pretty fertile and you can get some decent, local fresh produce. I can’t say that the quality of fresh vegetables is particularly good, but I did manage to find some deliciously juicy and sweet fruits. Plums, peaches and nectarines were all in season when I visited and were readily available with the best deals to be found in local farmers’ markets and small town fruiterias.
As you can imagine, being an island, the seafood found in coastal restaurants are extremely fresh and decently priced. Some of the best fish restaurants can be found by El Golfo. Whatever you do, please please PLEASE stay away from the built up tourist areas of Puerto del Carmen, Arrecife, Playa Blanca and Costa Teguise, as I found the choice of restaurants here to be limited, expensive and more of the “junk food” variety.
If you’re not looking for seafood in particular, try visiting some of the smaller towns inland for cheap, local and authentic restaurants. I had excellent meals in Teguise and Halia in particular.
By the way, there are quite a number of vineyards dotted around the island as well, so be sure to try the local vine produced if you get the opportunity to!
5. Volcanic landscapes and the Timanfaya National Park
It’s difficult to miss the distinctive volcanic landscapes of the island as you drive through it, but it does get much more prominent the nearer you get to the Timanfaya National Park. I’m a little in two minds about including this national park as a highlight, as I found the overall experience to be just so-so.
If you have your own car and decide to drive there yourself, be sure to go either early in the morning and later in the afternoon to miss the hordes of tourist buses and long wait times (I had to wait for 1.5 hours just to get in). Once you’re in the park, you will need to go on the 30 minute guided bus tour (included within the €9 entry ticket price) which takes you around the park. I was rather unlucky here as the bus I was on broke down and we were stranded for about 30 minutes. That aside, the Mars-like terrain, series of dormant volcanoes and lava fields we came across were pretty epic and worth the visit.
Alternatively, you can go on 4 hour guided hike through the park, or go with a tour company to skip the queues.
As you can see, it probably makes the most sense to rent a car if you can, to really experience all the island has to offer. Being a tax free island means that petrol is fairly cheap (when compared to continental Europe) and if booked in advance, car rental is also inexpensive. To give you some idea, I paid about £130 for 6 days of car rental for a 5 door Hyundai which was capable of holding a surfboard (internally).
All in all, I was extremely happy with my last minute getaway, getting in some good surf waves, but also being able to view some beautiful, other-worldly landscapes. Just one last tip before I leave, be sure to bring a good windbreaker with you, as the island is fairly windy, especially when you’re by the sea!
Ever been to Lanzarote? What were your highlights?