Newest Review: ... for his ships The Pinta, The Niña and The Santa María. LANZAROTE The largest island is Tenerife and Lanzarote is the fourth largest, be... more
Water, water... nowhere!
Member Name: grahamt
Date: 01/04/12, updated on 01/04/12 (53 review reads)
Advantages: A pleasant climate all year around
Disadvantages: Mostly a desolate landscape with just a few oases of civilisation
The approach to Arrecife Airport on Lanzarote gives you just a glimpse of the island but it's enough to tell you that life here must have been a challenge for the first settlers and before modern technology lent a hand, most especially with the provision of water. The coach from the airport to our resort in Playa Blanca, on the south coast of the island, confirmed that that challenge has not been entirely met. The landscape is one of almost total desolation; small scrubby plants are just about all that seem to survive in the black, volcanic gravel, alternating with areas of similar but red, iron-rich "soil".
The eastern side of the island is dotted with over two dozen barren hills which betray the island's volcanic past. Lanzarote and its sister islands of the Canaries group rose from the bed of the Atlantic millions of years ago as a result of massive volcanic eruptions, as America drifted away from Europe and Africa. The last serious eruption was around 400 years ago and lasted 6 years. A less serious one occurred around 200 years ago but no further eruptions are anticipated in the next 800 years, thankfully. Only one of the volcanic peaks remains active.
Little oases of greenery can be seen, mostly around the modern settlements, as the residents have used the precious water, produced entirely through desalination, to provide a sense of normality in an otherwise barren world. It is interesting that each side of the roads is lined with the predominant scrub, evidence, no doubt, that they survive largely due to the humidity produced by the exhausts of every vehicle that passes.
Interestingly, despite the existence of geothermal heat as a result of the volcanic activity, subdued though it is, there appears to have been no investment in geothermal power generation such as is prevalent in the nearby Azores and, more prominently, in Iceland, to the North. Indeed, investment in any form of green energy seems remarkably scarce; there are a few wind turbines set on the top of one of the peaks but that's about it and yet the Canaries is ideal for wind energy power due to the almost constant wind that the islands experience. Indeed, there also seems to be very little by way of solar energy despite the very high level of sunshine! All the electricity seems to be the result of burning oil!
We went and explored in a hire car and, once you get around the island you begin to realise how different the north is to the south; they could almost be completely different islands. The vegetation in the north is much more lush (relatively speaking), reflecting a climate that seems to be subject to more humidity. The northern end is somewhat higher and the temperatures here appear to be more temperate. It could also be the result of the most recent volcanic eruptions having affected the south of the island much more than the north although, after 400 years I would have expected the difference to be much less.
This small town was the original capital of the island and is situated in the middle of the island. The centre of the town is largely old properties. Most are either shops, bars or restaurants. We went there in a Sunday because on this day they hold a street market. This is clearly an event that draws the crowds. Apart from those, like us, who travelled by car, there were row upon row of coaches which had brought tourists from resorts around the island. Out-of-town parking is around Euro1.50 for the day.
After wandering around the stalls for a while, and making a couple of purchases, we stopped for a tea and coffee at Palacio del Marques, which is actually a wine cellar and restaurant. They were happy to serve us just hot drinks and we had a couple of delicious slices of apple strudel with them, in the central courtyard, where you are well protected from the wind, which was quite strong, Teguise being quite high up in the middle of a very open landscape.
Mirador del Rio
This panoramic viewpoint is built almost entirely into the top of the mountain overlooking the little neighbouring northern island of La Graciosa and much of the northern coastline. You can get outstanding views so long as the weather is good and if it's not then you can view from inside through the huge windows. However, if the weather's not that good then it probably isn't worth a visit at all since there is very little else here!
Cueva de los Verdes
These caves are the result of volcanic lava flows, which have emptied out and left behind kilometres of tunnels. Here you can take a guided tour of a section of these tunnels. We found it fascinating. The tour takes about 45 minutes. You do need to be reasonably able-bodied. There is one feature in the tunnels that makes you gasp. I won't spoil the experience but, when the guide asks you to be very quiet and not to make any disturbances, there is a VERY good reason. The reaction was gasps and laughter. Recommended.
Guinate Zoological Park
Not well advertised, we visited on the Sunday that we went to Teguise. When we arrived we were the only visitors there and so had the place to ourselves. The park is very much what you would expect: it mostly dedicated to birds, displayed in reasonable sized aviaries. There are enclosures for other creatures as well, such as meerkats and wallabies. There are two walk-through aviaries, one consisting of a covered pathway between around ten enclosures, and a very much larger one. We enjoyed these most as you get to see the birds flying around you in much more "natural" surroundings.
There is also a "parrot" show every hour, where the owner shows off his birds and the tricks that they can perform. By the time the show came around there were a few other visitors.
Timanfaya National Park
This is to the west of the island and is where the only active volcano is found. The whole area is carefully preserved by the authorities because of the unique nature of the landscape, which is subject to much scientific investigation regarding the way in which lava flows affect the surrounding areas and the degree to which wild life survives within this inhospitable environment.
You may drive into the park but have to leave your car in the car park. The volcano field is explored only in one of the park's coaches. The tour takes around half an hour. We found it enthralling but there is one big problem: trying to take pictures is difficult because the coach is entirely enclosed and you get reflections off of the inside surface of the windows, which can spoil the shots you take. An open-top bus would have been preferential.
The main departure point for the coaches is also where the restaurant, bar and souvenir shop can be found. Next to the restaurant is the "cooking hole", a well dug down to the rocks heated by the subterranean magma chamber, over which are cooked the meats served in the restaurant. You can feel the heat rising up the well and it is substantial. We didn't sample the results though.
The guides also demonstrate how close to the surface red-hot rocks exist: there are several holes in the ground into which they toss straw, which instantly bursts into flame, and pour water, which erupts in a geyser of steam.
The road to the park passes a camel park, where you can, for around Euro6 have a 20 minute ride on these "ships of the desert". I'd never done it and neither had my wife, so we gave it a try. Different but quite enjoyable.
All across the island you find vineyards producing local wines, almost entire from the Malvasia grape. The interesting thing is that these ancient vines are all pre-phylloxera stocks. The phylloxera beetle was accidentally imported to Europe from America in the 19th century and totally devastated most of the European vineyard, where the vines were non-resistant to the depredations of the beetle. The bug never made it to the Canaries and probably wouldn't have survived anyway, due to the nature of the soil and to the climate. European vines are all now grafted onto resistant American stocks so these Lanzarote wines are some of the few around the World that show what wines might have tasted like before phylloxera arrived.
The vines are grown exclusively in the black soils and each vine stock is grown in a deep depression in the ground, half surrounded by a low wall of black stones. Apparently the purpose is for the stones to draw the dawn condensation out of the air and to allow it to seep into the depression to water the vines. I suspect that the vines may actually get most of their moisture through the depth to which their roots inevitably grow in this type of environment.
You can take a tour at some of these vineyards; we didn't but if you decided you wanted to, in my opinion the best tasting wine on the island came from the El Grifo vineyard.
We enjoyed our stay on Lanzarote. I have separately reviewed our resort of Playa Blanca. Beyond this resort there is much to see and we tried to get around as much as we could. We didn't get to the main town of Arrecife and I understand it is worth a visit, if only for the shopping. If you do, be aware though that, unlike the tourist resorts, the shops close from 12 until 5, as is common in most Spanish towns. Do hire a car though and take a tour around the island; don't spend all your time on the beach.
Summary: A very nice place to have a winter or early year break