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Lanzarote on Foot - Unexpected, Unexplored, Understated
There is so much more to discover on the sun drenched island of Lanzarote than the tourist hot spots of Playa Blanca and Puerto del Carmen.
With a hire car at your disposal, a week is plenty of time to tick off the best of the tourist sites and take your time discovering the quieter, largely unexplored side of Lanzarote – best explored on foot.
Read on for ideas on what to include when planning your own itinerary and practical tips for getting the most out of your valuable holiday time.
Best Time to Visit
If you want to explore on foot, then late February/early March is a great time to visit Lanzarote. The climate here is often described as eternal Spring – but it was warm for walking even in February, and it would definitely be too hot in the height of Summer. There is very little rainfall here – no lakes streams or rivers at all. January is likely to bring the most of the “Winter” rain with the result that what few flowers there are will be most likely to be in bloom in February/March.
Where to Stay
La Casona de Yaiza
We based ourselves in the sleepy village of Yaiza. With a hire car at your disposal, nowhere on the island is really very far away. You can easily drive from Yaiza right up to the North of the island in an hour. The roads are universally excellent and were very quiet in February too. A variety of car hire firms are based at Arrecife airport, reachable in under 4 hours from the UK.
Yaiza has several good restaurants serving typical Canarian food all within easy walking distance.
The hotel we stayed in was La Cason de Yaiza. The hotel is tucked away in a peaceful location at the edge of town. It has a tiny swimming pool and its own restaurant. You can have your breakfast outside in the cheerful little courtyard and enjoy a “Happy Hour’ in the bar between 4 and 6 pm.
The economy rooms are on the small side. A balcony/terrace is well worth having – or consider upgrading to a larger room/suite if you want a bath (rather than just a shower), more space and a couple of comfortable chairs.
Yaiza - Restaurant Recommendations
If you are looking for typical Canarian food within easy walking distance of Yaiza, consider:
If you are happy to drive out for dinner, there are a number of lively fish/seafood restaurants at nearby El Golfo, where you can also enjoy a beautiful sunset. The Costa Azul is a favourite. The restaurant is located at Avda. Marítima, 34, El Golfo. It is popular, so if you want to reserve a table on the terrace in the front line for the sunset, book in advance by calling (0034) 928 173 199.
"Must Do" Highlights
Although the best parts of Lanzarote are, in my view, off the beaten track and best explored on foot, there are some “must do” highlights that you really can’t leave out of your itinerary if you haven’t visited the island before. You can buy combination tickets that include several sites and may save you a little cash, so look out for these at the first site you visit.
Timanfaya National Park
Lanzarote‘s arid landscape can appear bleak and rather forbidding at times – like a desolate moor or a desert of black rock and stone. It made me fully appreciate England’s green and pleasant land at times.
To appreciate the force of the lava flows and enormous volcanos that shaped this little island, there is no better place to visit than Timanfaya National Park.
You can take a short bus tour through the National Park to admire its expansive wilderness. The ride is included in your entrance fee (about 12 euros pp – cash only) and is the only way of seeing the Park – you can’t walk around on your own. Visit as soon as the Park opens to avoid the crowds.
It is hard to imagine the terror that must have ensued when Fire Mountain rained a stream of hot lava down on the surrounding villages for 19 days back in 1730, destroying everything in its path. Amazingly, the little village of Yaiza was spared – but the lava flowed right up to its edge.
These days, acres of black lava fields – as vast as any ocean – still engulf the landscape. Even 300 years on, the only life that inhabits them is lichen growth that will – eventually – turn the sea of black to green.
If you have children with you – or are just young at heart – you can take a camel ride into the desert at the Park. You can also watch vegetation catch on fire, steam spout out of blowholes and chicken roast naturally before your eyes outside the El Diabalo Restaurant at the Visitor Centre.
Slightly less of a tourist draw than the National Park., the Montana Cuervo volcano is definitely worth a visit. It is not often that you can truthfully answer the question “What did you do today?” by saying that you walked into the middle of a volcano?!
A visit to the Montana Cuervo is easy to combine with a visit to the National Park. There is a small car park near to it, but if it is full, don’t worry. There is a second car park (not signed?) just a little further down the road. If you want to walk all the way around, allow 1.5 – 2 hours. The signboards en route are quite interesting and make the walk worthwhile.
Jameos del Agua
You can’t really visit Lanzarote without wanting to find out a bit more about its most celebrated resident – the artist and sculptor César Manrique. He managed to protect Lanzarote’s from the worst excesses of tourist development by persuading the people in charge of running the island to consider its unique landscape as a work of art.
The Jameos del Agua – created from a collapsed lava tube in 1966 – was his first creation.
The natural lake inside the cave is inhabited by a species of blind crabs known as ‘Jameitos’ and only found on Lanzarote. The crystal clear water produces mesmerising reflections. There is an auditorium built inside which has unbelievably good acoustics.
From the restaurant, gaze out over the beautiful swimming pool area across the Atlantic Ocean.
As you enjoy the view, spare a thought for the long suffering guy that has to hoover out the gaps between all those paving stones on the terrace.
Off the Beaten Track
Definitely of more interest to me than the tourist sites, the unexplored parts of Lanzarote that are best visited on foot were the real highlight of this trip.
The El Golfo Coastline
El Golfo is a pretty little town, perched on the edge of the coast. You can take a linear walk from El Golfo along a cinder path, walking into the wilderness as far as you want to go before you turn around and retrace your steps.
The narrow black path was rocky and the lava quite difficult to walk on in places (you need boots), but it held pockets of pretty little plants, bursting into flower after the Winter rains of January. The sea is boisterously playful here – huge waves crash and break on the rocky black crags.
Turning left from the car park and walking just a short way along the coast brings you to the deep green lagoon of El Golfo itself. The lagoon and the rocks change colour as the sun moves around it. Time your visit at sunset for an unforgettable view.
From the roundabout in Tinajo, turn into the town towards Timanfaya. Take the third turning to your right and follow the road beyond where it turns into a dirt track. The “lost” village of Tenesar eventually appears, at sea level. There are a few people still living here and some holiday/weekend properties, but it is largely deserted.
As you stand on the shore, you can imagine the scene all those years ago when the sea of red molten lava met with the cool and equally powerful ocean waves and ponder on the wonders of Mother Nature.
The Papagayo Peninsular
The wide sandy beaches of the Papagayo Peninsular – Playa Mujares and Playa del Pozo – can be reached via an easy up and down coastal path.
Either park at Playa Mujares or – for a slightly longer walk – start at Marina Rubicon and take the beach promenade along the length of Playa de las Coloradas.
It’s a fair walk uphill and down again to these beaches from las Coloradas, which keeps the crowds away. Considering their beauty, there were very few people on these beaches when we visited.
The tranquility has its side effects – don’t be surprised to meet a few nudist sun and ocean bathers enjoying the rays and waves en route.
Ye - Playa del Risco
Crowds of tourists head up to the Mirador del Rio to gaze out at what is an undoubtedly beautiful view across to the pretty island of La Graciosa.
What they may not know is that – just a little further along the road – you can get exactly the same view – for free!
Take the main road from Haria and Maguez towards The Mirador del Rio. Turn left at the entry sign to Ye along the LZ-202, signed Mirador del Rio. After the large house (Finca de La Corona), turn next left along a cobbled road which eventually widens out to a parking area.
An uninterrupted view of the Chinijo Archipelago rewards you with La Graciosa taking centre stage with its marbled volcano Pedro Barba bursting forth.
From the small car park, a steep walk down the cliff face (walking poles and boots useful) brings you out onto the golden sands of Playa del Risco where you can walk full the length of the beach to reach the disused salt pans at the end before you make your way back and ascend the cliff face back to the car park.
At one time, salt was a big industry here, but that all became largely part of the past when refrigeration took over as the easiest means of preserving food. These days, tourism is King and Queen here.
You can have the view – and the beach – all to yourself. Yes, it is a very steep walk back up (which is why it is isolated), but it is surely well worth the climb to have all that tranquility to yourself?
Interestingly, there were more wild flowers on this path than anywhere else on the island.
Allow 3 – 4 hours for the walk. This is a wilderness area – there are no facilities of any kind – so carry with you all that you need for the day.
Other Possible Excursions
There are a few other sites you might want to consider including in your itinerary, depending on your interests and the time you have available.
Ferry to La Graciosa
Boats for La Graciosa leave from Orzola at the far north of the island every hour or two. There are 2 ferry operators on the quay. Once on La Graciosa, you can take a walk across the tiny island to the other side, or just amble along the coast for a while?
Orzola appeared to us to be a rather run down town – but that was maybe because they were in the midst of a power cut when we arrived, so everywhere was shut. When you look at the snakes of electric wires draped along the outside of all the white cubed houses, you can’t help thinking that power cuts must potentially be quite a frequent occurrence here?
César Manrique's Houses
If you are particularly interested in finding our more about the artist, you can visit his house at Haria, which is also a nice place for a lunch stop.
Cueva de los Verdes
Being a small island, fish and seafood inevitably feature on most menus. Kid (cabrito) is also popular – as are goat’s cheese. Surprisingly, we didn’t see a single goat on the island during our stay though?
You can’t avoid the local specialty of Canarian potatoes – papas arrugadas – and neither would you want to! These delicious small potatoes are boiled in salty water in their skins until they wrinkle and all the water has evaporated. Delicious accompanied by mojo verde (a green sauce made with garlic and coriander or parsley) and mojo rojo (a spicy red sauce, made with garlic and chillies).
Ave del Paraíso Gin
The local Gin is definitely worth a try. It has a beautifully refreshing lemon and lime flavour and an interesting serve with the tonic poured slowly down a long twirly handled spoon.
Some of the nicest food we had was tapas to share plates in the tiny village restaurants (e.g. Tinajo). It is a truth seldom acknowledged that the simplest plate of Iberican ham (pronounced YAMON) and quesos (pronounced KSOS) are often found in the most unlikely places?
Search for a small door to an opening in a wall, a layer of peeling paint, 16 heavily tattooed arms, 8 tanned Canarian faces, 8 wide smiles (4 with very few teeth) and you will probably have located your best lunch of the trip. Pronounce your Spanish correctly and have sufficient euros with you to settle your bill and you will be even more popular!
Flora and Fauna
As far as flora and fauna are concerned, Lanzarote isn’t really the best destination. It is arid and desert like and plants struggle to survive here. Even in the villages, the most likely plants to occupy flowerpots, balconies and the little black square gardens are cactus. February/March is a good time to visit to see what flowers there are in bloom though (see Ye – above).
You will likely see aloe verde growing. It is used to make soap/cosmetics and various free museums (with a shop!) are dotted all across the island.
You will also see acres of curious vineyards comprised of thousands of neat horseshoe shaped hollows scraped from the thick layer of picon – porous volcanic granules – that trap enough moisture to feed the single vine planted in the hollow. It makes a unique and amazing sight. The main wine growing area is La Geria. A visit to a bodega (eg El Grifo) makes an interesting diversion if you get tired of walking.
You will also see large quantities of prickly pears. The prickly pear plants were grown because the cochineal beetle liked to feed on them. The beetles were once used to produce the much prized carmine dye for lipsticks until a replacement was found in the late 1800s. It is funny how one man’s weed can be another man’s productive plant?
Glad I Packed
- Walking poles – especially for the steep cliff walk at Ye.
- A fleece (nights can be chilly)
- A travel towel – great for an impromptu swim on the many beaches
- Cash – many bars were cash only and even Timanfaya National Park didn’t accept cards.
- A good walking map.
Tips for Future Travellers
If I ever returned to Lanzarote, I would consider booking a couple of hotels – one in Yaiza and one in the North of the island, to cut down the travelling time in between a bit.
I might also think about finding self catering accommodation rather than a hotel. There is nothing as welcoming as a nice cup of tea after a long walk and our hotel had no fridge, no English breakfast tea and no milk in the room. Having a swimming pool to yourself to splash about in on a hot day would also be a bonus?