It was my parents who first took me to Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands some 80 miles off the coast of north Africa in the Atlantic Ocean. It was one of my father’s favorite places to go scuba diving and, as such, it will always hold a special place in my heart. Although, I must admit that at first sight, I was somewhat disappointed with Lanzarote. I had visions of a lush green island and endless white beaches fringed by palm trees, but instead found an otherworldly lunar landscape that makes Lanzarote quite unique. But, luckily, there are also white beaches.
All the Canary Islands are of volcanic origin and, while I haven’t visited them all, I believe that at least the vast majority of the islands have some examples of black beaches. While islands such as Tenerife are famous for their lush green interior, and Gran Canaria Island is most visited for its endless white sand beaches, Lanzarote offers a more adventurous kind of look, and some quite unique experiences that are difficult to find elsewhere.
So, if you want to spend some time on an island landscape so unusual that it was used as a training base for NASA’s Apollo 17 crew, but also gives you year-round sunshine and warmth, white beaches, and superb water sports activities, look no further. You can fly into the capital of Lanzarote, Arrecife, from many European airports such as London Heathrow and most Spanish airports. Or you can arrive by ferry from mainland Spain.
Here are my reasons for loving Lanzarote as a winter sun destination.
1. The Eternal Spring
The moniker “Island of Eternal Spring” is due to its sub-tropical climate and more than 300 days of sunshine a year. Temperatures on Lanzarote and the other Canary Islands rarely fall below 70 degrees Fahrenheit and offer a nice warm boost in winter, making the Canaries a favorite winter destination for frost-bitten Europeans. Luckily, Lanzarote is one of the lesser-visited islands on the archipelago, which in my mind is a huge plus. Despite all-year sunshine and warm temperatures, you are best advised to bring a light coat and pashmina for the winter evenings, as it does get chillier once the sun goes down.
2. The Lunar Landscape
While Lanzarote has more than 200 volcanoes and is designated a UNESCO-listed Biosphere Reserve, Timanfaya National Park probably offers the most stunning attractions on the island. A lunar, alien landscape devoid of (nearly) all vegetation, created through a series of volcanic eruptions in the 1700s, this is the place real astronauts used to train in as it offers surroundings that could easily be on the moon. Sharp lava sits next to brown sand dunes, volcanic cones in red, orange, and yellow hues. Hiking routes, such as the 8.5-mile-long circular Volcanoes Route or the easier and guided 2.5-mile route, takes you through some of the best and most eerie landscapes. And winter is simply perfect for these hikes, as it is just a touch cooler than in summer.
Don’t miss a visit to the visitor center near Mancha Blanca, a village called White Stain, as it is full of white-washed buildings set against a black landscape. The visitor center not only gives you the history of volcanoes and Lanzarote’s geology, but was also designed by Cesar Manrique, the island’s most famous son and superb architect.
3. The Legacy Of César Manrique
Cesar Manrique (1919–1992) is another reason to love this island. The Lanzarote-born artist, painter, sculptor, and architect left an incredible legacy on the island, and searching his works out is a must for all art and architecture lovers. It starts at Arrecife airport, named after Cesar Marique, with an abstract mural, and continues throughout the island. Pretty much all sculptures and artworks you see in the public view are from him. But the most spectacular is Volcano House, where the artist lived between 1968 and 1988, and now houses his Foundation. The way he incorporated the natural lava ever-present on Lanzarote into his buildings is simply breathtaking. Then there is Jameos del Agua, a garden formed around lava tubes and caves; the Cesar Manrique House Museum, a later home where he lived until his death; and more. The best way to see it all is on a guided tour.
4. The Vineyards
You’d think that with all the barren landscapes and black lava covering the island, nothing much would grow here, but that would be so wrong. Not only is the volcanic soil very fertile, it also helps produce some great wine. Rosé, red, and white wines are produced on Lanzarote, and the ones to look out for are made from the volcanic Malvasía grape variety. The local wines are quite sweet, but rather quaffable. The vineyards themselves are well worth visiting as part of a tour, not just for the tastings, but the way the vines are grown here in little dug outs in the black soil.
5. The Beaches And The Sea
As I mentioned, it was my dad’s scuba diving that first brought me to Lanzarote, with the clear waters of the Atlantic and the teeming marine life off the rocky lava coast making this a scuba diving paradise. But you don’t need to go under water. The water is great for swimming, surfing, snorkeling, kayaking, and more. For those young and fun, or just young at heart and fun-loving, the water sports center at Playa del Carmen offers all the fun water sports such as jet skiing, parasailing, flyboarding, and banana boating. For those who want to combine water and art, don’t miss the Lanzarote Underwater Museum, one of the world’s greatest underwater museums.
Some of the best beaches on the island include Playa de Papagayo in the south; Playa de Famara, which is great for longer beach walks; and Playa Quemada, a non-touristy beach with a much darker color than most of the others.
6. The Unusual Attractions
Lanzarote itself is pretty unusual with its surprising landscapes, but there are a few additional things that just add to the excitement, many related to the volcanic nature of this island. In Jameos del Agua and the connected cave system of Cueva los Verdes, you can find blind albino crabs living in a cave. These tiny, white creatures have evolved in the water of the volcanic-formed caves and have no need for color — or for eyes for that matter.
There is a Cactus Garden, again connected to Cesar Manrique, reportedly his last work. Here you can find some 1,400 species of cacti all set in the black ground, making for some spectacular imagery. And talking about spectacular imagery, the Caldera Blanca is a perfect volcanic crater nearly a mile across. There is a hike that will take in the surroundings and the crater with amazing views. It’s not a difficult walk, but remember to wear shoes with a thick sole to support your ankles, as the lava can be a bit rough.
7. The Stargazing
Due to the island’s remoteness and low population density, there is hardly any light pollution on Lanzarote, and stargazing across the entire Canary Islands is incredible. Generally speaking, mid-August is best for amazing meteor showers, but overall, the winter months are the best time for general stargazing. Leave the town limits behind, head inland, or at least away from any light sources, and wrap up warm — not that it is incredibly cold, but it does get chilly, especially if you lay on the ground looking up at the sky for a length of time. Enjoy the spectacular celestial formations above you. You can even go on guided tours with qualified astronomers all set up with telescopes to get a better look and learn about what you see.
8. The Food
The food on the Canary Islands is delicious. Obviously, there is superb fresh fish straight out of the Atlantic Ocean. There are also some really yummy potatoes, papas arrugadas, which are small, whole potatoes with the skin on, covered in sea salt and served with mojo — an oily, garlicky, herby sauce. There are limpets served in their shells as well as in the pan they were fried in, and seriously good goat cheese. All this is great wintery comfort food, perfect for when it is a little cooler in the evening, but made summery when washed down with a chilled local rosé.
Combining the spectacular landscapes, the art of Cesar Manrique, and the good food and wine of Lanzarote, the restaurant at Jameos del Aqua is a must. The setting — and the food — is superb. But do book ahead.
Pro Tip: With eight main inhabited islands on the Canary Islands archipelago, it would be a shame to see just one. And you don’t even need to book a proper cruise to hop across to some of the other islands. From Lanzarote, you can reach the islands of Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, and La Graciosa by several daily ferries, and you can connect further on from Fuerteventura to Tenerife, and so on, if you wish.
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