Lanzarote: A Natural Paradise in Spain’s Canary Archipelago

Manuel Perez

The northernmost island of Spain's Canary archipelago—about 80 miles off the western coast of Africa—is a natural paradise that emerged from prehistoric volcanic eruptions and has hardly been touched by the hand of man.

This story’s title is not just a phrase. Lanzarote is, indeed, a natural paradise. The island was formed from ancient volcanic eruption and has hardly been touched by the hand of man. The native islanders of Lanzarote—also known as ”conejeros”—have not fallen into the trap of mass tourism that affects other areas of Spain. They know that any construction or intervention on the landscape would only contribute to the detriment of the heavenly place they call home.

Fire Mountains

Lanzarote sits on the Atlantic Ocean, 80 miles from the African coast and is the northernmost island of the Canary Archipelago. It occupies an area of 322 square miles, 37 miles wide and 13 miles long. In 1993, the island was declared a “Biosphere Reserve” by UNESCO. It has a very stable and pleasant climate with temperatures ranging between 17 °C and 30 °C (62 ° F and 86° F). This makes Lanzarote a year-round attraction for visitors to enjoy its 89 beaches and more than five miles of white sand.

In terms of culture, Lanzarote stands out for its gastronomy and architecture, featuring traditional white houses with green, blue or brown windows. Everything is imbued with the style of César Manrique (1919-1992), a local painter, sculptor, architect and artist whose creations combine his undeniable talent with the defense of environmental values. Manrique received several prestigious honors including the World Ecology Award and Tourism Award in 1978.

1. / 2. / 3. Museum-House César Manrique Haría. 4. / 5. / 6. César Manrique Foundation.

Manrique‘s first project was El Mirador del Rio, a gallery carved into the side of a cliff with a restaurant and superb views of Graciosa Island. He later amazed the world with his Cactus Garden, and the spectacular Auditorium, built inside Jameos del Agua, an underground cave 200 feet long, 72 feet wide and 65 feet tall.

Jameos–in the native guanche language, also known as Canarian Berber–are sunken volcanic tunnels or holes on the lava fields. These openings were formed millions of years back when the lava collapsed. The difference between a Jameo and a cave is that the former are always open while caves can be hidden below. Manrique‘s creation at Los Jameos del Agua consists of an excavation of the tunnel respecting the natural environment. The magnificent complex includes a museum surrounded by beautiful greenery where the traveler can learn about the world’s volcanic activity. There is also a restaurant ideal for romantic candlelit dinners, which descends towards a salt lake—home to the indigenous blind albino crabs, unique in the world. From the lake, a meandering path lit up with torches and flanked by the lava on one side and the sea on the other, takes us to a small auditorium open to the sky. It has lava rock seats, and it used to present a cappella concerts. The tour ends in a beautiful garden designed by Manrique, which is used for larger concerts.

Within the same compound, we find Cueva de Los Verdes (Green’s Cave), named after the Verde family who settled there seeking refuge from pirate attacks. It is 4.3 miles wide and 6,500 feet long. This cave was also the result of the Corona Volcano eruption. This beautiful underground environment surely deserves a visit.

1. Jameos del Agua. 2. Green Cave. 3. La Geria. 4. Timanfaya Natural Park. 5. Famara Cove. 6. Solidified rivers of lava next to the Village of Tahiche 7. View from Mirador del Rio.

Visitors can reach the cave’s bottom and enjoy a stunning natural light show. Throughout the tunnel, it is easy to observe the effects of the violent eruption that created the whole environment. Some passages are very narrow, but in other areas the tunnel is wide enough to provide access to other caves.

Beyond Manrique’s architecture, Lanzarote also offers natural landscapes of unparalleled beauty such as La Geria, El Golfo, and Los Hervideros. La Geria is a very distinctive agricultural landscape dotted with vineyards and wineries. Wine production on the island is quite different from other places. Farmers dig large holes in the soil (know around these parts as picón) to find acceptable levels of humidity to plant their vines, and protect them with stone half-circles that keep them out of harm form the strong African winds that hit the island on a daily basis.

1. View of Lanzarote. 2. Canteria Beach. 3. Los Hervideros. 4. Puerto del Carmen.

Following our sojourn through this glorious island, we find El Golfo (The Gulf), a small fishing village at the foot of a beautiful volcano. The land portion is easily accessible while other areas were swallowed by the ocean. Such geological event created a small lake of intense green hues and a fascinating cove with volcanic sand. Nearby is Los Hervideros, one of Nature’s most impressive landscapes. There, above the 15 miles of lava deposited over millions of years, the ocean has carved intricate cliffs that are in a constant battle with sea erosion.

We end our tour at Lanzarote’s crown jewel: Timanfaya National Park, known by locals as The Fire Mountains. The Park has more than 25 volcanos whose last eruptions occurred in 1824. The volcanic activity continues to our days and in some parts the surface temperature can reach between 212 and 248 degrees Fahrenheit. At 40 feet below the surface, temperatures can be as high as 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The entire island was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1993 and a Bird Sanctuary in 1994. Timanfaya Natural Park is considered Lanzarote’s main natural wonder with its spectacular lunar landscapes. The park reveals a perfect chromatic combination—ocher, red and black—that the visitor can enjoy from either of the three available routes—on foot, by bus or by camel. To round off your visit to Lanzarote, you must enjoy a typical Canarian meal prepared with local products and cooked with the internal heat of the volcano.

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