With astonishing beaches, lava fields, underground grottoes and the so-called Mountains of Fire, Lanzarote ignites the imagination. Read on to find out more about this island in the Canaries that is distinctly African in appearance but Spanish in spirit...
Wonders of Lanzarote
Near the fast-growing resort of Playa Blanca on the south coast are the astonishing beaches of Papagayo - hemmed in by arid, basalt cliffs. Without a tree or plant in sight, and contemplating a bright turquoise sea, the landscape is closer to Africa than Europe.
This old fishing village has a cute harbour crammed with colourful boats and overlooked by its whitewashed old town, known as la Tiñosa. Avenida de las Playas is lined with hot nightspots. This is the flattest point of the island's coast and has some of its finest natural beaches.
Timanfaya is a UNESCO-protected bioreserve covering over 50 km2 of the island's interior. The sweeping Mars-like plains were last covered in molten lava in the 1700s, when the volcano erupted for a total of five years. Temperatures just below the surface simmer at a roasting 600C. You can rent a camel for the journey to get to the top, where wondrous views and a steam geezer await. Check out the park's restaurant, El Diablo (The Devil), which serves local specialities cooked in geothermal heat via openings in the ground.
Chic, exclusive Puerto Calero claims to have one of Europe's most stylish marinas. Fishing boats and catamarans are available for hire and whales and dolphins abound in this bit of the Atlantic. If you're no crusty old sea-dog then check out the Whale and Dolphin Museum instead, an exhibition exploring the evolution of local marine life.
Thanks to the moist clime and rolling Atlantic tradewinds, this is a popular spot for riding the waves. The streets of the sleepy fishing village of Famara are covered in sand and the sea is dotted with kites and surfers. You can hire a bungalow overlooking the sea and enjoy walks on the long bay winding under the immense cliffs of the Risco de Famara.
Unlike the arid landscapes prevalent throughout southern Lanzarote, this lush, verdant valley is an oasis in the shadow of the island's tallest mountain range, the Risco de Famara, which reach heights of over 600 metres. Known locally as the Valley of the 1000 palms, it earned its name because villagers would plant palm trees to celebrate the birth of each new child and so replace the trees burned down by pirates in the 16th Century.
One of the most common geological features of Lanzarote are its cacti. Check out weird flora in the surreal Cactus Garden, designed by local artist Cesar Manrique. There are over 10,000 kinds of the spiky plants on show, originating from 1400 separate species. And remember, look, but don't touch!
The spectacular grottoes of the Green Caves form part of the longest volcanic tunnel on earth, stretching six kilometres along the island's surface and a kilometre and a half underground. The roof of these caves was formed by cooling lava, which flowed from the La Corona volcano 4000 years ago.
Jameos is Lanzarote's second most visited attraction behind Timanfaya and Hollywood legend Rita Heyworth called it the 'eight wonder of the world'. A collapsed lava tube, it was transformed by Cesar Manrique into a spectacular subterranean auditorium with amazing acoustics. There are botanical gardens, a restaurant, lots of albino crabs and a tropical lagoon - reserved solely for use by the King of Spain.
Yaiza has been voted the prettiest village in Spain. A bonus really, considering it was nearly buried under lava in the 18th Century. At the time of the eruptions, inhabitants reported seeing the lava flowing towards Yaiza, only to split into two streams and flow around it. Thanks to its height and seclusion, Yaiza also managed to avoid being devastated by pirate raiders. For these reasons, Yaiza is known as The Miracle Village.