I’ve been to Spain before, but never any of the islands. This always made me feel inadequate, since the Brits are known for their love of Spanish beach holidays. Last week I got to go to Lanzarote on a family trip, which is just the perfect way to see the island. It is a fairly touristy place, with loads of British restaurants and pubs, so you’ll want to get out of the seaside areas unless you like feeling like you’re at home on holiday.
We rented a car and saw most of the island. It is quick and easy to get around, and since most of the other drivers are foreigners too, its okay if you get a little lost and have to slow down or ask someone directions!
Of all the things we did in our week there, here’s a list of the things not to miss.
Must Do 1: Timanfaya National Park
Lanzarote is a volcanic island, like most of the Grand Canaries. You obviously have to see the volcanoes when you’re there! Plus, you’ll get to learn a lot about the history of the island.
You may have to wait in a bit of a queue of cars to enter the park, but once you do, you can park and you’ll be loaded onto a tour bus that takes you through the volcanoes. The driver will tell you the history of the island, including all the volcanic activity, what parts of the island were affected and the years of the biggest explosions.
While you drive around, you’ll get to see amazing views. Lanzarote felt like a really hot version of Iceland, with its ashy mountains reaching the sea.
After the tour you can walk around a little bit. The island is still volcanically active, and you can see steaming sulphur pits and feel the ground, which is up to 200 degrees C. Of course, its so hot there that its hard to tell whether that’s from the volcano, or the ambient temperature!
Must Do 2: Teguise Market
Every Sunday the town of Teguise hosts a big street market. The streets are rammed with vendors, the shops are all open and there are street performers and food stalls everywhere.
I really liked just walking around the town, which seems pretty ancient. The architecture is pre-colonial, it reminds me of older parts of Brazil or Portugal, or even the oldest buildings in Colonial Williamsburg or Jamestown.
One place you MUST stop at Teguise is the Aloe Museum. There are a few dotted around the island. Aloe seems to be something of an island commodity, I saw it growing everywhere. In the museum you can watch a quick video about how its grown and the health benefits of aloe, and buy some to take home. I bought enough for an army after hearing about all the amazing things aloe can do. Bye, bye aging!
Also keep an eye out for the interesting statues around Teguise, which are straight up strange but add a little more flavor to the city.
…and of course, speaking of local flavor, you can’t not stop and watch a flamenco dancer. It is a powerful art form. I was super intimidated watching this woman for two minutes.
Travel Tip: Stay a bit outside of the main towns
Like I said, the towns are really, really touristy. I think most people who even work in the towns are English, at least during the summer months! If you don’t want to be barraged with pubs and restaurants flogging a British breakfast, stay outside of the cities. We stayed in Los Mojones, which was a 10-minute walk (be warned, it was hilly!) from Puerto del Carmen, which was perfect. It felt private, slightly more Spanish and definitely like we were on holiday, with its cactus-laden side streets, beautiful verandas and tropical views.
Travel Tip: Try the seafood.
It is, granted, exceedingly difficult to find a restaurant that isn’t touristy, and that actually serves quality food. But when you do (try Mardeleva a bit outside of Puerto del Carmen), you’ll keep coming back. The view is amazing and the food is good, and well priced. I think we went three times during our trip! I’m usually a vegetarian but I do love octopus, so I splurged and had some with the great selection of mojos the restaurant offered. So refreshing on a hot afternoon or early evening!
…as is, of course, anything lemon for dessert!
Don’t like seafood? Try the local ice creams, and there’s tons of jambon around if that’s your thing.
Must Do 3: Hit the beach. You can sunbathe topless.
I’ve lived in Europe for almost five years now, and I’ve never sunbathed topless. It actually isn’t the big, big thing that Americans make it out to be, and I’ve always been cautious about being the cause of a “Mommy, what’s that?” kind of question from a kid on the beach. But in Lanzarote, so many people were doing it, I felt that there was safety in numbers. It was really exhilarating! Just make sure you put on sun screen.
Must Do 4: The Cactus Garden
Given this was a family trip, and traveling with groups can be hectic, I only went with one thing on my “must see” list, and that was the cactus garden.
Created by Cesar Manrique, Lanzarote’s most famous artist, its an amazing botanical garden of cacti.
I clearly had a very good time.
Some of the cacti were bigger than I am!
I would highly recommend climbing to the top and seeing the view from the windmill as well.
Must Do 5: Volcanic Caves (Jameos del Agua)
Another cool Manrique “creation,” he used part of a 4000km long volcanic tube to create an amazing tourist attraction. It is really hard to describe how cool it is to see art, culture, landscape and activity blended together. Just get there early or you’ll be waiting in line for an hour like we did! (We arrived at around noon.)
You enter the cave and climb down about 75 steps, where you’re brought to a cave.
In the cave is seawater so clear you can see about 10-15 meters down as if its nothing. In the pool live small crabs (you can see them in this picture above, they’re all the white flecks that look like…well, dust or something!).
A little bit of light shines in on the pool from a volcanic hole at the top of the cave.
And back up the stairs on the other side is a very interesting manmade pool, courtesy of Manrique.
The view from the top of the stairs is truly amazing.
Just don’t go thinking you’ll get a swim in, as its forbidden. Apparently only the King of Spain can swim in either pool!
Travel Tip: Take an evening stroll
One of my favorite moments on the trip was an evening stroll along the cliffside path by Playa Chica.
There’s an amazing view of the sunset and the city…
…and you get to see a ton of local cats.
What could be better?
I’d recommend flying Easy Jet if you’re getting to Lanzarote from the UK. We flew for under £200 in July, and they’re pretty good about baggage allowance and sitting together (unlike Ryanair).