Looking for somewhere different with mind-blowing natural phenomena? Then consider a small Spanish-owned island off the coast of North-West Africa, called Lanzarote. Nicole Buckler finds the good stuff.
Europeans, Scandinavians and Russians know Lanzarote well. The town of Puerto del Carmen on Lazarote island is thick with holiday apartments built specifically for the package holiday traveller. Most of these travellers live in countries so sun-starved that tourists are there for one purpose – to get some solar rays on their skin. Lanzarote is nicknamed the “Island of Eternal Spring” because of its guaranteed good weather all year round. A subtropical-desert climate can do a lot for the tourist trade.
Such tourists don’t tend to leave the resorts much, or venture further than the unadventurous restaurants around their accommodation. All they want to do is uptake vitamin D while lying next to a pool. So this means that if you are going to Lanzarote to explore the natural phenomena, then you will get an easy ride. You will actually get some sites all to yourself! We Gold Coasters are spoiled for sun, so we can concentrate on other things while there.
Because of its package holiday reputation, this is one of the most underrated places to holiday in the world. Outside of the McResorts is a natural wonderland of world-class beauty. The island is so spectacular, that it was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1993. And UNESCO don’t go around naming stuff biospheres lightly.
Lanzarote, one of the famous Canary Islands, has a volcanic origin. It was born through fiery eruptions. Solidified lava streams as well as extravagant rock formations are quite the sight to behold. And they can go on as far as the eye can see. Some parts of the island are so moon-like, that photos of the area were studied by Apollo astronauts before going to the moon so that they could get an idea of what they might encounter.
The part-sand, part-volcanic-stone beaches are perfect for the barbequing of human flesh. This, combined with clear waters, makes Lanzarote the tourist attraction that it is.
If you want to sneak off to a National Park beach, a must-see is El Papagayo, a collection of small bays with incredible crystal-clear waters and fine white sands — it could be the most gorgeous place on the island. Although, it can be quite a mission to get to it. As well as needing a car (preferably a 4WD as the roads are not really roads at all), the best coves require visitors to climb down a sandy cliff to reach the alluring beach below. Only mountain goats or reasonably able humans can accomplish this feat. Clothes are optional here, so when in Rome…
Because of the volcanic history, there are several black-sand beaches on Lanzarote. This is an Instagrammer’s dream come true. If you’ve never seen a black sand beach before, you’ll be amazed when your feet sink into one. Check out the black sand beach of Playa Quemada (burned beach).
Another thing to know is that Lanzarote is one of the best surfing spots in Europe. Known as the Hawaii of Europe, the best place to surf is Playa de Famara. It is a black sand beach under huge black cliffs that will seem otherworldly. It is not touristy at all in this area, and you can find some crazy little places to stay in Caleta de Famara, a coastal village next to the beach. But be quick, this place is starting to get on the map. In the last few years Famara has become the place to be for numerous surfers from all over the globe. The 6-star ASP event La Santa Pro is a leg of the world surfing championships. It was held in October at the beautiful beach of San Juan, a few hundred metres away from the village.
OTHER SWIMMING SPOTS
The lagoon called El Golfo is something else. The neon-green body of water sits between a black beach and red cliffs. It started its life when sea water ran into an old volcanic crater. The green colour is from algae living its best life in the water. Around the edge of the lake, you can pick up pieces of a mineral called olivine – it is very popular with jewellery makers. Like vast tracts of Lanzarote, being there is like being on another world.
THE HOT STUFF
Timanfaya National Park is the hands-down highlight of any trip to Lanzarote. Timanfaya, meaning “Mountain of Fire” is one of the greatest geological phenomena you are likely to see. This region was devastated by intermittent volcanic eruptions, the last being in 1824. All life was nuked. The effect that this had on the landscape was, and is, incredible. It is a vast expanse of lifelessness that goes for as far as the eye can see. There are “seabeds” of dried lava which look like giant petrified slugs that go on for miles. It truly is an amazing place.
At this strange-looking place, the ground is still scorching hot, so you aren’t allowed to just walk around like a lunatic. Any visitors must stay on a bus or be contained in guided tours. The ground is still so volatile and deathly dry that a human could die in a few hours of being lost in the park. But be sure to visit Timanfaya, you’ll feel small and unimportant in a good way.
As a side-note, the heat of the volcano is used for cooking steaks and fish in a restaurant on top of the lava flow, called, of course, El Diablo. More or less, the dead flesh is held over the lava until it is crispy and perfect. Free heat, I like it.
If humans ever wanted to learn how to grow grapes on the moon, they should come and see it being done in La Geria. This wine region looks like the lunar surface. It’s desolate, seemingly dry as hell, and steep. But Lanzarote’s biggest wineproducing region has managed to make a wine industry thrive in the face of punishing adversity.
Lanzarote is windy. Legend has it that after several days in Lanzarote, the constant wind creates a biological response in humans of sheer anxiety. As well as allegedly making us all jumpy, the wind blows away the grapevine seeds before they can germinate. So the locals of Lanzarote dig deep holes in the hills of lava, and build rather odd-looking stone circular walls around the seeds so that they don’t blow away. These walls also hold in the scant dew that appears on the plants from time to time.
It is truly extraordinary to see large expanses of these stone circles. But all the effort building these pods is worth it. The wine of lava from Lanzarote has a remarkable peppery taste and you drink a whole lot more of it than you remember, usually. If you ever take any of my crazy recommendations, take this one. It is seriously the best wine I have ever tasted in my life.
Lanzarote is a “desert island” where most of the drinking water is imported in bottles. It is a seriously dry place where only cacti survive well. The rainfall is scant, but in Lanzarote there is fog fairly often, which is a saving grace. The locals have developed an ingenious way of collecting water — they catch fog. They have erected huge vertical sheets of fine nets which sit on the tops of mountains. When the fog moves through the nets, it precipitates into water and runs down the nets into storage tanks. This technique of collecting “horizontal rain” provides an alternative source of freshwater. Along with the wind power turbines, the landscape is quite an interesting spectre, all in the name of living well in a harsh but achingly beautiful place.
If you stay in the tourist towns, you can expect to be disappointed with the food. However, once you strike out into the areas where the locals live, you’ll be impressed. The Spanish port areas sees the menu change to tapas, fresh fish and seafood cooked in the Spanish-Lanzarote way, and the famous Lanzarote potato with Mojo Rojo sauce — tongue orgasm kind of stuff.
A great way to see Lanzarote is to book a package holiday out of somewhere like London. That way, you get to see London and then get a cheap, direct flight from the English capital, with your accommodation thrown in for next to no extra cost. Otherwise, flights go from the Gold Coast via Doha in Qatar, while others are routed via Spain. Happy travels! ■
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Editor for Silver Magazine Gold Coast