The small Canary Island of Lanzarote is best known as a year-round package-holiday destination. It attracts around 1.5 million foreign tourists annually, the bulk of them from the UK, Germany and Ireland.
But despite Lanzarote’s undoubted popularity it still offers plenty to interest the independent traveller — including over 90 great beaches, good quality cheap accommodation, fantastic hiking across volcanic terrain and a series of unique attractions created by an imaginative local artist called Cesar Manrique. Plus, there are island-hopping options to near neighbours La Graciosa and Fuerteventura.
Lanzarote is serviced by most of the leading low-cost flight operators in the UK, such as easyJet, Monarch, Aer Lingus and Thomas Cook. This means it’s usually possible to book flights to the island from around £150 return. However, this cost can be much higher during school holiday periods.
On arrival, independent travellers will find that there is no shuttle service or even a direct public bus to any of the main resorts or accommodation centres on the island. The cheapest option is to take a taxi, costing around €10, to the nearby resort of Puerto del Carmen, from where it’s possible to connect with bus services that cover most of Lanzarote.
There are plenty of good value accommodation options available in both the main resorts and in the countryside. Typical holiday apartment accommodation is available from around €18 per room per night. But anyone interested in connecting with the ‘real Lanzarote’ should instead head for the north of the island, where there are a number of well priced fincas with good quality rooms available at around the same price.
The Finca del Mar in Arietta in particular is worth tracking down as the entire farm is powered by wind and solar energy and guests can enjoy picking their own fruit and veg on site, while enjoying a stay in a yurt (a traditional Mongolian herdsman’s tent).
Officially, camping on the island is discouraged. But there are still a number of spots where it is possible to pitch a tent with minimal interference, such as on the beaches in Arietta and Orzola. During specific public holidays camping grounds at Famara and Papagayo — the two best beaches on the island — are open to all.
Lanzarote is best known for its unique volcanic terrain, which was created during the 18th and 19th centuries by a wave of violent eruptions. These eruptions created 300 new volcanic peaks and a lavascape that now dominates much of the south of the island.
The Timanfaya National Park attracts close to one million visitors a year, the vast majority of whom tour the park on coaches. But it’s possible to trek across this lunar terrain with a guide from one of the local hiking outfits, such as Canary Trekking. This company provides their guests with a fascinating insight into the impact of the eruptions on the geology and flora and fauna of Lanzarote.
While independent travellers will find that the island is largely unspoiled outside of the main resorts it’s still possible to escape to an even more remote environment, by taking the twenty-minute ferry ride from Orzola to La Graciosa. This tiny neighbouring island is thought to be the real-life setting for the Robert Louis Stevenson classic Treasure Island.
It is home to just 600 inhabitants and there are no roads or cars — just great beaches and plenty of excellent trekking options. One of the many to choose from is the two-hour walk from the island’s only inhabited village — Caleta del Sebo — to the breathtaking beach at Playa del Concha. This often-deserted beach is a great place for visitors to drink in the views of the other tiny islets of Alegranza, Roque del Oeste and Montaña Clara, which make up the nature reserve of the Chinijo Archipelago.
Back on Lanzarote, no visit would be complete without taking in the incredible creations of Cesar Manrique. This local artist fought against untrammelled tourist development in the 1970s and 80s, and successfully secured a ban on high-rise buildings and advertising hoardings. At the same time, he attempted to convince island authorities that tourists wanted more than just golf courses and water parks.
To illustrate his point he dreamed up a series of sites that united the island’s terrain with his own creativity. Now, you can see creations such as the Jameos del Agua (transformed from a collapsed lava tube into an underground grotto), tropical gardens and an auditorium. Not to mention his own home and studio — fashioned out of five large bubbles or chambers in the surrounding lava flow.
Manrique met an untimely death in 1992 in a road accident. But thanks to his campaigning zeal and love for the island Lanzarote was declared a UNESCO-protected biosphere in 1994; the first island in the world to enjoy this status.
Lanzarote is a great place for an escape, and not just for people on package holidays. Independent travellers can discover hidden gems as well as enjoying the natural features that made it famous.
Your turn: what do you love most about Lanzarote?