Lanzarote has been in the business of sun, sea and sand breaks since the Seventies. In fact, as one of Europe’s first mainstream holiday destinations, it helped to invent the classic beach break. Take one look at the place and you’ll see what made it the perfect prototype. The main resorts of Puerto del Carmen, Playa de los Pocillos, Costa Teguise and Playa Blanca are hemmed by long ribbons of sand, and their shores are top spots for watersports.
Away from the coast, Lanzarote’s landscape is unique. In fact, UNESCO has given the island World Biosphere Reserve status, in order to protect it. Stand among the silver mountain peaks and black rock formations in the island’s interior and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were on the surface of the moon. The landscape in Timanfaya National Park deserves a special mention. It’s pockmarked by the craters of more than a hundred volcanoes, known as the Fire Mountains.
The legacy of Cesar Manrique
You can’t visit Lanzarote without seeing at least one art installation by the famous artist, Cesar Manrique. The island is covered with his off-the-wall creations. Head to the Jameos del Agua, on the north coast, to explore the underground caves he converted into a chic bar and a concert hall.
Things to See and Do in Lanzarote
Beaches for all seasons
Lanzarote’s beaches come in more varieties than Heinz soup. You’ve got the busy band of sand in Puerto del Carmen, the Blue Flag bay in Playa Blanca, and the bucket-and-spade affairs in Costa Teguise. What’s more, thanks to Lanzarote’s proximity to Africa, the island’s beaches stay warm all year round.
The big beach
Playa Grande runs the length of Puerto del Carmen’s main road, which is packed full of restaurants and bars. The beach itself is really long and wide, and there’s a generous helping of sunloungers, which you can hire for the day for just a few euros. If you fancy a break from sunbathing, rent a pedalo and head out to sea – you’ll get great views of Lanzarote’s volcanic landscape.
The secret beach
Bookended by cliffs, the beaches at El Papagayo, on Lanzarote’s most southern tip, are completely unspoilt and protected by national park status. There are two ways to access them – hire a car and drive along the rugged mountain access road, or take a water taxi from the harbour in Playa Blanca.
Plenty of shops in Lanzarote sell designer labels, but Puerto Calero near Puerto del Carmen has the best portfolio. In this quiet harbour town you can shop for Armani, DKNY and Ralph Lauren. You’ll find a good selection of high-end fashion stores on Calle Real in Arrecife and Marina Rubicon in Playa Blanca, too.
High street fashion and international-brand cosmetics come thick and fast in Lanzarote. You’ll find shops like Zara, Mango and The Body Shop corralled inside big malls like the Biosfera in Puerto del Carmen and Deiland in Playa Honda, which is just a short bus journey from Puerto del Carmen and Costa Teguise.
Lanzarote’s markets are hallowed ground for bargain hunters. You can pick up everything from lace and hand-made jewellery to fake designer watches and small Canarian guitars called timples. The largest market takes place in Teguise – a 10-minute drive from Costa Teguise – on Sundays. There’s also one near the Church of San Gines in Arrecife on Saturday, and one at Marina Rubicon in Playa Blanca on Wednesdays.
Just 20 minutes from Playa Blanca, the quaint fishing village of El Golfo has a reputation for having the best fish restaurants in the Canary Islands. Don’t expect a menu though – in some of the eateries you simply choose ‘meat’ or ‘fish’ and leave your dinner the hands of the chefs. If you’re staying in Costa Teguise, a 20-minute drive north will take you to Los Jameos del Agua – an underground bar and concert hall designed by Cesar Manrique. In Playa de los Pocillos, evenings tend to be played out in the town’s family-friendly restaurants and bars.
Puerto del Carmen is the leader of Lanzarote’s nightlife pack. The Avinda de las Playas is home to a long line of bars and clubs offering everything from R&B music to karaoke. In Playa Blanca, the liveliest areas are the Centro Commercial Papagayo near Playa Dorada, and the Centro Commercial Punto Limones, near the port. Costa Teguise takes a back seat as far as nightlife is concerned, but there are a few karaoke and cocktail bars around Playa de las Cucharas and Calle las Olas.
You can’t escape papas arrugadas in the Canary Islands. These miniature jacket potatoes have crunchy skins and hot fluffy centres. Traditionally, they are served as a tapas dish, drizzled in a terracotta-coloured spicy pepper sauce.
Caldo de millo y garbanzos
This soup is one of Lanzarote’s number one hunger busters. It’s made from corn, garlic, water, paprika, parsley, chickpeas and bacon, and it’s so chunky you sometimes need a knife and fork to cut up the ingredients. The best way to eat it is with slices of freshly-baked bread.
This dish has a similar polarising effect to Marmite – you either love it or you hate it. In short, it’s a traditional recipe made from dogfish. The fish is soaked overnight to soften it, then it’s fried with vinegar, crushed garlic, cumin, saffron, paprika and red peppers.
This dish falls into the like-momma-used-to-make category. It’s produced by heating together milk, maize flour, lemon, eggs, sugar, raisins and cinnamon. The finished product looks like a cross between bread and butter pudding and custard. In Lanzarote, it’s traditional to pour hot milk and sugar over the top to serve.
In Lanzarote, grapes are cultivated in an unusual way. Vines are grown in small man-made craters in the ground rather than on trellises. The most popular wine on the island is Malmsey, which has a rich, sweet taste and tends to be brought out after dinner.
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Playa Blanca is backed by volcanic mountains on the southwest tip of Lanzarote. It’s one of the island’s biggest resorts but it’s still quietly sophisticated. The smart marina covers cocktails, upscale dining and boutiques, while the promenade is lined with excellent seafood places. Meanwhile, livelier karaoke and disco bars can be found in the shopping centres. And on top of this, there are 3 different beaches to mess about on.
Puerto del Carmen
Puerto del Carmen is on the southeast side of Lanzarote. It first got going in the Sixties and since then it’s upped the tempo from its fishing village roots to become a very lively holiday hub. The waterside promenade doubles up as the main strip – it’s packed with bars, clubs and restaurants, and it also looks out over a trio of beaches. You still get a bit of Puerto del Carmen’s former charm, though, as you’ll see from the authentic eating places in the old town.
Back when it was built in the Seventies, Costa Teguise – on Lanzarote’s southeast coast – attracted affluent Spanish families, and today King Carlos of Spain has a place here. But thankfully visitors don’t have to wait for royal appointment to enjoy the sandy beaches, top-class windsurfing and the buzzy but family-focused nightlife.