Canary Islands: Places to Explore

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Lanzarote

With mostly solidified lava, dark and disconcerting dunes, and a palette made up of a thousand earthy shades, Lanzarote's interior is right out of a science-fiction film. The entire island has been declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve. There are no springs or lakes, and it rarely rains, so all fresh water comes from desalination plants. Despite its surreal and sometimes intimidating volcanic landscape, Lanzarote—the fourth-largest Canary—has turned itself into an inviting resort through good planning, an emphasis on outdoor adventure, and conservation of its natural beauty. No buildings taller than two stories are allowed in most places, leaving views of the spectacular geology unobstructed.

Lanzarote was named for the Italian explorer Lancelotto Alocello, who arrived in the 14th century. The founder of modern-day Lanzarote, however, was artist and architect César Manrique, the unofficial artistic guru of the Canary Islands. He designed most of the tourist attractions and convinced authorities to require all new buildings to be painted white with green or brown trim (white with blue on the coast), to suggest coolness and fertility. He also led the fight against overdevelopment. All over this island, and especially in Arrecife, Lanzarote feels like North Africa. Like Moroccans, many locals drink their hot drinks, in this case café con leche condensada (coffee with condensed milk), out of little glasses, rather than out of cups. Try this very sweet concoction in any café or bar.

Vying with Fuerteventura for the title of warmest island, Lanzarote often bakes in the summer. It’s also very windy, particularly during July and August, when the trade winds (vientos alisios) from the northeast batter the island.

Despite the heat, the island produces a surprisingly diverse group of wines, many of which are quite good. Vines are buried (sometimes up to several feet deep) in a mantle of black lava shingle known as picón that attracts and retains moisture from dew, the only source of water for vines on this arid island. There are two designated wine tours that take in the main vineyards on the west side of the island. Ask at a tourist office for a wine-tour map.

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