Lanzarote, the largest of the Canary Islands, has gained a reputation for mass resort tourism, but there’s more to this volcanic island than meets the eye. Just lying on the mainstream beaches like a lobster all week, you’re sure to miss out on a destination of incredible ecological uniqueness. Book with Thomson to discover the greener side of Lanzarote this year.
Formed from an erupting volcano, the island was designated a UNESCO world biosphere site since 1993, and 40 per cent of its surface area is environmentally protected. For the ecologically-minded tourist, there can be few more enticing prospects than to recreate the voyage made by the world’s earliest known encyclopaedia writer, the Ancient Roman, Pliny the Elder.
Timanfaya National Park should be the first stop on any eco tourist’s itinerary. Covering 50 square kilometres of the south of Lanzarote, it stretches from the Montañas del Fuego (Mountains of Fire) to the sea, across an extraordinary volcanic landscape of strange rock formations, gullies, and jameos – collapsed lava bubbles.
A visitor centre, which provides interactive displays and expert guides, can be found half way along the road between the two towns of Tinajo and Yalza, and is the best place to start exploring from. From here, there are guided walks, which are popular and should be booked in advance.
In the park there are more than 200 species of lichen, and gnarled fig trees growing among the volcanic cones. A species of cricket found nowhere else in the world has made its home in the air pockets left in the lava, while Barbary falcons nest in the trees and you may spot one swooping down on a rabbit or other small mammal.
It’s recommended that park visitors don’t miss out on one of the world’s most unique restaurants. El Diablo uses the 400 degrees Celsius steam from nearby geysers to grill its meat. The restaurant has glass walls, meaning no matter where you sit, you can gaze out across the volcanic ‘badlands’ to the sparkling blue sea.
The interaction between ocean and volcano has produced spectacular landscapes on Lanzarote. For some of the best views, go to the Cueva de los Verdes – part of the Atlantida cave system on the north coast. At 6 kilometres, plus an extra 1.6 kilometres under the sea, this is one of the world’s longest volcanic tunnels. The 2 kilometres open to the public have been artfully lit, maximising the impact of the crystal pools and curious rock formations which are like something from an alien planet.
North Lanzarote also has one of the island’s best kept coastal secrets. The contrast between the white sands of the Caleton Blanco beaches, and the black lava bordering them, is an arresting sight. Each beach encloses its own glittering turquoise lagoon – the perfect spot for cooling off after a day spent exploring.
For birdlife enthusiasts, the southern part of Lanzarote is the place to go to. Many species of wader and other migrating birds can be spotted on the salt pans of the Janubio, which is now a site of special scientific interest. Past generations of human inhabitants have adapted this landscape to their own use, and it is fascinating to see how their ingenuity has overcome such an apparently hostile terrain. Indeed a short distance back inland at La Geria, this same theme is evident in the volcanic slopes that have been terraced and planted with vines.
Sampling a glass of the excellent wine they produce, you can marvel at Lanzarote’s demonstration of how the destructive force of a volcano can lead to nature thriving on this beautiful island in the Canaries.
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