Lanzarote: The Canary Island that keeps on giving
Sun, sea, sand... and more.
Over 200,000 of us will visit the Canary Island this year. Patricia Murphy takes her first trip.
I'm bang in the middle of Lanzarote, perched by a pool sparkling with thousands of penny-sized, white-shelled crabs. This is no lido by the coast, however. It's inland, away from the sandy embrace of Lanzarote's beloved year-round beaches. In fact, I'm deep within a cave once flooded with streams of scalding lava.
Suffice to say, this isn't something I expected to find on the Canary Islands. Lanzarote is one of the top holiday destinations for Irish people, with over 200,000 of us set to fly there this year. Sun, sea and sand offer a tried-and-tested formula in all four seasons, and that's exactly what I was prepared for on my first visit. I did. But there were surprises too.
Deep inside that cave - Los Jameos del Agua, a tunnel carved by Lanzarote's volcanic flows - I'm peering at miniature albino crabs. A little later, a concert strikes up. The first flit of fingertips against the timple, a ukulele-like instrument unique to this part of the world, gives cue to a saxophone player across the chasm. Music swells. A man sings. The acoustics resonate off every inch of the space, enrapturing the audience as moonlight creeps in overhead. Whether we understand the Spanish lyrics or not is irrelevant. The island is working a whole other kind of magic.
Lanzarote's basic charms are obvious. It practically guarantees year-round temperatures of 18-24 degrees. It offers bountiful opportunities to keep the brood splashing about in pools or burying each other at the beach. Playa Blanca in Puerto del Carmen has become a beacon for package holidaymakers, and is fully equipped with pay-as-you-go sun loungers, hammocks, showers and changing facilities.
A more intrepid drive or boat ride away, you'll find five wild beaches fanning around Punta de Papagayo… a nice alternative to the hustle and bustle.
After trips to Spanish holiday hotspots like Santa Ponsa in Mallorca, I was also surprised by the delicious traditional food on Lanzarote. The island's offerings had my eyes bigger than my belly on several occasions (I was a step away from having to be stowed away with the suitcases on my flight home).
Nothing boosted my holiday happiness more than visiting El Risco (restauranteelrisco.com) in Famara, where I had the best tapas of my life as waves crashed against Bahía de Penedo. Handsome waiters served up fish straight from the boat, with dish after dish pouring out of the kitchen in a perfect blur. I could have stayed sipping local wine in good company there forever.
Food, glorious food
But it's Puerto del Carmen, Lanzarote's hotspot, that offers Irish tourists a home from home, with many Irish pubs run by expats who have swapped one island for another. Donegal man Rory Gallagher (*no relation to the late guitarist) is one. He left for Lanzarote following the break-up of his band The Revs in 2006, and opened one of Puerto del Carmen's most popular pubs, The Island Bar (roryandtheisland.com).
"Lanzarote is cheap," he tells me before hopping on stage to perform. "You jump on a flight and you can make it over for under €200. You can get a nice apartment for €30 a night. It's pretty safe, it's VAT free and because of this there's cheaper drinks and cigarettes.
"There's a great nightlife here in Puerto del Carmen," he continues. "It's like Las Vegas down here on the strip. You can get up at 8am in the morning and sunbathe and stay partying until 6am. It can be whatever you want it to be… but there's the cultural side, the market places and the caves too."
After a night out in 'Vegas', my belly is sore from laughing and my head a little worse for wear, so I take a car trip to escape the lure of a cure. As Jameos del Agua had shown, there's life beyond the beaches in Lanzarote, so I felt it would be a shame not to rent a car and venture outside of Puerto del Carmen's comfort zone.
With the windows down and Instagram at the ready, a drive through Timanfaya National Park (mma.es) takes me right back into its volcanic origins. Lanzarote's last eruption took place in 1824, but more than 100 volcanoes dot the landscape today, and the drive offers the best opportunity to capture the views. Inside the park, you can also watch some live volcanic action outside El Diablo restaurant. There, park rangers pour buckets of cold water into the earth to coax a minor explosion of hot water. It's probably best to warn the children though, to prevent any frights.
On the road...
Lanzarote is also dominated by the ghost of Cesar Manrique, an architect who is something of a god to locals. His inspiration is felt in every white building on the island, and in signature works ranging from the converted caves at Los Jameos del Agua to his former home - and now museum - in Tahiche. The house, and Cesar Manrique Foundation (cesarmanrique.com), is paradise, though it continues to leave me disheartened every time I return to my flat in Dublin.
Lanzarote's sunny resorts continue to charm Irish holidaymakers and it's easy to see why. But for me, the little moments of surprise - like those tapas at El Risco - were the dreamiest parts of my trip.
Love Lanzarote by all means, but do yourself a favour and take a day or two to travel off the beaten track.
Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies from Dublin and Cork to Lanzarote. Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies to various Canary Islands from Dublin, Shannon, Cork and Ireland West (Knock) airports. Independent Travel (travel.independent.ie) has seven-day packages in Lanzarote and Fuerteventura from €349pp. Book here.
For more on Lanzarote, and other Canary Islands, visit hellocanaryislands.com.
Where to stay
Patricia stayed at Club la Santa (clublasanta.com) on the west of the island - a favourite of the Munster Rugby team. Rates start from €873 for seven nights in June or September. Irish tour operators and travel agents offer a range of packages to Lanzarote.