Shortly after Easter, the Hubs and I headed for the beach. We choose the island of Lanzarote; the most easterly of the Canary Islands, and the one closest to Africa. We chose Lanzarote based on it’s historically warm temperatures for April, affordability, and it’s unique landscape.
Being just off the coast of Africa, the island is very arid; and the western portion of the island suffered a series of volcanic explosions throughout the 1730s. This has left the island with several ash fields and black sandy soil. The Canary Islands are also known as the windward islands, and while out touring the island we did notice a fair amount of wind. However, we stayed in the southern resort town of Playa Blanca (facing Fuerteventura) and didn’t find our time at the pool or at the beach overly windy, but there is a good breeze.
While we thoroughly enjoyed our sun break, not everything was perfect. But then again that is how most of life is!
Getting around Lanzarote
At first we were just going to take a shuttle (about €40 for the two of us round trip) to get to the hotel about 45 minutes from the airport. Our motivation for this trip was to get some sun on the beach and have drink by the pool; maybe take a day trip. As we looked at the public bus system for the island we found that there weren’t many direct buses between Playa Blanca and where we wanted to go. There are several private coach companies (which might be why the island doesn’t offer much of a bus system) that offer full and half day trips to parts of the island. They aren’t outrageously expensive, but certain trips were only offered on certain days of the week. And with the airport transfer it started to add up, so we just decided to rent a car. And if you are going with a family I would also recommend it. If you are truly just going to sit by the pool, or are only going to take one side trip (our hotel allowed people to rent cars at the hotel just for the day, at about the daily rate of our rental), then you might not need to rent. Also, I would recommend renting a car from a reasonably well known car rental company; because in Spain, it is common for rental companies to charge €500 as a safety deposit, which is a large enough sum that we had more faith about getting our money refunded by going with an international company.
Lanzarote also has some beautifully paved roads, so if you are into cycling, that is an option as well. More as an activity than as a method of transportation.
Where we stayed
We booked our holiday online as a package flying Monarch Airlines and staying at the Sandos Papagayo, on the eastern fringe of Playa Blanca. And while that does put you about a 20-30 minute walk from the center of Playa Blanca (the hotel does run a shuttle) & it’s man made beach; it makes it only a 10 minute walk to the first of the four Papagayos beaches, where are much less crowded and more picturesque. The Papagayos beaches are sheltered along cliff faces, so be carefull walking down the path in beach gear. If you are a family it is probably worth scouting out a path ahead of time because I wouldn’t want to take a buggy (stroller) done the route we walked, but there were other people on other paths I could see with buggy’s and they seemed to manage fine. There is a car park at the beach, which is another option, but some of the online message boards highlighted that the roads are a little rough for the average rental car.
As for our hotel, we absolutely loved the facilities at Sandos (bars, sun terraces, pools, fitness & spa). Don’t hold me acountable for this but in looking at the buildings I think every room has a balcony or terrace. Ours overlooked the pool, as well as having a partial sea view. It was quite close to where the hotel held the evening entertainment, and you could hear it from the room, but it always finished my 11pm.
The hotel is all-inclusive, which was an option we had never done before, and is part of why we booked the trip. Alcohol was available from 11am to 11pm and a lot of it was self-serve from taps (including the wine – which was fine). The beer option was Amstel, which for my husband the ‘beer snob’ it isn’t what he would order, but I’ve had Spanish beer Amstel is slightly better and he was happy with it. The bartenders mixed good drinks (a gin & tonic was about 40% gin); and when my husband ordered a Manhattan he didn’t know what it was and were considering charging him for a premium drink, but when Hubs explained that he just wanted some bourbon with sweet vermouth they were more than happy to pour it for him.
The food is where the hotel let itself down (but I guess that is where you have to trim margin when alcohol is free). There are three buffets (the main/international buffet, and then a Mexican and Asian buffet). We were expecting the food to be about the quality of the 5 day cruise we had taken to Bermuda on Royal Caribbean, so average. But it wasn’t. My husband described the food as ranging from inedible to average. He particularly disliked the pool snack bar where one day at lunch he refused to eat whatever was on his plate. I, on the other hand, stuck to safer options and my burger (while not American beef) was fine. However, that same snack bar had crepes every day at 4pm that Hubs loved! I will say the breakfast (while busy in the large dining room) was good. I classified the food as poor to average. Better than the university dining hall my husband had; not as good as my university (but with more options). [Please, keep in mind that this review is coming from someone who spends an equal amount of time planning where to eat on vacations as what to do.]
The quality of the food did make us rethink our decision to go all-inclusive, but the evening we walked through Marina Rubicon, and from what I could see of the restaurants in Playa Blanca I wasn’t convinced that our dine out option were that much better. The Canary Islands have some wonderful beaches, that make for a great time, but they are also known for their affordability, so that probably influences the dining options.
What we did
There was a whole lot of afternoons by the pool reading and surfing the web. Hubs learned a lesson about not getting sun burned on the first day of vacation the hard way (“Do you think I need to put on sunscreen?” “Yes, but at minimum you need to put it on your face and shoulders.” Legs got burned). And one morning out at Papagayos beach, which was beautiful. (Sorry, didn’t want to risk getting the camera sandy. Google it!)
As for exploring the island, one morning we went to Timanfaya National Park and another morning we explored the more northern portion of the island.
Timanfaya National Park feature the Montanas del Fuego, or the volcanos that destroyed a quarter of the island in the 1730s. Admission to the park is €9 euros per adult and that admission includes a 20 minute coach tour of the volcanoes with audio in Spanish, English, and German. Because of the terrain you aren’t permitted to walk around the park on your own. Online I found a sign up for free walking tours in Spanish or English around the park, but they were booked up the days we were visiting even three weeks ahead of time. Just below the surface of the ground the temperature increases dramatically and at the visitors center they give demonstrations by pouring water down a shaft to create a geyser. And the restaurant there uses the heat in the ground as an oven to cook some of their dishes. We thought our trip to Timanfaya was the best part of our trip. And as we were leaving the park I convinced my husband to take me on a camel ride (€12 for two people & one camel) through some of the park. The harness of the camel was set up so that you could sit forward and didn’t have to straddle the camel. It was fun, but very rocky; I’m glad that camels are no longer a common method of transport.
On our last day we drove up to the old capital of Teguise (set inland as protection from pirate attacks) hosts a market every Sunday. It is a large, but fairly unimpressive market with souvenirs and some island crafts. With the exception of two food trucks (serving bacon butties, and sausage rolls), there isn’t any food, so it isn’t like a farmer’s market.
From Teguise we drove to the northern most part of the island, to the Mirador del Rio. This is an old gunnery station built up in the mountains to fire on pirates sailing between Lanzarote and the smaller island of La Graciosa to the north. Today is is a look out point with a cafe. Only about 30 minutes north of Teguise, but at a much higher altitude, and fog had set in, limiting our view, but it was cool to see the converted building. What I did appreciate was that the ticket agent informed us of the limited view before we paid to go in (I don’t remember what we paid).
From there we drove down to the Jardin de Cactus. A cactus garden designed by Lanzarote artist Cesar Manrique. We arrived the same time as a tour bus and therefore got swept in with them. It is very pretty and we enjoyed a coffee/tea in the cafe. But there is something about it being an cactus garden, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, that made it feel like it was a tourist trap.
Despite our severe disappointment with the food (but the rest of our hotel was fantastic); we had a really great time on Lanzarote. For a short beach break it has a good mix of interesting things to do, as well as opportunities of sun bathing and relaxing. I’d recommend the island to others, and even perhaps Sandos with the understanding that you should stick to safe items like burgers, fries, grilled chicken breast, etc.