« Exploring the Canary Islands: a sketch of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote

Added November 18, 2011

The Canary Islands are officially a territory of Spain, but while the locals certainly speak Spanish, the Canaries are in fact much closer to North Africa than they are to the Iberian Peninsula. This geographical location means that Canary Islands like Lanzarote and Fuerteventura can be comfortably explored all year round, as the temperature never drops much below the mid teens. Indeed, thanks to this fact, many retired northern Europeans are to be found spending the winter on Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. For the younger and more adventurous spirit, this trend has the happy consequence of keeping business healthy enough for the major European tour operators to provide plenty of options for reaching Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and the other Canary Islands all year round.

The Canary Islands are all the product of volcanic eruptions in the area, which geologists understandably came to call the Canary Hotspot. Fuerteventura is the second largest island in the archipelago, and also the oldest. Largely created about five million years ago, Fuerteventura has not seen any volcanic activity for at least four thousand years. Thanks to this fact, and the work of time and weather, the landscape is not dissimilar to that found in many other southern European countries.

Lanzarote, on the other hand, is another case entirely.  The fourth largest Canary Island, Lanzarote last experienced volcanic activity as recently as the 18th Century, which in geological terms is practically yesterday.  About a third of the present day Lanzarote was created during the eruptions which occurred between 1730 and 1736, and this violent genesis has left a remarkable physical legacy.

In practical terms, this means that exploration really is the appropriate word in much of Lanzarote, where the striking, lunar appearance of the island is distinctly otherworldly.  Indeed, much of prehistoric blockbuster ‘One Million Years BC’ was filmed in the older parts of Lanzarote, thanks to the eerie and desolate appearance of the plains.

The newer part of Lanzarote is the most breathtaking, the centre of which is protected in the form of Timanfaya National Park. Timanfaya is a still active volcano at the heart of the Park, and thanks to the protected status of the area can be accessed only by coach tour. This excursion is well worth the money, however, and a must see for everyone visiting the island. After the sight-seeing tour of the eerie landscape along some narrow and vertiginous roads, the summit of Timanfaya is finally reached, where it is possible to disembark. A little disconcertingly, the guide will encourage you to stick your hand just a few inches below the surface of the volcanic dust, and feel for yourself the palpable increase in temperature the earth’s crust is really very thin at this point! Just to prove how close the lava below really is, the concluding party trick of the tour guide involves the emptying a full bucket of water down a volcanic vent which returns just a matter of seconds later as a large plume of steam!

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