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Lanzarote is the northernmost of the Canary Islands, situated just 70 miles off the coast of Africa. The island is 37 miles (60km) long and 12 miles (20 km) wide, making it the fourth largest island in the Canaries. Because it is just four degrees north of the Tropic of Cancer, it enjoys a sub-tropical climate that remains fairly stable year-round with average daytime temperatures ranging from about 21°C in January to 29°C in August. Annual rainfall is just 5.5 inches.
Lanzarote is volcanic in origin. Due to eruptions during the 18th and 19th centuries, many parts of the island appear to be from another world, often described as "lunar" or "Martian," so much so that parts of the 1970's science fiction series Planet of the Apes was shot on the island. The dry climate and lack of erosion means that the volcanic landscape appears much as it did just after the eruptions; the local tourist industry capitalizes on this fact.
Amongst the many volcanic features of Lanzarote is the longest volcanic tunnel in the world called the Atlantida Tunnel, which is over 7 km long and includes the La Cueva de los Verdes and Jameos del Agua. Today, the volcano park at Timanfaya is the islands number one tourist attraction. But 270 years ago it was the scene of the world's longest ever volcanic eruption. Father Lorenzo Curbelo, the priest of the nearby village of Yaiza, witnessed how the events started to unfold: "On the first day of September, 1730 between nine and ten o'clock at night, the earth suddenly opened near Timanfaya, two miles from Yaiza. An enormous mountain emerged from the ground with flames coming from its summit. It continued burning for 19 days. Some days later, a new abyss developed and an avalanche of lava rushed down over Timanfaya, Rodeo and part of Mancha Blanca.
"The lava extended over to the northern areas to begin with, running as fast as water, though it soon slowed down and ran like honey. On September 7th a great rock burst upwards with a thunderous sound and the pressure of the explosion forced the lava going northwards to change direction, flowing then to the north west and west north west. The lava torrent arrived, instantly destroying Maretas and Santa Catalina in the valley. On September 11th the eruption became stronger." The situation had obviously aggravated in the first week since it started, but the ordeal of the islanders had only begun and it would take six years before the eruptions finally came to an end.
Despite the history rocked by eruptions, there have been plenty of earlier visitors on the island. These include a Genoese sailor by the name of Lancelotto Malocello, who arrived here in 1312 as the first European. Some people say the island got its name from him, but other legends co-exist by its side. Another one suggests that after conquering the native inhabitants, Jean de Bethencourt, a Norman knight who arrived in 1402, celebrated his victory over the natives by throwing his broken lance into the air and shouting "lanza rota," which means broken spear.
The islanders finally surrendered on February 27, 1404, and on that day, their king Guardafia was baptized and christened Luis. Bethencourt was granted the title of king of the Canary Islands by Pope Innocent VII.
Bethencourt died in Normandy in 1422 and was succeeded by his nephew Maciot, who later turned out to be a tyrant. He established Teguise as the capital and seat of governor, but he was suspected of trying to sell the Canaries to the Portuguese, who had also laid claim to the islands, but at arbitration the pope decided in favour of the Castille. The constitution of Cadiz of 1812 abolished feudal system, and the Canaries became a province of Spain with Santa Cruz, Tenerife as the capital. In 1852, the law of free ports granted the islands immunity from customs and excise duties. They hold this status even today.
Cruise ships dock at Arrecife, which is capital of the island with 50,000 inhabitants. The island has several resorts, such as Puerto del Carmen, which is located some 20 km to the south from Arrecife, or Costa Teguise 7 km to the north.
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Other Canary Islands Cruise Ports:
Fuerteventura • La Palma • Lanzarote • Las Palmas • Tenerife
The language of the islands is Spanish, but as the islands receive visitors from many parts of Europe, you will get on with English quite well.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency in use is the euro. There are ATM's in the town center, i.e. on Calle Leon y Castilia, which is also where you will find most of the ships.
Where You're Docked
Your ship will dock at Puerto de Naos, which also handles cargo vessels. However, there is usually a shuttle bus service to Charco de San Gines, close to the town center. The journey takes about 12 minutes depending on traffic. It is hardly a scenic ride and includes some busy roads and roundabouts, so walking to town is not very pleasant.
If you feel less than energetic, take a shuttle bus from your ship to the town. You can drop the anchor at the cafes and restaurants overlooking the Charco, an inlet of water with houses painted in white and blue around it. Should you feel a bit more active, walk over the bridge along the waterfront to Calle de Leon y Castilia; this is where all the main shops of Arrecife are located. There are plenty of cafes too and it has palm trees to shelter you against the sun. Nice and cool -- literally.
The drop-off point of shuttle buses, Charco de San Gines, is not exactly attractive, but only a few hundred yards to the west lies Charco, an inlet of water with bars, restaurants and clean, tidy white buildings overlooking it. Cross the bridge and walk some three quarters of a mile and you come to Calle Leon y Castilia, the main shopping street of the town. A bit more than a mile further and you will reach a beach at Reducto. From the town center, a bus runs every 20 minutes to Puerto del Carmen. Timetables of this and other services are available at a tourist information office on the Avenida de Coll street on the seafront. The town of Arrecife itself follows the shoreline and there is little of interest to see after you come a few blocks from the waterfront. The shops, cafes and restaurants congregate near the water and so do people.
In Arrecife itself, you can visit Castillo San Gabriel, a fort dating back to 1590 and now home to the islands Ethnographic Museum. Castillo San Jose, by Puerto Marmolesat, the outer fringes the town, was built to repel pirates and alleviate poverty on the island in the wake of the major volcanic eruptions. As a result it became known as the "Fortress of Hunger." It now houses a restaurant, designed by Cesar Manrique, as well as Museum of International and Contemporary Art.
The main natural attraction of the island is the Timanfaya National Park and Montanas de Fuego (Fire Mountains). The streams of lava that covered 200 sq km have a striking appearance of petrified rivers. Once you ascend into the mountains, there are more than 300 volcanic craters. Islote de Hilario is one of the hottest parts of the islands, with ground temperature of 140C and only 20 cm beneath the surface. You will be shown how cold water poured into the ground turns at once into steam. Likewise, branches or straw placed on a hot spot first smoulder and then burst into flames. You may also ride a camel here -- but luckily, wicker basket chairs are slung over each side of the animal. The park is open each day from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Further south on the west coat is Janubio, a large circular lake located close to the shore. For a long time, it was used as a source for salt, which was obtained by evaporation. Today, only brine is produced, and the area has become a favorite hunt for bird watchers.
A lagoon called El Golfo is known for its yellow green color, and scientists are unsure why the water has that color. Some contribute this to algae, while others suggest that the green olivine, a semi-precious stone found in large quantities here, is the reason. Caves and galleries of Jameos del Agua lay at the foot of Monte de la Corona, one of the many volcanoes on the island. Cesar Manrique, the artist, turned the caves into galleries and today they feature a 600-seat auditorium, plus restaurants, cafes and a museum of volcanism. The Cesar Manrique Foundation, located in Tachice, honors the life of the artist (1919 - 1992) and features work by the artist himself, plus his collection of works by Picasso, Miro and Klee.
If shopping is what you want to focus on, just make your way to Arrecife's Calle Leon y Castila and you can start making use of your credit card. Lanzarote, together with the rest of the Canary Islands, are duty free, which means that cigarettes, alcohol and electrical goods are offered at attractive prices. Traditional crafts like embroidery and wood carving cater to those with a more traditional taste. Shoes and clothing are also sold in many shops, ranging from smaller brand-specific boutiques to large stores like Zara.
Editor's Note: This is Spain, so people like to have their siesta. In Arrecife, shops are open from 9:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. and re-open from 4:30 p.m. - 10 p.m. In Puerto del Carmen, tourism, rather than local life, sets the pace. Its shops' hours are 9:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Also, please note that shops are not open on Sundays in Arrecife, though that does not necessarily apply to Playa del Carmen.
Been There, Done That
If volcanoes and caves are not for you, then an obvious choice could be to head for one of the many beaches. Playa del Reducto is located in Arrecife about two miles to the west from the shuttle buses' drop-off point. Avenida Fred. Olsen, the seafront street, is busy with traffic, but the beach is wide enough so you can escape the noise. Cafes and restaurants along the street will come in handy when you start feeling peckish. Playa Honda is located just south of the town; Playa Papagayo and Playa Blanca at the southernmost tip of the island provide both sand and rocky headlands. Your list of choices also include the busy report areas of Playa del Carmen and Costa Teguise.
If golf is your game, then head to Teguise Golf Club (tel: 928-590512) on Costa Teguise, while windsurfers can enjoy their sport at Playa Matadora and Playa Cucharas. In case you would like to have a game of tennis, then Centro Deportivo los Fariones at Puerto del Carmen, which offers five courts, is an option (tel: 928-5147-90).
Since Arrecife is not the center of tourism on the island, the widest choice of restaurants is not in the town itself either. Puerto del Carmen again steals the show, with El Tomate (Calle los Jameos), open daily, 7.00 p.m. - 10.30 p.m. Next door, Tomatissimo with international cuisine is now well into its third decade (open daily from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.). El Cangrejo Rojo (Calle Roque Nublo; open daily at noon until 11.30 p.m) specializes in both local and international dishes, as does Casa Roja (Avenida Varadero).
If the idea of a drink or meal just before heading back to the ship sounds like a good idea, get back across the bridge over Charco and check the offerings of restaurants and bars on the eastern side of the inlet. You are likely to bump into fellow passengers from your ship here. As there are no shelters against the sun at the stop where the shuttle bus goes from, recharging the batteries before what can be a wait in searing heat may indeed be a good idea.
Mountain of Fire takes you through a barren landscape of lava. Guides will throw grass into the holes in the ground and it soon catches fire from the heat. The volcano that once destroyed life and property on the island is merely dormant today. Vineyards, surrounded by stone walls, dot the landscape. Approximately 4 hours.
Camel Ride and Fire Mountain combines the previous with half an hour's journey over volcanic dunes near the Timanfaya National Park. You'll be seated in a chair, one on each side of each beast; no previous experience is required here. Approximately 4.5 hours.
Jameos del Agua will take you to a volcanic cavern and subterranean water garden on the northern side of the island. A "concert cave" with seats for 600 and a cactus garden with 1,400 varieties on the spiky theme are featured here, all thanks to the artist Cesar Manrique that created the spectacle. Requires walking, duration about 4 hours.
Staying in Touch
Head for Calle Leon y Castilia, where you will find internet cafes to put in touch with the wider world.
For More Information
On the Web: www.lanzarote.com, www.lanzaroteguidebook.com and www.discoverlanzarote.com
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--by Kari Reinikainen, a Cruise Critic U.K. correspondent.