Mountainous Fuerteventura Landscape
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The island of Fuerteventura is the second largest of the Canary Islands -- 666 square meters -- and is located nearest to the coast of Africa as Morocco is just 65 miles away. It is the home of 75,000 people, but the goat population well exceeds the number of humans. The islanders say Fuerteventura has the best climate of the Canary Islands and it certainly does not rain much here; the island has no permanent rivers, although dry riverbeds suggest that the skies open at least occasionally. The island is mountainous, but offers good beaches and is a heaven for wind surfers thanks to strong and steady winds on the south coast.
Tourism is the biggest industry on the island, but Fuerteventura was somewhat of a late entrant on this scene as it was only in 1968 that it became a destination for package holidays. Today, the principal resorts are in the south and in the north, while Puerto de Rosario, the small capital and the place where your ship docks, is located on the northwest coast.
Puerto del Rosario was known as Puerto de Cabras (port of goats) until 1956, when it adopted its current and more pleasant name, port of the rosary. The town itself only has two sights to mention, the home of the former exile poet Miguel de Unamuno which is now a museum. The other one is the culture center (Casa de la Cultura) where exhibitions, plays and concerts are held. However, local planners recognize the need to develop the town to make it more attractive to future visitors, and there are plans to build a municipal park and a quarter to serve the tourist industry.
Although tourism started here quite late, there have been many earlier visitors. These included the guanches, a people that came from Africa and who were the first humans to inhabit the island. In 1352, missionaries from Catalonia landed on the island, but they left after only a few years. In 1402, the Norman knight Jean de Bethencourt landed here under the sponsorship of the king of Castille. His force of 63 quickly conquered most of the island, although the mountainous interior took a little bit more work to bring under Bethencourt's control. Unlike in the cases of many islands conquered by Europeans, other powers showed little interest in Fuerteventura and it has always remained under Castilian and, following the reconquista of 1492, Spanish rule.
Foreign powers may have left Fuerteventura in peace, but not the pirates that for centuries launched raids on the islands. Though the coastal areas suffered most, even Betancuria itself, in spite of being hidden between the mountains, suffered an attack in 1593. The islanders built towers to keep watch along their shores and as the attacks subsided over time, the islanders could concentrate on making their living on exporting sugar, slaves and growing grain. Thirty-eight windmills still stand today as reminders of the importance of cereals to the local economy at that time.
Puerto del Rosario, the main town, has little to offer and so it pays off to explore the island rather than stay in the town. You can get a good glimpse of this island in just a day along scenic drives through its mountainous inner regions with few signs of human activity. Expect to find great sand dunes for swimming and other outdoor activities.
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Other Western Mediterranean Cruise Ports:
Barcelona • Cannes • Capri • Corsica (Ajaccio) • Elba • Florence (Livorno) • Fuerteventura • Genoa • Gibraltar • Ibiza • La Palma • Lanzarote • Las Palmas • Lisbon • Madeira (Funchal) • Malta (Valletta) • Marseille • Monaco • Naples • Nice • Palermo • Palma de Mallorca • Portofino • Rome (Civitavecchia) • Saint-Tropez • Sardinia • Sete • Seville (Cadiz) • Sorrento • Taormina (Messina) • Tenerife • Tunis (La Goulette) • Venice • Villefranche
The island is part of Spain and the locals speak Spanish, but thanks to tourism many people speak English as well.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency in use is the euro. Puerto del Rosario and the resorts have ATM's to access cash. Banks are open from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., but travel agencies and most hotels have currency exchange facilities.
Where You're Docked
Your ship docks in Puerto del Rosario. Cruise liners still use the pier they share with cargo vessels, but a pier built solely for cruise liners is under construction and it is scheduled for completion in the autumn of 2008. The town center is about a 15 minute walk from the pier currently in use, while the new pier will take a few more minutes to walk to and is further to the west. Heavy vehicles come and go on the current pier, so caution is needed as you make your way ashore.
There is not much on offer in this department at the moment, but there are plans to construct a tourist quarter and municipal park near the new cruise pier that will be completed in the autumn of 2008. However, at this point it is uncertain when the park and quarter will be built as the municipal council needs to find the funding to build them first.
Puerto del Rosario only has 18,000 inhabitants, so it is a compact little community. There are regular bus services and fares are not high: a 30 minute ride to the resort of Corralejo in the north (bus number 6) will cost you €2.60. The frequency is one bus per hour. There are taxis on the quayside, but agree on a fare with the driver before venturing far outside the town. You can hire a bicycle at e.g. Fuerte Bike, located at Hotel Club Aldina at Playa del Jandia (tel 928 54 11 47). To call a cab in the town, call 928 85 02 16. You can rent a car from international firms or from a local company called Cicar (928 86 05 77).
The town itself doesn't have a whole lot to offer, so the best thing to do is to get on a tour and have a look further a field. In the small village of Antigua, roughly in the center of the island, you will find an 18th-century church with a ceiling reflecting the Arab influence in the region, while a mile to the north there are the gardens of El Molino de Antigua together with a restored windmill and a craft shop plus restaurant.
Venture further south and then towards the west coast and you will arrive in the village of Pajara. Its main attraction is a small church called Iglesia Nuestra Senora de la Regla that was built between 1687 and 1711. There are many different motifs decorating the glamorous stone doorway and the Virgin that stands at the altar was brought to the island, apparently by a wealthy emigrant. However, the origins of the doorway are unknown; it is not made of local stone and some research has suggested it came from Mexico. Two carved figures of snakes eating their own tails are located above the doors and Mexican Indians used this symbol in their art. The church is open from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. and in the afternoon from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m., but it is really the outside that is of interest here.
Founded in 1405, Betancuria fell victim to a pirate attack in 1593 that destroyed everything, including the church of Santa Maria, to a pile of rubble. The church itself was not rebuilt until 1691. However, Betancuria remained the capital of the island until 1834 and today the town has a few museums of interest. Casa Museo Arquebiologico contains a collection of archeological finds. Highlights here include fertility idols, an idol frieze that was discovered near La Oliva further up north and also numerous farming implements. The Centro Insular de Artesania, next to the museum, documents traditional arts and crafts. In Casa Santa Maria you can watch the local artists at work and purchase some of their products from the local shop.
Visit the village of La Oliva and the Casa Mane art center, where three exhibition halls house works by Canarian artists. On the ground level there are rooms for current exhibitions and a sculpture courtyard, while the basement contains a large contemporary art gallery. Among the permanent exhibits are the works of Alberto Manrique, perhaps the best-known local painter. A small shop sells prints and souvenirs.
On the northernmost tip of the island lie the village and resort of Corralejo. Here you will find sand dunes that now form a national park. However, two large hotels were built near the beach before the law to ban all new construction came into effect, which do not exactly enhance the scenery. You are free to walk on the dunes, but if you drive yourself make sure that you do not park your car on the sand as wardens are on constant patrol and issue €50 fine on the spot if they see one wheel of your car off the tarmac. However, there is a place along the roadside to park your car without blocking the road or becoming subject to the fine.
Been There, Done That
Fuerteventura is an excellent location to go windsurfing, surfing and kite boarding. Most of this activity takes place in the southern part of the island to the beaches at Jandia. With the trade winds blowing the whole year from the northwest, windsurfers love the place and a P.W.A. World windsurfing speed and slalom event is held here every August. There are several beaches in the north as well where you can enjoy your sport.
Golfers can head to Golf Club Fuerteventura in Jandia, with an 18-hole course, but advance booking is required (tel 928 160 034). There is another course at Costa Caleta. Scuba divers have a host of beaches to choose from, while the relatively flat northern part of the island with its dunes at Corralejo is pleasant for cycling.
The islanders produce tasty sauces, such as mojo picon (paprika and chili), mojo verde (coriander and parsley) and gofio (roasted wholemeal flour), some of which you can taste with the goat's cheese at the Centro Insular de Artesania for free.
Casual: We had lunch at Abuelo Alfredo at Valle de Santa Ines, just north of Betancuria. The locally produced tomatoes and goat's cheese were great and so was the whitefish; however those members of our tour group who opted for a steak had mixed opinions about the choice. The island gets so little rain that wine does not grow here, however the table wines that came from the mainland were very pleasant.
Traditional: Most of the restaurants on the island are in the resorts, such as Tio Bernabe in Corralejo (928 535895) that serves mainly Canarian meat dishes grilled on an open fire.
Local Eats: El Molino de Antigua (928 878041) focuses on local specialties -- try papas arrugadas, small steamed potatoes, left with their skin on and dropped in salt.
Staying in Touch
Orange Internet Cafe, Av. Grandes Playas 4, Corralejo
New Duncan Cyber Bar, Calle Gravina Nr 17 (4MB link at €2 per hour)
Best Choice for Active Types: Many operators on the island offer on-your-own windsurfing, kite surfing or just surfing. This is one of the best locations in the world for wind powered, fast and light marine sports craft. A taxi will take you to the beaches at Jandia in the southern part of the island for about €25 to €30. Pro Centre Rene Egli (928 54 74 83) at Sotavento offers a two and a half hour introductory course for about €45, including equipment rental.
Best Choice for Thrill Seekers: Take a tour that takes you from Pajara to Betancuria through the mountains; there will be a cliff on one side of your coach and a deep ravine on the other -- and it is a long way down! Be prepared for an exciting ride as the road climbs up the sides of the mountains and after a while turns into a narrow but paved single lane track. Your driver will sound the horn of the coach frequently in the sharp turns and twists to warn drivers coming from the opposite direction. The sight of the quaint little town and a change back to a proper road with two lanes is a welcome sight.
Best Choice for Nature Lovers: Corralejo is famous for scenery completely different from the rest of the island: instead of the moonscape mountains, here, seemingly endless sand dunes cover an entire headland. You can walk on the dunes, but if you arrive by car stay on the tarmac. Editor's note: If you go on your own, there is a €50 fine for coming off the road and the local authorities seem to enforce this vigorously.
Most that take in the sand dunes at Corralejo come here first, so you need to reserve quite a few hours for the tour. Fred. Olsen's excursion, for example, is five hours and also includes a guided walking tour through La Villa in the central part of the island.
For More Information
--by Kari Reinikainen, a Cruise Critic U.K. correspondent.