The island of Fuerteventura is the second largest of Spain's Canary Islands -- 665 square meters -- and is the closest to the coast of Africa, with Morocco just 65 miles away. Around 100,000 people call Fuerteventura home, yet the goat population exceeds the number of humans. The islanders say Fuerteventura has the best climate of the Canary Islands. It certainly does not rain much, and 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 it's heaven for windsurfers, thanks to strong and steady winds on the south coast.
Tourism is the biggest industry on the island, and Fuerteventura has been a destination for package holidays since 1968. Today, the principal resorts are in the south and 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 has two notable sites, the home of the exiled poet Miguel de Unamuno, which is now a museum. The other is the culture center (Casa de la Cultura), where exhibitions, plays and concerts are held. However, planners recognize the need to develop the town to make it more attractive to visitors, and there are plans to build a municipal park and a quarter to serve the tourist industry.
Although tourism started in Fuerteventura quite late, there were many earlier visitors. These included the guanches, a people who 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 there under the sponsorship of the king of Castile. 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.
Puerto del Rosario, the main town, has little to offer and so it pays off to explore 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, where there are few signs of human activity. Expect to find great sand dunes, swimming and other outdoor activities.
The town center surrounds the pier, so it is a very short walk to shops, cafes and banks.
Open Art Gallery: While the town doesn't have a lot to offer, you might enjoy checking out the more than 100 interesting life-size sculptures, spread throughout the town.
Las Rotundas shopping center: This complex in the town center has three floors of shops and restaurants. These do not close for the siesta like most of the other shops in town. It is, however, closed on Sundays. (Franciso Pi y Arsuaga, 2)
Antigua: Many visitors choose to take a tour further afield. In this small village roughly in the center of the island, you will find an 18th-century church with a ceiling reflecting the Arab influence in the region. A mile to the north are the gardens of El Molino de Antigua, together with a restored windmill used to produce ground maize and a craft shop plus restaurant. The complex includes a cactus garden and other indigenous Fuerteventura flora, plus a craft shop, a mill and various small galleries. (Antigua Windmill Craft Centre, Centro de Artesania, Molino de Antigua; open 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays and Sunday)
Pajara: Venture toward the west coast, and you will arrive in this village. Its main attraction is a small church called Iglesia Nuestra Senora de Regla that was built between 1687 and 1711. There are many motifs decorating the glamorous stone doorway, and the virgin who stands at the altar was brought to the island, apparently by a wealthy emigrant. (Church open 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily)
Betancuria: Founded in 1405, this town fell victim to a pirate attack in 1593 that reduced everything to a pile of rubble, including the church of Santa Maria, which 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 (C/Roberto Roldan, Betancuria; 928 87 82 4; open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday) contains a collection of archaeological finds. Highlights include fertility idols, an idol frieze that was discovered near La Oliva and 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 artists at work and purchase their products from the shop.
Corralejo: This resort village sits on the northernmost tip of the island. You will find sand dunes that form a national park (two large hotels built near the beach before a law to ban new construction do not enhance the scenery). You are free to walk on the dunes, but if you drive to the dunes, do not park your car on the sand. Wardens are on constant patrol and issue fines on the spot if they see one wheel of your car off the tarmac. There is a place along the roadside to park without blocking the road or becoming subject to the fine.
Baku Waterpark: For youngsters, the park near Corralejo is a treat, with an array of water chutes, slides and flumes. It has an 18-hole mini-golf course, too. ((618 308 818; open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; adult tickets 15 euros, children 11 euros and younger than 4 free)
Diving: Corralejo also has sites to suit beginners and the experienced diver. Dive Center Corralejo (928 53 59 06) offers single dives, including equipment, from 36 euros.
La Oliva: Visit this village and the Casa Mane art center, where three exhibition halls house works by Canarian artists. On the ground level, there are rooms for exhibitions and a sculpture courtyard, while the basement contains a large contemporary art gallery. The works of Alberto Manrique, perhaps the best-known local painter, are among the permanent exhibits. A small shop sells prints and souvenirs. (928 86 82 33; open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily in summer and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday in winter)
Water Sports: Fuerteventura is an excellent location for windsurfing, surfing and kiteboarding. Most of takes place on the southern part of the island. With the trade winds blowing the whole year from the northwest, windsurfers love the place and a world windsurfing speed and slalom event is held there every August.
Golfing: Head to the 18-hole Golf Club Fuerteventura course in Jandia, but advance booking is required (928 160 034). There is another course at Costa Caleta (Golf Club Salinas de Antigua).
By Bus: There town has regular bus service. A 30-minute ride to the resort of Corralejo in the north (bus No. 6) will cost you 3.10 euros. The bus arrives once an hour.
By Taxi: Taxis are found on the quayside. Agree to a fare with the driver before venturing far outside town.
By Bicycle: You can hire a bicycle at FuerteBike, bookable through most hotel reception desks on the island. (629 362 795)
By Car: You can rent a car from local companies Cicar (928 86 05 77),
Avia Car (928 54 09 29) and Pepecar (902 99 66 66).
Beaches on the island range from family-friendly to those ideal for windsurfing or walking. Almost all are public, so there are no fees.
Best for a Beach Day: Corralejo's sandy beach is super clean and ideal for relaxing. There are bars on the beach and sun loungers to rent.
Closest to Town: Jandia beach is a Blue Flag-rated beach, which means that it's environmentally outstanding. That makes it ideal for families with children and has four beach bars on the sand.
Best for Active Types: Las Playitas beach, in the resort of the same name, and is popular with surfers.
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 free of charge with goat cheese at the Centro Insular de Artesania.
Casual: Abuelo Alfred serves excellent dishes made from local produce. The island gets so little rain that vines do not grow, although the restaurant sells palatable table wines. (Calle Real; 928 87 87 64; open noon to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday)
Traditional: Most of the restaurants on the island are in the resorts, such as Restaurante Tio Bernabe in Corralejo It serves mainly Canarian meat dishes grilled on an open fire. (Calle La Iglesia 9; 928 535895; open noon to midnight daily)
Local Eats: Molino de Antigua is surrounded by lush gardens. Food focuses on local specialties -- try papas arrugadas, small steamed potatoes, left with their skin on and covered in salt. (Carretera de Antigua; 928 878041; open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday)
Your ship docks in Puerto del Rosario, the capital of the island that has around 40,000 inhabitants. The harbor is the oldest part of town and is predominantly an industrial area. A new cruise ship pier was constructed features a rebuilt promenade with cafes and a tourist information center. Work is underway to construct a new marina, as of 2014.
The euro is the currency. Several ATMs are located in Puerto del Rosario and at resorts. For updated currency-conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. Banks are open from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., but travel agencies and most hotels also have currency-exchange facilities. Credit cards are widely accepted. When paying by credit card, you may be asked to show your passport.
The island is part of Spain, and the locals speak Spanish, but many people in the tourist industry speak English, as well.
Local crafts make a good buy for yourself or to take home, such as embroidered table linen, blankets, wickerwork products, pottery, and straw hats. If you're musically inclined, then it might be worth your while to have a look at the violins and guitars which are on sale throughout the island.