There are seven municipalities of Lanzarote. We describe each of them, together with a little history below.
Arrecife covers an area of around 28 square kilometers and 60,000 people (around 40% of the island’s population) live in the city.
The port did not establish itself until the fifteenth century when the island began to trade with Spain and other nations. The harbour area was the best on Lanzarote, and Arrecife quickly became the gateway to Teguise, which was then the capital. Less salubrious inhabitants of Arrecife at this time included slave traders and pirates, preying on the busy shipping routes. This proved a problem for local inhabitants who left the island in droves until they were stopped by a Royal Decree preventing emigration!
A wooden fort was built to protect the port in the late 1500’s, but it was burned down after only a few years, to be replaced by the present Castillo San Gabriel, which was designed by the Italian engineer Leonardo Torriani. His design included the now famous Puente de las bolas, or “Ball Bridge” which appears in so many photographs.
The year 1722 almost put paid to Arrecife for ever. The area was hit by a storm of such intensity that almost all the buildings were destroyed and many families left Lanzarote for good. Strangely, the massive eruptions of 1730 lead to Arrecife being re-established by people displaced from their homes in Yaiza.
In 1778 The Castillo San José was built to overlook the fishing harbour and to provide further protection from foreign ships. The island was famously attacked by some British privateers during this period, and local inhabitants fought them bravely using camels. It seems that the British won the day, but soon left, realising that there was nothing of value to claim.
The early 1800’s saw the church of San Ginés consecrated, and the population rose to about 5000, making it by far the largest town on the island, and leading it to be made the capital in 1852, with the construction of a new town hall. Trade consisted almost exclusively of fishing at this time, and the catch was salted on arrival at the port, and put out for display.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Arrecife became the focal point of Lanzarote, with all the islanders visiting the capital to sell their produce, or to meet the twice weekly mail boats, or even to marvel at the new-fangled oil powered street lamps!
Arrecife evolved along at a steady pace through latter years, being indirectly affected by the tourism explosion of the 1970’s – locals having much more money to spend in the capital’s shops.
The fire which swept through The Gran Hotel in 1994 remains shrouded in mystery, but the building has recently been fully restored and is now open again as a five star hotel, with a spectacular top floor restaurant.
Today the city continues to be a thriving fishing and cargo port, as well as playing host to more and more cruise ships stopping en route across the Atlantic. El Reducto Beach must be one the few “inner city” beaches in the world, and there is a huge sports stadium in town which offers Canarian Wrestling, a full athletics set-up and is the home of our local football team UD Lanzarote, who are currently in the Spanish second division B.
The main shopping street (Calle Leon Y Castillo, but known locally as Calle Real) has been pedestrianised and has shops to suit every need and budget, and the seafront area to the west of the town has been transformed into a beautiful park for promenading. There is also a skate board park, and numerous children’s play areas.
The man-made tidal lake known as El Charco de San Ginés is a great place to walk and has a number of restaurants and bars around its perimeter. Night life is varied and interesting, reflecting the multi-cultural aspect of the city. There can’t be many places in the world where you can find a Japanese Restaurant opposite a Tapas Bar and adjacent to a Pizza place!
Arrecife is certainly a modern and thriving city now, having endured many hardships over the years. But the old traditions remain: Early evening is promenading time, with whole families out for a stroll and a drink, you can regularly catch a game of Bolas at the end of the main road into town, and Sunday mornings are all about sailing model yachts in the harbour.
At the centre of the municipality, one finds the town of Haría, known locally as “The valley of a thousand palms.” Legend has it that two palm trees were planted for each boy child born in the town, and one for each girl. The town is certainly the lushest municipality of Lanzarote, being in a valley which gathers any rainwater from the surrounding mountains.
The town came to prominence in the early 1900’s, when the mayor Don Domingo Lopez Fontes sanctioned the design of the town centre, which remains as he intended today. There is a beautifully shaded square, planted with magnificent trees, which provides a delightful area to walk, or to enjoy a drink or meal.
The coast of the municipality features the town of Mala, which is full of the amazing Prickly Pear cactus fields. The plants were cultivated to provide an environment for the Cochineal Beetle, provider of a red dye used to colour both food and textiles. The dye was one of Lanzarote’s major exports prior to tourism. Mala is also home to Charco de Palo, a well known naturist resort.
Moving a little way north along the coast is the town of Arrieta, which has a superb sandy beach, as well as a long pier ideal for fishing. The bay here is ideal for snorkelling when calm, but safe for learning to surf when the waves are higher. The facilities on the beach are better than most, with showers, toilets and a small bar / restaurant. Visit Arrieta on a Sunday, and you will find the beach full of local families enjoying a swim and some Paella or tapas from the little bar.
Órzola is in the far north of Haría, and is a fishing village most famous for several fabulous fresh fish restaurants. The ferry to the island of La Graciosa departs from here several times a day.
Haría boasts a high number of Lanzarote’s best tourist attractions. Near Mala, there is the amazing cactus gardens, and a little way north one can find the Jameos del Agua and Cueva de los Verdes. The former is a tranquil testament to the skill of César Manrique and the latter is a spectacular volcanic cave system. The best view on the island is available at The Mirador del Río, and exotic birds can be seen at Guinate Tropical Park.
A trip to Haría and its towns will soon dispel the myth that Lanzarote is a barren, volcanic rock – the gorgeous green scenery provides a wonderful contrast to our normal landscape.
San Bartolomé is the area most often forgotten when people are asked to name the different parts of the island. The municipality stretches from Playa Honda on the coast and travels inland through the town of San Bartolomé, encompassing Montaña Blanca and then peters out inland before Tinajo.
Amazingly, almost every visitor to Lanzarote passes through San Bartolomé, although few realise it. This is a function of the fact that the airport lies within its borders! The airport itself is a work of brilliant design. Despite having a runway long enough to permit Concord a visit (and yes she has been here) and despite handling a huge number of flights, the airport’s low rise structure means it does not appear as a blot on the landscape. It is a delightful place for plane spotters, as a beach runs along the full length of the runway, allowing one to enjoy the sun as well as getting within 100 metres of aircraft taking off and landing. I have counted as many as 6 planes in the pattern at any one time, with two ready for take-off.
Moving to the North of the airport the first area one will find is Playa Honda. This is the residential and commercial heart of the island. Play Honda has a fabulous beach, with some excellent bars and restaurants right on the front, and a great deal of housing almost exclusively occupied by full-time residents. It’s a great place for locals to escape the tourists for a few hours! As one nears the circunvalacion the area becomes much more commercial, with the fabulous Deiland shopping centre, The Mega Centro department store, as well as numerous supermarkets and car showrooms. A visit to this area at the start of the evening shopping session often provides a rare experience for this island – a genuine traffic jam!
The inland part of San Bartolomé consists mainly of the town itself. This again is largely residential, and has expanded fast in recent years, offering easy access to Arrecife and Puerto del Carmen, whilst having the benefit of offering superb sea views due to its height.
Beyond the town the road to Tinajo is largely rural, with fields of sweet potatoes being very common. The local inhabitants were called Los Batateros (the sweet people) as a result, during the last century.
The only tourist attraction within the Municipality is the Monumento al Campesino, which was placed at the exact centre of Lanzarote, by Cesar Manrique, as a tribute to the working people of the island. The monument itself is an amazing design, and there is a museum which depicts life in rural Lanzarote before tourism. There is also a restaurant serving typical Canarian food. Well worth a visit!
Teguise (or La Villa de Teguise)town was originally the capital of the island, and is the municipality of Lanzarote that can be found almost in the centre of the island. As such the town was subjected to numerous invasions and sackings during the 15th and 16th century, which eventually lead to the building of the fort which now dominates the area.
The town is now best known for the splendid Sunday Market which is attended every week by thousands of locals and tourists. As well as local goods and produce the market offers a huge variety of purchases ranging from tacky Lanzarote rock to fake designer watches and sunglasses, as well as some good quality local produce.
The man-made resort of Costa Teguise has been built up dramatically over recent years and is now Lanzarote’s second busiest resort area, with masses of bars, restaurants, shops and hotel and apartment complexes. The King of Spain had a magnificent holiday home there, which is still known locally as “The King’s House.”
Also within the municipality, one can find Tahiche, where César Manrique once lived. His home is now the headquarters of the Foundation named in his memory and a spectacular place to visit, built over five volcanic bubbles.
Cutting across to the west will bring one to Tiagua, once a centre for growing high quality tobacco, and now a sleepy traditional village.
For many people the municipality of Tías is the jewel in Lanzarote’s crown, with the main town being the fabulous resort of Puerto del Carmen.
Tías used to be called Las Tías de Fajardo or The aunts of Fajardo – this related to the two ladies who had a house in the area, Donas Francisca and Hernan Fajardo, who were the aunts of Alonso Fajardo, once Governer of The Canaries. In recent times the name became shortened to its current version.
The town of Tías itself is set on the hill above Puerto del Carmen, and features some of the best views on the island. It is home to a thriving multi-national theatre and has some good restaurants and bars. From Tias, the villages of Conil and La Asomada boast some truly stunning villas set into the hillside.
Puerto del Carmen was once a simple fishing port, and the harbour remains intact in what is now known universally as The Old Town. Tourism arrived here first in the 1970’s, when entrepreneurs recognised the potential of the miles of sandy beaches and the potential for building lots of property within a few minutes walk of them. The first hotel built was Los Fariones, which remains one of the island’s best places to stay. The Strip – the road which runs all along the seafront – now has many, many bars, restaurants and shops which offer a huge variety of music, tastes and duty-free bargains. The road runs for 5KM, with beach all the along, and eventually merges with Matagorda near the airport. Puerto del Carmen is also the host town for the world famous Ironman competition, in which competitors swim, ride bikes and finally run a marathon along The Strip. Behind the main beach road, there are scores of apartment complexes and hotels, all designed and built in Lanzarote’s inimitable low rise style.
Tías provides a wonderful contrast within its borders, ranging from the thriving tourist centre at Carmen to the Million Euro mansions of La Asomada – it’s no wonder that it remains the resort of choice for most people visiting Lanzarote.
The municipality of Tinajo is situated on the northern half of the island and encompasses the town of Tinajo, as well as the famous Famara beaches.
Historically it was always a difficult area for farmers due to the very sandy soil, but encouraged by the local priest who proved that crops could grow, using his own fields, the farmers cultivated the area intensively during the 17th century.
At the time of the volcanic eruptions in 1736, the local townspeople were terrified that the lava would engulf their now fertile land and their priest organised a procession from Mancha Blanca to meet the lava flow and to invoke the help of the virgin to stop it. The crowd went to the very edge of the flow, planted a cross and prayed fervently that the flow should stop. They promised God that they would build a church on the spot if it should do so. The next day the lava turned away from the fields, and the people of Tinajo forgot their promise.
Many years later in 1774 a young goatherd, Juana Rafaela Acosta, was approached by a woman and told to let her parents know that if the church was not built as promised, the volcano would again erupt. She told her parents but they chided her for making up stories. The woman duly appeared again, this time leaving a “shadow” of her hand on the girl’s shoulder. This time her parents took her to the church, where she identified the woman as The Virgin Nuestra Señora de los Dolores. The church was built and the virgin was proclaimed Señora de los Volcanes (Lady of the Volcanoes).
The town of Tinajo is thriving today, with some of the loveliest houses on the island. Driving down the hill takes one to the fabulous Famara beach, which has spectacular cliffs hanging above golden sand. The surf here is legendary, but also very safe as the water is not deep.
Club La Santa is also in the municipality, and provides a wonderful venue for many top international athletes, as well as acting as main sponsor and host for the legendary IronmanTriathlon Competition.
The municipality of Yaiza offers some of the most beautiful and indeed, typical vistas of Lanzarote. The best place to view this area is from the mountain viewpoint at Femés. Looking to the right one can see the stunning Montañas del Fuego, scanning to the left one can spot the water spouts at Los Hervideros, followed by the green lagoon and salt pans at El Golfo. In the centre of the picture you will see the rapidly expanding resort of Playa Blanca, with Fuerteventura shimmering in the distance, and finally, all the way around to the right one will spot the beaches at Papagayo.
A trip down the new road from Yaiza will bring you into Playa Blanca, which was, until recently, a sleepy fishing village. In the past few years Playa Blanca has grown almost beyond recognition, with high class hotels and some of the most beautiful villas on the island sprouting up. The fabulous Marina Rubicón was completed in 2004 and is now a thriving harbour with lots of bars, restaurants, shops and nightlife. There are plans for a number of golf courses on the plain around the town. The beaches at Papagayo are some of the best on Lanzarote, and can be reached via a long and sometimes rough track, or boat taxi but the uncomfortable trip is certainly worth it!
A little way along the coast towards Puerto del Carmen, you will find Puerto Calero, which is fast becoming the yachting centre of The Canaries, and plays host to some truly magnificent boats. There is both a five star and a four star hotel in the resort now, and Puerto Calero is also home to some of the island’s best boat trips, ranging from jet skis to sailing catamarans, and the famous Yellow Submarine.
El Golfo provides one of the few black-sand beaches on the island, as well as being home to the amazing lagoon, which is set inside one half of a volcano – the other half having been eroded by the action of the sea. The vivid green colour is caused by a type of friendly bacteria.
Los Hervideros is found just beyond El Golfo, and is on the Northern coast of the island. A man-made path winds between the lava, and onto balconies jutting right over the sea. When the tide or the wind is up, the sea crashes into holes on the lava rock, creating amazing water spouts.
Heading towards Yaiza, the views of Timanfaya (The Montañas del Fuego) are unforgettable, with the changing colours of the sand reflecting the sunlight, and providing a stark contrast with the black volcanic lava.
Yaiza itself is so beautiful, it doesn’t look real. Every house is so neat, the garden so perfect and the backdrop of the mountain provides a fantastic photographic canvas. At Christmas Yaiza always produces the best nativity scene (Belén) produced on the island, each year it seems to become more and more complex and detailed, but it always provides one of those “lump in the throat” moments.
Book an excursion to some of Lanzarote’s fabulous places: Lanzarote Excursions.