Be part of the Lanzarote sustainable love story: explore how it all came to pass, its natural and man-made magic, its wonderful beaches and the island’s wide range of experiences.
“Step off your plane onto the land that may have been the Lost Atlantis, although of course that is debatable!”
Walk in the footsteps of its first mysterious inhabitants, the Guanches, who are believed to have lived on the Canary Islands from around 1000 B.C. These people had a supreme respect for nature, worshipping Gods for thunder and the skies, amongst other deities. Today the islanders may not worship these types of Gods, but they live more harmoniously with nature, than many other communities worldwide. This special harmony has resulted in Lanzarote being a sustainable tourism love story.
Today’s sustainable love story was precarious not so long ago. The island’s immense natural assets could have been spoilt. That special lunarscape, which stretches out before you, the volcanoes that you can get lost in and crystal clear waters that lap up against Lanzarote’s pristine beaches, where you can bathe.
What’s extra special about Lanzarote is not only its beautiful natural assets, but how the islanders have taken pride in their home and struck a balance by living in harmony with nature. What has been done on Lanzarote is actually quite remarkable, as I remember its nickname in Ireland a few decades ago – Lanza-grotty…and now it has become popular for all the right reasons.
“However the outcome could have been very different”
Back in the 1960s Lanzarote started to transform from being a little fishing and agricultural community that could barely sustain its 35,000 inhabitants into a tourist destination, that had the potential to go horribly wrong. The island’s fragile ecosystem and cultural heritage could have so easily been endangered if it hadn’t been for intelligent visionary policies.
The saving grace was a strong political vision to avoid the temptation of the “get quick rich” type of tourism, that had been instigated elsewhere with devastating results. So in Lanzarote the Island Town and Country Act was passed in 1991. This led to the number of beds for tourism on the island being reduced from 250,000 to 100,000.
“Lanzarote has been a UNESCO Biosphere since 1993”
In 1993 Lanzarote was designated a UNESCO Biosphere due to its extraordinarily varied landscape, wonderful flora and fauna, along with the approach that the residents took to adapt the natural environment harmoniously.
The following year the Chinijo Archipelago was declared a marine reserve because of its rich, diverse marine biology. An area that covers over 90 km2, the archipelago comprises of five smaller islands to the north: Montaña Clara, La Graciosa, Alegranza, Roque del Oeste and Roque del Este.
Of course this designation was good news, but brought along with it challenges of managing the island’s sustainability. It certainly seems to date that Lanzarote, since those earlier days, has done an efficient job of foreseeing potential impacts of growth and regulating this, before it is too late. These policies and actions have led to Lanzarote positioning itself as a world first in sustainable tourism.
In 2015 this intriguing island became the first destination in the world to obtain the Biosphere Responsible Tourism certification. This prestigious recogition is considered to be a culmination of a policy which the Lanzarote Tourist Board had developed over the previous two years.
While the policy, no doubt, catapulted Lanzarote into achieving this honour, the island’s own abundance of natural gifts, as well as architectural and cultural ingredients have also played integral roles in this achievement. As have the natives. Lanzarote has its own natural magic, that these years of visionary policies have managed to sustain.
“Perhaps it was a case of lessons learned from nature?”
Although some of the people of Lanzarote may have been tempted by the lure of fat bank accounts that would probably have resulted from mass tourism, it’s important to remember that the ancestors of the current islanders had to learn harsh lessons from nature. Even though it may seem like a long time ago, the Timanfaya volcano erupted from 1730 to 1736. It may be almost three hundred years ago, but if you break it down into family generations, it’s not really as distant as it may seem.
The two hugely significant outcomes of this period of eruptions were the dramatic change in the landscape of Lanzarote and the origin of the idea of living respectfully and in co-operation with nature.
Regardless of how evolved we may think we are, and how our ego may trick us into feeling more powerful than nature or the animals, this is simply an illusion. When a cycle of nature brings about some type of natural disaster, we are entirely vulnerable, regardless of how intelligent or financially rich we may be.Not only did the natives of Lanzarote need to grasp these lessons from nature, but these peoples had descended from the Guanches.
The Guanches were the original inhabitants of Lanzarote and the other Canary Islands. It is believed that these first inhabitants of Lanzarote were living there around 1000 B.C. They are described as Berber-related aboriginal inhabitants, who had a system governed by chiefs. It is believed that they lived in relative isolation up until the Castilian conquest in the 14th century. Today in Arrecife, you can see statues of fine looking Guanches.
“The legacy of the volcanic eruptions of 1730-36 left behind pure natural magic. Moonlike sites and volcanic soils give Lanzarote a special otherwordly feel.”
The island is pure geology. Lanzarote’s unique landscapes make up a valuable ecosystem. Lose yourself on its pristine beaches, amongst its volcanoes and lava tubes. Today around 40% of the island is either part of a natural park or a protected space.
Lanzarote definitely has its own special spirit. You can feel it everywhere, from the pureness of the light to the heat of the volcano, and from the power of the surf to the peacefulness of the vineyards. Its abundant attractions and superb light have made it a magnet for creative types, such as painters, photographers, sculptors, writers and designers. Some even say that their dreams become more vivid when they spend time on the island.
As Lanzarote has such unique, dramatic, vibrant nature, this doesn’t entirely surprise me. I feel that whether a place like this can affect you when you’re dreaming or awake, the most important thing is that it has the potential to affect you somehow, and perhaps deeply.
As Carl Jung said about his own personal experiences of merging with nature:
“At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the procession of the seasons.”
“The magical experiences in Lanzarote don’t just stay on land. Underwater off the Coloradas Bay coast, there’s a magical undersea dance happening. “
At the Museo Atlantico, currently Europe’s only first underwater art museum, over 400-life-like sculptures stand on the ocean floor, as shoals of fish swim around them. I wonder what they must think of them!
Divers can explore the underwater museum, created by the artist Jason deCaires Taylor. Famous for his underwater creations, Jason deCaires Taylor was behind the world’s first ever underwater sculpture park, in the Caribbean just off Grenada. He also created a submerged museum off Cancún’s coast in Mexico.
“The National Park of Timanfaya – Parque Nacional de Timanfaya
The National Park of Timanfaya is home to the volcanoes which erupted between 1730 and 1736. Today you can see the 25 craters of the volcanoes, which are also called Montañas del Fuego (Mountains of Fire) – it’s a spectacular landscape of solidified lava. The National Park covers a space of 51 km2 and is located in the municipalities of Yaiza and Tinajo.
A wonderful way to explore the National Park is by camel. However if camels aren’t really your thing, there are tours in jeeps also.
The Natural Park of Volcanoes – Parque Natural de los Volcanes
A little outside Timanfaya, you can explore the Natural Park of Volcanoes, where there’s a range of different types of lava and volcanic formations.
It is an area of around 10 hectares that can be accessed from the road which goes between Yaiza and El Golfo. The park has a startling landscape, with little vegetation present, however it is home to birds and reptiles. In fact is is a Bird Protection area.
Punta Papagayo, Lanzarote
Papagayo translates into parrot, so this ancient rock formation is called Parrot Point. One of the oldest rock formations on Lanzarote, this protected area also boasts some of the island’s best beaches.
Tenegüime Protected Landscape – Paisaje Protegido de Tenegüime
This protected area in the north of the island is home to important flora, fauna and numerous volcanic rock formations. Located in the north, between the municipalities of Teguise and Haría, this is yet another one of Lanzarote’s mystical landscapes.
Crown National Monument -Monumento Nacional de la Corona
Home to endemic flora and fauna, which have adapted to the challenging environment in order to survive, the Monumento Nacional de la Corona has lava formations that include volcanic flows and tubes that date back to around 4000 years ago. It is here that the most recent eruptions occured in 1824.
La Cueva de los Verdes, Lanzarote
This is one of the most fascinating journeys you could imagine taking into the bowels of the earth! The extensive tunnel, which is formed by the Corona Volcano, has around sixteen Jameos, which are openings that allow access into different caves. The tunnel is around 6 km in length and was a place of refuge for the Guanches during slaver or pirate attacks.
Terraces of Picon, Lanzarote – Paisaje protegido de La Geria
This is the wine growing region of Lanzarote. The area covers around 30 hectares which go between Tinajo, Yaiza, San Bartolomé and Tías. The vines are protected by rows of curving walls, and planted in picón, which is a black volcanic pumice. Each year around 5 million kilos of grapes are harvested to make internationally renowned Malvasia wines.
Janubio area of scientific interest – Sitio de interés científico del Janubio
By the sea on the southern coast is a large area of salt pans, which is visiting a various species of migrating birds.
Lanzarote Man-made magic
Even though he is no longer alive, César Manrique’s presence can be felt and seen on the island of Lanzarote.
“Lanzarote is like an unframed, unmounted work of art and I hung it and held it up for all to see.” César Manrique
From an early age César Manrique had an immense passion for the island. On holidays with his family, he would spent time meditating on the reflections of the Famara cliffs in rock pools, feeling how marvellous they were. He loved Timanfaya’s twisted lavascapes and the verdant valleys of Haria. His artistic inspiration was naturally sparked by this immense connection to the island’s amazing scenery, as was his desire to ensure the preservation of all that he loved about his homeland.
As an architect, his main guiding principle was to work in harmony with his island’s nature. He brought his lifelong passion for Lanzarote into his work. César Manrique’s combines his deep desire to ensure that Lanzarote would be preserved with artistic inspiration.
By the late 1960s, the island faced the prospect of succumbing to mass-tourism. The imminent danger was that Lanzarote could be buried under a sea of concrete to “take advantage” of the promise of wealth from mass tourism.
Luckily for the island, César Manrique made the following observation:
“I believe that we are witnessing an historical moment where the huge danger to the environment is so evident that we must conceive a new responsibility with respect to the future.”
His ecological approach was almost unheard of at this time, especially in a country where developers only wished to focus on profits. At that stage his work had already made some impact, as he had created a series of murals at the airport and at the Parador in Arrecife.
Today his creations are massive tourist attractions, which clearly accentuate the island’s unique geology.