Timanfaya National Park
The Volcano Park at Timanfaya is Lanzarote's most popular tourist attraction. Every year, close to one million people visited this unique lava scape – home to a sea of colourful dormant volcanoes and spent cones. Following a route originally defined by the island born artist and architect César Manrique.
Manrique is credited with having discerned the optimum route through the park. He also designed the restaurant which sits on top of the Islote de Hilario, where the car park and coach pick up point are. The restaurant El Diablo offers marvellous panoramic views - which are particularly impressive at sunset.
Countless comparisons to a lunar landscape have already been made. But in reality the raw landscapes of Timanfaya allow visitors to imagine what the earth might have looked like when it was first formed.
The three hundred odd years that have passed since the eruptions of 1730-1736 have not allowed much in the way of natural erosion. Even though the wind and sun can take their toll, the lava fields, seas of sand and lapilli (the black fine volcanic pebbles and stones) all retain a pristine look about them. Of course, this is helped by the fact that visitors to Timanfaya are not permitted to walk through the park so there has been little erosion by footfall or off-road vehicle.
Instead the coaches, which pick up visitors from the car park at Timanfaya, wend their way skillfully through the landscape, in some places turning on hairpin bends and assailing the flanks of the highest volcano of Santa Catalina as if it was an ordinary road.
The coach drivers stop their vehicles at numerous points along the route so that visitors can get a proper look at the variety of vistas Timanfaya has to offer. There is also a commentary throughout the tour, provided in English, Spanish and German. During which an eyewitness to the eruptions, Father Curbelo, recorded events in his diary as he watched the eruptions from his parish in Yaiza.
Such was the extent of the eruptions during these years, that although no one died, many villagers who had successfully farmed the area had to flee their homes, leaving the island altogether. So much ash and smoke was hurled into the atmosphere that the sun virtually disappeared for much of this time. Three small villages were swallowed up by the rivers of lava, which flowed across the countryside. Devastating what had been some of the most fertile and productive land on the island.
As a result, many of the inhabitants undertook journeys to the New World in search of work and a new life. The cigar trade in Cuba was helped along by many former Lanzaroteños, as were many banana and sugar plantations in countries such as Venezuela.
The sight of all this lava, in places looking like melted wax, is pretty awe-inspiring. Although the volcanoes are of the Hawaiian type, which means that the lava is slow moving and there is no pyroclastic flow of ash and suffocating debris, it is still hard to visualise quite how terrifying it must have been to see the earth in its molten liquid form. Especially if you consider that some of the slabs of rock you will see standing perpendicular to the horizon must have flown through the air and landed where they are from the force of the explosions.
The heat just below the earth's crust is still so intense that the restaurant at Timanfaya uses an opening in the ground to grill all the meat and fish they serve to diners. Go into the grill room and experience the heat for yourself.
Earth Wind & Fire
There are also several demonstrations, performed just outside the restaurant, where staff will pour water down a number of holes in the ground, only for it to burst back up again in a geyser like spout, a few seconds later. Another demonstration shows how quickly hay will catch light when exposed to the heat emanating beneath the earth.
There are several other ways of exploring this extraordinary place. If you leave the park via the road to Yaiza, there is a small visitor's centre on the right hand side of the road, where you can take a ride up the side of a volcano on a camel.
The camels are led in a crocodile, with all their riders seated in the 'English' chairs strapped across their backs. They have a most ungainly walk, as they move the front and back leg on the same side of their body at the same time - this gait accounts for the rolling movement you can see or feel when you experience this ride. As well as the camels nickname of the ship of the desert.
Admission: €8 adults, €4 children
Open: Daily 10.00 - 17.45
Camel Ride: €12 per camel