Guatiza

The village of Guatiza is best known as the location of Lanzarote's famous Cactus Garden. But Guatiza has much more to offer than just cacti alone - as the village and its environs are also home to a number of lesser known attractions and sights which lie well off the beaten track. 

 

General Information

Background History

Guatiza was once in fact two separate and distinct villages. The original conurbation, St Margarita, evolved during the early 16th century on a hillside outside the current village. On what is today the site of the local cemetery.

During the 17th century another settlement – Christo de los Aguas (Christ of the Water) – was established close by, on the site of current day Guatiza. And the two villages were connected by a small bridge, called The Bridge of The Fields.

Old Canarian house in GuatizaThe modern day village of Guatiza was effectively created by a merger between these two separate parishes. As the residents of Santa Margarita decided to abandon their homes on the hillside, after repeated raids by Berber and Moor pirates. Their bright white lime painted houses having acted as a beacon for these raiders on repeated occasions – making their hillside homes clearly visible from the sea.

Farming Past

The lower-lying village of Guatiza and its surrounding fields offered better protection from the prevailing North East trade winds as well as from pirate raids. Thanks to the sheltering effect of four volcanoes; Guenia, Tinamala, La Caldera and Las Calderetas that surround the village.

This created a more hospitable living environment for the Santa Margarita emigrés – as well as better conditions for the cultivation of a variety of crops, such as chickpeas, onions and maize. Which grew more abundantly and were more flavoursome than those harvested from the old hillside terraces.

The widespread existence of farming in this region accounts for the remnants of many aljibes (water deposit tanks) locally – which allowed these seemingly inhospitable areas to be cultivated. And even today many of these old structures continue to collect and preserve precious water supplies effectively.


Sightseeing in Guatiza

Today, Guatiza is every inch the archetypal, sleepy little Canarian village. With a population of around 800 people – including a high proportion of emigrés from Northern Europe – most visibly from Germany and the UK.

Windmill in GuatizaBut whilst it is undeniably quiet and peaceful the village still offers plenty of attractions for visitors. Such as pretty streets and squares, old windmills and architecture, a rugged coastline with secret swimming pools and salt flats – and of course the star attraction of the Cactus Garden.

Just outside Guatiza there’s also a little known and surprisingly picturesque sandstone mine. To find it leave the LZ1 motorway heading north and take the exit sign posted for Guatiza and the Cactus Garden.

Unusual Geology

Where you’ll immediately see the remnants of an old picon mine in the side of the volcano, Mount Guenia. Park here and follow the pathway around the side of the hill for around 100 metres and the mouth of the sandstone mine soon becomes clearly visible up ahead. With a distinctive mass of red walls and visible traces where bricks were once cut and extracted.

Not far from this former mine, you will see the large Barranco de la Espoleta which over centuries has carved a large crevice through the countryside, running all the way down through El Mojon and to the sea, past another former quarry just outside the nearby village of Teseguite, where there are now a number of weirdly weathered and shaped sandstone sculptures.

This and the Barranco de Teneguime are two very deep gullies , suggesting large volumes of water used to flow down from the steep massif of the Peñas del Chache. The Barranco de Teneguime is the gully you can see immediately below the wind turbines as you drive on the motorway to the north of the island.

Back in the centre of Guatiza life still revolves around the atmospheric main square – which is dominated by the impressive 17th Century village church. Whose distinctive twin bell tower is clearly visible from the main eucalyptus lined road that runs through Guatiza. This is the heart of the village and the focal point for local fiestas and festivals.

Park up here and wander around the streets running off from the square. Which still boast plenty of fine examples of Canarian architecture. As well as plenty of land which is still given over to the cultivation of the Tunera cactus.


Beetle Juice

Fields of cacti near GuatizaFor a period this bought a good deal of economic prosperity to the village. As the Tunera cacti is irresistible to the cochineal beetle – a parasitic insect that feeds on the leaves of the plant. The vegetable juice they extract is like a drug for these bugs, who then blissfully loll around on the spiny leaves, reproducing and laying larvae.

The art of extracting cochineal dye from these beetles was imported into the Canary Islands from the New World in the 16th Century. And by the 1800´s was a booming industry. Fuelled primarily by demand from Britain – where the growth of the textile industry and the expansion of Empire -and its redcoat army – started to create a massive demand for carmine coloured dyes.

Sadly though this period of prosperity faded away all too quickly. Thanks to the discovery by William Henry Perkin of the first synthetic dye stuff in 1856.