As the Spanish would say, I’m ‘inquieto’. I have a restless spirit that means that I just love to explore; and when it comes to visiting a new place, it’s rewarding to discover the hidden aspects of a destination.
So my first trip to Fuerteventura was an opportunity to get to know the second largest of the Canary Islands. For a holiday in the sun, many don’t want to hit the highways or byways of this volcanic island; but instead head to the beach. It is hard to argue with that approach, especially when you consider that the Canary Islands have one of the world’s most temperate and agreeable climates. Fuerteventura boasts an average temperature of 25 degrees centigrade, and some 3,000 hours of sunshine a year. It’s basically pretty much a sure thing you’ll enjoy plenty of sunshine on your holiday, whatever the season.
Beyond the beach
Before I arrived I had a few ideas of what to expect. I knew that the wild Atlantic wind that sweeps across this low-lying island has made Fuerteventura a favourite amongst the surf and kiteboarding fraternity. I also recalled seeing images of the island’s striking landscapes of broad beaches, volcanic peaks and vast sand dunes - but I also anticipated an island highly developed for mass tourism, a destination for inexpensive beach holidays where visitors rarely leave their all-inclusive resorts.
Yet within moments of leaving the airport, it was clear that this sparsely populated island is far from over developed. The country road north from the capital runs close to the coast, cutting through a rocky and craggy volcanic landscape, alive with colour from the stones, lava and flowering shrubs.
As I drove north, the empty road continued, as if directly towards the ‘Montaña Roja’, a vertiginous remnant of the island’s fiery and violent creation. It’s the type of scene that could only be in the Canary Islands - offering a feeling of space, light and nature that directly contradicts any perceptions of Fuerteventura as over-developed.
I soon arrived at Corralejo’s natural park. It had been a long-standing desire to see first-hand the huge, dynamic sand dunes of this part of the island; to be awed by the wind-sculpted landscape, echoing the Sahara.
Before the area was protected, developers, sadly, had managed to scar a portion of this magical terrain, building two monolithic concrete hotel blocks; yet overall the huge area is largely untouched and quite extraordinary. The adjacent shoreline and beautiful beaches, including the popular El Caserón beach, and the Playa Grande that stretches for kilometres, have small bays popular with beginner surfers.
The nearby village and port is the go-to place for boat trips, snorkelling excursions and visits to the nearby Lobos Island, an uninhabited, volcanic remnant, offering yet more beaches and surfing.
The Gran Hotel Atlantis Bahía Real is between the village port of Corralejo and the natural park. Although offering family-friendly holiday packages, it avoids that clichéd Canarian holiday experience. From its colonial architecture, its staff in traditional folk dress, to local cuisine in the restaurants, this resort looks to celebrate its provenance rather than offer little England in the sun.
On my first night, I fell asleep in my sea-view room to the sound of Atlantic waves hitting the shore; happy to have begun exploring this lesser-known Canary island.
To truly shatter any remaining misconceptions about Fuerteventura, one must travel inland. The early settlers of the island lived a humble life, and goats became an integral part of Fuerteventura’s economy and culture. The simple ‘campo majorero’ of those early goat farmers still exists across the island, in huge swathes of protected terrain.
For a quintessential countryside experience, I stayed a night at the Mahoh Rural Hotel. A 19th century house with traditional volcanic stone walls, this rustic B&B with an informal restaurant, offered a place where one can mix with a chilled crowd; visitors interested in hiking, nature and local food.
From Hotel Mahoh it’s a 40-minute winding drive to the former capital, Betancuria. This charming, although unashamedly touristy village, is within the valley of Vega del Río Palmas, a truly striking landscape that combines rocky outcrops, with a meandering dry river bed, surrounded by old palm trees. This is the epicentre of the island’s hiking routes. Here you have access to the unspoilt countryside and the chance to pass historic architecture such as the neoclassic 18th century church, La Ermita y Santuario de Nuestra Señora de la Peña. This area offers a snapshot of period life in Fuerteventura that is hard to reconcile with the resorts of Morro Jable in the south - it is like two different worlds.
Yet even in the developed south, one can easily leave the resorts, and within moments be within the largest natural park on the island, the Jandia Peninsula. If you’re adventurous, hire a cross-over type rental car and take the mountain pass through the rocky, other-worldly landscape across the peninsula, and down to Cofete. The views are exceptional. You will be rewarded with some of the most striking and iconic vistas of the island, and what’s more, once down by the beaches at Cofete you will have a glimpse at the world of surf. These beaches are not for bathing; but the impressive breaking waves provide great conditions for surfers honing their skills.
Coast to coast
For more photogenic coastline, but with easier access, visit El Cotillo, on the north-west coast of the island. High cliffs go on for kilometres, leading down to broad beaches with breaking waves and plenty of white water. From the village, there is a stony track you can hike or take a car down for a few kilometres, to discover the relatively peaceful El Aljibe de la Cueva beach.
With a long weekend or a typical week’s holiday there is time to not only find a favourite from Fuerteventura’s 150 beaches, but also head inland to discover its culture, history and landscapes.