Lanzarote is home to the Canary Islands’ most unique and spectacular landscapes: The Fire Mountains – Timanfaya National Park. A surreal red and black Martian landscape that is simply astounding: stark, whilst at the same time, astonishingly beautiful.
Of Lanzarote’s 807 sq. km, over a quarter is covered in lava. Part of the island’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the park occupies around 50 sq. km and is the result of volcanic eruptions that took place almost 300 years ago. In order to preserve the flora and fauna of this natural masterpiece, access is strictly limited through organised and guided tours.
El Diablo (The Devil)
The park is open all year round, and whether you are travelling into the park from Yaiza or from Tinajo, the route is clearly signposted. Most tour operators organise trips here, but by renting a car, you’d have the flexibility to stay longer to eat, enjoy or explore the surrounding area.
The emblematic sculpture of El DIabloguards the entrance to the park. Legend has it that this symbol originated from a wedding that was taking place when the eruptions occurred. No sooner than the couple (son of one of the region’s richest men, and the daughter of a medicinal plant farmer) had wed, the bride was killed by a burning rock that was ejected from the Timanfaya volcano.
The devastated groom grabbed a pitchfork and with inexplicable force, managed to retrieve her lifeless body from under the rock. He carried her in his arms, along with the pitchfork, and disappeared into the smoke, as the villagers cried “poor devil.” Her blood is said to have given life to new plants among the ashes, and they were named after the couple, his name was “Aloe,” and hers, “Vera.”
Prepare to visit another planet
When you reach the car park, it’s almost as though you’ve time-travelled to another planet. The sheer power of nature is truly humbling.
There are several options of things to do, but I would recommend taking the bus tour first (included in the price). That way, you’ll gain an amazing insight into the history behind this natural wonder first hand. Tours are available in English, Spanish and German, and they stop at several points along the way for photo-opportunities (from inside the bus).
The bus steers around a very tight path, winding through volcanic passages and climbing up and navigating some of the park’s 32 craters. We’re told that the tours will soon have driverless electric buses: now that would be an amazing feat of technology!
Six years of volcanic eruptions
The eruptions began in September of 1730 with 19 days of flames. The incessant flows of lava reached temperatures of 800°C, lasting for six years. Five villages were destroyed and their inhabitants were forced from their homes, escaping to Teguise and Arrecife. What was previously a rich agricultural area was covered in smoke, dust, and hot burning lava.
The height of the bus means you have staggering views from its windows, the lava landscape extending all the way to the ocean. To the other side, the islands of La Graciosa, Alegranza, Montaña Clara and Famara cliffs stand majestically in the distance. And if you look down you can see the steep red slopes disappear into the crater’s interior.
As beautiful as it is, it must have been hell on earth at the time. Today we are left with the lava in its solid form: boulders, rocks, sharp pinnacles, swirls, rivers, flats, all in tones of black, red, grey and rust.
Life survives among the elements
You’d think that time had stood still, if it wasn’t for the hardy plant and animal life that has managed to push through; incredible when you consider the dry, intense heat of the desert climate, where the temperature fluctuates by 20°C between night and day.
There are now 800 species, including some invincible plants, lizards, birds and insects. The largest animal is the endangered Egyptian “El Guirre”vulture, which has a wing span of up to 1 metre. The smallest creature is an insect that grows up to a maximum of 1 mm in length.
The genius of Manrique
César Manrique created a place on the top of mount Timanfaya where visitors from all over the world can admire such spectacular beauty, whilst at the same time ensuring its preservation.
El Diablo Restaurant is an ingenious creation that blends art and nature, while providing magnificent views. The artist cleverly harnessed the heat from the volcano (still around 300 °C at a depth of 10 metres) by creating a furnace over which the restaurant meat is cooked. It’s the perfect photo opportunity as you enter the restaurant, where you can enjoy a coffee and snack or choose from its reasonable priced menu while admiring the spectacular views.
Just alongside the restaurant, you can also witness the impressive hot, saltwater geysers, that spout from Mount Timanfaya up to a height of 30m. Visitors stand back as a guide pours a little water in, to produce an aggressive spurt of water from within the earth’s crust. Remember to video this and impress your friends!
The guides are very well trained and have in-depth knowledge about the park. Whatever you ask, they will know the answer!
The gift shop
A visit to Timanfaya will undoubtedly stick in your mind forever, but the gift shop also offers a range of lovely keepsakes to remind you, including a range of “devil” products, local ceramics, Aloe vera items, etc.
If there’s only one place you visit in Lanzarote, it has to be the Fire Mountains. It’s a place on earth like no other.