Live like a local: beating the tourist trap on the Canary Islands

The best way to enjoy the Canaries is island hopping, mixing up a wide range of holiday experiences like a native, writes Denise O’Donoghue.
Live like a local: beating the tourist trap on the Canary Islands

A view of the beach and boat during the ‘I love La Graciosa experience’.

The Canary Islands are a beloved holiday destination for Irish people, but have you ever wondered how a Canarian holidays on their sun-kissed isles? From ‘popcorn beaches’ to the best surfing spots, and an all-day party boat to unwind, I spent a week enjoying Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and La Graciosa like a local — and it might change how you holiday there.

We touched down in Fuerteventura and went straight to Restaurant Villa del Mar in Costa Calma where we dined overlooking some of the best beaches the island has to offer. The Sotavento beaches are long stretches of golden sand and are a
breathtaking sight for the newly arrived, but at this stage, we were just scratching the surface of what the island has to offer.

Throughout our stay, Fuerteventura was described to us by our guide and by locals as a more easy-going, chilled-out Canary Island. While nearby Lanzarote is a popular destination for families and other holidaymakers, Fuerteventura is an island for fun.

It is a great location for surfing, with its wild Atlantic waves reaching the perfect peak for surfers to enjoy. And although the other islands are known for relaxing too, Fuerteventura is a much more chilled-out environment.

Barceló Corralejo Bay in Fuerteventura
Barceló Corralejo Bay in Fuerteventura

We stayed at Barceló Corralejo Bay which was perfectly located to explore the island, from the picturesque historic capital of Betancuria to some of the more rugged offerings on the island.

One route took us to Presa de las Peñitas, a scenic hike up to a manmade dam and a viewing point overlooking a breathtaking vista, so otherworldly and ancient it has been used as a filming location in Marvel’s The Eternals as well as in Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings.

Another area of Fuerteventura that seems straight out of a film set is Corralejo Natural Park, where sandy dunes cover the land as far as the eye can see. It is a fun and challenging walk across the golden plains — at some points you’ll feel like you’re standing in a desert, despite the proximity of the sea. It’s a great spot to channel your inner Timothée Chalamet or Zendaya and practice a Dune-style sand walk.

Denise O'Donoghue at Corralejo Natural Park, Fuerteventura
Denise O'Donoghue at Corralejo Natural Park, Fuerteventura

While the dunes are a great photo opportunity, they aren’t the only Instagram-worthy location on the island.

The Ajuy Natural Monument is believed to be the first area in the Canary Islands archipelago that came to the surface after the volcanic eruptions that created the islands. It offers spectacular views and some amazing natural caves. A natural stone archway is possibly the most photographed spot there and makes for a stunning picture. It’s not a secret though, so be prepared to queue for that view if you’re there during peak season.

Nearby is the gorgeous black sand Ajuy beach, one of many black sand strands around the island, the sand created from volcanic rock and a beautiful contrast to the white foam of the breaking waves. It is a natural spectacle worthy of a visit, and best experienced from nearby cliffs.

After working up an appetite at many of these locations, food will be an important factor during your visit. Now, hear me out: have you tried goat? While you may turn your nose up, goat is quite a delicacy in Fuerteventura and if you want to experience the island like a local, give it a try. 

Some restaurants that serve the best goat dishes that the locals swear by include Luchador Tino Matoso in Valles de Ortega and Restaurante Don Pepe in La Olivia. You’ll be shocked by how much you enjoy the delicacy — and if you like eating lamb, you’ll probably love goat. Another local dish for meat lovers is the Secreto Iberico, a juicy and tender cut of pork from a pig’s neck.

Denise O'Donoghue holding 'popcorn' at the beach at Majanicho, Fuerteventura
Denise O'Donoghue holding 'popcorn' at the beach at Majanicho, Fuerteventura

Speaking of local gems, we travelled to the fishing villages in the north of the island, one of the places on the island where locals like to holiday. It is a beautiful and remote area and one of the highlights of our visit was a trip to Majanicho, a tiny village which has a ‘popcorn beach’. Here, the rhodoliths at first glance appear to be covered with popcorn. Although no doubt salty, they are certainly not a cinema snack — each piece of ‘popcorn’ is actually a piece of algae whitewashed and shaped by the sea and very definitely not edible. 

The waves here are also ideal for surfing. You could easily spend the entirety of your holiday in one place, but island hopping is so quick and easy it would be a shame to stay put. The ferry from Corralejo to Playa Blanca in Lanzarote takes less than 30 mins and brings you right into a hub of activity.

The four-star Seaside Los Jameos Playa in Puerto del Carmen
The four-star Seaside Los Jameos Playa in Puerto del Carmen

We stayed at the four-star Seaside Los Jameos Playa in Puerto del Carmen, a popular area for Irish tourists. The hotel offers a perfect location beside the beach near the hustle and bustle of the town but just removed enough to offer peace and quiet.

There are plentiful food and drink options — the buffet breakfast was a particular highlight — and entertainment is available in the hotel’s bars and nightclub. It is a great base for any kind of traveller, from a couple’s break to a family holiday.

While you could happily enjoy your stay within Los Jameos’ walls, more bars and restaurants are a short walk or taxi ride from the hotel including Cafe La Ola, where we enjoyed dinner with a panoramic view overlooking the ocean followed by a great start to a night out downstairs with drinks, music and an electric atmosphere. Another gorgeous place to eat is Arenas Lounge, a secluded poolside dining spot offering dishes of local produce. Both venue and menu are picture-perfect.

For daytime trips, Lanzarote has plenty on offer. Some excursions perfect for families include the Green Caves and Jameos del Agua. The caves offer a mysterious and magical odyssey through the earth and are a delightful experience — there’s even a surprise towards the end of the tour that will catch you off guard. 

The nearby Jameos del Agua is a volcanic tube transformed by César Manrique, a Spanish artist from Lanzarote. His fingerprints are all over the island’s design features, but particularly here. Both locations would captivate children and adults alike.

No visit to Lanzarote is complete without a pilgrimage to the source of much of its unique natural features: Timanfaya National Park. Timanfaya is a volcanic landscape formed during the eruptions that took place between 1720 and 1736, as well as the eruption of 1824.

It is an almost-Martian landscape filled with colour in the absence of vegetation: blacks, browns and reds dominate, though after a rainfall, we saw an explosion of gentle greenery in some parts. Food at the visitor centre is a must, as you can watch your dinner being cooked over the volcano itself. Chicken and steaks sizzle upon impact with the grill and the resulting meal is a tender, tasty experience.

For grown-ups, the wine-growing region of La Geria is a must-see too. We enjoyed a wine tasting experience at El Grifo, the oldest winery in the Canaries.

We learned all about how the volcanic soil lends a unique flavour to the wines produced there and after sampling a few of them, I can confirm just how palatable they are.

On board the ‘I love La Graciosa experience’ courtesy of Líneas Romero.
On board the ‘I love La Graciosa experience’ courtesy of Líneas Romero.

The highlight of our visit involved even more island-hopping, this time moving from Orzola harbour in the north of Lanzarote to La Graciosa island. La Graciosa is the eighth Canary Island.

Rather than catch a regular ferry, we hopped on board the ‘I love La Graciosa experience’ courtesy of Líneas Romero. It involved an all-day boat trip from Lanzarote to the small island of La Graciosa.

We arrived at the port at Caleta de Sebo and it felt like stepping onto a film set. The streets are made of unpaved sand and vehicles are few and far between. It could have been an outpost in a Star Wars film, with its dusty streets and low-lying whitewashed houses.

We had some free time to explore the village before returning to the boat and setting off, docking off the coast near a beach on the other side of the island.

Once stopped, we were given lunch and the cocktails started flowing. Smaller boats brought groups to shore to walk the strand, lie in the sun, go kayaking, enjoy a spot of swimming, or, as I did, a little bit of everything.

The staff on the boat and at the beach were truly the life of the party, encouraging everyone to relax and enjoy themselves. Back on board after getting our fill of fun and sun, the party continued until we once again returned to Orzola harbour in Lanzarote. Crew members led the group in popular dances like the Macarena, YMCA and other classic party songs.

We parted ways with sun on our skin, sangria in our bellies and happy hearts — it was the most enjoyable part of an excellent time in the Canaries and proof that the best adventures happen when you go exploring.

So next time you visit the Canary Islands, make sure you go island hopping too.

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