3. Lanzarote & Fuerteventura (22 Nov – 20 Dec 2013)

We spent three weeks based in “Marina Lanzarote” in the all-weather harbour of Puerto de Naos in Arrecife, capital of the island of Lanzarote (see Blog Page 3), from where we explored the island by bus and on foot.  We then left to recce the Lanzarote coastline before continuing south to Fuerteventura.  
Sailing route covered in this post

On our way south in October from Portugal we had simply sailed fast downwind directly to Arrecife in order to formally sign into the Canary Islands at the first available official port of entry.  
This time, after a day’s sail north along the east coast (and then west along the north coast), we pulled in at dusk into the anchorage of Playa Francesca on the south coast of the small island of Graciosa.  It is part of a National Park off the northwest coast of the Lanzarote “mainland” where fishing, scuba diving, anchoring and development are restricted.

 Isla de Graciosa off northwest tip of Lanzarote

Playa Francesa is the only safe overnight anchorage north of Arrecife’s old harbour. It has good holding in sand and is very well protected from the prevailing northerly winds and swell. Next morning as the sun rose we began to fully appreciate why the anchorage and island are considered jewels of the Canaries – well worth a day-long difficult upwind sail.

View of Playa Francesca anchorage on Isla de Graciosa
Isla de Graciosa is 7 miles by 3 miles wide (at its broadest point). Five low volcanic cones with weathered lava surrounds form the central spine of the island. The coastal plains and valleys between the cones are sandy, flat, barren scrubland.  There are no made-up roads – only tracks worn in the sand through the scrub. A true desert island.

Track through sand and scrub from anchorage to village

Much of the coastal plains of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura were, before the advent of tourism, tarmac roads and holiday developments, supposed to have been very similar to what Graciosa is today – some of the National Parks still are.

Almost all of Graciosa’s population of 600 residents live in the old, still-active, inshore fishing port of Caleta del Sebo. The harbour accommodates a small ferry terminal, pontoons and moorings for local inshore fishing boats. Despite berths on the pontoon being nominally reserved for visiting yachts in transit, in practice most are permanently occupied by locals, liveaboards or foreign boats that have been left there for extended periods.

Caleta del Sebo harbour on Graciosa

Although a small ferry runs between Caleta del Sebo and Orzola on the north coast of Lanzarote, the island is well off the main tourist route.  Most visitors to Lanzarote simply include Graciosa on their itinerary by visiting the Mirador del Río (a “café with a view” designed by who else? César Manrique) at the top of the sheer lava cliffs of the Lanzarote “mainland” overlooking the Straits and island.

  View from Lanzarote "mainland" over the Straits to Graciosa

The sleepy village of Caleta del Sebo comprises a mixture of low-lying simple dwellings and small holiday lettings. The streets are simply sandy tracks on which Clint Eastwood in his poncho would not look out of place.

After several days we cut short our stay when strong southeasterly winds (the first for six weeks) were forecast.  In such conditions the anchorage would have become untenable. We therefore left promptly and sailed back the 35 miles to Arrecife since Puerto de Naos, within which Marina Lanzarote is located, was our nearest port of refuge.  

The subsequent day’s weather justified our caution! The local radio reported that container ships had been diverted from harbours, ferries had been delayed or were cancelled and two yachts that had not sought shelter early enough were blown ashore at the south of the island.

While port-bound we visited the west coast of Lanzarote by bus – having already ascertained that there was nowhere along that coast suitable for yachts to stay overnight.  The small windswept resorts on this Atlantic coast, such as Calete de Famara and La Santa, cater for the surfing community. They are laid-back, significantly less commercialised and in complete contrast to the tourist traps for sun-loving couch potatoes on the east coast. 

Three of the ten surfing shops/schools in Caleta de Famara

Once the wind dropped we left Arrecife again. This time we headed south down the east coast, some of which we’d already recce’d by bus. It was interesting to see the coastline from a different perspective.  The fact is, however, that in whichever direction one looks there is ribbon holiday development all the way along the coast from Costa Teguise, north of Arrecife, down to the excellent marina at Puerto de Calero in the south.

Ribbon development along east coast of Lanzarote

The Papagayo peninsula, south of Puerto de Calero, is  another National Park where development has been restricted. The peninsula joins up with the mountains, volcanoes and massif that run up the centre of the island.

Papagayo National Park viewed from anchorage
We anchored in one of the three sandy bays on the south of the Papagayo headland, well protected from the prevailing northerly winds.

One of the three bays on the 
south of the Papagayo Peninsula

The anchorage provided good holding in a mixture of sand and lava rock. We were therefore able to “park” close to the beach. The sea was so clear that it was possible to easily see our anchor in ten metres of water. We could also swim or row ashore.

        Island Drifter anchored off beach at Papagayo

We spent several very pleasant days there during which time we walked both the peninsula and the three miles to Rubicón marina and Playa Blanca beach resort to our west (for shopping).

  Rubicón marina with Playa Blanca resort in the background

We finally left our anchorage in Lanzarote to sail south across the Bocayna Straits to and then down the east coast of Fuerteventura to Puerto del Rosario, the island’s capital. It is located in a natural bay, one third of the way down the coast.

Fuerteventura ports and principal towns

With the exception of Corralejo on the northeast corner of the island, there were no other yacht-friendly ports or anchorages down to Rosario. Indeed, there were only a couple of very small developments around old fishing villages. The coast, which is now a National Park, initially comprised a 12-mile-long sandy beach with dunes behind and then, as we progressed south, steep lava cliffs.

Rather than drop our hook in the small sailing club anchorage in Puerto del Rosario, which we had planned to do, we found and tucked ourselves on to an empty pontoon on the outer edge of the more sheltered fishing port behind the cruise-ship terminal’s new concrete dock. We were surprised that we were allowed to stay – even more so when charged only €7 a night. (We later found out that “our” pontoon had been only recently constructed for visiting power boats taking part in a deep-sea fishing competition and was therefore probably only a temporary arrangement.)

Island Drifter on pontoon in Puerto del Rosario

Puerto del Rosario is the most important harbour on Fuerteventura. Its sprawling suburbs are home to fifty percent of the island’s resident population. It is also only a short distance from the international airport and is the hub from which the buses operate. 

                   Guagua Station, Puerto del Rosario

 Visiting tourists from the ferries, cruise ships and airport appear to merely pass through the city or go to shop in it.  Rosario does not have  “resident” tourist enclaves. Indeed it appears to make few concessions to tourism other than arguably the hundred or so statues throughout the town and an excellent, albeit rather loosely spread out, city centre with quality shops. 

We, however, found the promenade along the edge of the port and the wide avenues and streets bordered by African-style buildings – cube shaped with flat roofs, rarely above three storeys high – most attractive features of the city.

Promenade alongside port of Puerto del Rosario

Until “relatively” recently Puerto del Rosario was known as Puerto del Cabras because large herds of goats were traditionally watered in the ravine running through the city to the sea.  In 1956, in an early re-branding exercise, the city’s name was changed to the Port of the Roses – a more dignified name for a capital city than the Port of the Goats!

              Statue recognising the importance of goats
               to Puerto del Rosario and Fuerteventura

Goats still outnumber residents on the island! They have always been a major source of food for the population in terms of meat, milk and cheese. Goat farms are everywhere, even in the most arid areas. Indeed it was the goat’s capacity to survive on anything that has played a major part in the defoliation of the island.

Just a few of the thousands of goats on Fuerteventura

We have continued our “research” into local food and wine!  Not surprisingly the island’s specialities are goat meat – stewed, roasted, barbecued or fried – and goat’s cheese.  They are both culinary winners. Indeed the cheese is the first (and only) Spanish goat’s cheese that bears a “Denominación de origen” label.  It has a nutty flavour that goes particularly well with fruit or as a tapas. Grapes do not grow in Fuerteventura, hence there is no locally produced wine.  Large delicious tomatoes are, however, cultivated in the Jandía peninsula in the south where the land is just high enough to catch sufficient rain from the trade winds to raise exportable quantities.

Goat stew and (unexpected) chips!

The city is said to be only just recovering (whatever that means) from “hosting” 10,000 Spanish Foreign Legionnaires who were billeted in the enormously impressive Saharan fort-like barracks in the city after Spain relinquished its hold on the Spanish Sahara in 1975. They were held there in reserve to deal with any problems arising in the area.   Since then, numbers have gradually declined and today only a Brigade (three Battalions) exists.

Saharan fort-like Barracks and 
HQ of the Spanish Foreign Legion

As in Lanzarote, we used the local buses to recce the island. Again, they were cheap, comfortable, air conditioned, and relatively frequent.  As regular users, we obtained a 30% discount card. Fuerteventura is a significantly larger island than Lanzarote so we decided to explore it from three locations:  the north from Puerto del Rosario; the central area from the port at Gran Tarajal (through which all south-going buses pass), and the south from Morro Jable harbour.

After a week based in Rosario we sailed south to Gran Tarajal. On the way we passed Puerto del Castillo, one of the smallest marinas in the Canaries. It was built as part of the medium-sized German holiday development of Caleta de Fustes. The rest of the coast comprises tall lava cliffs and a barren landscape. Three small beach-backed coves contain old fishing villages and small holiday developments.  We understand that the coves afford reasonable anchoring in settled weather and some protection from the prevailing northerly winds.

Gran Tarajal used to be Fuerteventura’s second commercial port. Today its ferry and commercial business has been taken over by Rosario and Morro Jable, although its inshore fishing fleet remains.  Facilities for local pleasure boats and visiting yachts have been significantly increased to try to compensate. The port, however, suffers badly from surge from waves reflected off the inner breakwater in strong southerly winds.

Gran Tarajal marina

We got caught there in the southerly gales that hit the Canaries in early December. We were lucky – tied up as we were with fourteen lines, some doubled, Island Drifter looked like Gulliver! Even so, we had three lines snap and some superficial damage to our bow’s gel coat. Many other boats fared far worse with broken deck fittings, serious damage to their hulls and to steering gear. Half a dozen finger pontoons actually broke and the yachts on them were lucky not to sustain more damage.

Island Drifter roped up like Gulliver
during the Canaries’ “December storm”

To take our minds off the weather, we sat out the storm each evening with George and Lorna Saunders from Lymington (whom we’d first met in Arrecife).  By the third day we were all punch drunk and in a silly mood!

Partying with friends on their yacht 
during the “December storm”

The local town is still relatively undeveloped. It has retained its village atmosphere and offers a glimpse of how things were before the tourist boom took off. Its unusual (for Fuerteventura) large black sand town beach is at the mouth of the ravine of the same name and being in a bay is relatively sheltered and good for swimming.

Gran Tarajal’s unusual (for Fuerteventura) 
black sand town beach

Date and Canary palms grow around and in the village. The latter’s leaves and branches are the raw materials from which local craftsmen make baskets and the traditional Majorero straw hat.

One of the Three Wise Men 
made from local Majorero palms

After a week based in Gran Tarajal we continued south to the port of Morro Jable on the southeast corner of the island.  The coast from Gran Tarajal runs west for ten miles before turning southwest at the start of the Isthmo de Pared. As is the coastline northeast of Gran Tarajal, that to the southwest is made up of lava cliffs punctuated with four small sandy bays, old fishing ports and some holiday accommodation. They are relatively well protected and would probably make interesting day anchorages.
The Isthmo de Pared – a 4-kilometre-wide strip of sand dunes (blown across from Africa) stretching from coast to coast – joins the Jandía peninsula, once a separate island, to the rest of Fuerteventura.

 View from Island Drifter of the sand dunes that stretch from coast to coast, joining the north of Fuerteventura to the Jandía Peninsula

                   View from bus of the sand dunes that stretch from coast to coast

The prevailing northerly winds accelerate across this low neck of land to create one of the Canaries’ Wind Acceleration Zones down the east coast of the Jandía peninsula.

Wind Acceleration Zones are a feature of sailing in the Canaries. In brief, the height and distribution of the islands causes the prevailing northerly wind to funnel between them, which in turn produces zones in which the wind strength can triple in a distance of as little as 200 metres. The zones are, however, well known and provided one reefs down before reaching them it is possible to have an invigorating downwind sail in relatively flat seas. To sail back it is, however, necessary to tack north close to the coast, to travel at night (when the wind often drops) and/or even to wait for a southerly gale!

Costa Calma lies at the north of the Jandía Peninsula. Along with Morro Jable to the south, they are major cradles for German tourism on the island. Both are clearly expanding to satisfy increased demand. 

The most spectacular beaches in the whole of the Canaries are to be found on the coasts of the Jandía peninsula, the majority of which is now a National Park. Most of the east coast, down which we sailed to the harbour in Morro Jable, is made up of sand dunes and sand-coated hills. There are no natural bays or anchorages, but no doubt one could anchor off during the day in very settled weather. 

A fantastic beach on the east coast of the Jandía Peninsula

 Yet another!
Morro Jable’s port is on the south side of the Jandía peninsula, on the western edge of the town itself.  Despite retaining some of its old flavour as a fishing village, the town has spread east around the Morro Jable headland to the playas. The area has the largest concentration of time-share and hotel accommodation on the island. Tourists come simply to enjoy the weather and extensive beaches.
Rounding Morro Jable Punta 
at southeast corner of Fuerteventura

Alternative view of Morro Jable from the headland

Morro Jable’s harbour is probably the best-protected port on the island – although its so-called “yacht” pontoons can suffer from surge.  Facilities for yachts are pretty limited.  We were fortunate in being directed on to a berth (albeit a rather short one) in the main small-boat harbour. Most yachts get dumped on to a couple of old, badly damaged pontoons full of abandoned boats and down-and-outs at the other end of the harbour. Those berths lack water, electricity and security, yet are charged at the same rate per metre as in the inner harbour.

Fishing boats in inner harbour 
where we berthed in Morro Jable

Outer harbour of Morro Jable with broken pontoons, 
no water, electricity or security where 
visiting yachts normally get dumped!

By now we have gained a fairly good knowledge of both the interior and the coast of Fuerteventura. In summary:

  • Like Lanzarote, the west coast of the island facing the Atlantic is a surfers’ paradise but provides no safe overnight anchorages or ports for yachts. Down south, on the Jandía peninsula, it is wild, sandy and uninhabited for thirty miles.

El Cotillo’s small harbour on northwest coast of Fuerteventura  (the best on that coast!)

  • The main tourist resorts lie at opposite ends of the island. At the north end is Corralejo, a real “Blackpool in the sun”, beloved by British and Scandinavian sun seekers. In the south the Jandía peninsula is mainly frequented by Germans in altogether smarter and more sophisticated developments.  Caleta de Fustes, Pozo Negro and Playa de Sotovento, all south of Puerto del Rosario, are medium-sized resorts.

  • The only harbours boasting anything like marina status are Gran Tarajal (see above) and Puerto del Castillo (see below), although the former suffers from surge when the winds are from the south, and the latter has few spaces, if any, for visiting yachts.

  • The pontoons in the ferry ports of Corralejo to the north and Morro Jable in the south have only limited space for visiting yachts. Rosario, the capital and principal port on the island, makes no provision for yachts although the local yacht club anchorage is protected from the prevailing winds. All suffer to various extents in strong southerly winds.
  • The centre of the island (see below) has a number of small historic towns and the countryside offers a more diverse landscape on this overwhelmingly desert-like island.  

Arid landscape on central massif of Fuerteventura
In contrast: traditional cultivated inland village

  • There are eight interesting-looking day anchorages south of Puerto del Rosario (none north), set in beach-backed coves, which are at least partly sheltered from the prevailing northerly winds. Some might be suitable for an overnight stay, but only in settled weather.

Fuerteventura coastline showing ports and anchorages
Fuerteventura is the second largest island in the Canaries after Tenerife. Its east coast extends for 65 miles north to south (Lanzarote is 39 miles). It is similar in many ways to Lanzarote – not surprisingly, since both were formed by giant volcanic eruptions some 20 million years ago and both are close to the African coast which exerts a major influence on both islands’ weather and climate.  Certainly with their arid desert-like terrain, lower hills and volcanoes, they differ from the more fertile westerly islands of the archipelago (with the possible exception of the south of Gran Canaria) – where the damper Atlantic weather is more influential.  
Interior landscape Fuerteventura

 Alternative view of landscape from Montaña Tindaya

There are, however, differences between the two islands, primarily due to the fact that the last volcanic eruption in Fuerteventura was seven million years ago, while that in Lanzarote was only as recently as 1756.  Fuerteventura’s landscape has fewer mountains and volcanoes and has had time to be eroded while large parts of the uninhabited “badlands” of Lanzarote have not. As a consequence Fuerteventura has more colour to it than Lanzarote, both in terms of its eroded lava and ash surfaces that resemble dustings of saffron, coriander and chilli, and its multi-coloured buildings that reflect the colours of the landscape. (In Lanzarote, by contrast, the mandatory colour for the buildings is white with blue or green paintwork.)

Spectrum of colours in Fuerteventura landscape

Nature’s colours reflected in Fuerteventura’s buildings

Before desalination plants were built most of the island's water had to be brought in by ship and delivered to houses by water carriers. Because of this shortage of water, the holiday industry was slower to develop than the other islands. As a consequence, Fuerteventura has learnt lessons from their development and better managed its own. In particular the National Parks were created before developers could destroy the coastline. Large parts of the coastline are therefore still very Sahara like, with miles of sand and sweeping dunes.
Jandía Peninsula’s dunes and beaches

Up until the early nineteenth century significant parts of the interior massif around villages such as La Oliva, Betancuria, Pajara and Antigua were fertile and large quantities of grain were grown there, hence the many windmills that were used to grind gofio – the staple diet at that time. 

Restored windmill from the days when the interior of Fuerteventura was a fertile bread basket

During the 1800s there was a prolonged period of drought that caused the ground water in the massif to sink and become salty. The problem was compounded by goats (a major part of the local diet) eating anything in sight – as they do!  As a consequence the island is significantly more denuded of vegetation than Lanzarote. It also has the lowest annual rainfall in the archipelago and is still the most sparsely populated of the Canary Islands.

Arid landscape in Fuerteventura’s central massif

Today the aloe vera lily, cochineal obtained from the beetle larvae that feed on the prickly pear cactus, and tomatoes are the principal crops produced in exportable quantities, albeit that small market gardens throughout the island still supply a percentage of local needs. 

In contrast: fertile village in centre of island

Goats were until recently almost the only source of wealth in Fuerteventura. Now tourism is foremost by an astronomic margin. The island’s pleasantly mild climate with trade winds laden with just enough moisture to alleviate the heat makes the island and its beaches a popular all-year-round holiday destination. The winds attract sailing, surfing, wind- and kite-surfing enthusiasts.  Schools and clubs abound and the island hosts many professional competitions. These include legs of the World Wind- and Speed-surfing Championships at Playa de Sotovento on the east coast of the Jandía peninsula. 

The rocks and coves around the island encourage sea life. Diving enthusiasts are therefore attracted to the island. They are well catered for in terms of boats, schools and equipment available for hire. Sport fishing is also a popular activity and a World Deep-Sea Fishing competition is hosted from Gran Tarajal annually in September.

The southern coast of the Jandía peninsula to our west continues for twenty miles to the Punta de Jandía at the southwest corner of Fuerteventura.  Just to the east of the point is a wide shallow bay off the village of Puertito de las Luz which makes a good passage anchorage in light offshore conditions. Apart from that the coastline west of Morro Jable is rocky, open to the Atlantic and definitely not yacht friendly!

The 30-mile-long beaches of Cofete and Barlovento on the western coast, to the north of Punta de Jandía, are the longest in the Canaries. They stretch to La Pared at the north end of the Isthmo de Pared which joins the Jandía peninsula to the rest of Fuerteventura. Its length of wild, sandy, uninhabited coast can be very windy. The waves, currents and undertow are described as “formidable”. Ridley Scott, the director, is currently using this stretch of coast as a location in his film "Exodus", with Christian Bale in the role of Moses.

        Part of the 30-mile uninhabited windswept beach at 
El Cofete on Fuerteventura’s west coast

We are now making our way back north from Morro Jable at the south end of Fuerteventura to Arrecife in Lanzarote where Al and Lynn are joining us for Christmas and New Year.

In the meantime, we wish all of you who have made it this far through our Blog a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!


  1. As always, you see so much more than the normal visitor - and the food pictures always bring back positive memories!.

    Thanks for keeping in touch and do have a great Christmas with many more miles under the keel, still to come.

    Bob & Beryl

  2. Helen, Why oh why were you not our geography teacher ?
    Splendid stuff!! Love and best wishes Sue & Max

  3. This gets better and better and quite a contrast to Northern Latitudes (in terms of warm hues and arridity). Lovely colourful pictures and exciting narrative, always love to gastro-pics; not enough pics of you two though - leaping mountains of battling mountainous seas. Lova and HAPPY CHRISTMAS to you both. Grahame & Monica (Bermuda)

  4. Wonderful as always - Happy Christmas to you both
    Wendy and Graham

  5. Merry christmas, Mike and Helen!
    I enjoyed your report again so much, thank you! Have been on Fuerteventura like 20 times to escape from our so called winter.
    A happy new year for you!

  6. Hello!
    Glad to find your blog.
    I'm the owner of the ketch that it's noticeable in the right side of your photo at the Puerto del Rosario harbor.
    I saw your ship, that I found very beautiful, and I shot it. Now I regret not greet you at the new year. We where there (with my wife) and we thought to approach to your vessel, but we are shy :)
    The storm at Puerto, even if it wasn't a walk under the sun, neither it was so bad. One moored and uncared boat ended at the rocks, sadly. Four sailbots was at the pontoon that you used. They spend a few days of work and nerves, but they ended without damages. I've uploaded some videos at youtube.
    Hope to see you again in these latitudes.