I'd been living in the Canary Islands for some years before I eventually visited Fuerteventura. I knew it was blessed with an abundance of golden sand beaches but living on Tenerife where there's no shortage of beaches either, I never felt any great urgency to go. By the time I got around to exploring the island I could have kicked myself for leaving it so long. This driving route around the south of the island shows what I learnt on my first visit, that there is far more to Fuerteventura than beautiful beaches.
A driving route around the south of Fuerteventura
Caleta de Fuste, one of the main resorts on Fuerteventura, is a good starting point. The road south quickly leads to Las Salinas del Carmen where there's a museum dedicated to the history and production of salt. There are also neat rows of salt basins which are still harvested, and a pleasant little walking route meanders through the stone pits with their mini white mountains. Adding even more interest is a large skeleton of a whale which stands between the salt basins and the sea.
Whilst it's easy to lose time at Las Salinas, there's a lot more to explore. I continue on the FV2 road south and take the exit for Gran Tarajal. Not far before the town, I follow the turn off to Las Playitas where a narrow road winds through the red-tinged volcanic landscape to the Faro de la Entallada, a lighthouse occupying an imposing position high above the ocean. As well as having panoramic views along the east coast, the Faro de la Entallada is the closest point to Africa on the Canary Islands.
Gran Tarajal itself is worth a visit. It's a lively authentic Canarian coastal town with a friendly vibe, excellent town beaches, good restaurants and a surprising artistic side. Over thirty buildings around the centre of town have had their gable ends spruced up with huge, quirky murals. It's a mini tour in itself trying to spot them all.
From Gran Tarajal I head inland on the FV20, driving through a world of burnt orange hills whose curves become increasingly smoother and more voluptuous. Early morning and late afternoon, when lit by the low sun, the amber slopes take on an intensity that is mesmeric. It's also a landscape peppered with windmills. The area between Tuineje and Tiscamanita has lots of them, ranging from modern aluminium towers with glinting metal sails to lovely old stone windmills which evoke thoughts of Don Quixote.
Continuing west I pass through Pájara which has a pretty centre where you can often see an old man with his donkey demonstrating how water used to be drawn from wells. The owner of a rural hotel in the area once told me you get the tastiest baifo (goat) on Fuerteventura in Pájara.
Instead of stopping, I carry on till I reach Ajuy on the coast. From the small fishing hamlet, a path hugs the coastline before it descends to a cave as big as a cathedral. The story goes that corsairs used to store treasure in the Ajuy Caves. Standing inside one, it's easy to visualise pirates dragging chests laden with doubloons into its rather spooky depths.
It's a short drive back to Pájara where I pick up the FV30 heading north. There are a couple of miradores (viewpoints) along this stretch. The most popular is at Risco de la Peña where visitors spend as much time watching the antics of a band of cheeky Barbary squirrels as they do soaking up the impressive views.
Next stop is the highlight of the route, Betancuria. The former capital of the Fuerteventura has been around since 1404 and is one of the most picturesque towns in the Canary Islands. Cobbled streets ascend past historic buildings to the Church of Santa Maria. The town's narrow walkways are lined with rows of scarlet and bubblegum pink geraniums in terracotta pots. They add splashes of colour to the immaculate white façades of the old buildings. Betancuria is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace, preferrably one which includes a stop for tapas at one of the town's quaint restaurants.
Any time I'm in Betancuria I take the opportunity to pick up some local goat's cheese. Majorero cheese is particularly tasty and there are a couple of goat farms with on-site shops not far from the town.
The last stopping point on my driving route is the Mirador Guise y Ayosa. There are views back over Betancuria as well as to the north, where the land stretches as far as the eye can see; the amber shades of the undulating hills broken only by splashes of white from small towns and villages. Like other viewpoints on Fuerteventura the vistas aren't its only interesting aspect. Two giant warriors, Guise and Ayosa, stand tall and proud, towering above visitors to their domain. They were Mahoh kings who ruled the two halves of the island before the conquistadors arrived in 1402.
I stand for a while with the two bronze kings, gazing out over the beautiful, fascinating and slightly surreal terrain before reluctantly tearing myself away to head east and back across the island to the golden beaches at my starting point, Caleta de Fuste.