Lanzarote is unique in so many ways, but Timanfaya National Park is probably the most surreal place you will ever visit.
Also known as the Fire Mountains, this area occupies a quarter of the island’s 807 sq. km. It forms part of the island’s UNESCO Biosphere reserve and was also used by NASA as a training ground for astronauts visiting Mars.
Eruptions that lasted six years
The eruptions began in September 1730 and lasted until 1736, starting with explosions that launched flames into the air for 19 days. They were the most spectacular in the Earth’s history, with temperatures that reached 800°C.
Five villages were destroyed and inhabitants were forced to flee from their homes. What was once a rich and fertile cereal growing region was covered in volcanic lava, ash and dust.
In the years to follow, the islanders discovered that the lapilli or rofe (volcanic dust/gravel) that covered almost a quarter of the island, could be farmed after all. Much of this region became the canvas for the beautiful landscape that is now La Geria, now an established wine region.
Timanfaya was awarded National Park status in 1975, due to its exceptional volcanic features.
Find out more before you go
Start at the Timanfaya Visitor Centre, which offers a mine of intriguing information and interactive experiences. The centre’s shining white exterior, designed by César Manrique, seem to arise from the lava as you approach.
I have always been a bit of a geography geek, so I was like a kid in a candy shop! There is a permanent multilingual exhibition showing the flora, fauna and geological make up of Lanzarote and its surrounding oceans. Models demonstrate Lanzarote’s many volcanoes, 32 of which are in Timanfaya itself.
A seismographic, meteosat and meteorological station shows real-time activity from all over the world, as well as live satellite images. You can also experience what a volcanic eruption might feel like in the downstairs simulation room, as well as a slideshow with special effects in several different languages. There is also a library, viewing points and walkways over the lava, and a sensory room with lots of information for people with physical, visual or auditory deficiencies.
You can also take part in guided walks, which have to be booked in advance online.
On leaving the visitor centre, head off through the volcanic landscape towards Timanfaya itself. As you approach the park, statues of El Diablo (the devil) peer at you from on the roadside. There are several standing at the park entrance - the classic photo opportunity!
Legend has it that this symbol originated from a wedding in a nearby village in 1730, when the eruptions began. A burning rock was ejected from a volcano, landing on the bride and killing her. With inexplicable force, the devasted groom prised the rock away with a pitchfork and carried her off in his arms towards the lava, amidst cries of “poor devil” from the villagers. Her blood was said to have given life to new plants that arose from the ashes: the groom’s name was “Aloe” and the bride’s name was “Vera”.
The vision of César Manrique
The visitor facilities at Timanfaya National Park are another of César Manrique’s ingenious creations. He wanted people to be able to appreciate the island’s fiery beauty without harming or changing the environment. Manrique designed and headed the project to build the El Diablo restaurant, a souvenir shop and visitor services in 1970. He used black lava stone and circular designs that blend seamlessly into the surrounding environment.
The restaurant is truly unique. It makes the most of the 450° heat from this dormant volcano to roast the meat and fish from its dishes on offer, a method that has been scientifically approved. The restaurant has magnificent views over the volcanic park and is definitely worth a visit, even if just for a coffee.
If you prefer to do it yourself, there is also ready-made barbecue which can be used upon arrangement. You provide the meat, and the guides ignite the barbecue for you.
The geothermal demonstrations are spectacular. The sheer force of the hot, salt-water geysers that spurt from the ground leave anyone speechless! They can reach up to a height of 30 metres, so make sure you stand back and have your camera at the ready!
Witness the wrath of nature
Guided tours are the only way to see the heart of the volcanic eruptions, due to the area’s protected status. Head towards one of the buses which all offer information in English, Spanish and German.
The buses expertly navigate the narrow winding route for 9 miles, lasting for around 35 minutes. Created in 1968 by Manrique and Jesus Soto, the route gives you an amazing first-hand view of this Martian landscape. It cuts through lava walls, exposing textured layers of rusts, blacks, greys and browns.
The height of the bus allows for staggering views of 32 volcanoes through its windows. The lava landscape stretches as far as you can see towards the ocean on one side, and the Chinijo Archipelago on the other. Famara cliffs stand tall in the distance, and the towns of Uga and Yaiza sit on the far reaches of the park. These towns were spared from the lava flow and served as refuge for the fleeing villagers. Steep red slopes surround you, disappearing into the volcanic craters.
Life as we know it
It’s incredible to imagine how any life can survive here, considering the hostile terrain and temperatures that vary up to 20°C in one day. The sun beats down during the day, and the cold wind bites at night. Even so, you’ll spot green plants pushing through the rock, lizards, and you may be lucky enough to spot El Guirre (Egyptian eagle). It is an endangered species and the largest creature in the area, with a wingspan of up to 1 metre. There are also a multitude of insects, the smallest of which grows up to only 1mm in length.
Timanfaya atop a camel
If you prefer alternative forms of transport, experience the Lanzarote classic: ride to the top of a volcano on camelback! The camel trains are based a little further south of the park entrance and are very easy to find. There’s no need to book and there is plenty of parking space available.
Timanfaya National Park is one of the most astounding landscapes one can ever see, it’s a place on Earth like no other. A must-see if you’re planning a trip to Lanzarote.