Arrecife is a resort on the south coast of Lanzarote, with easy access to beaches and Lanzarote’s incredible volcanic landscapes.
You can’t talk abouta Arrecife and Lanzarote without mentioning César Manrique, the architect and artist who designed most of the top attractions on the island in the 70s and 80s.
Each one has its own logo or motif, like the fire devil at Timanfaya or the cactus at the Jardín de Cactus.
Manrique also fought to keep tower blocks away from the island, so is partly to thank for Lanzarote’s famous understated tourist architecture.
Lets explore the best things to do in Arrecife:
1. Playa del Reducto
The very presentable Playa del Reducto has two arcs of golden sand interrupted by a small rocky spur.
The waters are smooth on most days, and great for bathing, though you may need to keep an eye out rocks on the seabed.
On the beach the sand is kept perfectly clean, you can hire sun-loungers and parasols, and there’s a refreshing absence of the kind of hawkers that you get at other tourist destinations.
There’s also a promenade that continues around Punta del Cantito on the beach’s western end where it enters a small park with benches next to the seawall.
2. Castillo de San José
The 18th-century eruptions at Timanfaya devastated Lanzarote, and the decades that followed brought famine and poverty to the island.
This fortress, built in the 1770s under the orders if Carlos III, was constructed partly to protect Arrecife from pirates but also as a public works project to bring work to Lanzarote.
The castle is on a rise with a commanding far-reaching views of the harbour and ocean.
In the ’70s the interior was renovated by Manrique, who set up a modern art exhibition, with pieces by 20th-century luminaries like Antoni Tàpies and Joan Miró.
3. Museo Aeronáutico
This museum in Lanzarote’s Airport is housed in what was actually the terminal building up to 1970. It’s a lovely art-deco structure but you can see how it might have been a bit small for mass tourism.
If you’re inspired by aviation you’ll love the exhibits, covering the earliest days of manned flight when Lanzarote was a stop-over for the first transatlantic pioneers.
Room eight contains vintage machinery and log books from the years when tourism arrived in earnest, while room nine was the airport’s original control tower with a 180° view of the old runway.
4. Charco de San Ginés
Another project by the tireless César Manrique was to breathe new life into this lagoon near the centre of Arrecife.
He turned what was a rusting old fishing district into a pedestrian quarter, with a footbridge spanning the water and lots of places to sit down and watch the boats come in while you enjoy a cold beer.
The restaurants are cheaper and perhaps more authentically Canarian than at places like Puerto del Carmen, and all around you’ll have the lovely sight of old fishing vessels in the water and blue and white fisherman’s next to the promenade.
If you stop by on Saturdays you can browse the stalls at the craft market.
5. César Manrique Foundation
A couple of kilometres past Arrecife’s northern outskirts is the former home and studio of César Manrique, which opened to visitors after he died in 1992. This was built on a lava flow and what’s cool is the way it adapts to the volcanic rock, using the bubble as a swimming pool and relaxation area.
The museum is just the place to visit to find out more about Manrique’s grand designs for Lanzarote, and there are also works by Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró collected by the designer.
6. Timanfaya National Park
Lanzarote has a desert climate, so this National Park has a landscape that looks pretty much exactly as it did when it was levelled by a massive volcanic event in the 1730s.
More than 100 volcanoes erupted here and lava was still flowing until the 1820s.
If you hadn’t already guessed, the visitor centre was also designed by Manrique and has a restaurant that cooks meat with geothermal heat.
It gets seriously hot just a few metres beneath the ground, where temperatures are as hot as 600°C. So it’s not surprising that you can’t go where you please at the park, but the coach tour shows you around the main sights and has informative commentary.
7. Rancho Texas
This is an all-day attraction that pairs a water park with a zoo , and putting on some fabulous animal demonstrations.
One of the crowd-pleasers is when the birds of prey are given their daily exercise, and condors, hawks, eagles and vultures whoosh just centimetres above the audience’s heads.
Mammals at Rancho Texas include cougars, white tigers, seals and American bison.
Rancho Texas also holds themes Wild West nights, with horse and pony rides for kids and Texas-style barbecues serving cowboy fare like grilled chicken, ribs and jacket potatoes.
8. Cueva de los Verdes
This majestic cave is relatively young, at just 3,000 years old.
It’s a lava tube, caused by hot lava flowing beneath a cooled layer and being drained off, leaving an outer crust as the cave’s roof.
The tube goes on for 7.5 kilometres in total, 1.5 of which is under the ocean, and there are regular openings in the ceiling through which shafts of daylight illuminate the cave floor.
A tour will take just shy of an hour, and the guides speak in Spanish and English.
One of the best parts is an underground concert hall, which can seat 500 people , with a season of music performances from April to December.
9. Mirador del Rio
César Manrique also had a hand in the design of this viewpoint towards the far north of Lanzarote.
You’re on the rim of an escarpment here, almost 500 metres above the ocean with the entire island of La Graciosa in front of you.
Look east and west and you can see the walls of the dark cliffs as they curl down towards endlessly towards the water.
Manrique’s space age viewing gallery is almost completely camouflaged by the volcanic rock, and if the wind gets too much outside you can appreciate the view from the timelessly stylish bar.
10. Puerto del Carmen
In less than 15 minutes you can be in Lanzarote’s main tourist centre.
You could make the trip by day to try out some other beaches, like Playa Chica, a cove with volcanic walls on each side, creating lagoon-like waters.
The marina at Puerto del Carmen is your point of embarkation for all kinds of cruises: The Canary Islands are on the migration route for many whale species, while dolphins are in these waters for most of the year.
At night you can paint the town red at the widest selection of bars, restaurants and clubs on the island.
11. Scuba Diving
Another reason to head along to Puerto del Carmen is for the PADI-certified dive centres in the resort, helping you experience the best dive site on Lanzarote.
The conditions for underwater exploration could hardly be better: Water temperatures never sink below 19 °, there’s excellent water clarity and all sorts of wildlife and rock formations to see.
The most spectacular is the dramatic drop-off a short way out from Playa Chica, offering a habitat for grouper, deep sea shrimp and orange coral.
Pocking the cliff wall is a network of caves and there’s a shipwreck at the base.
12. Playa de Famara
On Lazarote’s windward shore the coastline is smashed by powerful Atlantic waves, and the best place to see this raw beauty is at Playa de Famara.
It’s a beach on an epic scale, with a gigantic mountain ridge to the east, and a vast bowl of sand and gravel battered by waves that break a long way out, creating long strips of white-water that drive up to the beach.
This is the perfect arena for experienced surfers and kite-surfers to test themselves.
For the rest of us it’s a magnificent location for photos and bracing walks.
13. Jardín de Cactus
Yet another of Manrique’s projects was to transform this old quarry into a wondrous cactus garden, where the plants are like living sculptures.
There’s a pathway that follows the contours of the quarry’s terraces, running next to beds planted with cactuses of all shapes and sizes, from tall saguaros to stout golden barrels, all thriving in Lanzarote’s desert climate.
You can see Manrique’s cactus design motif everywhere, and the garden includes a bar designed by the architect where your entry ticket grants one free drink.
14. Costa Teguise
The next resort along from Arrecife is just a ten-minute drive.
And there are a few reasons to make the short journey: Costa Teguise has an 18-hole golf course, in case you’ve never played out of black sand traps or at the foot of a volcano.
Las Cucharas on the resort’s oceanfront is also a Blue Flag beach and, like Playa del Jablillio next door, is shielded from strong currents by two breakwaters and the natural curve of the coast.
But that doesn’t stop the consistent winds offshore, which is fine by windsurfers and kite-surfers who consider Las Cucharas to be one of the best water sports locations around.
15. Los Hervideros
You can include this natural monument into your trip to Timanfaya, as it’s a couple of kilometres down the coast.
Los Hervideros is a set of volcanic cliffs with strangely patterned faces, caused by quick solidification of the lava as well as erosion by the water and winds.
This has left them pocked with hundreds of cavities and funnels.
On many days the ocean here is savage, and the name of these cliffs in English is “the boilers”, which describes exactly how it looks when the waves crash against the cliffs and water pours through the holes.