Fuerteventura - Photographic Impressions of the Island
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The Spanish owned Canary Islands are today among the most popular of all destinations for Western European holiday makers, who travel there in their millions every year, and in every month of the year. The appeal rests mainly with the equable climate - rarely rising much above 30°C in the summer or below 20°C in winter - the safe stable political environment, and the very long stretches of sandy beaches.
And when it comes to beaches, the island of Fuerteventura could lay claim to some of the very best of all. This island is the second largest in the group covering an area of 1650 km2 (650 mls2) and together with its close neighbour Lanzarote, is the most eastern of the Canarys, lying just 100 km (60 miles) off the coast of Africa. It is also one of the lowest lying of these volcanic islands, with a maximum elevation of 807 m (2,648 ft). Today Fuerteventura is a highly attractive option for anyone looking for sunshine, beaches, and a comfortable hotel vacation.
The author of this article visited Fuerteventura for the first time in March 2016, having previously spent time on other islands in the Canary archipelago - Lanzarote, Tenerife and Gran Canaria. This article is an entirely personal photographic essay of first impressions of the island, and the various attractions the island has to offer, both natural and manmade. It is influenced by my own vacationing interests and is not a guide to everything the tourist may need to know. But whilst it cannot be a comprehensive guide to all of Fuerteventura, hopefully it will give anyone thinking of holidaying here, an impression of what the island has to offer, how it compares to other islands in the group, and how to make the most of your time here.
All photos were taken by the author during five days on Fuerteventura in March 2016
Most who visit Fuerteventura for their vacation will stay in one of the many resorts dotted around the coastline, wherever there is a sandy beach. And many who visit will never venture far from their resort hotel, content to just laze on the beach, sunbathe, and enjoy the facilities the local area has to offer.
Hotels on Fuerteventura are typical of Spanish resorts. Of course standards vary, and one gets what one pays for, but most tourists will stay in a modern purpose-built hotel - not luxurious, but with all the amenities necessary for a one or two week vacation in the sun - clean, modestly furnished rooms, one or more buffet style restaurants offering international cuisine, and one or more swimming pools, bars and additional facilities such as spas, laundries, tennis courts and cycle and car hire.
Usually there will be several similar hotels in the resort to choose from, and almost everything else in the local neighbourhood also caters to the tourist trade - restaurants and bars, beach cafes, souvenir shops etc. And around the resorts one may find golf courses, companies offering land excursions and boat trips, and aquatic activities such as scuba diving. There may also be night clubs, cinemas and other entertainments, though it must be said that most of the resorts on Fuerteventura are comparatively quiet - this is certainly not the main destination in the Canary Islands for those seeking an active nightlife!
Most resorts are located on the eastern side of the island. One 20 km (12ml) stretch of beach called the Playa de Sotavento de Jandia extends all the way from Morro Jable in the extreme southeast to Costa Calma, broken up only by occasional rocky outcrops. It was in this area that I made my base. I stayed in Costa Calma.
Then all along the east coast there are numerous small bays and coves and several have their attendant hotels and resorts. Costa Caleta de Fuste and Costa de Antigua are among the main beaches here.
But then up in the northeast we come to the other important tourist area around the coast of Fuerteventura - the beaches and Dunes of Corralejo, a massive expanse of sand, which is similar in some respect to the Dunes of Maspalomas on Gran Canaria - maybe slightly less accessible, with less impressively mountainous dunes, yet covering a much larger area.
One should mention that on all these beaches toplessness and naturism occurs. There are no strictly nudist beaches on Fuerteventura, and on all beaches naturism is understandably more common on more isolated sections away from the hotel fronts, or in secluded coves, but it is accepted as normal and passes without comment.
There is one drawback to all these beaches - the wind. Fuerteventura is notorious as the windiest of the Canary Islands. Indeed the name of the island means 'strong wind', and most who visit will comment on the strength of the gusts. This can be really seriously disappointing to those who go for a beach holiday, particularly when the wind blasts a sunbather with stinging sand grains. The wind chill can also make a balmy 20°C winter temperature feel positively cold. On the other hand, the breeze can make hot summer days of 30°C more tolerable.
Windsurfing / Kitesurfing
If a country or a region or an island has some particular attribute which defines it - for good or bad - then you may as well make use of it. On Fuerteventura, that attribute is the aforementioned wind, and certainly this aspect of the island's weather makes Fuerteventura a haven for windsurfers and kitesurfers or kiteboarders. The best winds are on the west coast, but there's plenty of breeze on the eastern beaches to create both the gusts and the waves to satisfy those who enjoy these sports.
The Rocky Headlands
I have already briefly mentioned rocky outcrops, and many of the beaches of Fuerteventura are bordered by cliffs and headlands and rocky debris. The cliffs can provide much needed shelter from the winds and the strewn volcanic boulders around the bases of the cliffs can in many cases be traversed to get from one attractive beach to the next. And the headlands are worth exploring for any with an interest in wildlife - the subject of the following sections.
The Bird Life of the Beaches
Any regular reader of my travel articles willI know how keen I am to promote a diverse range of experiences when on holiday. To just sit and sunbathe by a swimming pool or roast on a beach is in my opinion a waste of a once in a lifetime visit to another country. I always take a bird book with me on my travels, and in Fuerteventura some of the birds in the coastal regions are so tame and approachable (especially if you carry a few seeds of grain with you) that a lot of rewardingly close encounters can be had by bird lovers and photographers. I spent a lot of my time just wandering around the headlands taking pictures. Anyone with a decent camera could do likewise and take away much better memories than you'd get from a dose of sunburn caused by lazing on the beach or reading a book that you could just as easily read at home.
Barbary Ground Squirrels
One resident of Fuerteventura always provides a memorable encounter for visitors to the island, and this is the Barbary Ground Squirrel. A native of northwest Africa, these squirrels were first introduced to Fuerteventura in the 1960s. They spread rapidly and have become as much a part of the island scene as the hotels, the beaches, and the windsurfers. And whilst as an introduced species they may well have somewhat damaged the local ecology, their tameness has endeared them to visitors. Go anywhere with a bag of nuts near where these little squirrels are living in burrows amidst the rocks and sand dunes and soon you will have them clambering all over your arms, around your neck, or into your bags!
Driving in Fuerteventura
Continuing with the theme of getting the most out of your visit to Fuerteventura, I would strongly recommend hiring a car and seeing the whole of the island. And for anyone who isn't confident of driving in a foreign country, the Canary Islands are the place to first try your hand. The driving here is easy. The roads are well laid out, tarmacked and signposted, and traffic in all but the main towns is quiet. You cannot easily get lost, and on Fuerteventura, unlike some of the other islands, you don't even have too much in the way of high mountains and very narrow roads to navigate.
There are two things one does have to consider. First, many of the roads do not have smooth-surfaced run-offs, and often there is a small but signifficant drop of about 10 cm (4 ins) to a gravelly surface strewn with small rocks. So leaving the road or re-entering can play havoc with your suspension or your tyres. Secondly, be aware of cyclists, particularly on the hills, where a whole bunch of cycling enthusiasts may be just around the next bend.
The following sections show some of the sights to be seen just by getting out and driving around the island.
It must be said that Fuerteventura lacks the volcanically interesting landscape of the neighbouring island of Lanzarote, or the very impressive, high mountainous scenery of Tenerife and Gran Canaria, but nonetheless this island is still an attractive place to explore. Low rolling hills and sparse scrubby vegetation are characteristic of the island, but there is a gradual transition between the sandy southern peninsula, the low lying plains to the east and north, and the uplands in central Fuerteventura and the west.
Although it is the second largest island in the group, Fuerteventura is only the fourth most populous, with about 100,000 inhabitants. More than a third of these live in the capital Puerto del Rosario. So the interior of the island is sparsely populated, and unspoiled by modern development.
I was on the island for just five days, and three of them were spent driving around in a car hired at the hotel in which I was staying. In those three days it was possible to see almost all areas of this small island accessible by road apart from the extreme northwest.
Included in this section are a few of the photographs which I took during this brief exploration of Fuerteventura, to demonstrate the variety of landscapes on the island.
Walking in the Countryside
Although it is not always easy to park up in the countryside due to a lack of roadworthy parking areas off-road, it is well worth finding places where one can get out and walk. Canary Island authorities seem keen to preserve and cherish their heritage and their natural environment and there are numerous pathways one can take to explore the island of Fuerteventura on foot. This is the best way to experience the nature of the island, to find wild flowers, to spot birds and to see farmers working in their fields.
And goats! There are more goats than people on the island and they come in all different shades of black, white, grey and brown. They provide the island with popular goat milk cheeses. I took the picture of the brown goat in the photo below whilst walking in the Barranco de Pecenescal, a nature reserve which is also pictured in this section.
A Brief Floral Interlude
The isolated nature of all the Canary Islands, most of which are hundreds of kilometres from mainland Africa, as well as their volcanic origins which mean that none of these islands have ever been connected to the mainland, has resulted in a distinctive flora, many species of which are unique to the islands. That makes the Canary Islands a botanist's haven.
I'm no expert on identifying flowers, but walking through the countryside, one does see a host of wild species, and these are just a few of the photos I took of wiild flowers in Fuerteventura.
They were photographed in all regions of the island as the captions indicate.
Of course one place it is easy to stop and get out and walk is in the villages. The Canary Islands are islands of small villages, and none more so than Fuerteventura. Apart from the capital Puerto de la Rosario, and one or two small towns and resorts, no settlement is inhabited by more than 1000 people.
Maps can be misleading in that regard. One sees a name in big bold type, the capital of a municipality (administrative region or county), well signposted on the roadsides - and when one actually arrives at the place, you're through and out the other side in less than a minute!
To be honest the villages are not as pretty as the whitewashed settlements of neighbouring Lanzarote, but they are still interesting to walk around, and most have their own little attractions whether it be a historic church, or a windmill or a museum. And they are a good place to stop for lunch. Restaurants and cafes in these little villages are welcoming, and offer a range of local, Mediterranean and other Western cuisine at a reasonable price.
Local Village Attractions
Most maps of Fuerteventura highlight the main manmade attractions to be seen, and there are several dotted around the island. Perhaps none would feature on a 'Seven Wonders' list, but some are interesting places to visit nonetheless. Churches, old colonial houses and windmills are predictable landmarks. And on an island with a rocky coastline, lighthouses are also common sights around Fuerteventura. One word of caution; it's always worth checking out the accessibility of local attractions online before visiting. I intended visiting the Cueva del Llano in northern Fuerteventura - a cave which features a species of spider found nowhere else on the island, nor indeed anywhere else in the world. But due to the need to supervise visitors, it just isn't practical to have attendants on duty 24/7. The cave is not open every day, and on the day I visited, it was only open for a few hours in the morning before I arrived. I never did see my spider!
These are just a few additional photos which I wanted to include, of various other sights and experiences to be found on the island of Fuerteventura. Wherever one goes around an island like this, always take a camera - there is no substitute for the memories which images such as these can conjure up. Take lots of photos; in this digital age you can always discard them later.
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There follows a brief summary of my impressions of Fuerteventura.
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This more or less concludes my brief review of the island of Fuerteventura. Sorry it contains little about nightlife or entertainments tailored to the tourist industry, but it is, as I say, a personal photoessay reflecting my interests and my impressions. I hope anyone with similar interests finds it useful.
Fuerteventura is an island of warm and sunny blue-sky days, golden yellow beaches, undulating hills, and an easy, calm, laid-back lifestyle. These were my impressions of the island after one short visit as a tourist in the month of March. I enjoyed every day spent in this tourist haven. But would I return?
No. Probably not. Fuerteventura is a very nice place to visit, but its charms must be judged relative to other similar destinatiions, and specifically the other islands of the Canary Archipelago. And my estimation is that Fuerteventura lacks some of the picturesque charm and geological interest of Lanzarote, it has less character and less night life than Tenerife, and less scenic grandeur than Gran Canaria.
Of course the appeal of any destination is very much in the eye of the beholder, and Fuerteventura may well capture the hearts of many visitors in ways which other islands cannot match. If like so many tourists the only requirement is acres and kilometres of sandy beach, and hotel environments mercifully free from the rowdiest mindless party-going members of the younger generation, then Fuerteventura may hold a very strong appeal. And if sandy beaches coupled with a passion for windsurfing, kite surfing - or goats - is your special thing, then book your vacation to this island in the sun tomorrow. All I ask is that you venture beyond the beaches just once or twice during your visit!
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