Lanzarote really somewhere I should be thinking about as a paragliding destination?
I’ve been taking groups there for 20 years and I’m going to try to explain why we keep going back.
A little background
Lanzarote is the most easterly of the Canary Islands and is about 60 miles off the coast of Africa and about 600 miles from mainland Spain. The islands are Spanish but tourism is a huge part of their income so English is quite widely spoken. There isn’t any natural surface water on the island and it is the only major Canary island that is a desert island.
The island was first settled in the 1400’s by the Spanish but there are archaeological remains dating back 2000 years of a very primitive people that were the first inhabitants.
The island is oriented on a NE – SW axis, is 40 miles long and about 18 miles wide. There are lots of airlines that fly to Lanzarote and it is about a four hour flight from the south of the UK.
For much of the year strong winds blast the island but from mid October through mid February the trade winds slip further south, and we get flyable conditions. If you visit Lanzarote outside this period, you might get the odd flyable day but they will be few and far between. In the winter months, leaving the UK winter behind and stepping off of the plane into warm gentle breezes is a wonderful feeling. During the day, a T-shirt and shorts is normally all you’ll want.
The island is covered in volcanic cones which provide flying sites as well as the high central spine of the northern part of the island. There are flying sites all over the island but finding them isn’t always easy. All of the take-offs are hard and somewhat rocky and all except two are very large. All landings are huge and easy.
Where to stay
Well, the easy way to do this is to tell you where not to stay. There are three big resort towns; Costa Teguise and Puerto del Carmen are spectacularly ugly and are largely responsible for the “Lanza-grotty” image. There is really nothing good I can say about either town and I can’t imagine why you’d want to visit them. Plya Blanca is the third resort town and is really quite a nice place but being stuck on the southern tip of the island, is quite a drive from most flying sites. Good options would be getting an apartment or villa (if there’s enough of you) in Teguise, down at Caleta de Famara, in Airetta or Haria. There are lots of other villages that are also good but you really want something that is either central or to the northern end of the island. You will need a hire car on the island as it’s impossible to get to the flying sites on public transport and bottom landing always require a vehicle retrieve.
I tend to start my day by checking the internet for forecasts. One of the best sites is windguru and I’ll take a look at predictions for both sides of the island (Famara and La Garita).
When you head out in the morning you’ll always need sun block and sun glasses, water, clothing in layers as it’s usually hot in the middle of the day but often cooler in the evenings. I always take swimming things as well because sea temperatures are really nice and a swim after flying feels great. There isn’t anywhere to by food or drink on any of the flying sites but usually a few minutes drive will get you to a shop or a gas station although taking some packed lunch does make things easier.
On a “normal” day you will start on the Eastern side of the island, often at a flying site called Mala (or Presa de Mala). It’s about a mile form the beach and is a big ridge. As the day goes on and the sun changes position it’s not uncommon to move to one of the flying sites on the west side of the Island, often one of the take-offs on the Famara ridge. Just in case you don’t know about Famara, the scale takes your breath away! You’ll take off inland and have to really work to make transitions over gaps until you finally arrive on the costal cliff. From here you can float all the way to Miradore (26 km round trip). It is absolutely stunning to fly above the cliffs, listening to the waves crash against their bases nearly half a mile below.
There are two things that make Lanzarote a little challenging, the flying sites are quite difficult to find and, nearly always involving the network of dirt tracks that criss-crosses the island and trying to decide which site would be best. At any given time there could be three or four sites that are flyable but trying to pick the best is difficult.
Because many of the flying sites work on localized effects, you can easily have a gusty 25 mph wind blowing at Costa Teguise and 10 miles up the coast you could find a 90 degree change in wind direction and a steady 12 mph wind. The difficult part is in reading the weather and anticipating what will happen. You will see changes in conditions over a small area that you wouldn’t believe!
There are 3 parts of the island where you definitely can’t fly; the volcanic park (Timanfaya), the airport ATZ, and the protected area out in front of Famara. If you’ve been to the island before, you might have flown a site near the village of Soo. We used it for many years and then suddenly a few years ago, the police turned up, said it was a prohibited area and fined one of the local pilots.
The major sites are Mala, Famara (there are five different take-offs that we’ve used), Mirador and Macher with loads of less used ones.
Who’s it good for
Conditions are usually a combination of both thermic and dynamic with inflations being quite snatchy and it really isn’t a place to get dragged so good ground handling is important. There are a few training sites that work for beginners but you’ll get much more from Lanzarote if you’ve done a little bit before coming; ideally, if you are joining an instructional group, you should have your EP. If you’re more experienced you’ll get to play in amazing thermals, maybe even nail the Famara ridge. If you’re out there on your own, you need to be pretty slick at top landings (beware of rotor issues behind some take-offs) because getting back to take-off and your car can be problematic without a lift. Unquestionably, you’ll get more out of Lanzarote from some local guiding.
What if it’s not flyable
Oh my god, where do I start? There is so, so much to see and do on Lanzarote. Here are my top five recommendations.
La Garita beach (Airetta): It’s a great beach with crystal clear water and no dangerous currents. The snack bar on the beach (the one nearest to the town of Airetta) serves outstanding food, ice cold drinks and is very inexpensive. The water temperature is great.
Jardin de Cactus (Cactus Garden): Honestly, I’m not very interested in cactus (actually, not at all) but this place has a completely surreal feeling about it. It’s one of the many public buildings that Cezar Manrique designed and they’re all stunning but I picked this one because it’s rather less visited than most of the others.
Graciosa Island: Ok, it’s not Lanzarote but an island separated by less than a kilometer. You can get the ferry over from Orzola at the north end of Lanzarore (four crossings per day). There are only a few specially licensed vehicles on Graciosa and it’s an ideal place to rent mountain bikes. The ride to the beach on the opposite side of the island takes about an hour and a quarter but is well worth the effort; it’s completely deserted and utterly pristine but don’t forget to take lots of water and a packed lunch.
The walking trails: The island is covered by a network of walking trails that are well marked and the tourist office can supply comprehensive route notes. My favorite is the trail from Playa Quamada to Papagayo. It follows a stunning coastline and takes about four hours. You probably won’t see another person along the whole trail. There is lots of ups and downs so by the end of it, you’ll be feeling it.
Cave Bar at Lag-o-mar (L’Oasis de Nazeret): Come on Friday night but don’t expect it to fill up until around midnight. It is like no bar you’ve ever been to before; incredibly stylized with a very pronounced Manrique feel. The bar is built into a cave in a cliff and the architecture has been fused with the natural. By midnight on Friday nights they’ll be playing salsa house music, there will be lots of people dancing.
So, are you feeling tempted? If you are and would like a cure for post Christmas blues, give us a call. We have an outstanding villa, take only small groups and will show you the hidden or local side to the island.
+44 (0)7833 107 902