By Regina Winkle-Bryan
I recently traveled to Iceland, and though you wouldn’t think that Iceland and Fuerteventura would resemble each other, I was struck by their similarities. Iceland has a volcanic landscape, as does Fuerteventura. Both offer harsh, rugged vistas and virgin beaches reached by 4x4s. Both are islands. Both are in the Atlantic Ocean. Neither have many trees or fauna. And on both, it is not uncommon to find yourself driving past vast expanses of lava rock. Call me crazy, but I felt like Fuerteventura was the yang to Iceland’s yin.
Clearly, there are also many difference between these two islands as well. The weather for one. I visited Iceland in the spring and wore a fluffy down jacket. During my spring trip to Fuerteventura I wore sandals, a tank-top and sunscreen (which did not stop me from getting a sunburn). Fuerteventura is one of those sweet-spots on the planet where it’s always sunny, always warm. It never gets too hot, or too cold.
But maybe I should back up for a minute. Are some of you wondering where Fuerteventura is? Fair enough. It doesn’t have the same reputation as other Spanish islands, like Ibiza or Mallorca. Fuerteventura is part of the Spanish Canary Islands. There are seven of them (more if you count minor islands) located just off the western coast of Africa near Morocco. If we’re talking geography, these islands are African. If we’re talking politics, they are Spanish. In a way, the Canaries are the best of both worlds: a little bit of Africa but with tapas. As we drove around I kept thinking that I could be in Morocco, but that I was actually in Spain.
There are about 90,000 people living on Fuerteventura, many of them making a living from tourists or goats. While the Canary Islands don’t get many North American visitors, they are popular destinations for Northern Europeans. Indeed, many Northern Europeans live on or have holiday homes on Fuerteventura. Why don’t many Americans make it over to the Canaries? I’m not really sure. Maybe they are just too far away, a three-and-a half-hour plane ride from Barcelona. Or maybe after coming all the way from California or Ohio, Americans want to focus on the ‘biggies’ – Seville, Barcelona, Madrid, etc.
But why not add Fuerteventura or Lanzarote onto a Spain visit, especially in the winter when most of Spain is cold? If you’re coming from the US (or anywhere else) in off-season, see the ‘biggies’ and then hop on down to the Canary Islands and get a tan before heading back to New York. And with inexpensive flights on RyanAir (beware with these guys) or on Iberia, it’s sort of a no-brainer. Even in high-season (summer) Fuerteventura is the ‘it’ spot for surfing, wind surfing and kite surfing in Spain.
Fuerteventura is famous for its beaches; from powder white to black sand, the island has it all. I enjoyed the tiny coves north of El Cotillo around Punta de Barra but before Faro del Tostón. People say that Playa de Cofete is the island’s most heavenly beach, but I didn’t go there because I would have needed a 4×4, and all I had was a Dacia Sandero. I also checked out Gran Tarajal which seemed quite sheltered from the constant winds that rip over Fuerteventura. It seemed like a good place for swimming, though the town was not as pretty as Cotillo.
Due to its lovely beaches, many visitors never go inland on Fuerteventura. Big mistake. Make sure to get over to Betancuria, named after Jean de Bethencourt, a Frenchman employed by the Spanish to aid in conquering the island in the 1400s (there were native people living on the islands when the Spanish and French arrived – not much is left of them). Among chalk-white buildings palm trees and geraniums flourish in this oasis. Betancuria was the first capital of the Canary Islands, and it was here that the archipelago’s first monastery and cathedral were built.
It would be an error not to rent a car on Fuerteventura (and all the better if it’s 4×4 as many of the roads are dirt). As you drive around the island make sure to hit the brakes when you see signs that say ‘Vendo Queso’ or ‘Cheese for Sale’. Many small goat farms make their own cheese, and this is one of the top products on the island. Visit La Villa de Betancuria for an aged goat cheese that will knock your socks off (Llano de Santa Catalina s/n – just outside of Betancuria).
I stayed at Hotel Elba Palace Golf, situated right in the middle of the island near Caleta de Fuste. I don’t play golf but I did enjoy the deluxe rooms at Elba, the pool (where ducks occasionally joined me for a swim), the spa down the road, the piano bar with nightly live music, and the restaurant which serves local dishes and a wide selection of Spanish wines.
More on booking here: web
Unlike most of my jaunts, I did not book a car ahead of time. Upon arriving at the Puerto del Rosario airport I walked over to Top Car and rented my Dacia for three days for about $75 total. Not a bad deal. I was visiting during shoulder-season, so if you’re going in high-season you’ll want to book ahead of time.
Have you been to the Canary Islands? If so, which ones? Which island should I visit next?
**Note that I was a guest of Hotel Elba Palace Golf. It was a great place and I am pleased to be able to review it for our site. If you want lux, Elba is the spot.