The Timanfaya National Park lies in the southern part of the island between the two municipal centres of Yaiza and Tinajo. Covering an area of 51 square kilometres the National Park stretches from the Montañas del Fuego to the sea, following the extraordinary rock formations of gullies and Jameos (collapsed lava tubes) created when the volcanoes here began erupting in 1730. During six years the island was shaken by massive explosions and covered in thick black fumes, with 30 farms and hamlets inundated with molten lava or buried in fine black volcanic gravel, known locally as picón. Amazingly no one was killed, although a third of the island’s best farmland was lost. Today the park is the most important tourist attraction on the island with César Manrique’s extraordinary glass walled restaurant the El Diablo at its centre, which has marvellous views over the black lunar volcanic landscape to the sea. A casual observer could be forgiven for thinking the eruptions had taken place only weeks before, because the bizarre lava formations here look as if they have cooled to the touch only days before. The volcanic craters are dormant but vents by the vantage point at the Islote de Hilario give out superheated air at 400 degrees centigrade, providing the perfect natural cooker to grill meat and sweet potatoes for the restaurant close by. The heat comes from a broiling chamber of magma – estimated to be safely 4 kilometres beneath the surface at this point.
The National Park now contains many interesting micro habitats as plants and animals begin to repopulate the barren lava flows, known as the malpais – literally the badlands. With more than 200 species of lichen, and some of the oldest fig trees on the island dotted amongst the volcanic cones and rolling slopes of picón, the area is by no means as sterile as it seems. Barbary Falcons nest in the park and can regularly be seen swooping down on rabbits and other small mammals which have made their homes in the fractured lava flows. The best way to visit Timanfaya is to start at the visitors centre on the road between Yaiza and Tinajo, also designed by Manrique. Set into the black landscape of jagged lava the centre is practically invisible from the road and houses interactive displays, and videos which graphically describe the volcanic processes and their effect on the history of Lanzarote and the Canary Islands. Unescorted walking is not permitted, due to the fragility of the rocks and the possible danger of collapsing lava tubes and gullies. However from the El Diablo special buses with a pre-recorded commentaries in three languages leave every 20 minutes for the Ruta de los Volcanes, following a narrow hairpin road which winds through the craters of the Montañas del Fuego. The colours of the landscape are extraordinary, with the dark slopes of picón giving way to black, maroon and grey folds of volcanic rock inside the steep sided craters. Far below the jagged malpais, where the lava cascaded down to the sea, is fissured with gaping holes and gullies where lava tubes formed by the fast flowing magma slowly solidified, and then collapsed. Those who wish to explore the Park on foot can take the Ruta de Tremesana. The three hour walk starts within the park and is escorted by a park ranger – it takes place four times a week and is very popular so be sure to book in well in advance at the Visitors centre of the Park or by email. A camel ride offers another novel view of the park – the camel train leaves every 20 minutes or so from a special area close to the visitors centre near Mancha Blanca.
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