Fuerteventura – Desert hikes and sunny beaches

Kitesurfers on Fuerteventura

Fuerteventura literally means “strong winds” and that was indeed the prevalent feature of the island when we visited for 12 days in December. With a mild and dry climate and not far off the Moroccan coast, the second-largest of the Canary Islands is a popular winter destination for European tourists who come for the beaches on Fuerteventura.

We arrive in the South of the Island by Fred Olsen ferry from Gran Canaria and walk over to the nearby town of Morro Jable – a strip of colourful houses built into a dry wadi not so long ago. A balmy breeze wafts through the alleys and we have some cortados and a cheese sandwich at one of the cafés. Arabic is spoken at the neighbouring tables and Morro Jable definitely has a North African vibe to it.

Playa del Matorral on Fuerteventura

Nothing in the desert landscape behind us would recommend this spot for a settlement, were it not for the broad white sand beach beginning here and stretching for many kilometres along the coast of the Jandía Peninsula. The island bus we take soon passes rows of hotel blocks set back from the beach, hundreds of hollow squares, balcony upon balcony of two deck chairs and drawn curtains. Most of the larger hotels have shut down due to the Corona pandemic, but a number of tourists are staying in the smaller hotels or bungalow parks and making dots on the largely empty beach.

A tiny harbor town

Gran Tarajal, the tiny harbour town where we have rented a flat, attracts very few tourists. Some foreigners are staying on sailing boats in the yacht harbour. The sand on the small beach is a dark grey, and the sea promenade including the complete harbour front and bay allows for a maximum jogging route of perhaps 5 kilometres, but there is a small stretch of cafés and restaurants at the seafront.

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Fuerteventura clearly is a beach and water sports destination. We aren’t beach people, and with winter storms, red flags, and high waves the water doesn’t look enticing anyway. Some people walk or run along the beach, a teddy bear is wearing a unicorn sweater to keep warm (sitting in the dunes). Below, only two older men shuffle waist-deep into the water. Over the next days we manage to do some sightseeing and hiking instead.

We climb Pico Zarza, the island’s highest mountain. At 807 metres that’s not more than a longish desert walk, which will definitely make it among our top-1000 island hikes. And we cross the island at its smallest point at the Isthmus of La Pared.

Salt making facilites on Fuerteventura

An immersion into local culture

Natascha milking a fake goat in the Cheese museum
Natascha tries her hand at milking

Several museums on Fuerteventura introduce the local culture and traditions. The Salinas de Carmen today house a museum, where we can visit the restored old salt production pools. Exhibits and videos explain the procedure of sea salt making. Without even using pumps, the local salt entrepreneurs coaxed high waves onto the coastland and then drained the water into shallow pools. The saltwater was then gradually simmered down by the tropical sun until salt crystals could be scraped out from the flat basins.

Cheese!

In the cheese museum in Antigua, we learn about the production of the local Majorero goat cheese for which the island is famous. In fact, the locals predominantly subsisted on this cheese in former centuries because Fuerteventura is not suited to agriculture at all. Goats were the only animals that could survive on the dry land. Cheese prices and cheese export was often highly regulated to prevent mass starvation.

Windmill on Fuerteventura

The mill museum in Tiscamanita, one of the most pleasant rural villages on Fuerteventura according to our guide book, is closed for undisclosed reasons. At least the restored, white-washed windmill looks nice on the pictures. The village however seems pretty average to us at best.

Ruin of the Convento de San Buenaventura on Fuerteventura
Scenic ruins of the Convento de San Buenaventura

Betancouria is another one of those traditional villages popular with tourists for its atmosphere. For a brief period in the 15th century Betancuria even was the island’s capital. The church, where a bishop was once meant to reside (but never actually arrived), and about 5 nearby houses are photogenic enough. They all house tourist cafés and souvenir shops, and we notice the broad pedestrian walkways and routes. Clearly, the intention is to keep hundreds of bus tourists away from the village’s narrow roads. In non-Corona times, the place must be brimming with bus excursions from Fuerteventura’s beaches in the south. We walk around the decaying old monastery just outside the village. Afterwards, we continue to the Barranco del Malpaso, a peaceful canyon where a dam and a failed reservoir project left a seasonal lake and some burgeoning greenery.

Palm-fringed landscape on Fuerteventura

For the last few days, we move to Corralejo in the North of Fuerteventura. Famous for its beaches, Corralejo is a thriving tourist town with shopping malls, surf shops, restaurants, and beach bars. Most of them are open. Here, we encounter the highest number of tourists we have seen on the Canary Islands so far this year.

Ocean view in Corralejo

Surfer beaches on Fuerteventura

A mountain bike ride along the north coast leads us past all the popular surfer beaches on Fuerteventura, a walk along the protected Corralejo Dunes to the eastern beaches where the kite surfers congregate. The nearby island of Los Lobos is uninhabited, but a small ferryboat brings day tourists for hiking, surfing or lounging on the beach. We spend a whole very relaxing day walking all over the small island.

Heart-shaped lake on Los Lobos island
Romantic heart-shaped lake on Los Lobos

Meanwhile we are back on the neighbouring island of Gran Canaria for more climbing and hiking.

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