Fuerteventura is the second largest of the Spanish Canary Islands in the Atlantic. Not far from the coast of Africa, it’s a true desert island—in the sandy sense of the word—with vast dunes and over 150km of delicious beach. A reliable destination for pasty Northern Europeans to top up their vitamin D levels during the winter, myself included.
It may the second largest island but development is fairly restrained compared to Gran Canaria and Tenerife. Much quieter than its popular neighbours, resorts here are modest and family-friendly, with the north of the island popular with Brits and the south with Germans.
It’s also the nearest island to Morocco and this is reflected in its arid landscape and dry climate. It has the least amount of rainfall of all the islands. The landscape is barren and windswept, although a bit softer and less geologically weird than its neighbour Lanzarote. If you’re looking for white sandy beaches and turquoise seas but a short flight from Europe then Fuerteventura should be top of your list. The trade-off is that you may be blasted by strong winds as well as a strong Saharan sun. In fact, the name Fuerteventura is sometimes translated as ‘strong winds’, although the breeze helps keep it cool through its 3000 hours of sunshine a year.
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Fuerteventura is an intriguing blend of intensity and nothingness. More rugged and windy than it appears in photos, but with a noticeable gentility and contentedness amongst its inhabitants. After goats ate all of the vegetation on the island – leading to its desertification – the only agriculture that remains is goat farming and aloe vera, so the population never reached the levels of the other islands.
Locals here may be outnumbered by foreigners, but everyone looks extremely happy to be here. Endless blue skies and seas mean towns are full of expats and chilled out surfers with contagious smiles. People come to Fuerteventura for the elements and simplicity of life. It’s all about the wind and the waves here.
The west coast of the island is gloriously wild, whereas the clean and gentle east coast waters are perfect for kids.
Dusty, barren, windy, with whitewashed towns. You won’t find rowdy groups on lads’ holidays here, even the developed resorts are low key and targeting families with small kids or older couples. Many of the package tourists don’t stray inland, save for the odd jeep safari or day-trip to Betancuria for a token bit of culture, leaving the rust coloured undulating hills peaceful and free for exploring.
Development along the coast is fairly restrained, especially since it was made part of the UNESCO Biosphere and Starlight Reserve in 2009. Large swathes of beach are either protected or too wild for resort development.
WHICH AREA TO STAY ON FUERTEVENTURA
For a complete rundown on accommodation options, including a guide to Fuerteventura’s beach resorts, check out Where to Stay on Fuerteventura: An Ultimate Resort Guide.
For a quick overview, read on . . .
The administrative capital of Fuerteventura is Puerto del Rosario, but most visitors head for one of the larger beach towns such as Corralejo (in the north east), Caleta de Fuste (in the middle of the island, just south of the airport), Morro Jable or Jandia (in the south). Puerto del Rosario was only named the capital in 1860 so you won’t find much in the way of historical buildings here, head to the historic capital of Betancuria instead.
Corralejo. I stayed in Corralejo (pronounced ‘coral echo’), a relaxed resort town in the north about 40 minutes drive from the airport. At its centre is a small old harbour town, with accommodation spreading out along some of the best beaches on the island. It’s also the watersports capital, with the many of the surfing outfits based here. Tourist tat and tacky bars are mainly confined to one strip. I found it a little lacking in atmosphere, but it is conveniently located, has good bus connections and plenty of cheap accommodation options. The famous sand dunes are a 30-minute walk as long as you can brave the wind.
El Cotillo is a traditional fishing village on the north-west of the island. It has a unique feel thanks to its proximity to beautiful lagoons, pirate connections, wild winds, beautiful sunsets, good surf spots, and some of the best seafood on the island. But it can feel a bit quiet, windy, and cut off out of season, serving as a stopping point for campervans and surf schools.
If you’re looking for boutique accommodation, the most interesting options are inland, in the triangle formed by the small villages of Lajares, Villaverde, and La Oliva. Thanks to their cheap prices and prime location with the coast accessible in three directions, these villages have become a popular base for surfers and a quietly bohemian vibe is flourishing. They are small though, so if you’re looking for evening entertainment you would be better off on the coast.
Caleta de Fuste in the centre is the best base for families. Another English holidaymaker favourite, it has a long strip of man-made beach with great facilities.
Jandia. The Jandia peninsula at the southern tip of the island has one fantastic long beach that encompasses the popular resorts of Costa Calma, Playas de Jandia, and Morro Jables. It’s more popular with German holidaymakers than English tourists, and the bar/restaurant scene reflects this.
Canarian cuisine is simple and big on fish, goat, and goat’s cheese. There is no shortage of local cheese in the supermarkets here, I particularly enjoyed the smoked variety.
Potatoes here are cooked in salt water, boiled away to leave a salty residue on the wrinkly tatties and called papas arrugadas, and served alongside a red mojo picon or green mojo verde sauce. There is no shortage of goat or the famous local Majorero goat’s cheese. Another Canarian speciality is gofio – an ancient kind of maize. Try it in a thickened chickpea stew.
My favourite find was almogrote, a spread made from peppers and goat’s cheese.
I was delighted to discover lapas (limpets) on the menu in Fuerteventura. Not commonly eaten in the UK but considered a delicacy in Portugal, I became a fan whilst in the Azores, where I watched locals pluck them straight out of a bucket and eat them raw. But they’re also good cooked with garlic, lemon, and herbs.
Foodies should check out this food tour which takes in various agricultural stops and tastings.
Restaurants in the resort towns can tend towards the typical international tourist fare. Being a fishing village, the fish restaurants in El Cotillo are of good quality and have sunset views.
- Corralejo. There are a few town beaches in Corralejo which are good for kids, but for space and spectacle head south to the 10km Playa Grande backed by sand dunes.
- La Concha. A beautiful sheltered bay with white sand and turquoise waters at El Cotillo.
- El Castillo. A wide organised beach with plenty for the kids to do at Caleta de Fuste.
- Cofete. For a touch of wilderness, head to the 12km Cofete on Fuerteventura’s west coast. It’s backed by the Jandia mountains and accessible only by a dirt track. With strong winds and currents it’s not suitable for children or swimming, but worth it if you like to get off the beaten track.
- Sotavento. Join the kitesurfers, Scandis and nudists at this photogenic beach in the north of the Jandia peninsula which sports a shallow tidal lagoon.
- Parque Natural de las Dunas de Corralejo. Who needs the Sahara when you have 11km of dunes right by the sea?
- Take a surf lesson. There’s no shortage of surf outfits, particularly if you’re staying in Cofete. Or try stand-up paddleboarding. Or if you just want to soak up the surf vibe, head to El Cotillo (link) for sunset fish dinner.
- Stargaze with local astrological outfit Stars By Night, who also run astrophotography sessions. Fuerteventura is a designated UNESCO Starlight Reserve, meaning it is committed to preserving the quality of light.
- Isla de Lobos. This tiny island is the perfect day or half-day trip from Corralejo. Read more below.
- Hiking. Tindaya – Fuerteventura’s highest point and spiritual centre – is closed to the public, you need permission from the authorities to hike this volcanic peak with its ancient carvings. Join an organised hike, or check out alternative routes which take in dry river beds and secret beaches.
- Lanzarote. Playa Blanca is just a 25-minute ferry ride from Corralejo, or plenty of excursions are available if you fancy a wine and volcano tour over on neighbouring island Lanzarote.
El Cotillo is a quiet fishing village on the west coast with an offbeat feel. Much smaller than Corralejo, it can feel like the edge of the world when the wind is howling.
The Clean Ocean Project is a cool little NGO which organises beach cleans and initiatives around the reduction of plastic use. Their shops in El Cotillo and Corralejo sell incredibly fluffy bamboo t-shirts and hoodies, ideal if you’re under-dressed for the sometimes chilly Atlantic winds.
The first capital of the Fuerteventura, Betancuria has a refreshingly different character to the seaside resorts and is the best place to get a taste of Canarian history and culture. Located inland to protect from invaders and still sporting some traditional architecture, as well as a few interesting museums, the first convent on the island (now abandoned), and some green things that aren’t aloe vera for a change, Betancuria is now a prime day trip destination.
The little archaeological museum gives a clue as to why there is so little on the island: goats.
It wasn’t always so. Known in classical times as the Fortunate Isles, Fuerteventura was once green and fertile, but goats and logging resulted in desertification and the island went into decline until the tourism boom in the 1970s.
Relatively little is known about the indigenous period of the Majos, before the European conquistadors arrived in the 13th and 14th centuries, as few archaeological sites have been excavated.
Casa de Santa María, a restored 17th-century house, has lovely gardens, a great restaurant, and demonstrations of traditional textiles. There’s cheese-tasting available at nearby Finca Pepe, a working farm.
ISLA DE LOBOS
My highlight in Fuerteventura was Isla de Lobos, a tiny volcanic island just off the coast at Corralejo.
There is nothing much here which is precisely why I loved it.
Lobos is a protected ecological zone so visitors are contained to walking trails. The only settlement is at El Puertito, a few simple cottages and a restaurant with one item on the menu: fried parrot fish with potatoes and red pepper sauce.
The water is an astounding turquoise here. Lobos is just big enough to nip over on the ferry, read about the flora and fauna, walk a circuit of the island, eat a fish, have a swim, head back. The snorkelling is fantastic.
Fuerteventura Airport (El Matorral Airport), in the centre of the island, is served by international and domestic flights. The airline Binter Canarias will connect you with the other Canary Islands.
The closest island to Fuerteventura is Lanzarote, a mere 25 minute ferry ride from Corralejo. Fuerteventura also has direct (although less frequent) ferry links to Tenerife (from Puerto del Rosario), Gran Canaria (from Puerto del Rosario and Morro Jable), and La Palma (from Puerto del Rosario).
It’s best to rent a car in Fuerteventura if you can—the roads are easy and uncrowded. Tourism here is mainly geared towards package holidaymakers so there’s no shortage of organised trips, but locals seemed perplexed by an independent traveller not in search of a wave. The Tourist Office in Corralejo is simply a shed for tour leaflets and bus timetables.
Buses are cheap and reliable. Corralejo has bus links to Lajares, La Oliva, and El Cotillo, and Puerto del Rosario where you can change for buses to the south of the island.
BEST TIME TO VISIT?
Fuerteventura is a year-round destination with relatively little variation in weather.
There are two high seasons in the Canaries. December to March brings Europeans looking to escape the cold winter, and July-August brings the summer holiday crowd and Spaniards looking for respite from the mainland heat. February is Carnival time. May, June, and September are the quietest months when some family businesses close for a break, but otherwise you’ll find amenities open all year.
Summer sees average daytime temperatures of around 26-28ºC (though sometimes much hotter, depending on the wind), with sea temperatures of around 22ºC.
Winter sees average daytime temps of 19-22ºC and sea temperatures of 19ºC. Feb-March can bring the possibility of Saharan dust storms.
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