Arrecife is the administrative and commercial area of the island, with modern buildings and shop lined streets. Modern life has not stopped it from conserving the character and style of the colonial fishing village it once was. You appreciated the history when walking through the towns tree lined streets with white houses. Charco de San Ginés, the natural lagoon in the old town with the fishing boats tied up and men repairing their nets.
Founded at the beginning of the 15th century. The quaint fishing village of Arrecife slept quietly for more than two hundred years. Until at the beginning of the 17th century. The devastation of the capital of the island, Villa de Teguise, by invading Berber pirates. This led the administration to transfer its activities to Arrecife, well protected by its two excellent natural harbours and defences.
Castle of San Gabriel
King Felipe II constructed the Castle of San Gabriel in 1574. In 1586 its was raised to the ground by pirates under orders of privateer Morato Arraez. Legend has it that after heroic resistance by the entire town. The women opted to put an end to their own lives rather than fall into the hands of the invading pirates.
Finally in 1596 the architect Leonardo Torriani reconstructed the castle. Leaving as we see it today and joining it to the mainland by means of a bridge. This bridge still exists today and is known as the Puente de las Bolas. The bridge of balls, because of its stone pillars with spherical volcanic stone on top of each.
Muelle de los Mármoles
In 1779 and to ensure the defences of the city from the north. Carlos III built another castle between Muelle de los Mármoles and Puerto Naos. This castle was built at a time when the island had a labour shortage. It was named by the people Castillo del Hambre or the castle of hunger, since those who had nothing to eat worked to build it.
Today Castillo de San José is the contemporary art museum, which exhibits the works of famous modern artists.
Arrecife today is still a fishing town, its fleet is the largest of all the Canary islands and competes with modern high tech fleets across the world. In recent years tourism has lead to development of the city which is now an important commercial centre. The street known as León Y Castillo is now a busy shopping area offering visitors pleasant and inexpensive experiences.
Arrecife on Foot
Arrecife is best discovered on foot and to visit this wonderful town is a must do. Leave the car behind and venture to the capital on the bus. The service is reliable although busy and buses from each resort either terminate or pass through the capital.
Arrive By Bus
Travelling from Playa Blanca on the No:60 will get you to Arrrecife in no time. From Puerto del Carmen or Costa Teguise use the circular route of the No:3. Whichever resort you arrive from always disembark at Arrecife Centro Intercambiador. This is the bright orange bus interchange opposite the sculpture park close to the beach. The Bus station is at the back of the capital and is only used for changing bus to head to a different area of the island.
Arrecife Town Hall
The large colonial building sat on its own next to the bus stop is the Cabildo de Lanzarote. The islands main government building. During the year the Cabildo will hold exhibitions and has a pleasant interior. If the building is open venture into the lobby to get a sense of how Lanzarote’s administrators work.
Immediately behind the orange bus interchange is a bird sanctuary. Many years ago a colony of little egrets made Arrecife their home and are living quite happily under the hospitality of the local people. At night they fly or walk around the promenade area and seem quite tame.
Opposite the orange bus interchange is the sculpture park. A lovely area to wander and enjoy the sculpture pieces, in the far left next to the beach is a large wooden shipwreck.
Beautiful Arrecife Beach
Walking away from the bus stop towards the beach I recommend you cross over the zebra crossing to be on the promenade, this way you can enjoy the beach and walk easily into the city. The beach on your right is Playa Reducto and is in my opinion the best beach on the island. Throughout the year various events will take place on the beach, from volley ball competitions to huge concerts which bring thousands of people from all over the island together. Just off the beach is the volcanic reef that Arrecife gets its name from and is enjoyed by bathers, paddle board enthusiasts and many others as the reef help protect this wonderful area.
Cesar Manrique Sculpture
As you arrive at the end of the beach and just before the base of the Arrecife Gran Hotel you’ll see a sculpture on a roundabout just to your left. This sculpture has been mistaken for Cesar Manriques Jaguar after his accident, this is of course untrue as the sculpture was designed by the man himself and has been there since 1969, many years before his tragic accident.
Arrecife Gran Hotel
Low and behold you are now standing at the base of the giant, which is the Arrecife Gran Hotel. This is the only skyscraper on the island and has a very checkered history, opened originally in 1965 as a hotel this monstrosity enraged people like Cesar Manrique who saw it as a blot on the landscape. The original company went out of business in 1980 leaving this building to stand empty for twenty years, it was an eyesore to everyone who visited the capital. During those twenty years it burnt out twice and had windows blow out by a violent storm. In early 2002 it was purchased by a group of business people who transformed the building into the 5 star Arrecife Gran Hotel.
Enter the hotel and make your way behind reception where you’ll find several lifts, the one to the far right is a glass lift whereby you can venture up to the 17th floor and enjoy spectacular panoramic views of Lanzarote.
Arrecife Yacht Club
On leaving the Arrecife Gran Hotel turn right and continue your journey along the promenade, you’ll be walking on the roof of the subterranean car-park which is covered in sculptures from artists all over the island. Within a few minutes you’ll arrive at Arrecife’s yacht club, if you have a spare four thousand euros you can become a member. This exclusive club has a more down to earth side though as behind the building is a lido where all the children of the island learn to swim. Continue to walk around the corner and back to the sea, if the yacht club gates are open you’ll see the lido and the small sailing boats that the children are taught how to handle professionally.
You have arrived at the waters edge and before feeding the resident mullet turn around to view Arrecife’s town hall. A few steps along the promenade and you will discover the fisherman’s rest, under this canopy is where the fishermen play dominoes and cards for black and white stones. The atmosphere is always fun and you’ll notice no women are allowed. Walk past the fishermen towards the sea again, the white and green building on your left is the nautical collage and on the corner is the second yacht club, this time smaller radio controlled yachts which can be seen in the video of this walk below. Next to the radio controlled yachts club is the old local library which has now been replaced by a more modern version at the back of town.
The Oldest Building In Arrecife
Strolling along the promenade and on your left you will see the oldest building in this area of Arrecife, note the date of 1917 carved in marble at the crescent of this old house. During the year several open air concerts are held in the area, including an annual tapas festival where you can sample traditional Canarian tapas for only €1.
Castillo San Gabriel
Out to sea on a little islet you can see the Castillo San Gabriel built as a fortification to defend the island from pirate attacks but now is the home of the Historical Museum and well worth a visit. You’ll also notice the canons outside Castillo San Gabrielle point towards the Arrecife Gran Hotel as a tongue in cheek reminder that the giant wasn’t wanted.
Bandstand & Tourist Office
You arrive at an ornate bandstand on the promenade, the bandstand was built in 2004 and house the tourist information office, during festivals and fiestas you will find a folklore group playing here.
Cesar Manriques Family Home
Directly across from the band stand is the white building with green windows and doors which is the home of Cesar Manriques mural, currently this building is being renovated but when complete will be a beautiful example of Lanzarote architecture.
The Lion & The Castle
Once you arrive at the first bridge cross over the road and into the main shopping street of Arrecife, León Y Castillo. To your right above the shop Mango is a classic example of the wealth of the former owner in the form of an ornate wooden balcony, the local council removed the electricity cables criss-crossing the street so the visitor could enjoy the architecture this area has to offer. Wood for construction was an expensive commodity as it had to be imported from other countries, Lanzarote does not have trees which can be used in construction and prior to 1402 had no trees at all.
The Old Town Hall
The green tiled building on your right is the Cabildo Insular or the old town hall, now used for exhibitions and presentations. Turn right just after this building and walk towards the church. You are now leaving the 20th century behind, as everything from the bus stop to León Y Castillo was built in the fifties apart from that one building in 1917. Note the art shop on the left, which changes it’s window display on a regular bases. Also on your left is Bar La Recova, the bar where Cesar Manrique visited on a regular basis. Walk through the bar and note the wonderful interior, 3D art work and paintings, also note that the lamps all have hats on and the sieves as lamp shades at the bar. Stop here to enjoy the hospitality of Arrecife, until very recently there was no English menu but ask at the bar for a copy and enjoy the delights this unique venue has to offer. Exit via the same door you entered and continue into the church square, where on Wednesdays and Saturdays you’ll find the fruit, Veg and flower market.
The church of San Ginés is very old indeed, however in 1665 this whole area (the old town) was flooded and the church had to have extensive repairs. A look inside the church is a must as it the focal point of all who live in the capital. To the right of the church (towards the sea) you should see two flags, one on each side of the doorway to the old municipal market square, venture in to see the cobbler making handmade Lanzarote leather shoes and other artisans demonstrating their craft.
Walk through the municipal market to exit via the passage adjacent to the coffee bar, be careful as traffic uses this narrow street, on the corner of the promenade to your right is the fish market but turn left and then right to wander the streets of the old town, unfortunately there was a fire in one of the buildings to your left but keep walking the short distance and at the end of this street you will be in for a real treat, Charco de San Ginés.
Tapas Bars Overlooking Arrecife’s Lagoon
This natural harbour is now the home of local fishing boats and excellent restaurants and tapas bars. You’ll notice the architecture has changed from green to blue as you are now close to water. This was just one of the ideas that Cesar Manrique had for the rest of the island. At night the atmosphere around the Los Charcos is electric with locals mixing with visitors to enjoy the many establishments around the waters edge. The large glass building on your left is the Arrecife cinema and the direction to head, you have a few options now. You can walk all the way around Los Charcos or I prefer to walk to the edge of the cinema and then turn left back to León Y castillo, where once again you’ll find the shops.