Timanfaya National Park “Fire Mountains”
Timanfaya is an area in the northeast of the island of Lanzarote and was the centre of the most recent volcanic eruptions which occurred in the 1730’s. This volcanic activity resulted in the creation of 32 new volcanoes within an 11 mile area, and covered a quarter of the island in lava.
The national park itself covers more than 51 square kilometres (almost 20 square miles).
The statue of “El Diablo” (the Devil) in this photograph is the symbol of the national park and stands at the entrance to the road that leads to the visitor centre. The statue, like many other icons on the island of Lanzarote is the creation of local artist César Manrique.
You can also take camel rides in the national park.
What is there to see at Timanfaya?
The landscape is like nothing most people have seen before, with vast stretches of solidified lava rock on either side of the road. The lava in many places has piled up into fascinating shapes, and in other places much of the ground looks as if it’s covered in gravel.
The fact that the climate in Lanzarote is very arid is more evident than ever at Timanfaya, with little plant or animal life in much of the lava field. The effect has been to make the whole area of the national park appear to be very barren and desert like.
Get to Timanfaya early to avoid the traffic!
It’s definitely advisable to get to Timanfaya early if you don’t want to get stuck in a queue of traffic when going to the visitor centre. Alternatively, plan your trip to arrive after the midday rush, as most of the organised tours get there around mid-morning. We arrived shortly before midday, and it took us almost an hour and a half in a solid queue of traffic to reach the visitor centre car park. By the time we left however, the traffic queues had subsided considerably. Saturday is also a good bet, since many visitors arrive and depart on a Saturday, and there are often fewer tours or visitors in their own cars.
Many visitors arrive by bus, with tours departing from Arrecife as well as all of the main resorts and hotels on the island, but there are a lot of visitors, like us, who rented a car during their stay, and who make their own way to the visitor centre.
The traffic queue is caused because the road to the visitor centre has only two lanes, one in and one out. To allow tour buses to arrive and depart without getting stuck in the traffic, officials hold up the cars in both directions when buses are arriving and departing, so that they can safely drive on the wrong side of the road. When there are a lot of buses, this does cause significant congestion (as we found out), however some people we spoke to said that later in the day you can drive the same stretch of road in less than 10 minutes. Lesson learned for our next visit I guess.
Below are some photos that I took while waiting in the queue.
The Timanfaya Visitor Centre
Having driven along the entrance road into the park, you eventually come to the Timanfaya Visitor Centre. This is a rather unique circular building with windows all around, providing wonderful views over the national park. Like many other buildings on Lanzarote it was designed by local artist César Manrique.
Whether you arrive by tour bus or by car, all vehicles are required to park once they arrive at the visitor centre.
There is an admission fee to the park, which you pay at the kiosk as you enter the park if arriving in your own transport. The cost of entry is included if you take one of the organised tours. Entry is €10 per adult and €5 per child (aged 7-12). There is a 20% discount for visitors arriving after 15:00. (Prices valid from 1st May 2017 from Lanzarote Information).
- cooking over a hole in the ground, where the heat is enough to grill meat.
- holding a tree branch or bunch of straw over a hole in the ground and watching it catch fire
- pouring water into a hole and watching it spurt into the air as steam
The latter is the most interesting, as a member of staff pours water into one of 3 holes about every 2 minutes, providing an almost constant display, which keeps most visitors entertained for a while.
Health and Safety would have a field day if they saw this video (which features Debbie’s finger in the first few frames). Firstly, the man who is demonstrating the heat the is present just below the surface in the National Park almost trips over the hole in the ground. Next, a visitor has to be motioned away to stop them from getting too close, and finally the man stands right over the hole when he pours the water into it, and is still standing dangerously close when the geyser erupts just seconds later. I wonder how many accidents they have there in a year…
From the visitor centre, you can take a bus tour around the national park. The tour is about 30 minutes long and is included in the admission price. There are some amazing views from the bus as you wind around the “surprisingly” well maintained single lane road that winds around the park. The bus stops at various points for visitors to take in the scenery and to take photos, but sadly there aren’t any stops where visitors can get off the bus and take decent photos. The bus tour also includes a multi-lingual audio guide, which is very interesting and which gives you some good information about the numerous eruptions that formed the volcanoes on the island. The descriptions by people living in the area at the time were really interesting.
These are some of the photos that I took on the bus tour around the national park.
Lanzarote Camel Rides
The camels are a part of the island’s “modern history”, having been brought to the island at the end of the 15th century. With the climate being so dry for most of the year, and their ability to survive with very little water, camels provided an ideal way to transport goods and people across the island.
But today, the camels are more of a tourist attraction, and many visitors to Timanfaya stop off for a camel ride having been to the visitor centre.
You can’t miss the location for the camel rides, as it’s less than a mile from the main entrance to the Timanfaya visitor centre and on the main road back to Arrecife. You also know when you are close to the national park as there is a large roundabout just south of the village of Uga where the main road from Arrecife (LZ-2) joins the road that runs across the centre of the island to Teguise (LZ-30). We decided to call this “Camel Roundabout”, because in the centre are two very large statues of camels, which you can see from a long way off.
To get to the camel rides and the national park, continue north past Uga for about a mile until you come to a main intersection, then take the LZ-67 north, it’s well signposted. You will know if you missed the turn and stayed on the LZ-2 for too long, as you will end up in Playa Blanca on the southwest coast of the island.
But I digress… back to the camel rides… Here are a few pictures of us waiting for our camel ride to begin.
Camels do not move smoothly like a horse, they have a laid back motion when they walk, and unless the rider learns to adapt to that motion, a camel ride can be a really awkward experience. Click on the small image on the left to see a short video clip that gives you an indication of just how hard it is to keep a camera steady while riding on a camel. Of course the motion is further exagerated by the fact that two of you are sitting either side of the camel and not on top like you would on a horse.
We found that at first when our camel rose to it’s feet and started to walk. You find yourself rocking back and forth with the motion, and if, like me, you are attempting to switch between your camera and a phone to take photographs and videos, you have to be really careful not to drop them.
Here are some more pictures of us on our camel ride through the lava. You can really see just how dry and barren the whole area is, and this was in February, before the dry season begins!
My Previous Experience With Camels In Lanzarote
Debbie was eager to ride on the camels, after all you don’t get many opportunities to do this in the UK. However, I have been to Lanzarote once before, back in 1992, and I had a really bad experience with the camels, and vowed that I would never go on one again. But here we are, and Debbie wants to go for a camel ride, stating that “it’s not often you get to do things like this, I have always wanted to ride on a camel…”. I kept remembering my previous experience, and I’m still not happy being that far off the ground, having had a bad experience horse riding many moons ago. But she wants to ride the camels, and rather than let her go on her own, I put on a brave front and did it for a second time.
When I went on the camels in Lanzarote before, it was with my first wife and my son, who was 11 at the time.
The camel rides really haven’t changed since I was there before, and quite likely some of the equipment is still the same, as it all looks well used and old. The camels are equipped with a seat on each side, and since we were three people including my son, he sat on the hump between us. Since my wife and I were both not exactly slim, I can’t imagine the camel enjoyed it, but it wasn’t our camel we had to worry about as it happened.
One of the most precarious parts of the ride is when your camel gets up. It has to do this by raising it’s rear legs, which tips you forward quite precariously, and then you are up in the air, quite a long way in fact. The ride isn’t smooth either, as the camels tend to lurch along at a slow pace, which makes the riders rise up and down and tilt from side to side with the movement. Until you get used to it, it’s a bit daunting.
Anyhow, as I said, our camel was ok, but then they tethered another camel behind ours. This camel has a sack cloth muzzle on, and it was a really bad tempered creature that had been frothing at the mouth with vile bright yellow foam. As we started on our ride, this camel kept coming closer and closer, and even though it had a muzzle on, it seemed like it was trying to bite my son, who wasn’t happy at all about this, neither was I. So, in desperation, since the man walking the camels was well ahead of us and couldn’t have done anything, I whacked the camel on the nose, which did the trick and it backed off.
Well, this worked, but only for about a minute, and then it decided to come back and try to bite my son more and with a vengeance. So I hit it more, and it came back more, with all this bright yellow foam everywhere, and it was making horrible noises as well. Given that I didn’t do well with heights, my wife was petrified of anything that moved as well as being scared of heights, and my son was scared as well, the next ten minutes were some of the longest in my life, where none of us were enjoying the ride and were just wishing it was all over.
But that was then, and this time fortunately, we had a good ride. Debbie enjoyed it, and that was the most important thing.
Our video below really shows how you could easily get motion sickness from all the lurching about riding on a camel, especially sitting on either side of the hump.
Towards the end of the video, our camel looks like he is trying to get to the people on the one in front. Imagine if that was being done in an aggressive way, and that’s how it felt on my ride back in the 90’s.
Join us on the next part of our trip to Lanzarote, when we visit some Vineyards and Wineries in the La Geria valley.
If you missed my other articles about our trip to Lanzarote, why not start at the beginning of our tour Lanzarote in February.