Arrecife is the Capital of Lanzarote and, with close to 60,000 residents, by far the largest town on the island. As you might expect, it has a much more authentic Canarian feel than the tourist resorts found elsewhere on the island. Shabby Chic is perhaps a little too kind, though the Charco de San Gines lagoon, seafront promenade and Coconut Palm-lined Playa del Reducto are picturesque.
Calle Leon y Castillo (colloquially known as Calle Real) is the heart of the city and the main pedestrian shopping street. As Lanzarote’s administrative capital, Arrecife is home to most of the Island’s lawyers, accountants, notaries, officials and courts. With so many professionals, there is no shortage of great cafes, which positively buzz during the morning and early afternoon. The area around El Charco de San Gines and the recently-completed Marina offers a number of waterfront restaurants – great for sampling the local seafood while watching the boats come and go.
The port area of Los Marmoles is located about 4km from the city centre and houses a container area and docks for ferries and cruise ships. Those arriving by cruise liner are not greeted by Lanzarote’s prettiest face, but rather a scruffy industrial port. Thankfully, a Tourist Street Train now carries Cruise Ship passengers to and from the city centre, while other cruise visitors opt for day trips around the island.
Arrecife began as a small fishing settlement in the 15th century. Fishermen were attracted to the area because of the protection afforded by the volcanic reefs that lie just offshore (Arrecife is Spanish for reef). Two fortresses, built to protect the city from Pirate attack, are located on Arrecife’s coast. The 16th Century Castillo de San Gabriel is located in the heart of the city opposite Calle Real, while the 18th Century Castillo de San Jose is located closer to the container port. Both buildings now house museums.
The one exception to Lanzarote’s low-rise building rule is the Arrecife Gran Hotel. The original 1960s high-rise hotel was gutted by a fire in 1994, and lay derelict for many years before being remodelled into the current incarnation in 2004. The Altamar restaurant, located on the top floor, is worth a visit for fantastic views of the city and beach.
Driving around Arrecife can be somewhat confusing with its maze of one-way systems and small side streets. Parking can be astoundingly difficult to find, so we recommend using one of the dirt car parks near El Charco de San Gines – or better yet, catch the bus.