Lying to the north of Lanzarote, La Graciosa is the smallest inhabited island in the Canaries – a graceful miniature paradise, distant and remote, a place where heaven and earth meet.
La Graciosa is part of the Chinijo Archipelago conservation area. This is made up of two other small islands – Montaña Clara and Alegranza, the two uninhabited islets of Roque del Este and Roque del Oeste, and the northern coastline of Lanzarote. There are just two villages on La Graciosa – Caleta del Sebo and Pedro Barba – and only the former is inhabited all year round. The island has a population of around 650, with about 500 of the inhabitants resident there permanently.
Cross the "Rio" by ferry
The best way to reach Orzola, Lanzarote's northernmost fishing village, is by car, but there is also a bus service from Arrecife. There is a regular ferry service over the "Rio" - the river - as the locals call the straits between Lanzarote and La Graziosa. The crossing takes a good twenty minutes and can be made in most weather conditions. During winter storms the sea can get too rough, though, with waves several metres high crashing onto the quay, and crossings may have to be cancelled from time to time.
As soon as the ferry rounds Punta Fariones, the northern point of Lanzarote, La Graciosa hoves into view. For many, the only familiar view of "The Graceful One" (as it was named by Jean de Betancourt when it was discovered in 1402) is the one from Mirador del Rio, but the sight of it from on board ship is something else altogether. Now the little island does not seem quite so artificial. Caleto del Sebo looms directly ahead, and before you've time to blink the ferry is entering the harbour. Coming ashore in Caleta del Sebo is quite something. There's a hustle and bustle here which is unusual in this part of the world: some of the locals are waiting with wheelbarrows to collect eagerly awaited orders, a few dusty jeeps doing service as taxis stand ready for day-trippers, long-term holiday residents watch to see who's arriving, and travel reps try to keep their groups together.
Caleta del Sebo
Caleta del Sebo must surely be the sleepiest little place in the whole of the Canary archipelago. The island was not settled until around 1876. The reason for this was the building of a fish factory, where locally caught fish was preserved. For this a workforce was required. The square by the harbour mole is the only concreted area, otherwise there are only sandy tracks through the village. There are a few bars and restaurants, a baker's, a butcher's and three supermarkets. The village also boasts a post office, a bank and a chemist, and there is a doctor all year round to tend to the sick. The local school caters for almost 60 children, and then there's the Las Arenas disco (“The Sand”) where you can let your hair down at weekends.
Visitors can find accommodation in the one of the village's two small hotels or in one of the many holiday apartments. There is a camp-site situated right at the southern end of the village, on the Playa del Salado. There are spaces for up to 200 people and there are sanitation facilities, too.
There are several ways of exploring the island. For 20 to 25 euros you can take an island taxi to one of the idyllic beaches and back, which is definitely the most comfortable option - at least, relatively speaking. There are no roads on La Graciosa, only unmade sand tracks. Any trip in one of the old jeeps is bound to be rather bumpy. Remember to arrange a time so that driver knows when to pick you up.
There are three bike hire shops, where you can hire mountain bikes for 10 euros. The bicycle is definitely one way of getting around the island, but not recommended for the novice, as on the sandy tracks it can be quite hard work to keep the bike going.
And then of course there's the best and simplest option: walking. The motto being: if you haven't walked there, you haven't really been there!
La Graciosa is a conservation area – 98% of its surface belongs to the national parks association, the Organismo Autonomo de Parques Nacionales, or OAPN, and as such is state-owned. Guides work on the island all year round, giving information to visitors and monitoring the various activities. Eva Maldener, one of the guides, has this advice for visitors: "La Graciosa is really quite special. When you come here you should try to get a feel for nature and look out for details. Visitors shouldn't leave anything behind, take anything away, or change anything while they're here." The island is without question a little paradise - distant and lonely, a meeting of heaven and earth. It is relatively flat - the highest points are Las Agujas Grandes, at 266 metres above sea level, and Las Agujas Chicas, at 257 metres. In the interior we find the Montaña del Mojon, which is 188 metres high and has a crater which is about 70 metres deep, and in the north there is the 157 metre high Montaña Bermeja.
The limited relief means that it rarely rains, as the rain clouds coming in on the Passat winds pass at altitude and only stop over Risco de Famara on Lanzarote's northern coast - if at all. Rainfall amounts to less than 150 mm a year and so the island's vegetation is sparse. In the long summer months the island is like a desert, but in the winter - if it does rain - there is an explosion of nature: typical of the region is traganum moquinii, a sand-retaining plant which helps the formation of the dunes. You can also find various spurges - near the coast these include the delicate sea spurge, kleinia, the ubiquitous aulaga (or Canary broom) and the barilla plants (ice plant) from which soap used to be made. Some of the plants are endemic, that is to say, they grow on La Graziosa and Lanzarote and nowhere else in the world.
If you take a walk in the interior of the island, you'll encounter the lizards which scamper everywhere through the scrub. Occasionally, you might spot a rabbit. In places there are carpets of empty snail shells.
Bird-life on the island is far more diverse than the land-fauna. Caspian gulls, shearwaters, Spanish sparrows, kestrels, shrikes, and hoopoes can be seen throughout the year, other species only at migration times: La Graziosa is an important staging point for many migratory birds.
On the beach there are various mussels, goose barnacles, and ram's horn shells - spiral-shaped and up to two centimetres in size, these are the chambered buoyancy organs of the cephalopod spirula - also black winkles, limpets, and bigger shells, too, like the red-mouthed rock shell. White, chalky shapes up to 20 centimetres in size are a common sight. These are the floats of squid, their internal shells.
An island like La Graciosa is of course a superb place for swimming and snorkelling. Even in shallow waters no more than ten metres out, you will be awestruck by the richness of the underwater world.
The most popular beach, Playa de la Francesca, lies just two kilometres to the south of the village White sands, a sea of turquoise blue - all the makings of paradise. In summer it does get crowded here, when the beach and the sea are packed with mainly Spanish visitors, and also small boats and jet skis can make it somewhat unsafe in the water at this time of year.
Slightly further to the south is the Montaña Amarilla (172 m) - a yellow hill built up of tuffs of various colours. At its feet lies the absolute paradise of the Playa de la Cocina - "Kitchen Beach". This beach is completely deserted (except perhaps in peak season).
Travelling northwards from Caleta del Sebo, after about three kilometres you will come to the Baranco de los Conjos beach, which is equally magnificent for swimming and snorkelling. Just a little further away is the Pedro Barba holiday residence, which is only occupied in the summer.
In the north of Graciosa there is the Playa Lambra beach. A word of caution: here, as elsewhere on the northern beaches of the Canaries, there are currents which become even stronger as the waves get up. You should only go swimming when the sea is completely calm.
One more highlight is the Playa de las Conchas - "Mussel Beach" - on the north-western side of Graciosa. At this 500 metre beach of fine white sand the azure sea is very tempting. However, all year round the red flag is flown here, meaning that swimming is not allowed because of the strong currents.
If you are visiting La Graciosa for the day, your best bet is to head for just one of the beaches. Make your way there on foot or by bike, and enjoy a few relaxing hours. Time is fairly limited - at most times of year the ferry returns to Lanzarote at 4pm.
However, if you do decide to spend a few days on the "Graceful One", you really can explore a new beach every day and after a week you will be relaxed, recovered, regenerated, chilled out, laid back, carefree, unwound and untroubled ...!
Explora La Graciosa!
German-born Eva Maldener has lived on La Graziosa for ten years, and one of her roles is official guide, or "guia medioambiental." Phone: 928 842 194, Mobile: 649 067 029, e-mail: evamaldenergmx.net
No. 9 Arrecife – Orzola:
Mon-Fri 7:40am, 10:30am, 3:30pm, Sat, Sun 7:40am, 3:30pm
No. 9 Orzola – Arrecife:
Mon-Fri 8:30am, 11:30am, 4:30pm, Sat, Sun 8:30am, 4:30pm
Lineas Maritimas Romero ferry crossings
Orzola – La Graciosa: 10am - 12pm - 5pm
La Graciosa – Orzola: 8am - 11am - 4pm
Orzola – La Graciosa: 10am - 12pm - 1pm* - 5pm - 6.30pm**
La Graciosa – Orzola: 8am - 11am - 12.30pm* - 4pm - 6pm**
* July 15 to September 15, Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays only)
(** July 1 to October 31)
Even in the winter we are mostly lucky with the weather: daytime temperatures are usually a pleasant 22° C, sometimes quite a cool wind can come in, though. At night, temperatures can drop to 15° C. If you're unlucky you might experience some bad weather Canaries-style, with wind and rain. However, overall it really does hardly ever rain on La Graciosa.
La Graziosa is worth a visit at any time of year, but in July and August you are advised to book in advance as the island is really bursting at the seams.
Pack lightweight, long clothes and some form of headgear to keep the strong sun off. Sandals are not recommended for walking on the sand. Bring a pair of tough, closed shoes instead. And remember sun cream and water!
There are many holiday apartments for rent. The two small hotels in the village make a nice alternative. The Pension Enrique has recently been renovated and has rooms with bathroom at 25 euros per night. Phone: 928 842 051 In the Girasol the rooms are less expensive (around 17 - 20 euros).
There are three bike hire shops in Caleta del Sebo. It costs 10 euros a day to hire a mountain bike. Roas's shop is right at the harbour, behind the new building. El Veril is a bar on the village beach, where you can hire bikes and canoes. You can also hire bikes at the side entrance of the Enriqueta restaurant.