For some time now there have been adverts for mountain bike tours around the island aimed at ambitious riders. Lanzarote37° tried out the first tour from Arrecife to Arrieta. What you get on this route are stony tracks, fantastic views and a sense of being alone with the volcanoes. But first there‘s a less attractive prospect awaiting the biker.
If, like me, you‘re a keen mountain biker and you come to Lanzarote on holiday, you‘re on the lookout for kindred spirits from the start. So when you see the first riders on full-suspension bikes, you feel a sense of relief - not only are there a whole lot of racing cyclists on the island, there are plenty of mountain bikers, too. If you want to go off-road biking, first you need the answers to a few questions, such as: Where can I get some equipment? Are there any sign-posted routes? Where can I get hold of maps and directions?
One place to start is the www.lanzarotenbici.com website. This site has information about six routes, which are all linked up to take you right round the island. All the relevant info is there at a glance – distances, approximate times, maps, directions and height profiles. There is even data for GPS devices and Google Earth. A possible drawback is that this site is only available in Spanish. If your Spanish isn‘t up to it, you‘ll have to make do with the Google translation that‘s provided, albeit with results like "Be placed signals indicative of direction either on the pavement, where the route passes through concrete pavement or asphalt, or by a rusted steel milestone when the tour takes place on dirt roads"!
No sign in sight
I‘m not going to be put off that easily, though, not even if it means I‘m going to have to "follow the road Jesus Maria Betancourt to meet the street roach". To prevent mishaps, I am being accompanied by an ambitious amateur Lanzarote sportsman and former Ironman competitor from Mala.
Our starting point is in the centre of Arrecife. My sporty local expert and I set off near the harbour, and after a few seconds we find ourselves on the "officially signposted route", only there are no signs anywhere to be seen. Search as we might, our efforts are to no avail. We ride along the quayside in Arrecife, heading in the direction of Costa Teguise. We pass the beautiful Castillo de San José, arriving a little later at the container port, where we have to weave a path through private commercial premises. I‘m somewhat surprised as we navigate our way around the first warehouse and squeeze through a narrow gap between an office building and a fence. My guide explains that the real route through the container port is often closed. The implications are clear: without expert local knowledge and hidden short cuts you would never be able to get any further.
But my companion has everything under control and so we press on towards the Temple Hall shipwreck. Just before the Inalsa water company we take a right turn and ride along the back of the industrial area. Our route is providing us with a nice contrast from the boring monotony of the island scenery: the smell of petrol instead of the sea air, refuse instead of fields of cactus, and walls instead of volcanoes. A real feel-good atmosphere for anyone who likes to get out and enjoy nature. Ten minutes later and there‘s a change of scenery. Now we‘re in the middle of the hotel complexes of Costa Teguise. During the peak tourist season you need to be careful here – holidaymakers cross the cycle paths, and they‘re armed with air beds which they‘re not afraid to use on cyclists.
We‘ve covered almost a third of the route. Still no signposting to be seen, and without the knowledgeable triathlete at my side I would have given up the search for the right route long ago. We take directions again from Google Earth and find ourselves faced with a dilemma: up ahead there is an impassable soft sandy beach on the right hand side, and the immaculate picón-covered gardens of a hotel on the left. Without further ado, we decide in favour of the hotel grounds.
Finally, as we leave Costa Teguise, we see the barren countryside of Lanzarote stretch before us. This spectacular view will get any biker‘s heart racing. The first signpost comes into sight. It is what the website called a 'rusted steel milestone'. From now anyone will be able to find their way, as there are signs at every junction, just as there should be. They are, however, appallingly made. Hardly the work of an engineer: an aluminium panel glued onto a rusty stake. Just one screw would have done the trick – no wonder so many of the signs are missing.
With Costa Teguise behind us we come to the first gentle ascent of this stage. Behind a peak we can see nothing but the spectacular volcanic landscape. At last, far from the bustle of tourists, this sense of space instills a feeling of freedom and independence.
This section continues to wind its way across the russet Lanzarote earth. Small climbs and short descents provide some variety. Scree on the track means our technique has to be good and it is a challenge for both man and machine.
We approach the small village of Los Cocoteros from the south. On our left, the salt hills of the salt works are piled high. Salt is still harvested by hand from the sea here. The salt heaps look like snow and the ground has a covering of well-trodden salt. You can imagine slipping as if on ice at any moment, but of course there‘s plenty of grip. Apart from this, there isn‘t much to see in Los Cocoteros. The village is not particularly picturesque, in places you‘d have to say it was ugly, in fact. The "highlight" is the "natural swimming pool". With no architectural input whatsoever, it is concreted onto the coastline. It‘s how you imagine swimming in a prison might be.
We leave the village behind us and tackle the first serious ascent of our tour. Over a distance of around two kilometres we go up to Guatiza. At this point we take a short cut. The route straight through the village is really only interesting for potential visitors to the cactus garden or anyone needing to top up their carbohydrate levels.
From Guatiza we go downhill again towards the coast. The roads are lined with stone walls which were built to give protection to cultivated plants and crops. However, most of the fields lie fallow.
Almost back down to sea level, we ride into Charco del Palo. It‘s the only town on the island where naturism is allowed and it is Lanzarote‘s nudist paradise. As there are no sandy beaches here, sun worshippers use the natural swimming pools formed by the lava to get their daily dose of UV. We cross the town, leaving Charco del Palo behind us, and make our way along the sandiest section of the tour to Arrieta.
The road leads past Mala, over white sand bejewelled with volcanic rock. You can‘t miss the unmistakable crash of the surf on the rocky shore only a few metres away. Shortly before Arrieta we have to ride a few metres parallel to the main road, then we go down to La Garita beach. Barely a minute after we pass this popular swimming beach we reach our destination, the centre of Arrieta.
Paved streets, crowded pavements, an industrial estate, no signposting in towns, and a route which, according to our directions, leads through the container port, which is usually closed anyway with no access to cyclists. It‘s not what you‘d expect from a well thought-out mountain bike tour. Really, you should start this route after Costa Teguise, avoiding the signpost-free urban jungle of Arrecife, and definitely bring a GPS device with you or someone with good local knowledge. And don‘t forget a decent puncture repair kit and enough food and drink to keep you going.