Arrecife: The Complete Guide


Arrecife is a city and municipality in the Canary Islands, located in the central-eastern part of Lanzarote, and has been the island’s capital since 1852. The city derives its name from the rock reef that lines its beach. It also lends its name to the nearby Arrecife Airport. The municipality has a population of 61,351 and covers an area of 22.72 square kilometers. Arrecife lies south of Teguise and east of San Bartolomé, with the Atlantic Ocean to its southeast. As a port town on the east coast, Arrecife is served by ferries to other islands, as well as Europe and mainland Africa. The LZ1 road connects Arrecife to the northeast of the island, the LZ2 road links the capital to the southwest, and the LZ3 road functions as the city’s beltway. The tallest building in Lanzarote, the Arrecife Gran Hotel, is located on the seafront next to the harbor.

History of Arrecife

Arrecife, the capital of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, has a rich and varied history shaped by its strategic coastal location and maritime heritage. Here is an overview of its historical development:

Early Settlement and Origins

The area now known as Arrecife was first settled in the 15th century by the Spanish. Its name, which means “reef” in Spanish, refers to the volcanic reefs that protect its coastline. These natural formations provided a safe harbor for fishing boats, making it an ideal location for a fishing village to develop.

Pirate Attacks and Fortifications

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Arrecife was frequently attacked by pirates and corsairs, who were attracted by its strategic position and the wealth generated by the island’s agriculture and trade. To defend against these incursions, a series of fortifications were built. Notable among these is the Castle of San Gabriel, constructed in the late 16th century on a small islet connected to the mainland by a causeway. Later, the Castle of San José was built in the 18th century to further bolster the town’s defenses.

Growth and Economic Development

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Arrecife began to grow as a commercial center due to its excellent natural harbor. The town became the primary port for Lanzarote, facilitating the export of local products such as cochineal dye, which was derived from the cochineal insect and used in the textile industry. The development of salt production also contributed to the town’s economic growth.

Becoming the Capital

Arrecife’s growth accelerated in the 19th century, eventually surpassing the inland town of Teguise in importance. Its natural harbor and increasing population led to it becoming the commercial hub of Lanzarote. In 1852, Arrecife was officially declared the capital of Lanzarote, reflecting its economic and political significance.

20th Century Modernization

The 20th century brought significant changes to Arrecife. The rise of tourism transformed the island’s economy, leading to rapid urban development and modernization. Arrecife expanded, with new residential and commercial areas emerging to accommodate the growing population and influx of tourists.

The construction of the Arrecife Gran Hotel, the tallest building in Lanzarote, symbolizes the city’s modernization. The hotel, located on the seafront alongside the harbor, offers panoramic views of the city and the Atlantic Ocean, highlighting Arrecife’s blend of traditional charm and contemporary amenities.

Present Day

Today, Arrecife is a vibrant city known for its rich cultural heritage, bustling port, and tourist attractions. The city’s historical sites, such as the Castles of San Gabriel and San José, offer glimpses into its storied past. The modern marina, shopping centers, and cultural institutions, like the International Museum of Contemporary Art housed in the Castle of San José, attract both residents and visitors.

Arrecife continues to thrive as the economic and administrative heart of Lanzarote, balancing its historical legacy with contemporary development. The city’s strategic location, protected harbor, and dynamic economy ensure its ongoing significance in the Canary Islands.

In summary, Arrecife’s history is marked by its early settlement as a fishing village, its fortification against pirate attacks, its growth as a commercial hub, and its modern development into a vibrant city and capital of Lanzarote.

Visiting Arrecife for the first time and wondering what are the top places to see in the city? In this complete guide, I share the best things to do in Arrecife on the first visit. To help you plan your trip, I have also included an interactive map and practical tips for visiting!

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Best Time to Visit Arrecife

Spring (March to May)

Spring is an excellent time to visit Arrecife. The weather is mild and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from 17°C to 24°C (63°F to 75°F). This season is perfect for outdoor activities like exploring the city’s historical sites, strolling along the beach, and enjoying the blooming landscapes. The tourist crowds are smaller compared to the summer months, providing a more relaxed atmosphere.

Summer (June to August)

Summer in Arrecife is characterized by warm and sunny weather, with temperatures often reaching 28°C to 32°C (82°F to 90°F). This is the peak tourist season, ideal for beach activities, water sports, and enjoying the vibrant nightlife. The city is bustling with events and festivals, making it an exciting time to visit. However, it can be crowded, and accommodation prices may be higher.

Autumn (September to November)

Autumn is another great time to visit Arrecife. The temperatures start to cool down, ranging from 20°C to 27°C (68°F to 81°F), providing a comfortable climate for outdoor activities and sightseeing. The sea remains warm enough for swimming, and the summer crowds have usually diminished, allowing for a more relaxed experience. This season also offers beautiful sunsets and pleasant evenings.

Winter (December to February)

Winter in Arrecife is mild compared to other parts of Europe, with temperatures ranging from 14°C to 21°C (57°F to 70°F). This season is ideal for those who prefer a quieter visit with fewer tourists. The weather is still suitable for exploring the city and its attractions, although it might be too cool for swimming. Winter is also a great time to experience local culture and cuisine without the hustle and bustle of peak tourist seasons.

Each season in Arrecife offers unique experiences, so the best time to visit depends on your personal preferences and the type of activities you enjoy.

Average Temperatures in Arrecife

  • January 20°C 1
  • February 20°C 2
  • March 22°C 1
  • April 22°C 0
  • May 23°C 0
  • June 25°C 0
  • July 25°C 0
  • August 25°C 0
  • September 25°C 1
  • October 25°C 2
  • November 23°C 2
  • December 22°C 1

How to get to Arrecife

Traveling to Arrecife, the capital of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, can be achieved through various modes of transportation depending on your starting location. Here are the main options:

By Air

Lanzarote Airport (ACE): The most convenient way to reach Arrecife is by flying into Lanzarote Airport, also known as César Manrique-Lanzarote Airport. It is located about 5 kilometers southwest of Arrecife. The airport has regular flights from major European cities, as well as domestic flights from mainland Spain.

Getting to Arrecife from the Airport: Once you arrive at Lanzarote Airport, you can take a taxi, which takes about 10-15 minutes to reach the city center. Alternatively, you can use the public bus service (Bus Line 22 or 23) that runs between the airport and Arrecife.

By Ferry

From Mainland Spain: If you prefer to travel by sea, ferries operate from mainland Spain to Lanzarote. The main ports with ferry services to Lanzarote include Cadiz and Huelva. The ferry journey is long (around 30-40 hours), but it offers a scenic and relaxing alternative to flying.

From Other Canary Islands: Ferries also connect Lanzarote with other Canary Islands, such as Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Fuerteventura, and La Palma. These ferries are operated by companies like Fred Olsen Express and Naviera Armas. The ferry terminal in Arrecife, Muelle de los Mármoles, is well-connected to the city center.

By Car

Rental Car: If you prefer to explore the island at your own pace, renting a car is a convenient option. Several car rental companies operate at Lanzarote Airport and in Arrecife. Driving in Lanzarote is straightforward, with well-maintained roads and clear signage.

Public Transportation

Buses: Arrecife is well-served by an efficient public bus network operated by IntercityBus Lanzarote. Buses connect Arrecife with other towns and tourist destinations on the island. The central bus station in Arrecife, Estación de Guaguas, is the hub for most routes.

Taxis: Taxis are readily available in Arrecife and can be hailed on the street or booked in advance. They offer a convenient way to travel short distances within the city or to nearby attractions.

Local Transportation

Walking and Cycling: Arrecife is a compact and walkable city, making it easy to explore on foot. The city also has dedicated cycling paths, and renting a bicycle is a popular option for getting around.

Trams: Arrecife does not have a tram system, but its bus network is extensive and covers most areas of interest.

Choosing the best mode of travel to Arrecife depends on your starting location and personal preferences, but the options above provide various convenient ways to reach and explore the city.

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