THE PAPAGAYO BEACHES
The Canary Islands archipelago 100 kiilometres (60 miles) off the coast of northwest Africa, is one of the most popular destinations in the world for tourists - most notably those who come from European nations such as the UK and Germany, and also mainland Spain. The appeal of this little collection of Spanish governed islands is quite simple; for Western Europeans they provide the closest place on Earth where winter sunshine and warmth is guaranteed, whilst the relaxed and informal atmosphere of the Canaries offers tourists a safe, easy to visit, easy to enjoy, vacation destination.
It follows therefore that the attraction for most visitors to the Canary Islands is sun, sea and sand, and the island of Lanzarote - the fourth largest in the archipelago and the closest to the African continent - certainly has its fair share of all three. Most of the tourist influx is concentrated in three or four seaside resorts where hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and souvenir shops dominate the scene. And of course beaches.
This article focuses on just one section of coastline and a series of eight or nine sandy beaches and coves which - taken as a group - must surely rank as among the loveliest of all, certainly in the Canary Islands, and possibly anywhere else on the planet. These are the Papagayo Beaches, and on this page, photographs by the author of this article are used to illustrate just why each of these beaches are regarded so highly by the tourists who fly to this island every year, winter and summer, for their vacations.
PLAYA BLANCA AND THE BEACHES OF PAPAGAYO
One large tourist resort dominates the southern coast of Lanzarote, and its name is Playa Blanca. It is a typical resort in many ways featuring all the ingredients of good coastal tourist resorts the world over. And of course that includes the presence of sandy beaches. Playa Blanca hotels are sited adjacent to or within just a few hundred metres of three such resort beaches - the central namesake beach of Playa Blanca, and on either side, the beaches of Playa Dorado and Playa Flamingo. And these are all fine as resort beaches go - yellow sand, lots of facilities, easy access and safe swimming. And they are popular too. But they are never going to win any awards for character. And they are never going to be beaches to dream about. They are just typical resort beaches.
But a very short distance to the southeast of Playa Blanca (well within walking distance), there is a long stretch of rocky cliffs deeply incut by the sea, and the areas between the cliffs and promontories are filled with fine golden sand in a beautiful setting, in front of a stunning volcanic mountain backdrop. A whole series of these sandy beaches stretch for about three kilometres (two miles) around the coast, and collectively they are known as the Papagayo Beaches. And collectively they offer a very different and more alluring appeal to that of the Playa Blanca town beaches.
Playa de Papagayo - one of the great Spanish beaches on the Island of Lanzarote
MONUMENTO NATURAL DE LOS AJACHES
The Papagayo beaches are part of a protected area called the 'Monumento Natural de los Ajaches' (the Ajaches Natural Monument). This is a volcanic massif, the highest point being Ajache Grande at 562m, protected as a site of natural beauty, rare island flora, and archaeological ruins.
The sea and the landscape of Papapagyo, and just two of the Papagayo Beaches
SANDOS PAPAGAYO BEACH RESORT HOTEL
The author of this review chose to stay at the Sandos Papagayo Beach Resort in Playa Blanca primarily because of its location. This is the very last hotel on the eastern end of Playa Blanca. The downside of this is that it's a fair walk from the hotel to get to many of the resort facilities, although there is a free shuttle bus service which runs four times a day between the hotel and Playa Dorado. The up side of this location however, is that the hotel is the nearest to the distinctly more attractive Papagayo beaches - the subject of this article.
GETTING TO THE BEACHES
One can drive to the beaches from anywhere on the island, though the last short distance is over dirt tracks. Nonetheless, it's not difficult to do. The principal car park is near the refreshment centre at the heart of Papagayo, but there is a nominal charge of three euros to drive into the Monumento Natural de los Ajaches.
One attractive option is to take a boat taxi from nearby Playa Blanca. The Princess Yaiza glass bottom boat sails four times a day dropping people off at Playa de Papagayo and collecting others for the return trip. A dingy transfers tourists from offshore to the beach.
If one chooses to walk, there are options available. Coming from Playa Blanca and walking along the beach front one comes to a rocky outcrop adjacent to the Sandos Papagayo Beach Resort. This steep outcrop needs to be climbed, and one needs to be careful of tredding on loose rocks, but it is perfectly manageable for anyone of modest agility. The alternative is to pass by the Reception of the Beach Resort (the side facing away from the beach). This is a slightly longer walk, but over much gentler ground. Either way, once the seaside outcrop is scaled or the hotel is passed by on the inland side, it's a pleasant walk. The distance to the first beach at Papagayo is about 750 metres.
TOPLESS SUNBATHING AND NATURISM AT PAPAGAYO
Lanzarote is a Spanish island, and just like on most Spanish islands, topless sunbathing is commonplace. Some even on the popular town beaches will go topless, but on out-of-the-way beaches like Papagayo, it is more common.
And naturism is legal and also common on some of the more secluded beaches. Two or three of the Papagayo beaches are frequented by a higher than usual proportion of naturists, and this will be drawn attention to in the sections where each beach is described in turn.
No embarrassment exists among those who like to get an all-over tan, and there are no restrictions on how much is worn by others. It all seems very relaxed. If you are considering coming here, it is your choice. For some visitors it may be a turn-off, while for others the chance to go ‘au natural’ may be a draw.
The all-over tan at Caleta del Congrio. However I'm not sure that sitting on those sharp-edged rocks looks to be quite as comfortable as sitting on the sand
A FEW WORDS OF CAUTION
It is important to emphasise a few points about Papagayo, before we look at each beach in turn. Some of these points will also be highlighted under the individual beach descriptions.
These are natural beaches and on most of them there are no refreshments, no sunshades and sun beds, and no toilets. Anything you need, you'll have to bring yourself.
Above all - a warning. These beaches do not all have lifeguards, and it is difficult to ascertain the strengths of currents here. Certainly in places the sand may drop away rapidly to deeper water, and waves can be quite powerful. I've not heard of any accidents, but be aware that there may be risks associated with swimming off unattended beaches. Take care.
THE BEACH NAMES
One of the problems in compiling this article has been to identify a correct name for each of the beaches. A review of web pages shows that many appear with different spellings, and several appear under entirely different names on different websites. For this article I've used the names which are recorded on a signpost close to Papagayo. However, only 5 beaches are named on that signpost. I have also used some reputable tourist sites. The smaller coves described below are not always recorded at all, whilst some websites simply regard these as a part of the adjacent major beaches. On other sites these coves are given their own specific names, though these may not be official. In each case, I've given the most reliable names I can.
The view from Playa Blanca to the first of the Papagayo beaches - Playa Mujeres
NOW WE WILL LOOK AT EACH OF THE PAPAGAYO BEACHES IN TURN AS WE WALK FROM PLAYA BLANCA
Heading due southeast from the resort of Playa Blanca, the first of the Papagayo beaches we encounter is Playa Mujeres - and it is in many ways the most typical holiday beach along this stretch - a long expanse of golden sand, and broad too; Playa Mujeres is the widest beach of all. The walk down to the beach is an easy and gentle sand track, but as an alternative, it is also possible to drive a vehicle close by. This lovely stretch of sand has plenty of space for all who use it, and many who walk from Playa Blanca, never go further than this - it is exactly what they are looking for. In the height of summer, this no doubt can result in Playa Mujeres attracting rather more sunbathers than other beaches, but as can be seen in the images here, in winter the beach may be really quite sparsely populated. The downside in this review of great beaches is that Playa Mujeres perhaps lacks a bit of character. It really is just a broad, long, flat expanse of sand - one of the very best of the Papagayo beaches for sunbathing and swimming, and the most accessible of all, but not quite as interesting as some others. (One feature which is of interest is a curious circular building at the northern end - it's an old kiln once used to heat local stone to produce lime - one of several archaeological sites in the Ajaches Natural Monument).
Playa Mujeres - the Sandos Papagayo Beach Resort Hotel can be seen in the distance. This beach is about 400m long and 85m wide
And in this photo of Playa Mujeres, the resort of Playa Blanca can be seen in the distance
THE 'SMALL COVES'
Beyond Playa Mujeres, but before we get to the next big beach, there are several little coves which deserve a mention. The first two of these coves are small, but the third one is tiny, pocket handkerchief sized - just about big enough for one fat tourist or two thin ones. The names of these coves are not listed on most sites, but on one official website the two larger ones are called Caleton del Cobre and Caleton de San Marcial - and they are both wonderfully secluded. The second is particularly delightful, and both are little visited, not least because they are inaccessible from the cliff tops for all except those are adept at rock climbing - there are sandy paths down, but the final 2 or 3 metres need hands as well as feet to negotiate them. But it’s really not necessary to even try to climb down. At low tide all the beaches from Playa de Mujeres to Playa de la Cera can be reached by anyone who’s moderately sure-footed by walking over the boulders at the foot of the cliffs. This is the less tiring option and the quicker option. Bear in mind however that at high tide the coves are not accessible by this route, and so if you visit these beaches, you must keep a watch on the rising water.
Caleton del Cobre
PLAYA DEL POZO
Beyond the last of the small coves is the next big beach, Playa del Pozo. Heading from the northwest, as already mentioned it's quite possible at low tide to reach Playa del Pozo along the sea front, or alternatively one can climb down from the headland to get there. This beach is almost as long as Playa Mujeres, though not as wide. It has a bit more character though. Colourful rocky outcrops at either end, and a series of boulders deposited where the sand meets the sea approximately mid-way along the stretch, give this beach a more interesting look. Playa del Pozo is perhaps not quite as suitable for swimming as Playa Mujeres, and you may feel is not for families either - it is one of those beaches more favoured by those who want to go ‘au natural’, though on my visit these were mostly concentrated in little communities of like-minded individuals at the extreme ends of the beach. Nonetheless, this is a beautiful beach to walk along, and popular with many visitors. On one official site this beach is called Playa de la Cruz.
The first cove is believed to be Caleton del Cobre and is described as being 40 metres long and 3 metres wide
The second cove is Caleton de San Marcial, 35 metres long and 6 metres wide, You can possibly see in the difficulty of getting down to the cove from the headland behind.
Playa del Pozo looking south along the beachfront
The same beach facing north
Playa del Pozo
PLAYA DE LA CERA
The next beach is of uncertain name; a cove appreciably larger than those we saw earlier, but still much smaller than Playa Mujeres or Playa del Pozo. On several websites, this beach is named as Playa de la Cera, but on others it is unnamed, and is seemingly regarded as merely an 'appendage' to the adjacent Playa del Pozo. Certainly, this cove is quite accessible from Playa del Pozo at low tide, with just some rocky boulders separating the two. However there are significant differences which perhaps merit the beach its own name. Playa de la Cera is surrounded on three sides by pretty headlands and cliffs, but at the rear of the beach the walk down to sand level is quite easy. (The walk up is a little more tiring!) The beach does attract a different group of holidaymakers and is popular with families, sometimes getting quite crowded. Part of that popularity must surely be due to its convenient access, and its close proximity to the main Papagayo carpark and the only refreshment centre at Papagayo, which is to be found above and between this beach and the next one.
Playa de la Cera looking south
Looking north across Playa de la Cera towards the rocks at the cliff base which lead to Playa del Pozo
Playa de la Cera
PLAYA DE PAPAGAYO
The next beach is certainly the most naturally picturesque, and most photographed of all the Papagayo beaches. Indeed it is this beach which takes the name of the whole coastline; this is Playa de Papagayo, and many regard it as the most beautiful beach in the Canaries. The reason? A very attractive promontory on the northern side, a great headland on the southern side, and a sand and rocky backdrop to the beach which creates a natural arc of sand, so it looks just like a great beach is supposed to look. Playa Papagaya is a cove of about 110 m long and 20 m wide - similar in size to Playa de la Cera - and undoubtedly it is worth seeing. I hope the photos do it some justice. Of course, you can’t have everything, and the beauty of this cove means that it has also become the most developed, with an accompanying car park and the refreshment facility mentioned in the previous section and described below. It’s also a family friendly beach, and all these factors together with its relatively small size unsurprisingly make it the most crowded of all the playas. Finally, the nature of the cove also makes it one of the less easy to get down to. It's not dangerous, nor is it difficult for most, but one does have to be mildly agile. The climb can be guaged in the photos here.
The refreshments between Playa de la Cera and Playa de Papagayo must be mentioned. There are two or three adjoining cafes here where simple hot meals, snacks and ice creams can be purchased.
The view of Playa de Papagayo looking south
A natural cove. Even in February when this photo was taken, the beach was beginning to fill up
Playa de Papagayo
CALETA DEL CONGRIO
After Playa de Papagayo, the coast of Lanzarote reaches its southern most point on the headland known as Punta de Papagayo ('tip of the parrot') And then the coastline turns east and north, and one has to take a short walk over the headland to bring us to the final two beaches, both of which are large. The first indeed, is similar in length to Playa Mujeres and Playa del Pozo, though very much narrower, and it is quite different in almost every respect to the cove we have just visited at Playa de Papagayo. Though the path down to Caleta del Congrio is quite gentle and sandy, the walk to get here means that only those with a purpose tend to bother coming this far, and the purpose for many is naturism. This seems to be the beach most favoured for this purpose, and certainly during the visit written about here, the majority of those sunbathing at the beach were without clothes (though that is by no means compulsory!) A negative for some visitors would be the rocky outcrops at water's edge. Although these are easily negotiated, they do mean that the portion of the beach over which you can walk straight from sand to sea, is comparatively small, as you can see in one of the photos here. But one must also say something else about Caleta del Congrio - having praised Playa de Papagayo, the beach at Caleto del Congrio is possibly even more beautiful to see. Though not a cove, we have a lovely long arching bay of golden sand - when seen from the surrounding headlands, it is another truly idyllic beach vision.
The view along Caleta del Congrio looking towards the northeast
And the view from the red-tinted headland looking down on to Caleta del Congrio and along towards the southwest
Caleta del Congrio
The final Papagayo beach is Puerto Muelas, which is just a short distance further on. This is quite a wide beach with interesting rocky outcrops at either end, and along the shoreline, and its very distance from the centre of the Papagayo coastal stretch and from the resort of Playa Blanca means that it is a beach where one will be more guaranteed of finding a space to relax and sunbathe in peace, at least during the winter months. There is a mobile home park with shower and toilet facilities behind the beach but this seemed to be completely closed down during my visit in February. In the summer months a large influx of local Spanish day trippers may crowd the beach. Perhaps one look at the photo below will show the biggest drawback - whilst undoubtedly they add to the attractiveness of the beach, the rocks on the shoreline and under the waterline will surely make this a beach better suited to sunbathing rather than for swimming.
And beyond the next headland? The Papagayo beaches now finally give way to several kilometres of sea cliffs, and the last of these great sun bathing opportunities on the southern coastline have passed us by.
The shoreline at Puerto Muelas. Beyond the horizon, the Papagayo beaches are no more
THE LANDSCAPE AND THE WALKING ROUTES
Great beaches are not just about clean and beautiful stretches of sand with warm seas lapping at the edges. Those are pre-requisites, but there are other things to consider. Papagayo doesn't have everything. It doesn't have palm trees and coral reefs, but what it does have is a great scenic backdrop of volcanic mountains and colourful craggy sea cliffs. So included in the rest of this article is a compilation of my photographs of the landscape and the other features which surround the beaches - the sights to see when sunbathing here.
One feature which really makes the Papagayo beaches stand out, as we have seen, is the sheer variety of the options available, both for sunbathing and for getting from beach to beach. Here are a few final tips:
No one should be content with the first beach they visit. Stroll along, enjoy the sun and the sights and the different experiences. One can walk all the way from Playa Mujeres to Playa de la Cera at low tide without ever rising above sea level. Alternatively one can walk across the headlands and climb and descend each beach in turn. And when climbing, there are sandy paths, gravel paths and rock routes. Sandy is softest and safest, but rather more tiring to climb because it gives way under-foot. The rocky routes are sharpest but easiest. Maybe the best solution is to descend on the sand paths and climb on rocks (but not bare foot, I would suggest!)
The sea cliffs beyond Puerto Muelas
The volcanic hills behind the Papagayo beaches
The sea cliffs at Playa de Papagayo
What sets Papagayo apart is not any one single beach, but the fact that there are so many over such a short distance and with such an attractive route to from the first to the last. The entire walk from the edge of Playa Blanca resort to the far side of Puerto Muelas is no more than 1.75 km straight, or about 3 km if one chooses to walk the coastal route round the headlands and up and down from each beach.
And within that short distance one can find great stretches of sand like Playa Mujeres, long arching bays like Caleta del Congrio, and beaches of great character like Playa del Pozo and Puerto Muelas. Visitors can sunbathe in large and beautiful coves like Playa de la Cera and Playa de Papagayo and in secluded and tranquil small coves like Caleton del Cobre and Caleton de San Marcial. And there are busy beaches with refreshments on hand, and quiet beaches away from the crowds, beaches for families and children, beaches for unself-conscious adults, and beaches for swimmers and sunbathers.
But what they all have in common is clear blue waters, clean sand and a landscape to dream of.
A final thought occurs - could it be a mistake for me to advertise these beaches in this way? The constant dilemma in any travel writing of this kind is whether by promoting a delightful setting, one may contribute to destroying it with hoards of tourists. But Lanzarote has shown commendable restraint in managing its tourism, and one has confidence that the Papagayo beaches will be allowed by the authorities to always retain their charm - a charm which makes them collectively some of the best beaches you could ever hope to see.
Miscellaneous Other Images
The cafeteria complex between Playa de la Cera and Playa de Papagayo
Hiking near Puerto Muelas (and I thought I was the only one to do this sort of thing!)
Lovers have a habit on the headlands of creating hearts out of stones
A yacht anchored off the small cove of Caleton del Cobre
This Google Map
It has not been possible to find a map which shows all beaches and coves mentioned with the names I have used, but if you like you can have fun using the photos and descriptions to try to identify all of the beaches on this interactive Google map (use the satellite image) heading southeast from the region of Playa Blanca on the left. (In the satellite image, the tide appears to be in.)
An interactive map available at a Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment site does show all the beaches with names (Playa del Pozo named as Playa la Cruz). The page is not in English, but type 'Papagayo' into the search box labelled 'playa' and it will bring up the map.
Water's edge, the beach of Playa del Pozo and a beautiful backdrop - what more could one wish for?
My thanks to both of the following for assisting me with the names of the beaches:
Both of these websites carry much information about all aspects of Lanzarote life and both have been good enough to help regarding the naming of the Papagayo beaches. The 'Portal Oficial de Turismo de Lanzarote' gave me links to relevant information, whilst Miguel of 'Lanzarote Information' has corresponded with me several times offering advice.
Playa de la Cera and the landscape behind
From Left - Playa Mujeres, Playa del Pozo and Playa de la Cera - and a stunning backdrop
I'd Love to Hear Your Comments. Thanks, Alun