EPIC Islands in Europe
La Graciosa, Canaries
La Graciosa, Canary Islands
Chinijo Archipelago Natural Park - Caleta de Sebo - Pedro Barba - Playa de la Conchas -
Playa del Ambar - Playa Francesca - La Aguja Grande - Montana Bermeja
Another entry from the Canaries that made it onto the list of EPIC islands. But La Graciosa could not be more different than La Palma. The latter is lush, fertile, mountainous, with several towns at its vibrant cultural heart. None of this applies to La Graciosa: a compact strip of land off the north coast of Lanzarote, with some volcanic cones no higher than 260 metres, two settlements (one of which without any commercial establishments), sandy tracks that somehow manage to function as roads, barren vegetation, but also glorious beaches. Within the often heavily touristed Canaries, this is a remote jewel to find your inner Castaway. You could do some scuba diving, tackle the circular dirt track by bike, climb the odd hill for stupendous vistas, have a meal in the dozen or so eateries, but that’s pretty much it. If your soul needs some serious de-toxification, La Graciosa might just be the place to perfect the art of doing not much at all, but absorb the prevailing sense of peace and tranquillity, in particular once the day trippers from Lanzarote start to return by mid-afternoon.
Playa de las Conchas
La Graciosa is by far the smallest of the Canary Islands coming in at a mere 29 square kilometres (El Hierro as the second smallest is nearly ten times the size). Since 2018, its year-round population of just 700 can bask in the glory of living on an ‘official’ Canary island, though the islet’s administration and services are still managed by neighbouring Lanzarote. What makes the place truly special is the fact that all of La Graciosa is a protected natural area that forms part of the Chinijo Archipelago Natural Park, which is the largest marine reserve in Europe. Chinijo encompasses not only La Graciosa but also a short stretch of the North Lanzarote coast, as well as 4 tiny offshore rocks, that are visible from La Graciosa’s northern tip. The area is home to 14 endemic species, including the fabulously named Lizard of Haria. The bonus, even for non-biologists, is that La Graciosa has barely any pollution with housing and commercial developments being severely restricted: no hotel complexes or apartment blocks on this island.
Caleta de Sebo
If you can manage to get up from your sun lounger, the island’s highlights are handily positioned along a looping road which sweeps around the island in a 22 km stretch of mostly gravel, yet also with some sections consisting entirely of dirt, maybe the odd asphalt patch, but also quite often just plain white sand, where cyclists have no choice but to dismount and push. Without stops, the loop should take around 2 hours to complete.
Your bike rental station should equip you with a map, but really, La Graciosa is so compact, that it is very difficult to get lost. A short climb out of Caleta de Sebo along a dirt and gravel road with some ‘Safari’ jeeps leaving you in a cloud of dust and after 7 km, the track descends down to the fabulous white sand beach of Playa de Las Conchas. Some day trippers walk the 2 hours all the way from Caleta de Sebo. Should you wish to join them, make sure to bring plenty of water. This is desert territory. But despite being the island’s most beautiful destination, the beach never really gets crowded, and the offshore rocks (most notably Montaña Clara) add to a magical, three-dimensional landscape.
on top of Montaña Bermeja
From the beach’s car park, many visitors climb the 30 minutes up the volcanic cone of Montaña Bermeja. Its highpoint at 157 m offers 360 degree views across several other offshore rocks and back towards Lanzarote’s rocky north shore. Back in the saddle, and after a further 2 km, you will reach the vast dunes at Playa Ambar on the north-eastern side of the island. Hats off if you manage to navigate the track without coming off your bike, which by now has turned to pure sand.
Playa del Ambar
A further 5 km ride will bring you to La Graciosa’s second settlement Pedro Barba. Some pretty bougainvillea-covered houses houses, a sweeping bay, the odd family taking the kids for a swim, but that’s about it, although the dramatic cliffs of Lanzarote loom spectacularly in the distance.
By now, you are about two thirds into your circumvention. The steepest climb of the ring road awaits you right after leaving Pedro Barba. At the road’s highest elevation, look out for a trail sign, leading you up to La Aguja Grande, at 266 m La Graciosa’s tallest hill. The climb is short but steep and you will sometimes be walking on lose gravel surface, so extra caution is advisable.
on top of La Aguja Grande
Back on the loop, and the road gradually descends into Caleta de Sebo. Just before you enter the village, another sand track leads west to Playa Francesca. And here, you definitely have to get out of the saddle and push. You will pass Playa del Salado (with campground), before Francesca reminds you of the civilisation that you had left behind before coming to the island, as you will encounter an assortment of pleasure cruises whose thumping disco beats drift across the waters. Given that Caleta de Sebo is only a ‘short’ 60 minute walk away (with taxis also frequently plying the route), Playa Francesca has emerged as La Graciosa’s biggest tourist magnet. Admittedly, it is still on a small scale, but the stark contrast to the solitude of the rest of the island, might not be to everyone’s liking. I could have waited until the crowds dispersed in the afternoon, but I made my early excuses rather rapidly and left.
the sandy back streets of Caleta de Sebo
When to visit: The Canaries are blessed with a mild, sunny climate, and temperatures barely fluctuate throughout the year. The main tourist season is winter when sun-starved northern Europeans descend on the archipelago. In the summer, you will encounter many Spaniards, who are escaping the oppressive heat on the mainland. But outside of these months, visitor numbers to this far-flung, northern corner of the Canaries are very manageable. How to get there: Mercifully, la Graciosa does not have an airport, and the only connection to nearby civilisations is via a highly regular ferry from the hamlet of Orzola on the north-eastern tip of Lanzarote. The short 30-minute crossing is provided by Lineas Romero with the first departure from Orzola at 8.30 in the morning and the last boat leaving Graciosa at 19.00. Ticket prices are 28.00 Euro return.To get to Orzola, you could just take bus #9 from the station in Arecife; a journey which takes around 80 minutes. The first bus leaves at 7.15 in the morning, with 10.30 also (just about) an option for a day trip to Graciosa. At 3.60 Euro, it is quite a bargain. Should you wish to rely on taxis, the journey from the airport or from Arecife takes around 30 minutes and will set you back 40 Euro. How to get around: There is no regular car traffic on Graciosa, and only specially licensed vehicles circulate along the island’s ring road, or whatever you might call the 22 km strip of mainly compressed sand, with the odd gravel, and very little asphalt thrown into the mix. These are a small number of taxis as well as tour operators (who ostentatiously refer to themselves as ‘tourist safari’ operators, charging 50 Euro per person for a two-hour trip). Hence, most visitors take to the saddle and rent a bike in one of the numerous outfits in Caleta De Sebo. There are some right on the harbour front, but you might want to venture into the town’s sandy back streets for more choice and better prices. I rented mine at the imaginatively named Rent-a-bike-la-graciosa, without booking in advance, and I got a decent clunker, though e-versions had already been snapped up. The outfit has a presence on Instagram at #laGraciosabike. Where to stay:La Graciosa only has two settlements. On the eastern side of the island, remote Pedro Barba is really just a collection of white-washed summer houses along a lovely curve of sand. If it’s isolation you are after, this might just be your spot. But the hamlet has no commercial amenities, which might turn the trip to the supermarket into a mini adventure, so your private mode of transportation is essential. Given the very sparse housing density of Pedro Barba, most people opt for Caleta. But even here, you can walk along sandy streets from one end of town to the other in a couple of minutes. The usual suspects such as Booking, Air BnB, or Vrbo, offer only a limited range, so you might want to check on the official Graciosa website for a wider selection. Or you go camping, as there is a site just west of Caleta and close to Playa del Salado. Incredibly, it is free of charge. But you have to walk back into town for a warm meal. Firing up your camping stove is not permitted, as the site is in a protected area.