Puerto del Rosario is Fuerteventura’s Capital and largest town, housing its main port as well as the island’s commercial and administrative centres. The town was known as Puerto de Cabras (‘Goat’s Port’) until 1956, when officials decided that this factual title sounded a little unflattering. Though it has been a municipality since 1834 and the island’s capital since 1860, its beginnings were rather humble, and for a long time consisted of little more than a few locals raising goats around a watering hole. The town’s big asset is its sheltered natural harbour, which has continued to play a large part in its growth over the centuries.
The harbour is the oldest area of town with small streets of traditional Canarian houses and a recently-upgraded promenade. Puerto del Rosario is the main entry and exit point on the island for both people and goods, with the airport located nearby at El Matorral and the large port that receives both commercial and leisure traffic. Cruise ships dock here regularly along with ferry services to Las Palmas and Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
To the south of town is El Matorral, home to a huge army barracks and base, originally built for the returning Spanish Foreign Legion following the Spanish withdrawal from the Western Sahara in 1975. The influx of nearly 5000 soldiers (many of whom were foreign mercenaries) effectively doubled the town’s population overnight and was not a particularly welcome development in a sleepy and remote backwater that was only beginning to open to tourism. Many serious incidents were attributed to Legionnaires stationed there, including several murders, an attempt to blow up a disco and even a plane hijacking! The Legion eventually moved to Almeria in 1996, though their presence was an important factor in the growth of Puerto del Rosario.
‘Puerto’ isn’t known for being the prettiest place in Fuerteventura and looks a little scruffy and rundown in places. However, many improvements have been made to the town in recent years, such as the pedestrianising of streets, an improved harbour area and the addition of over 100 sculptures, statues and street art. Although Puerto del Rosario has improved dramatically in recent years (it still felt downright ‘dodgy’ when I first visited some 15 years ago), some areas such as the now-pedestrianised Calle Primero de Mayo, are now a little sterile and empty. No doubt this will change given time.
The large church in the centre of town is dedicated to the patron, ‘Virgin del Rosario’, who is celebrated on the 7th of October every year during the fiesta de Nuestra Señora del Rosario. The church was built in 1824 with the addition of a tower in 1930 and is actually an extension of the original chapel, built in 1812.
Another place of interest is the Casa Mueso Unamuno, a historic house-museum of the old “Hotel Fuerteventura”, where the Basque Writer and Philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno, stayed during his exile on the island.
If none of that takes your fancy why not try a little retail therapy? Take a wander around town, stop for a coffee, shop in the high street or head to the large Las Rotondas Shopping Centre (the biggest on the island). Many high street shops close for siesta in the afternoon, but most in Las Rotondas stay open all-day. There is also free parking in the basement – which is very welcome if you are not familiar with Puerto del Rosario’s one-way traffic system.
The two main beaches near the town are Playa Chica, which has seen recent improvements and had its size increased by almost three times. Improvements have also been made to the promenade along with the addition of beach-side showers and toilets.
Playa Blanca to the south of town tends to be visited by locals and, if the conditions are right, surfers. The former Parador Hotel at the south end of Playa Blanca has been closed for many years, though it is due to open again in April 2017 (under new ownership).
Along with other great improvements to the town, a large bus station opened in 2008 (Estación de Guaguas) which serves as hub between the north and south of the island.
All in all, although Puerto del Rosario is changing for the better, from a tourists perspective, there are many other great places to see and I wouldn’t put this at the top of my list.