The Parque Natural de las Dunas de Corralejo is one of the most-visited natural areas in Fuerteventura and boasts the largest sand dunes of the Canary Islands. With miles of near-white sand beaches, clear turquoise waters, huge dunes and a contrasting red and black volcanic landscape, it is real natural gem of the Canary Islands.
The Natural Park covers around 24km², including the beaches, the large shifting sand dunes and the volcanic landscape to the south. Known locally as Grandes Playas (big beaches), the 10Km stretch of coastline is actually made up of a number of smaller beaches. These pale sandy beaches have few rocks and clear turquoise waters. Contrary to many guides and newspaper articles, the sand here has not “blown over from the Sahara”, but is in fact composed of the shells of marine creatures.
Although this area may seem rather barren, there are a number of species present. The Houbara Bustard is the flag-bearer of the Natural Park and is the largest native bird in the Canary Islands. You may also see little egrets, spoonbills, kentish plovers, lizards as well as beetles and other invertebrates. Very few plants can survive such harsh conditions, two exceptions, having adapted to the shifting sand dunes are Androcymbium gramineum psammophilum and the Sea Grape (Tetraena fontanesii). Importantly, the park, along with the nearby island of Lobos are designated as a Special Protection Area for Birds (ZEPA – Zona de especial protección para las aves).
The area was designated as a Natural Park in 1982 together with the small island of Los Lobos, located just off the coast of Corralejo. Unfortunately two large hotels were built before the area was declared a protected space. These Hotels are rather a blot on such a stunning landscape, however on the plus side, if you stay in either of the hotels, the dunes and turquoise waters really are on your doorstep.
The Grandes Playas are great for water sports. An area known as Flag Beach is a favourite with surfers in the area. The El Medano area is often visited by wind and kite surfers. With 10Km of coastline, there is plenty of space on the beaches for everyone, including those wanting to catch some rays. However, as great as the area is for water sports, it is not that great for swimming, as there are strong currents and rip tides along with a small ratio of lifeguards to beach-goers.
For those wanting a more tranquil day at the beach, head for the zuccos. These semi-circular stone shelters provide some respite from the wind and offer a little privacy too – they are often occupied by nudists, especially towards the southern end of the dunes. Dotted along the beaches are a number of Chiringuitos (beach bars) along with toilet and shower facilities. Though a few areas offer sun-loungers and umbrellas for hire, there is very little cover in the Natural Park, so ensure that you bring plenty of sun cream and water with you.
For those wanting the best views, bring suitable footwear and water and head up Montaña Roja (Red Mountain). This 314m volcano in the south of the park offers stunning 360 degree views and is a great spot for photography on a clear day.
Access to the park by road is via the FV-1. Motorists should exercise caution and be aware of pedestrians and shifting sands when driving along this road. There are kilometres of parking spaces along the road, although those nearest the most favoured areas, like Flag Beach often fill up first. Even if you have an off-road vehicle, you cannot drive in the Natural Park other than on the FV-1 road – driving on the dunes is strictly forbidden.
You can walk to the dunes from Corralejo – it takes around 1½ to 2 hours from the centre of town. You can also cycle, catch a bus, grab a taxi and some hotels even offer a shuttle service. The Natural Park is a must-see for visitors to Fuerteventura, but even peak season, you will usually find a parking spot and definitely a place on the beach.
Since 1987, every November, kite flyers from all over the world have come to compete and join in what is now a weekend long Kite Festival held in the Corralejo Natural Park. If you are in the area at the beginning of November, then I would highly recommend heading into the park to take a look.