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Wednesday 17 March 2010

Fuerteventura, Canary Islands – Sun, sea, sand…..and conservation

In the past Fuerteventura had a reputation for being the poorest and the least developed of the Canary Islands but nowadays the guaranteed sunshine, the huge expanses of fine golden sand and turquoise sea have made it irresistible to tourists from Europe and, increasingly, further afield and tourism has become big business here.

However, for those prepared to venture outside the tourist resorts there is more to Fuerteventura that just sea, sand and sunshine.

Historically the islanders made their living from fishing, goat-herding and local crafts but, with the increase in tourism, there has been a dramatic increase in demand for skin care products from those visiting the island for the year round sunshine. As a result the Aloe Vera plant has become one of Fuerteventura’s most important products due to its moisturising and healing properties. Aloe farms can now be found all over the island and factories have been built producing skin-care creams and sun tan lotions which are not only sold locally but also exported overseas.

Additionally a number of conservation projects have been set up on Fuerteventura. One of these projects is aimed at protecting the endangered Mediterranean monk seal by re-introducing it to the neighbouring island of Los Lobos, just off Corralejo in the far north of the island.

In the south of Fuerteventura is the town of Morro Jable which, as well as being a resort area, is now also the home of the Sodabe Turtle Reserve where loggerhead turtles are being reintroduced after an absence of over 100 years. The turtles are being transported from Cape Verde and hatched on a beach on Fuerteventura’s west coast at Cofete. From there the baby turtles are placed in “nursery” tanks until they are large enough to be released in the sea. The hope is that when the females reach maturity (after 10 years) they will return to Cofete to lay their eggs, ensuring the ongoing presence of these turtles on Fuerteventura.

Another important development for the island was when UNESCO declared the island a Biosphere Reserve in May 2009. This will ensure that the almost completely untouched west coast, the interior of the island with its pretty towns and villages, and a large part of Jandia in the south will be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations of residents and visitors to Fuerteventura.

The increase in tourism also means an increase in the importance of water sports here in Fuerteventura and these are among the best in the Canary Islands. There is a stark difference to the seas on the east and west of the island. To the east the sea is nearly always calm and the winds tend to be constant and reliable, perfect for windsurfing and kiteboarding enthusiasts. The Sotavento lagoon and beaches are hosts to annual World Tour events in the last 2 weeks of July.

The western coast of Fuerteventura is wilder and for the most part unsafe for all but the most experienced swimmers and divers. However there are a handful of surfing beaches, especially around El Cotillo in the north-west. There is also exotic marine life with excellent visibility and underwater caves and grottos as is typical in submerged volcanoes.

Many tourist guide books will lead you to believe that the beautiful golden sand on more than 150 beaches scattered around the island was blown here from the Sahara desert. However, the sand on Fuerteventura is actually completely natural and the sand dunes of Corralejo are a major attraction of the island. The dune area was declared a Natural Park in the 1980’s and apart from the two Riu hotels already standing on the beach no further building is allowed, ensuring the protection of the dunes for the future. Additionally a new road is currently under construction to divert traffic around, rather than through, the sand dunes. It is hoped that work on the new road (which will run from La Caldereta to Corralejo) will be completed by December 2011, helping to preserve the beauty of the Natural Park.

There are many reasons for visitors to Fuerteventura to leave their hotels, leave their resorts and explore all this wonderful island has to offer.

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