The busy High street od Arrecife Leon y Castillo

During a holiday on Lanzarote, youd be well advised to visit Arrecife, the islands capital, if only for the shopping. The prices in Arrecifes supermarkets tend to be somewhat cheaper than those in Puerto del Carmen and Costa Teguise, the islands main tourist zones. (Theres also a number of so-called "duty free" shops, mainly Asian-owned which are not duty free at all, selling a range of electrodomestic equipment which can be bought in the UK normally for comparable prices).

Shopping apart, Arrecife has lots of other attractions. Its a typical small bustling, apparently disorganised, Spanish town which goes at its own pace despite demands by outsiders. Take a morning desayuno (breakfast) of cafe con leche or hot chocolate with churros, strips of doughnut--like pastry, deep fried and dusted with sugar in one of the bars on or around Arrecifes main shopping street, Calle Leon y Castillo. There youll get a taste of life in the islands capital. The bars are usually filled most mornings with islanders taking a break, office workers having elevenses, chatty shoppers relaxing with carrier bags and holidaymakers simply soaking up a bit of local colour. Even the officials from the Cabildo often drop in from their nearby offices and take a coffee while reading the morning paper. As in many of the bars all over the island, the noise in the Arrecife bars is deafening to northern ears, but the locals seem oblivious to the din.

Arrecife has a population of some 50,000. Its name derives from the Spanish word for reef. One such reef used to exist at the mouth of the towns original natural port. Indeed, the island capital, used to be called Puerto de Arrecife, but the word for "port" was subsequently dropped.

The town possesses two forts built in bygone days for defensive purposes. The oldest, San Gabriel, dates from the 17th Century, although it was almost certainly built on the remains of an older fortification destroyed by the pirate Morato Arraez in 1588. It stands on a tiny islet facing the town, connected by a causeway with a drawbridge. (Incidentally, parking in Arrecife can often be a headache with regular police purges of car--clamping and towing away. A useful place to park to avoid such problems is the municipal car park just opposite the Fortress of San Gabriel, which also contains a small Archaeology Museum or the newer multistorey car parks. It costs little and youre only minutes walk away from Calle Leon y Castillo).The church and plaza of San Gines

The second fortress is San Jose, which is substantially bigger and more impressive than San Gabriel. It stands in the once--strategically important position overlooking Arrecifes deep sea port, the Muelle de los Marmoles. Construction began during the reign of King Charles III and was completed in 1779. The fortress now houses a small but impressive Gallery of Contemporary Art, a restaurant and bar which overlook the port and a second gallery which is used for small--scale concerts staged by the local authority.

There are plenty of better beaches on the island, but Arrecifes main beach, Playa del Reducto, is adjacent to the Arrecife Gran Hotel. Its an enjoyable walk from the beach, popular mostly with islanders with its attractive sloping palms, along the main promenade street. There are plenty of bars to take a refreshing drink running right along the street and a pleasant promenade which houses the tourist office (open mornings only), facing the islands main post office, the Correos. Passing the fort of San Gabriel on your right and Calle Leon y Castillo on your left, youll come to Arrecifes police station, or rather one of them, since there are three kinds of police in Spain. This building is the local HQ of the Policia Nacional, National Police. There are also Civil Guards and Municipal Police, but the National Police will deal with most problems, if any arise. A little further on from the police station and youll come to Calle Liebre (Hare Street) which houses the small but fascinating Lanzarote fish market. Here you will find excellent fresh fish, ranging from moray eel to the local delicacy, sama. A word of warning here Look for the sign which says Pescado del Barquillo -- meaning, "fish from the little boat". This stall sells the freshest fish of all, coming directly that morning from the little boats that fish in and around Arrecife harbour. Youll quickly realise which is the most popular stall since theres usually a small melee of local women, fighting for the most appetising looking catch. The fish market opens around 6.30 am and closes around noon, so its best to get there as early as possible. Just across the road is the fruit and vegetable market (same opening times), selling both local and imported produce. Youll find the prices and the freshness of the produce as good if not better than any of the supermarkets.The church and plaza of San Gines

A little further on from the markets, along the oceanside road, and youll come to Arrecifes lagoon or Charco de San Gines. Theres been a recent attempt to smarten up the area which now looks rather attractive, particularly by night, with a promenade surrounding the lagoon and a few bars and restaurants opening up, giving the place a cheery appearance. Few, however, will agree with historian Millares Canteros comment that Arrecife is the "Venice of the Atlantic".

For Spanish speaking holidaymakers, Arrecife has four cinemas showing both popular and "art" films. Recently opened too is the impressive Atlantida complex with four cinemas and a theatre.

The cinemas usually present three evening shows, starting at 5.30, 7.45 and 10.30 pm with slightly different times for Sundays. But always check before hand. The cinemas are apt to change movies randomly and put on "festivals of international films" with hardly any publicity at all. Foreign films are almost invariably dubbed into Spanish, but there are plans for a second multicinema which aims to show movies in English.

There is, however, a lack of theatrical performances, although excellent touring companies, like the Catalan outfit , Els Comediants, do visit the island from time to time.