Resort report for our 14 day holiday in Hotel Riu Oliva Beach, near Corralejo, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands in late October 2011.
On the north-east coast of Fuerteventura, Corralejo is a small town with a ferry port, surrounded by sandy beaches. On the southern side of the town is a simply sensational area of sand dunes, stretching for 8km along the seashore, and 2km inland. It’s a little bit of the Sahara dropped onto this bleak, arid, rocky volcanic island, just 100km from the Moroccan coast (you can even go for camel rides over the dunes). It’s a National Park and a nature reserve – but with a couple of huge high-rise hotels, totalling 1100 rooms, plonked down right in the middle of the dunes.
The map below is centred on the Hotel Oliva Beach buildings - just zoom in and out to see the location amongst the dunes.
The buildings were erected in the early 1990s, and planning permission for these hotels would never be given nowadays. We were told that the local government want them demolished. However, because they provide masses of jobs for the islanders, a typical politician’s compromise has been reached: the hotels have to be demolished - but not until 2030...!
There’s a road running the length of the dunes area which is basically a long car park. Visitors park their hire cars here and walk the kilometre or so down to the water’s edge.
The prevailing breeze (when we were there) blew stiffly from the north, creating an ideal shore for windsurfing, surfing and kite-surfing, while arrays of land-based kites hovered permanently along the beach. There are lifeguard stations every kilometer, and red, yellow or green flags fly from 10am to 4pm to advise bathing safety. The clear, clean surf looks very inviting – until you actually step in and are reminded that this is the Atlantic in late October/early November. Brrr.
There are rows of sunbeds for hire along the seashore near the hotel: €3 per day each for sunbeds and sunshades. The north breeze meant that the sunshades were sometimes laid horizontally on the beach to act as effective windbreaks. While we were there in late October it was warm enough to sunbathe, provided the sun didn’t go behind clouds. When this happened it felt a bit chilly. Daily max temperatures varied from 21°C to 26°C during our stay. Dotted across the dunes are clumps of scrubby bushes, and in the lee of these you'll often find windbreaks constructed from loose rocks. If you get out early enough you can spread your towel in one of these, out of the wind, and sunbathe even when it's too chilly on a sunbed in the breeze.
Just off the dunes area is the small no-longer-inhabited island of Lobos, which is also a nature reserve, with a volcanic caldera rising at one end.
There’s another, even bigger area of dunes at Jandea in the south of the island.
We reached the Riu Oliva Beach hotel after a four-hour flight from Gatwick and a twenty-minute transfer from Fuerteventura airport. The Riu Oliva Beach is the larger of the two hotels here, with 750 rooms, and is divided into two parts – the original, 8-floor block just 200m back from the shoreline, and a separate low-rise annex of rooms and apartments behind it. There are a couple of small supermarkets and car hire shops next to the hotel on the main road running behind it. We were lucky to be put in a room in the original block – there’s normally a supplement for this, as these rooms have a sea view.
There’s a big swimming pool and a kid’s pool, both surrounded by a large area for sunbeds and sunshades, partly concrete-flagged, partly sandy. The pool area gets crowded. There are pool games organised by the entertainment staff. There’s a hot tub, and a beach towel bar (you only get a voucher for beach towels if you’re in the main block, but it didn’t seem to be strictly enforced). The hotel grounds are fenced off, and there’s a single exit onto the beach with a guard.
One thing we must say is that the hotel staff were a pleasant surprise. In a hotel of this size, with well over a thousand guests, you might expect the staff to be a bit lackadaisical, but they always had a cheerful smile on their faces, quick to come forward, and eager to help.
Our room was on the north side of the block, with a view across Isla de Lobos and over to the island of Lanzarote on the horizon (rooms on the sunny, south side of the block have great views over the dunes). The twin room had lots of drawer and shelf space, a wardrobe with hanging space, a biggish room safe, minibar, space to store suitcases, a separate table and chair, a ceiling fan and a balcony with a patio table and a couple of chairs. Also on the balcony was an extending, telescopic clothes-drying affair. The air conditioning didn’t seem to do much. The TV had lots of European channels including Sky News and BBC World in English.
The bathroom was fine - a bath with shower over, a washbasin, loo and hairdryer, and reasonable shelf space for all those bottles and tubes. All neat and clean and with daily maid service.
The hotel is all-inclusive, so you have to wear a plastic wristband. The main block and the annex each have self-service buffet restaurants which served pretty much the same massive selection of food, but remember this is a 750 room hotel, so it’s mass-market catering – don’t expect gourmet cooking. The breakfast juices were generally weak, tasteless and sugary, and the sliced bread was a bit stale, though there were also fresh loaves, croissants and rolls which were much better. Having said this, there were some good dishes that we learned to look out for – the roast beef and pork that we tried were excellent, there was always plenty of fresh salad, and occasionally there were omelettes cooked to order for breakfast. We often ended our meal with cheese and biscuits. Beer and wine were on tap – you just go and help yourself. The white wine was a bit insipid, but the red was very drinkable. Occasionally you are greeted at breakfast with a glass of sparkling Cava or freshly-made smoothies.
We found that the restaurant in the annex was less crowded and more relaxed in the evenings, so we often ate there.
During the afternoon there are tasty snacks available in the pool bar area – pizzas, burgers, toasties, hot dogs, salad, ice cream, etc, again all self-service. We usually had a snack here instead of heading to the main restaurant. Tables to eat at were at a premium.
There are also two bookable “specialty” restaurants: an oriental one in the annex, and a “Canarian” one in the main block. We expected these to be much posher, but they weren’t – they are still self-service, just a different variety of food. We couldn’t recommend the oriental restaurant, but the Canarian one is worth a try, just for a change. You have to ring reception early in the morning to book these for the following day, as they always seem to be in demand.
Bottled water is available from Reception.
The pool bar is good, with self-service Cruzcampo beer, wine, tea, coffee, icy-slushy cocktails, soft drinks etc. There’s also a cocktail bar with barpersons to make up drinks involving spirits – though you won’t recognise any of the labels on the bottles.
There are two more bars upstairs open in the evenings, one next to the entertainment stage area, and a more comfortable one further back where there is usually live music at night.
There’s also a bar in the annex, next to its pool.
We didn’t go on any. We’d been to Fuerteventura before and “did” the island then, so this time we just chilled on the beach and round the pool. There was a Welcome meeting in Reception the day after we arrived, and we were presented with a barrage of trips, tours and excursions. The only one of any interest to us was to nearby Lanzarote to see the remarkable still-active volcano area of the Timanfaya National Park, which we’d already experienced twenty-odd years previously.
We’d got a good deal on this holiday, and were under no illusions about the mass-market nature of the hotel and the restaurants. We were pleasantly surprised by the hotel and particularly the keen and helpful staff. The weather was mixed - it hardly rained at all, but the north wind was at times a bit chilly. Get out of the wind, though, and you could bask in the sun all day. Would we come again? Yes, possibly, if we were looking for a relaxing beach holiday at a reasonable price out of season – but we’d probably come a bit earlier for a bit more Sahara-like weather, maybe late September/early October.