The first settlers are believed to have arrived here from North Africa - the word Mahorero (Majorero) or Maho is still used today to describe the people of Fuerteventura and comes from the ancient word 'mahos' meaning a type of goatskin shoe worn by the original inhabitants. They lived in caves and semi-subterranean dwellings, a few of which have been discovered and excavated revealing relics of early tools and pottery. In antiquity, the island was known as Planaria, among other names, in reference to the flatness of most of its landscape.
In the 11th century BC, the Phoenician settlers arrived in Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. In 850 BC, the island was mentioned by Homer in the Odyssey, the Canary Islands as Insulae Fortunatae.
Several Spanish and Portuguese expeditions occurred in about 1340 around the island and the island were inhabited by Maurs and were afflicted with European slave holders.
In 1405, the French conqueror Jean de Bethencourt took the island and gave his name to the former capital, Betancuria, on the west coast (Puerto Rosario took over the mantle as island capital in 1835). The name of the island itself is believed to have come from Bethencourt's exclamation "Que forte aventure!" ("What a grand adventure"). A less romantic explanation is that the name simply means "strong wind".
In 1852, the free trade zone was extended by Isabella II to the Canary Islands. The military rule over the island which began from 1708 dissolved in 1859 and Puerto de Cabras (now Puerto del Rosario) became entirely the new capital.
The Canary islands had the right to self-govern in 1912.
In 1927, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote became part of the province of Gran Canaria.
By the 1940s the island had an airport (just west of Puerto del Rosario on the road to Tindaya, still visible today).
Tourism arrived in the mid-1960s with the building of the present airport at El Mattoral and the first tourist hotels.
The seat of the island government (cabildo insular) is in Puerto del Rosario. A total of 74,983 people (2003) live on the island.
Since the island is close to Africa, many illegal African immigrants try to enter the European Union through it, by a dangerous boat trip from Morocco.