A bus in the Canary Islands is called a guagua, pronounced ‘wa-wa’. If you’ve bounced around Latin America, you’ll be familiar with the term. Still, if you ask about autobuses, you’ll be understood.
Every island has its own inter-urban service. One way or another, they can get you to most of the main locations but, in many cases, there are few runs each day (except on the very popular routes) so you will need to plan ahead.
The larger islands of Tenerife and Gran Canaria have an impressive and efficient public-transport system covering the whole island. Frequency, however, varies enormously, from a regular service between major towns to a couple of runs per day for transporting workers and school children to/from the capital.
Check the timetable carefully before you travel on weekends. Even on the larger islands’ major runs, a frequent weekday service can trickle off to just a few departures on Saturday and one, or none, on Sunday.
In the larger towns and cities, buses leave from an estación de guaguas (bus station). In villages and small towns, they usually terminate on a particular street or plaza. Buy your ticket on the bus.
Global Provides Gran Canaria with a comprehensive network of routes, although services between rural areas are infrequent.
Guagua Gomera La Gomera’s limited service operates seven lines across the island.
Intercity Bus Lanzarote A decent network covering Lanzarote's main points of interest.
Tiadhe Provides a reasonable service, with 18 lines operating around Fuerteventura.
TITSA Runs a spider’s web of services all over Tenerife.
TransHierro El Hierro’s bus service has reasonable coverage throughout the island.
Transportes Insular La Palma Services La Palma with good overall coverage.
On some of the islands you can a bus card which can get you a reduction on the ticket fare (however the reduction may be quite small, depending on the island).
On Tenerife, the card is called a Ten+ Travel Card, saving you 30% off the trip fare on most (but not all) lines. On other islands, the card – where it exists – is called a Bono Transport card, but although the cards used to net substantial discounts, now the discount is much lower (eg on Fuerteventura, you only receive a 5% discount, on Lanzarote this is 10%). The cards usually cost €2 and can be topped up in increments from a minimum of €5; buy them at bus stations and shops (such as newsagents). Usually you touch the card to the reader on the bus, tell the driver where you are going, and the fare will be deducted from the card. With the Ten+ Travel Card on Tenerife, however, you tap in and tap out (remember to tap out or you will pay the full fare for the line). You can usually share a card with a fellow traveller.
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria has also issued a Live bus pass (www.guaguas.com/tarifas-carnets/tarjeta-turistica) for use on city lines; a one-day unlimited travel card is €5, a three-day unlimited travel card is €12. The card is available from tourist offices and bus stations in the city.
Fares are reasonable and maybe a little bit cheaper if you buy a transport card. Destinations within each island are calculated pro rata according to distance, so ticket fares vary from €1 for a short city hop to €10 or so for journeys of well over an hour (on the larger islands). La Palma has introduced a standardised fixed bus distance tariff: up to 10km (€1.50), 10km to 20km (€2.40) and over 20km (€2.60).
It pays to have small notes and coins as change as the bus driver may not be able to break a big note.