Renting a car in the Canaries is highly recommended, partly – if not largely – because driving may well count among your most memorable experiences on the islands. Bus services are great for journeys between major centres, but if you want to hop between smaller towns you might wait all day for the next bus. Exploring in depth is only really possible with your own wheels – unless you can afford to spend a full day and night in every pueblo (village) you happen across. Add to this the huge choice of alluring driving routes across the islands and hiring a car has rarely been more sensible.
Unless you’re intending to settle on the islands, there’s no advantage whatsoever in bringing your own vehicle. Transport costs on the ferry from Cádiz in mainland Spain are high and car-hire rates on the islands are significantly cheaper than in most EU countries. If you’re one of the very rare visitors to bring your own vehicle, you will need registration papers and an International Insurance Certificate (or a Green Card). Your insurance company will issue this.
Although those with a non-EU licence should also have an International Driving Permit, you will find that national licences from countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA are usually accepted.
A driving licence is required for any vehicle over 50cc.
Gasolina (petrol) is much cheaper in the Canary Islands than elsewhere in Spain because it’s not taxed as heavily. Sin plomo (lead-free) and diesel petrol are available everywhere with generally two grades on offer for each.
Prices vary slightly between petrol stations and fluctuate according to oil tariffs, Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) arm twisting and tax policy. You can pay with major credit cards at most petrol stations.
Note that some petrol stations have attendants who will pump the gas for you while at others you'll have to get out and do it yourself.
All the big international car-rental companies are represented in the Canary Islands and there are also plenty of local operators. To rent a car you need to have a driving licence, be aged 21 or over, and, for the major companies at least, have a credit card.
If you intend to stay on one island for any length of time, it might be worth booking a car in advance, for example in a fly/drive deal. It's also a good idea to reserve in advance during high season or on the smaller islands where hire cars aren't as abundant. Note that the highest rental charges are taken up by the first three or four days and hiring the vehicle for a week instead may not make a huge amount of difference.
Generally, you're not supposed to take a hire car from one island to another without the company’s explicit permission. An exception for most companies is the Fuerteventura–Lanzarote sea crossing – most have no problem with you taking your car from one to the other and, in some cases, you can hire on one island and drop the car off on the other.
Cicar Well-regarded local company that covers all the islands. Cicar is part of the Cabrera Medina group and offers the same conditions and rates.
Third-party motor insurance is a minimum requirement in the Canary Islands (and throughout Europe). Be careful to understand what your liabilities and excess are, and what waivers you are entitled to in case of accident or damage to the hired vehicle. Note that driving on a dirt road may render your policy null and void, so check with the car hire firm. Larger international car rental firms such as Avis tend to have a comprehensive vehicle insurance policy built into the quote, so you are pretty well covered for damage to the car, but check when you hire; other firms may give you the choice of leaving a deposit and needing to return the car in the same condition you drove it away in to reclaim that deposit, or comprehensive vehicle cover. If you take out the comprehensive vehicle cover, it may be the case than you end up with a car that has been knocked about more (as car rental operators are less worried about further damage to it).
The blood-alcohol limit is 0.05% and random breath-testing is carried out. If you are found to be over the limit, you can be fined and deprived of your licence within 24 hours. Nonresident foreigners will be required to pay up on the spot (with a 30% to 50% discount on the full fine). Pleading linguistic ignorance will not help – your traffic cop will produce a list of infringements and fines in as many languages as you like. If you don’t pay, or don’t have a local resident to act as guarantor for you, your vehicle could be impounded.
Legal driving age for cars 18 years
Legal driving age for motorcycles & scooters 16 (80cc and over) or 15 (50cc and under) years; a licence is required.
Motorcyclists Must use headlights at all times and wear a helmet if riding a bike of 125cc or more.
Roundabouts (traffic circles) Vehicles already in the circle have the right of way.
Side of the road Drive on the right.
Speed limits In built-up areas: 50km/h which increases to 100km/h on major roads and up to 120km/h on autovias (highways).