Apartments for rent are much more common than hotels. Quality can vary greatly, but they can be more comfortable than a simple pensión and considerably more economical, especially if there are several of you and you plan to self-cater. The two principal categories are estudios (studios), with a living room and bedroom combined, and the more frequent apartamento, where you get a double bedroom and separate lounge. Both have separate bathroom and a kitchenette. Also common are aparthotels (apartment-hotels), which function exactly like hotels in terms of service, but with large rooms that include a kitchenette – more like a small apartment.
Many apartment complexes are contracted to tour operators and don’t rent to independent travellers; even those that do may insist upon a minimum three-night stay.
In the case of privately owned apartments, most of the time the owner doesn’t live in the building so there’s little point in just turning up – you generally need to call ahead.
These rural self-catering houses and hotels are generally converted farmsteads or village houses and are often a highly agreeable option for those seeking to escape the bustle of the resorts. It’s essential to call ahead as they usually offer limited places and there may be no-one in attendance. Many casas rurales are distant from public transport, so check whether a hire car is necessary or desirable. They usually represent excellent value for the charm of their setting and facilities, and can be a great base for hiking.
Hotels, Hostels & Pensiones
While you will find plenty of four- to five-star hoteles, particularly in the resorts, there is a lack of midrange hotel accommodation in the islands. Midrange options are usually of the self-catering ilk. Similarly, budget accommodation can be rather thin on the ground.
In practice, there is little difference between pensiones – one- to two-star guesthouses – and hostales (small hotels, not youth hostels). At the one-star end of either you may well find cramped, dank rooms and shared bathrooms (with perhaps a simple washbasin in the room), while at a slightly higher price you could find charming gems with private bathrooms and stylish decor. Hoteles range from simple places to luxurious, five-star establishments with complimentary bathrobes, spa treatments and superior restaurants.
You will find a few backpacker-style hostels featuring dorms, shared kitchen and the like in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and some of the surf towns.
The paradores, a Spanish state-run chain of high-class hotels with six establishments in the Canary Islands, are in a special category. They can be wonderful places to luxuriate. They also offer a range of discounts for senior citizens, under-30s and those staying more than one night. You can find current offers at www.parador.es.
For a place with so much natural beauty, there are precious few places to camp in the Canary Islands. Most islands have just one token official campsite and free camping is largely prohibited. Occasionally you will happen across a usually amenity-free campsite in some of the smaller towns, but staying there can be a bit of a headache. You have to apply in person for permission from the ayuntamiento (town hall) or cabildo (island government). If you are travelling with a tent, it's always worth asking the local tourist information office about the availability of campgrounds in the vicinity and how to gain access.
Practical Tip: Package Deals
There are more than 500 hotels, apartment blocks and bungalows in Playa del Inglés and Maspalomas; in peak periods many are full to bursting. Consider booking a package deal before you arrive; this is often the cheapest way to spend a week or two in the Canaries. Use the resort as a base and head out each day to explore, returning for an evening dip at your well-priced apartment complex.
Practical Tip: Taxes
Virtually all accommodation prices are subject to IGIC, the Canary Islands’ indirect tax, charged at a rate of 7%. This tax is often included in the quoted price at the cheaper places, but less often at the more expensive ones. In some cases you will only be charged the tax if you ask for a receipt.
Prices throughout this guide are high-season maximums. That said, virtually any time is tourist time in the Canaries although, strictly speaking, the high season is winter, when the Canaries can offer sunshine, warmth and an escape from the rigours of the northern European winter. July and August are also busy times of year as this is when the majority of mainland Spanish take their holidays.
Casas Rurales (www.ecoturismocanarias.com) Has an extensive selection of rural accommodation throughout the islands, but doesn't cover La Gomera or Lanzarote.
Ecoturismo Gomera (www.casasruralesdelagomera.es) A good network of casas rurales across La Gomera.
Rural Accommodation (www.alorustico.com) A Spanish mainland website that includes some 60 choices for rural accommodation across every island except La Gomera.
Airbnb (www.airbnb.com) There are some spectacularly located properties for rent across all the islands, ranging from city apartments with sea views to enormous houses in the mountains.