The Canary Islands are not especially well geared towards smooth travel for people with disabilities. Most restaurants, shops and tourist sights are not equipped to handle wheelchairs, although the more expensive hotels and resorts will have rooms with appropriate facilities. Naturally, check before booking. Restaurants, bars and shops in commercial centres will have access ramps for wheelchair users, however.
Transport is quite complicated, although you should be able to organise a specially modified hire car from one of the international hire companies (with advance warning). In fact, advance warning is always a good idea; start with your travel agent and see what it can offer in terms of information and assistance. In the archipelago’s cities, such as Las Palmas and Santa Cruz, some buildings (eg museums or government offices) provide Braille in the lifts, and specially textured floors before stairs, but not much else. Few concessions are made in the public infrastructure for people who are deaf. Mobility scooter hire is straightforward in Los Cristianos on Tenerife, and you will see a lot of people using them.
The tourist office in Puerto del Carmen in Lanzarote can advise on arranging amphibious chairs for anyone with mobility issues wanting to use the beach.
Mobility Equipment Hire
Mobility Abroad (www.mobilityabroad.com) A long-standing company with outlets in Gran Canaria and Lanzarote.
Orange Badge Wheelchair and mobility-scooter hire in Tenerife.
Haggling over prices may be accepted in some markets (try and see what other customers are doing around you), and shops may offer a small discount if you’re spending a lot of money. Otherwise expect to pay the stated price.
Dangers & Annoyances
In terms of personal security, the Canary Islands generally feel safe and nonthreatening. The main thing to be wary of is petty theft.
- Keep valuables concealed or locked in your hotel room and don't leave anything on display in your car.
- Be wary of pickpockets in areas with plenty of other tourists.
- Women travellers may encounter sexual harassment; this is often nothing more sinister than catcalling or staring, but it is enough to be intimidating.
- Watch out for rip tides when swimming on all the islands.
If caught in a rip tide in deep water, do not fight against it as you may rapidly, and dangerously, tire. It is more advisable to try to call for help and to go with the flow to conserve energy; the rip tide will take you further out to sea, but you should be able to swim back. Rip tide channels are quite narrow, so another technique is to gradually swim parallel to the shore when caught in a rip tide and you should escape it.
To receive any available discounts, photo ID is essential.
- Seniors get reduced prices at various museums and attractions and occasionally on transport. The minimum age varies between 60 and 65 years.
- Students receive discounts of usually half the normal fee, though student cards are not accepted everywhere.
- Ask at individual tourist offices for discount cards covering local attractions.
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
If you're calling within the Canaries, all numbers will have a total of nine digits beginning with 9 for landlines and 6 for mobile phones.
|International access code||00|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Citizens of most EU member states, as well as Switzerland, can travel to the Canary Islands with just their national identity card. UK nationals – and all other nationalities – must have a full valid passport.
Check that your passport’s expiry date is at least six months away, otherwise you may not be granted a visa, should you need one.
By law you are supposed to have your identity card or passport with you at all times in the Canaries, in case the police ask to see it. In practice, this is unlikely to cause trouble. You might want to carry a photocopy of your documentation instead of the real thing. You will need to flash one of these documents (the original, not the photocopy) for registration when you take a hotel room.
Although the Canary Islands are part of Spain, for customs purposes they are not considered part of the EU. For this reason, allowances are much less generous than for goods bought within EU countries. You are allowed to bring in or take out, duty free, a maximum of the following items:
- 4L of still wine
- 1L of spirits (or 2L of sparkling wine)
- 16L of beer
- 200 cigarettes
- €300 worth of other goods and gifts
Generally not required for stays of up to 90 days; some nationalities will need a Schengen visa.
Spain is one of the 26 member countries of the Schengen Convention, under which 22 EU countries (all but Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the UK) plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland have abolished checks at common borders.
The visa situation for entering Spain is as follows:
Citizens or residents of EU & Schengen countries No visa required.
Citizens or residents of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, NZ and the US No visa required for tourist visits of up to 90 days.
Other countries Check with a Spanish embassy or consulate.
To work or study in Spain A special visa may be required – contact a Spanish embassy or consulate before travel.
Extensions & Residence
Schengen visas are valid for 90 days and cannot be extended. Nationals of EU countries, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland can enter and leave the archipelago at will and don’t need to apply for a tarjeta de residencia (residence card), although they are supposed to apply for residence papers if they are staying for longer than 90 days.
People of other nationalities who want to stay in Spain longer than 90 days have to get a residence card, and for them it can be a drawn-out process, starting with an appropriate visa issued by a Spanish consulate in their country of residence. Start the process well in advance.
- Greetings Spaniards almost always greet friends and strangers alike with a kiss on each cheek, although two males only do this if they’re close friends.
- Church visits It is considered rather disrespectful to visit churches for the purposes of tourism during Mass and other worship services.
- Punctuality As with mainland Spain, timeliness is not held in such high regard as it may be in other European nations, so try to go with the flow.
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems and cancellation or delays to your travel arrangements is a good idea. Paying for your ticket with a credit card can often provide limited travel-accident insurance, and you may be able to reclaim the payment if the operator doesn’t deliver. Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Wifi is available at airports and pretty much all hotels, and most but not all cafes and restaurants; generally, but not always, free. Connection speed often varies from room to room in hotels, so always ask when you check in.
Should you be arrested, you will be allotted the free services of an abogado de oficio (duty solicitor), who may speak only Spanish. You are also entitled to make a phone call. If you use this call to contact your embassy or consulate, it will probably be able to do no more than refer you to a lawyer who speaks your language. If you end up in court, the authorities are obliged to provide a translator if you have to testify.
In theory, you are supposed to have your national ID card or passport with you at all times. If asked for it by the police, you are supposed to be able to produce it on the spot. In practice it is rarely an issue, and many people choose to leave passports in hotel safes.
There are three main types of policía: the Policía Local, the Policía Nacional and the Guardia Civil. Should you need to contact the police, don’t agonise over which kind to approach: any of them will do, but you may find that the Policía Local is the most helpful. The Canary Islands government provides a toll-free telephone number (112), which ensures that any emergency situation can be attended to by the nearest police available.
Spanish law defines any individual under the age of 18 to be a minor.
Same-sex marriages are legal in Spain and hence on the Canary Islands. Playa del Inglés and Maspalomas, on the southern end of Gran Canaria, are where the bulk of Europe’s gay crowd heads when holidaying in the Canaries, and the nightlife here bumps and grinds year-round. By day, nudist beaches are popular spots to hang out.
Spanish people generally adopt a live-and-let-live attitude to sexuality, so you shouldn’t have any hassles in the Canary Islands. That said, some small rural towns may not quite know how to deal with overt displays of affection between same-sex couples.
Canarias Gay (www.canariasgay.com) Search engine for gay-friendly holidays in the islands.
Gamá (www.colectivogama.com) Gay and lesbian association covering the entire archipelago.
Gay Homestays (www.gayhomestays.com) LGBT accommodation listings options on Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote (and the rest of the world).
Gay Welcome (www.gaywelcome.com) Resourceful website for Europe-wide travel, including the Canary Islands.
The most convenient way to bring your money is in the form of a debit or credit card, with some extra cash for use in case of an emergency.
The Canary Islands has a surfeit of banks, and virtually each one has a multilingual cajero automático (ATM). There is usually a charge of between 2% and 3% on ATM cash withdrawals abroad.
Even if you’re using a credit card you’ll still need to carry some cash – bus drivers and some smaller restaurants and shops don't accept cards.
All major tarjetas de crédito (credit cards) and debit cards are widely accepted. They can be used for many purchases (including at petrol stations and larger supermarkets, which sometimes ask to see some form of ID) and in hotels and restaurants (although smaller establishments tend to accept cash only). Contactless payment by credit and debit cards is also widely available.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Exchange facilities can be found at most air and seaports on the islands. In resorts and cities that attract large numbers of foreigners, you’ll find them easily – they’re usually indicated by the word cambio (exchange). Most of the time, they offer longer opening hours and quicker service than banks, and in many cases they offer better rates. Shop around and always ask from the outset about commission, the terms of which differ from place to place, and confirm that exchange rates are as posted. A typical commission is 3%. Places that advertise ‘no commission’ usually make up the difference by offering poorer exchange rates.
Not obligatory but most people at least leave some small change if they’re satisfied; 5% is normally fine and 10% considered generous. Porters will generally be happy with €1. Taxi drivers don’t have to be tipped but a little rounding up won’t go amiss.
Travellers cheques are a dying breed. Amex, Visa and Travelex cheques are the easiest to cash, particularly if in US dollars, British pounds or euros. Increasingly, banks are charging hefty commissions, even on cheques denominated in euros.
The following standard opening hours are for high season only; hours tend to decrease outside that time:
Banks 8.30am–2pm Monday to Friday
Post offices 8.30am–8.30pm Monday to Friday, 9.30am–1pm Saturday (large cities); 8.30am–2.30pm Monday to Friday, 9.30am–1pm Saturday (elsewhere)
Restaurants meals served 1pm–4pm and 7pm–late
Shops 10am–2pm and 5pm–9pm Monday to Friday, 10am–2pm Saturday
Supermarkets 9am–9pm Monday to Saturday
Correos (www.correos.es), the Spanish postal system operating on the Canary Islands, is generally efficient, if sometimes a bit slow. Postboxes are bright yellow and labelled ‘Correos’.
There are at least 14 official holidays a year in the Canary Islands. When a holiday falls close to a weekend, locals like to make a puente (bridge) – meaning they also take the intervening day off. On occasion, when a couple of holidays fall close to the same weekend, the puente becomes an acueducto (aqueduct)!
Following are the major national holidays, observed throughout the islands and the rest of Spain:
Año Nuevo (New Year’s Day) 1 January
Día de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day) 6 January
Viernes Santo (Good Friday) March/April
Fiesta del Trabajo (Labour Day) 1 May
La Asunción de la Virgen (Feast of the Assumption) 15 August
Día de la Hispanidad (National Day) 12 October
Todos los Santos (All Saint’s Day) 1 November. Gets particular attention on Tenerife.
La Inmaculada Concepción (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) 8 December
Navidad (Christmas) 25 December
In addition, the regional government sets a further five holidays, while local councils allocate another two. Common holidays include the following:
Martes de Carnival (Carnival Tuesday) February/March
Jueves Santo (Maundy Thursday) March/April
Día de las Islas Canarias (Canary Islands Day) 30 May
Día de San Juan (St John’s Day) 24 June
Día de Santiago Apóstol (Feast of St James the Apostle, Spain’s patron saint) 25 July. In Santa Cruz de Tenerife the day also marks the commemoration of the defence of the city against Horatio Nelson.
Día del Pino (Pine Tree Day) 8 September. This is particularly important on Gran Canaria.
Día de la Constitución (Constitution Day) 6 December
- Smoking Laws prohibit smoking in all bars and restaurants, as well as near hospitals, in school playgrounds and even on TV broadcasts.
The Canary Islands are on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT/UTC), plus an hour in summer for daylight-saving time. The islands keep the same time as the UK, Ireland and Portugal and are always an hour behind mainland Spain and most of Europe. Daylight-saving (summer) time starts on the last Sunday in March, when clocks are put forward one hour. Clocks are put back an hour on the last Sunday in October.
Australia During the Australian winter (Spanish summer), subtract nine hours from Australian Eastern Standard Time to get Canary Islands’ time; during the Australian summer, subtract 10 hours.
US Canary Islands’ time is US Eastern Time plus five hours and US Pacific Time plus eight hours.
Although the 24-hour clock is used in writing, you’ll find people generally use the 12-hour clock in everyday conversations.
Public toilets are not common and not always too pleasant. The easiest option is to wander into a bar or cafe and use its facilities. The polite thing to do is to make a small purchase, but you’re unlikely to raise too many eyebrows if you don’t. That said, some curmudgeonly places in popular tourist areas post notices saying that their toilets are for customers only.
The cautious carry some toilet paper with them when out and about as many toilets don't have it. If there’s a bin beside the toilet, put paper and so on in it (there may be a sign in Spanish, English and German telling you to do so) – probably because the local sewage system has trouble coping.
All major towns in the Canary Islands have a tourist office where you will usually get decent maps and information about sights and activities in the area. Though the Canarian government offers region-wide and island-specific information on its excellent website www.holaislascanarias.com, the tourist offices themselves are run by the cabildos (island governments) or ayuntamientos (town halls).
The major airports also have tourist offices and can usually assist with last-minute accommodation bookings.
Travel with Children
The Canary Islands has something for even the most demanding mini traveller. Start with the natural canvas – wide beaches edged by shallow, calm water and bordered by rocks that shelter rock pools and scuttling crabs. Add to that a submarine trip or perhaps a kids' diving class, kayaking, surfing, kitesurfing or a fun bike trip into the hills. Throw in a museum focusing on the islands' nautical, pirate-plagued past and top it all off with a camel ride through sand dunes, a hike around a volcano rim or a trip to one of the many theme parks dotted around the islands.
Best Regions for Kids
Parents may baulk, but the theme parks around Los Cristianos have undeniable appeal for children, while go-karting, whale-watching, beaches and boat rides should have the whole family cheering. Surf lessons can keep kids entertained for hours and there's also diving to teach them a few new skills.
The sandy choice at Corralejo is superb. Older kids will love striding out on the dunes south of town, while tiny tots may prefer the small sheltered coves by the harbour. Kids of all ages will adore the colourful murals decorating Puerto del Rosario. Splashier options include the massive Acua Water Park, plus boat rides and children’s snorkelling and surfing courses.
Parque Nacional de Timanfaya is something to impress the most blasé whippersnapper, with natural geysers, moonscape terrain, audiovisual presentations and camel rides. The restaurant’s volcano-powered BBQ is pretty cool as well.
- Gran Canaria
Las Palmas is not the most obvious region, but the city beach of Playa de las Canteras is magnificent, the Casa Museo de Colón’s model galleon is awesome and the science museum should blow their little socks off. Down south the children will adore rolling around the sand dunes in Maspalomas.
- La Palma
Tots won't want to go tottering around the Caldera de Taburiente, but older children may find the hikes invigorating, while children of all ages could find walking along the rim of the Volcán San Antonio exciting. Kids will love hunting for crabs in the rocky crevices of El Remo. Stargazing is another big draw – they'll adore getting lost in the Milky Way on the Roque de los Muchachos.
Canary Islands for Kids
While plenty of attractions, including theme parks and zoos, have been designed specifically with children in mind, public spaces, such as town and village plazas, also morph into informal playgrounds with children kicking a ball around, riding bikes and playing, while parents enjoy a drink and tapa in one of the surrounding terrace bars. Indeed, many town squares actually have a kids' playground, something you'll stumble across with gleeful frequency. Local children tend to stay up late, and at fiestas it’s common to see even tiny ones toddling the streets at midnight. Visiting children invariably warm to this idea, but can’t always cope with it quite so readily.
Discounts are available for children (usually under 12 years) on public transport and for admission to sights. Those aged under five generally go free.
Eating & Drinking
Whole families, often including several generations, sitting around a restaurant or bar table eating and chatting is a fundamental element of the lifestyle in the Canaries and it is rare to find a restaurant where children are not made welcome. Even if restaurants do not advertise children’s menus (a growing number do), they will still normally be willing to prepare a small portion for your child or suggest a suitable tapa or two. Baby-friendly extras like high chairs and changing tables are commonplace in resorts, though tend to be a little thin on the ground in more out-of-the-way spots.
Aside from the normal selection of soft drinks on offer, you might come across a zumeria (juice bar), where you'll find a healthy variety of fresh fruit juices. In bars, a popular choice for children is Cola Cao (chocolate drink) served hot or cold with milk.
Always make a point of asking staff at tourist offices for a list of family-friendly activities, including traditional fiestas, plus suggestions on hotels that cater for kids.
For further general information about travelling with children, see Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
- Siam Park, Costa Adeje, Tenerife This massive water park has the works, including raft rides (on rapids), an artificial wave pool and even a white sandy stretch of beach.
- Maroparque, Breña Alta, La Palma A small zoo with spacious enclosures and pleasantly landscaped gardens.
- Oasis Park, La Lajita, Fuerteventura Mammals, birds, sea life, plus camel rides on offer.
- Acua Water Park, Corralejo, Fuerteventura Splash-tastic fun for water-loving kids.
Water Sports & Boat Rides
- Dive Academy, Arguineguín, Gran Canaria One-day bubble-maker courses for children from eight to 10 years old.
- Oceanarium Explorer, Calea de Fuste, Fuerteventura Dolphin- and whale-spotting trips, kayak hire and sea lions at the harbour.
- Submarine Safaris, Tenerife and Lanzarote Underwater boat trips with diving opportunities for older, experienced children.
- Canary Island Divers, Puerto del Carmen, Lanzarote Bubble-maker courses in the pool or ocean (over eight years) plus open-water courses for the over-10s.
- CB Marítima Acantilados, Los Gigantes, Tenerife Daily two-hour whale- and dolphin-spotting boat trips.
- Tina, Valle Gran Rey, La Gomera Four-hour whale-watching excursions, including lunch.
All the following beaches have shallow waters, fine sand (for sandcastles), various activities (pedalos, boat rides, volleyball or similar), plus family-friendly restaurants and ice-cream vendors within tottering distance of the sand.
- Fuerteventura Corralejo Viejo, Muelle Chico (Corralejo), Caleta de Fuste, Costa Calma, Playa del Matorral (Morro Jable)
- Lanzarote Playa Grande (Puerto del Carmen), Playa Blanca, Playa del Castillo (Caleta de Fuste)
- Gran Canaria Playa de las Canteras, Playa del Inglés, Playa Mogán
- Tenerife Los Cristianos, Playa de las Américas, Costa Adeje, Las Teresitas
La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro have mainly black-sand beaches with, overall, fewer activities for children, aside from whale-watching cruises and the ubiquitous glass-bottom boat trips.
- La Palma Puerto Naos, Puerto de Tazacorte, Charco Azul (natural pools cut out of the rock)
- La Gomera Playa de las Vueltas and La Playa (Valle Gran Rey), Playa Santiago
- El Hierro La Restinga
- Museo de la Piratería, Teguise, Lanzarote A swashbuckling museum about the history of piracy on the island.
- Casa Santa María, Betancuria, Fuerteventura Folklore and crafts, plus an excellent underwater 3D film.
- Museo Elder de la Ciencia y la Tecnología, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria Fascinating science and technology museum with lots of hands-on exhibits for kids.
- Casa-Museo de Colón, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria Museum recounting Columbus’ voyages with an impressive replica galleon.
- Museo de la Naturaleza y el Hombre, Santa Cruz de Tenerife Natural science and archaeology, including Guanche mummies.
- Museo de la Ciencia y el Cosmos, La Laguna, Tenerife Great science museum for children, including a planetarium.
- Artlandya Doll Museum, Icod de los Vinos, Tenerife A fascinating doll museum with a vast collection of dolls from around the world.
The Big Outdoors
- Isla de Lobos, Fuerteventura Children should enjoy the ferry ride and Robinson Crusoe–style novelty of landing on a tiny, uninhabited island.
- Cueva de los Verdes & Jameos del Agua, Malpaís de la Corona, Lanzarote Intriguing caves and caverns.
- Parque Nacional de Timanfaya, Lanzarote Fascinating volcanic park with geyser displays and camel rides.
- Lanzarote a Caballo, Puerto del Carmen, Lanzarote Horse riding and short treks.
- Troglodyte caves, Artenara, Gran Canaria Fascinating Flintstone-style prehistoric caves.
- Lago Martiánez, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife A fabulous watery playground.
- La Caldera del Rey, Los Cristianos, Tenerife Horse riding, plus petting farm, climbing wall and low rope course for kids.
Playa de las Teresitas, Tenerife Calm, safe waters for waterborne young ones.
Acua Water Park, Tenerife The kids can flap about in the water once they've overdone the slides.
La Maceta, El Hierro Excellent swimming for children in these natural seawater pools.
Playa de las Vistas, Tenerife Its waters calmed by breakwaters, this is excellent swimming territory.
Charco Azul, La Palma Fantastic swimming in a string of pools fed by seawater right by the waves.
Playa del Pozo, Fuerteventura Gorgeous beach with safe waters and a lifeguard on duty in summer.
Playa de las Canteras, Gran Canaria Superb city beach for snorkelling and swimming youngsters.
This is an easy-going, child-friendly destination with precious little advance planning necessary. July and August can be very busy with Spanish families from the mainland, and hotels in the main tourist resorts are often block booked by tour companies. Early spring is a good time to travel with young children as the weather is still warm enough for beach days, without being too hot, and the theme parks and attractions are not too crowded – until the Easter holidays, that is.
You can buy baby formula in powder or liquid form, as well as sterilising solutions such as Milton, at farmacias (pharmacies). Disposable nappies (diapers) are widely available at supermarkets and farmacias.
Before You Go
- You can hire car seats for infants and children from most car-rental firms, but you should always book them in advance.
- Most hotels have cots for small children, but numbers may be limited so reserve one when booking your room.
- When selecting a hotel, check whether your hotel has a kids club, activities geared for youngsters and/or babysitting facilities.
- No particular health precautions are necessary, but don’t forget the sun protection essentials, including sun block and sun hat, although they can also be purchased here.
- Avoid tears and tantrums by planning which activities, theme parks, museums and leisure pursuits you want to opt for and, more importantly, can afford early on in the holiday.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures The metric system is used.
Harassment is much less frequent than the Spanish stereotypes would have you believe, and though the country has one of the developed world’s lowest incidences of reported rape, there have been some high-profile cases of violence against women in recent years in Spain. Any unpleasantness you might encounter is more likely to come from drunken Northern-European yobs in the big resorts than from the locals.
In towns you may get the occasional unwelcome stare, catcall or unnecessary comment, to which the best (and most galling) response is indifference. Don’t get paranoid about what’s being called out; the piropo – a mildly flirty compliment – is deeply ingrained in Spanish society (even though it will generally make women feel uncomfortable).
Topless bathing and skimpy clothes are generally OK at the coastal resorts, but otherwise a little more modesty is the norm, although lots of Spanish women bathe topless now.
EU, Norway and Iceland nationals are allowed to work anywhere in Spain (including the Canary Islands) without a visa, but if they plan to stay more than three months they are supposed to apply within the first month for a residence card. Virtually everyone else is supposed to obtain (from a Spanish consulate in their country of residence) a work permit and, if they plan to stay more than 90 days, a residence visa. While jobs (especially in tourist resorts) aren’t that hard to come by, the procedures necessary to get your paperwork in order can be difficult and time-consuming.