Car While roads are winding on most of the islands, they are generally in excellent condition and driving is the best option for getting around. Cars can be hired at airports and in resorts and larger towns, but book in advance for smaller islands. Drive on the right.
Bus All islands have a network that takes you to the main points of interest, though many rural lines are not too frequent. Chargeable bus cards are usually available, which offer slight discounts.
Boat For hopping between adjacent islands, the fast ferries are superb. Many routes have frequent departures.
Seven of the eight islands have airports, making flying the most comprehensive (and quickest) option if you intend to do some island-hopping. Binter Canarias is the long-standing airline, with a comprehensive network of flights and on certain routes (particularly in the western islands) some seriously tiny planes! Canary Fly and Air Europa Express also fly between most of the islands, usually with at least one transfer in Tenerife.
Boat travel from mainland Spain isn't cheap, and if you opt for a simple seat on the ship, you'll spend a similar amount reaching the Canaries as you would if you flew. If you want a cabin, boat travel will be three to four times the price of a flight – and takes almost 10 times longer!
Binter Canarias Flights to all islands.
Canary Fly Covers Tenerife, La Palma, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote.
Air Europa Express (www.aireuropa.com) Flies from Tenerife to Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and La Palma.
Biking around the islands is an extremely pleasant (and energetic) way to see the sights, and drivers on the whole are tolerant and patient with cyclists on the hilly roads of the Canary Islands (though you will find some impatience too). Sadly, bicycle lanes in the urban environment are minimal, although Las Palmas now has cycle lanes and beachside boulevards are increasingly incorporating space for bike riding.
If you plan to bring your own bike on a flight, check whether there are any extra costs and whether you’ll need to disassemble and pack your bike for the journey. Taking your bike on ferries is pretty straightforward, and the good news is it’s either free or very cheap.
Bike hire is plentiful across all the islands, with a large number of bike shops selling and renting all manner of bikes, including e-bikes as well as specialist equipment.
You can rent mountain bikes, city bikes and e-bikes at various resorts and in the more tourist-orientated areas of the islands. Expect to pay a minimum of €12 per day, with a standard deposit of around €50. Rental rates will include a helmet and some basic equipment. Some of these rental outfits also arrange guided bike tours as well.
To help tame its sprawling distances, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria has a public bike hire scheme called Sitycleta; look for the yellow and blue bikes dotted in stations around the city.
The islands are connected by ferries, ‘fast ferries’ and jetfoils.
Schedules and prices – and even routes – can and do change. This isn’t so important on major routes, where there’s plenty of choice, but it can mean a big delay if you’re planning to travel a route that has only a couple of boats running per day, or even per week. If time is tight, flying is a much faster alternative (often with competitive prices).
The three main companies:
Approximate Durations for Main Ferry Routes
|Agaete (Gran Canaria)||Santa Cruz de Tenerife||1½hr|
|Arrecife (Lanzarote)||Las Palmas (Gran Canaria)||8hr|
|Las Palmas (Gran Canaria)||Morro Jable (Fuerteventura)||2-3hr|
|Las Palmas (Gran Canaria)||Santa Cruz de Tenerife||2½hr|
|Los Cristianos (Tenerife)||San Sebastián de la Gomera||45min|
|Los Cristianos (Tenerife)||Valverde (El Hierro)||3hr|
|Playa Blanca (Lanzarote)||Corralejo (Fuerteventura)||30min|
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 interurban 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.
Car & Motorcycle
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.
Bringing Your Own Car
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 that 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 autovías (highways).
Hitching is never entirely safe, and we don’t recommend it. Travellers who hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially dangerous risk. People who do choose to hitch will be safer if they travel in pairs and let someone know where they are planning to go.
Hitching is illegal on autovias. Choose a spot where cars can safely stop before slipways or use minor roads. The going can be slow on the latter and traffic is often light.