With laid-back island vibes that infuse aspects of Caribbean, Latin, Spanish, and European culture alongside a myriad of natural wonders, and a location closer to Morocco than Spain, the Canary Islands are one of Europe’s best-kept secrets.
I’ve been visiting the Canaries regularly from my home base in Madrid for the past 15 years. When the cold chill rolls around each November, I start plotting: Which island will I escape to this winter? And with year-round warm temperatures, sunny rays, and no rainy season, I often find my way back to the Canary Islands in spring and summer, too.
As such, some islands within this remote archipelago can be easier to get to than others. Here are my best tips for ensuring a seamless getaway.
Getting to the Canary Islands
It’s most affordable to fly to the four largest Canary Islands: Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, and Lanzarote. Flights to these islands operate not only from Madrid and other Spanish cities on airlines like Iberia/Iberia Express and Air Europa but also from various cities all over Europe on airlines including Air France, Aer Lingus, and British Airways.
Low-cost carriers such as Ryanair, Vueling, Jet2, Eurowings, Wizzair, and easyJet fly to the Canaries from many Spanish and European hubs, though they often come with added fees that may negate the cheap cost when considered cumulatively.
Travel to the smaller islands of La Palma, La Gomera, and El Hierro can be slightly more complicated and take longer.
If you’d like to island hop, once here, you may fly between the Canary Islands on airlines such as the local Binter Canarias, as well as Air Europa and CanaryFly. Another option is to take a ferry, which you can do with the local companies, Fred Olsen and Armas.
Because the Canary Islands are located near Africa — just west of Morocco, and Western Sahara — and not Spain, nonstop flights from the Spanish mainland take close to three hours. From London or Paris, you might be flying for five or six hours.
Here’s a more detailed look at getting to each island:
Each of the main Canary Islands has an airport, except for Tenerife, which has two. Tenerife North (TFN) is usually used by locals, as many people reside in the island’s capital, Santa Cruz, which isn’t far from that airport. Tenerife South (TFS) is often used by tourists closer to the sunny resorts south of the island.
Tenerife is the easiest island to reach for US visitors, with United Airlines launching a nonstop flight from Newark (EWR) to Tenerife South (TFS) starting June 9, 2022. This flight is expected to operate three times weekly.
Midway between the white-sand beaches of the south and the island’s capital of Las Palmas in the north, Gran Canaria Airport (LPA) is easy to reach from places like Germany, the UK, Italy, and other European countries.
Located near the island’s capital of Puerto del Rosario, and not too far from the beaches of the Costa Calma, Fuerteventura Airport (FUE) is in the middle of this long island, about equidistant from the resort towns of Corralejo and El Cotillo in the north and Jandia in the south.
Near the island’s capital of Arrecife, César Manrique-Lanzarote Airport (ACE) is named after the island’s most celebrated artist. You can reach this island from almost 80 destinations nonstop on more than 40 airlines.
You can fly to La Palma (SPC) from only nine destinations on nine airlines. They are three destinations in Germany, one each in Paris, Zurich, and Amsterdam, and three cities in Spain: Madrid, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, and Tenerife (TFN). The airport is a 10-minute drive from the island’s capital, Santa Cruz de la Palma.
La Gomera Airport (GMZ) is served by just one airline flying to two destinations: Binter Canarias flying to/from Tenerife (TFN) or Gran Canaria (LPA), with the frequency of these flights increasing or decreasing based on seasonal demand. My preferred way to reach La Gomera, however, is on the fast ferry from Tenerife, which takes just 50 minutes — and you can bring your car, too.
El Hierro sits the farthest west and is the most difficult to reach. Get to El Hierro Airport (VDE) by flying Binter Canarias or CanaryFly from Tenerife (TFN) or Gran Canaria (LPA).
Getting around the Canary Islands
Car rental in the Canary Islands
A car rental in the Canaries is essential, especially for those wanting to leave the hotel and explore. You may rent cars at airports, hotels, or freestanding locations in resort towns.
International car-rental companies found on the islands include Hertz and Avis or consider using Plus Car, a local favorite I love to rent from thanks to low prices and friendly customer service. Orlando Rent-a-Car is another car-rental option with a large presence on all of the islands except for El Hierro.
Most of the Canary Islands have decent highways and paved roads, but you may need to go off-road to visit remote beaches or far-flung destinations, so make sure to check with your car-rental provider that doing so is permitted.
Like much of Europe, most rental cars in the Canary Islands are manual transmission, but it is possible to rent automatic cars, albeit at a higher price.
Taxis and buses on the Canary Islands
If you don’t rent a car, there are taxi stands in some towns and resort communities. Taxis often have fixed prices for specific routes, though rates can be high, sometimes even more expensive than a days-long car rental. Many taxi drivers don’t speak English, either. There are no ride-hailing services such as Uber on any of the islands.
While taking the bus is safe and cheap, it’s not usually the quickest or most convenient way to get around, so I highly recommend renting a car.
If you do take the bus, make sure to check schedules and know that services are typically reduced and minimal on Sundays and holidays. While the Spanish term for “bus” is technically autobús, Canarian locals refer to buses as guaguas.
Each island has a different company of public buses, and drivers don’t typically speak English.
Here are the municipal bus lines by island:
Tenerife: TITSA, Transportes Interurbanos de Tenerife
Gran Canaria: Guaguas Municipales
Lanzarote: Intercity Bus
La Gomera: Guagua Gomera
El Hierro: TransHierro
La Palma: TILP, Transportes Insular La Palma
View Insider’s comprehensive guide to visiting the Canary Islands