A Cheapo guide to the Canary Islands

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Papagayo Beach, Lanzarote, Canary Islands
Papagayo Beach on Lanzarote, Canary Islands. Photo: Teosaurio

By Audrey Sykes—

The Canary Islands are the prime euro vacation spot for those eager to break from the winter. Not only is the weather warm, water gorgeous and beaches sublime, but the volcanic topography is naturally wonderful.

This southern Spanish archipelago is a hotspot throughout the year, so here are some tips to help steer clear of the tourist traps.

Fly right and fly light

Located just 60 miles west of Morocco, the Canary Islands are easy to fly to from the European mainland. Low-cost airlines like RyanAir, easyJet, Air Berlin, Monarch and TUIfly offer round-trip fares at very decent prices. London, Germany and Spain seem to provide the most departure destinations.

An island-hopping itinerary requires either more flying (see BinterCanaries.com) or ferry rides ranging from 20 minutes to a few hours. One-way tickets will costs between $40 and $80 USD, depending on time and season.

Regardless of where in the air you are, pack light for your flight to avoid extra luggage fees. Low-cost airlines charge big for checking suitcases, so leave your Euro-gear at home and come armed with nothing but a backpack. The rest can be purchased cheap at “one euro” shops on any island.

Choose your island wisely

Lanzarote is local: “You usually don’t see mass tourism in Lanzarote. It’s a sporty island with many younger travelers,” says Roberto Merli, manager and co-owner of Kalufa Surf School in La Santa. Lanzarote offers surf, hang gliding, and a lot of bicycling–perfect for the adventurous type.

Grand Canary Island is Spain’s Cancun, full of nightclubs and shops overflowing with tacky trinkets and touristy apparel. However, the island is also probably the most diverse, with beaches and family-friendly activities. It’s also easy to navigate if your Spanish is no bueno.

Tenerife is the most-visited island and packed with big-spender activities (think golf courses) and nightlife. Its sightseeing pull is the varied landscape, which ranges from green forests to volcanic craters and the islands’ highest mountain.

Fuerteventura has the longest beaches and a drier climate than the rest–a recipe for some serious sunbathing by the sea. Family activities range from water parks to zoos, and the island is a stone’s-throw away when going to or coming from Lanzarote.

Rent a car

The cheapest place to rent a car is usually at the airport. The best price will be around €10 per day for a four-person economy rental (one-week minimum). Taxis are a good deal for locals, but beware of “tourist prices.” Buses (“guagua” in Spanish) are around, but the route system is limited and more for hopping from town to town. Besides, gas prices are jaw-droppingly cheap.

Eat Out

A good way to decide whether a restaurant has a decently-priced menu is to compare prices with how much you’d pay for the ingredients at a supermarket. Surprisingly, the price for a home-cooked seafood meal is often about the same as in a local restaurant. The natives will say it’s due to the low-tax law, but either way this comparison is a good rule of thumb to follow.

Note: The special tax system on these islands also means vices are cheap: Alcohol and cigarettes come at a very low price.

About the author

About the author: Audrey Sykes hopped across the pond from the US eight years ago for a Masters degree in global journalism. Since then, she’s lived all over Europe, reporting and editing for music sites, snowboard mags, and travel media. She’s also the Amsterdam author for Party Earth, a guide to nightlife across Europe.

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One thought on “A Cheapo guide to the Canary Islands”

  1. Great to see talk of Islas Canarias here. I would just add that the two real gems among the islands are not mentioned here. The four islands commended by Audrey are all very touristy. To see something of local life, head for El Hierro or La Gomera – to my mind, these two islands knock spots off the four big ones quoted in this post. I’ve heard good things about La Graciosa too, another small island, but rather further north than El Hierro and La Gomera.

    There is no need to fly to the Canaries. There are good ferry connections to the Canaries from Cadiz in Spain and from Portimao in Portugal, the latter services operating via Madeira. There is also useful direct ferry links from the Canaries to El Aaiún in the Western Sahara, allowing more adventurous travellers to island-hop from continental Europe to Africa.

    Nicky Gardner
    co-editor / hidden europe magazine


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