Ah, the Canary Islands – a land of smoke-belching volcanos, black-sand beaches, barreling surf breaks, and buzzy resort towns where end-of-holiday tans are all but guaranteed. This sunny archipelago is considered one of the greatest spots in Spain, and, for some travelers, hitting just one island is simply never enough. Cue this guide to how to travel between the Canary Islands…
Here, we’ll delve into the main ways you can trade one for another mid-trip, no matter whether that means going from the lush laurel forests of Gran Canaria to the whitewashed towns of inland Lanzarote, the carnival streets of Santa Cruz de Tenerife to the teal bays of Fuerteventura, or something else entirely.
The good news is that there are pretty darn good links between this set of Spanish isles. Flights and ferries combine to offer a whole load of different options, both quick and interesting, affordable and comfy. Let’s dig a little deeper…
An intro to the geography of the Canary Islands
First thing’s first: Let’s get a ballpark feel for the geography of the Canary Islands. Doing that should give you an idea of what it’s like to travel around this much-vaunted Spanish archipelago, what sort of travel times you can expect between the different destinations, and what transport options are on the menu.
Set out in the Atlantic Ocean just 62 miles off the sun-scorched coast of North Africa, this autonomous region of Spain – the southernmost, just so you know – is pretty darn remote. It’s a four-hour flight in from London before you even get to start hopping from isle to isle. Thankfully, there are oodles of connections and multiple entry points. Picking the right one is certainly worth thinking about when planning a cross-island jaunt, too, because some are better starting positions than others.
In total there are eight main islands in the group, but a whole scattering more smaller islets that have tiny populations, and, on top of that, oodles of rocks that are little more than perches for seagulls above the swells. The ones we’ll focus on here are the eight main islands since they are by far the ones that you’re most likely to want to visit for your holidays.
Said isles fall into two main groups: The western and the eastern group. There’s a strait of about 58 miles dividing the two sets, but they are more discernable thanks to their geography – the western isles are lusher and more altitudinous, while the eastern group is more rugged and volcanic. Here’s a closer look at which islands belong to which group:
- The western group: Tenerife, Gran Canaria, La Gomera, La Palma
- The eastern group: Fuerteventura, Lanzarote.
In total, all the islands in the Canaries span a section of the Atlantic that’s about 300 miles long from east to west. The biggest divide is between the two groups, but it’s still navigable and easy to cross, as you shall see…
How to travel between Canary Islands – a quick overview
Now we’ve got the geography lesson out of the way, let’s take a look at how you can hop and cross that 300 miles of Atlantic Ocean from west to east, east to west, all in search of perfect beaches and the best volcano hikes. Let’s begin by stating the obvious: There are only two ways to cross from isle to isle, by sea or by air. To put it another way, by plane or by boat.
Mhmm, there are no bridges that link any of the isles, no underwater tunnels, no causeways. You’re going to have to ditch the wheels for this one. The good news is that actually makes things pretty simple, as you always know there are only ever two choices for getting from A to B in these parts.
Generally speaking, flying is considered the fastest option while sailing is more relaxed. However, there are some routes that you might have to do by one method simply because there is no boat or flight connection on the menu. That’s why it’s worth getting to know a bit about both modes of transport…
How to travel between Canary Islands by plane
Here’s the good news: Every single major island of the eight in the Canaries has its own airport, while Tenerife – one of the most popular – even has two. That probably makes this one of the best-connected regions for aviation in the whole of Europe, although most of the terminals are pretty small and only host a handful of carriers.
Talking of carriers…there are two main names to know about when it comes to internal flying here. Let’s take a quick look at each in turn:
- Binter Canarias – The biggest of the two carriers who operate domestic routes throughout the Canaries, Binter, as it’s known for short, has an encompassing array of links between major islands but also serves international destinations in mainland Spain and other Atlantic archipelagos like Cabo Verde.
- Canaryfly – A relatively new name on the block, Canaryfly was founded in 2008 and currently runs flights on eight of the most popular routes in the chain.
Both of the above operate airplanes designed specifically for short haul carrying. That means no massive Boeing and Airbus models, but rather smaller prop planes built by Bombardier and the like. The upshot? Capacity tends to be smaller so flights can sell out faster, but there’s also not an overload of demand and there are often multiple departures each day on the most popular routes.
Route wise, things are pretty good when it comes to moving from major islands to other major islands. For example, you can get upwards of 10 connections a day on Binter Canarias between Lanzarote and Gran Canaria. The same can’t be said for getting to smaller islands like La Gomera, which only has two or three daily links to Gran Canaria, and sometimes no links to other islands at all, meaning a stopover will be needed if you want to do certain legs in a single trip.
Prices tend to be VERY attractive for flights. As an example, springtime fares on Binter from Tenerife North to La Palma can be as low as €12.50 ($13.15) each way, while connections on the most popular routes rarely swell past €27 ($28.40) each way. These are also full-service fares, mostly allowing for some changes and with a checked baggage allowance of 20kg per person (10kg for infants). Not bad, eh?
The truth is that flying from Canary to Canary is now the number-one choice among travelers. Dropping airfare and high convenience means it’s very often the best way to get from A to B, especially when looking to move quite far across the archipelago, say from Lanzarote in the east all the way to La Palma in the west.
How to travel between Canary Islands by boat
If you don’t have a head for heights or want to travel slow, then there’s always the option of the boats. At least four big companies still offer a comprehensive array of island-to-island links here, including Armas, Biosfera Express, Líneas Romero, and Fred Olsen. Some specialize in different regions of the Canaries, while others cover the whole shebang.
Laying out every route there is by ferry in the Canaries would take a short book but suffice to say there are lots to pick from. A good starting point for planning a trip is to get to know the major ports of each island. That’s Arrecife in Lanzarote, for example, but Las Palmas in Gran Canaria, and then much smaller Puerto de la Estaca over in El Hierro. Knowing the places where the boats depart from makes it easy to search for routes out to the places you want to go, helping you put together island-hopping itineraries in full.
Ferry links naturally take longer than connections in the air. While a flight from Lanzarote to Gran Canaria is in the range of 45 minutes, a boat trip can clock up 5.5-6.5 hours in all. It’s certainly not for commuters or hurried vacationers. In fact, one of the great draws of the trip by water is the journey itself – it’s not unusual to spot dolphin pods and whales as you go, while the vistas of other islands passing by can be wonderful.
Sadly, the prices don’t seem to mirror the extra effort it takes on many routes, so ferries in the Canaries are a bit of a labor of love. You can pay under €20 for a ride from Arrecife to Gran Canaria by plane but will have to fork out nearly €100 for the same trip done by the sea!
Of course, the major upside of ferry travel is that you can transport more than just yourself and your baggage. You can take whole cars and motorbikes if you like. However, if you plan on doing that and are renting a car, it’s certainly worth checking with your hire company that their policy allows for inter-island travel.
How to travel between Canary Islands – our conclusion
There are two main ways to travel from Canary Island to Canary Island: Boat and plane. Most travelers will try the latter first these days. That’s because flying is not only a whole load quicker but also cheaper in many cases. It’s also now possible to get to all eight of the major isles by the skies, though some journeys might require a stopover.
Ferries are slower and tend to be more expensive when it comes to getting between the major islands. Reasons you might want to take them include the ability to transport cars and more luggage, but also the pleasantness of the ride itself (whale spotting is a possibility, you know?). Also, short ferry rides to a minor islands, like to La Graciosa from Lanzarote, are often the ONLY option on the menu.