The ´Other Side´ of the Canary Islands
People, in particular from Europe, sometimes ask me why I still go back to the Canary Islands after I have been living in so many other places around the world. Most of the people outside Europe I know haven´t even heard about these islands or only know about Tenerife, the biggest island. Many of my friends in the Netherlands don´t think this is an attractive place to travel to and wonder what I like so much about it. The general idea about these islands as a holiday destination might be associated either with families and package holidays, retired people playing golf or the overloaded bulk places full of younger people getting drunk every night and eating ´all you can eat´- Chinese. And if you´re looking for this kind of vacation, you will certainly find what you´re looking for in the touristic places at the bigger islands. However, this is not the type of travelling I like to write about and there are other things to explore on these islands.
I found there´s another side of the Canary Islands, which I discovered about 10 years ago when I first came to live here. I was living at Gran Canaria, in the small fishing town of Arguineguín which now has grown into a bigger town and has become extremely popular among the Norwegians. This ´other side´ of the Canary Islands is simply the local style and more off the beaten path. But if you only stay, eat and drink in the touristic places, you will definitely miss it. In the summer of 2015, I spent almost 2 months backpacking the Canary Islands and it’s something I can recommend to everybody!
Why travel the Canary Islands on a budget, with local transport and a backpack?
Maybe the Canary Islands are considered as limited in their ability to travel on a budget and with the use of local transport and other local services. I actually never met somebody with the idea ´I´m going to backpack the Canary Islands´, and so ultimately it became my decision to do it. Till a few years ago, I was living for the third time at Gran Canaria and other then the small island of El Hierro, which is known for the amazing scuba diving, I had never seen any of the other islands. This was due to a lack of time before or I was just working and saving up for my next destination. But in the summer of 2015, I had the chance. Just from my experience, so far that time, I realised that the best memories I had were from the times when we hiked the woods recommended by a guy in the local bakery, camped on an unknown beach or just picked a place on the map and did a small road trip. The best food I have eaten was the meals in one of these local places which look like somebody’s backyard or a private terrace, instead of a fancy restaurant. And the best nights I had were these when we randomly decided to go to the local sunset life singer who also could play the guitar. After realising this, I became curious to start a backpacking trip around the Canary Islands.
My motivation to share the secrets of ´Canarias´
This trip was for me a confirmation that there´s information lacking for people who are also looking into travel these islands ´another way´, who like to meet the lovely locals and to feel the real Canary experience.
Most people are not aware that these islands are not only a great destination to travel around but also give a home to any kind of holidays, with many activities to choose from, if you´re looking for staying at only one island. With Spain´s highest mountain (the Teide volcano on Tenerife reaches 3718 meters above sea level) and an overseas extension of the Sahara desert providing amazing beaches, the Canary Islands have everything to offer. Surf the ´European Hawaii´ at Fuerteventura or go for hikes at incredible forests at the smaller island of La Palma with her ´thirty shades of green´. Even scuba divers will be amazed by the variety of dive spots, in particular on El Hierro and Lanzarote. Due to their volcanic origin, nature has provided a great variety in landscapes and it’s said that they offer almost all worldly continents in a small archipelago. I don´t disagree! The climate is considered to be the best in the world: all-year-round sunshine and constant temperatures from in between 17 °C in winter to 25°C in summer (62,6 -77 Fahrenheit).
Backpacking the Canary Islands is cheap, safe and easy
First of all, why bother to take a flight all the way to Asia or South America if you’re not looking for something particular in these destinations? With low-cost carriers offering super cheap flights from almost all European countries, you can safe a lot of money on your flight and within 3 to 6 hours of flight time from most European countries, you´ve already arrived at your destination. No stopovers, jetlags or the first-day recovery on arrival!
In comparison to the rest of Europe and other western countries like Australia, Canada or the United States, the Canary Islands are pretty cheap. It’s not very common yet to stay in backpacker accommodations, other than in Corralejo at Fuerteventura and on the bigger islands like Tenerife and Gran Canaria. However, it´s an upcoming thing. Other then hostels, you can find nice guesthouses and when I was travelling in the summer of 2015 I never paid more than €28,- per night for a single room. On most islands where hostels are growing now, you can find a bed in a shared room from €15,- per night.
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The costs of food are completely up to you! There are many fancy restaurants all around but most local places still offer a daily menu including starter, main dish, a small dessert and a drink, all for somewhere in between €7,- and €12,- (depending on where you are).
Public transport is surprisingly cheap! Most bus tickets are somewhere between €1,- and €3,- from one bigger place to the next. The distances are never very far. I think the most expensive bus ticket I remember of is the one from Puerto de Rosario at Fuerteventura all the way down to Morro Jable in the south, and the price was €10,- sitting almost 2 hours in the bus. If nothing special like Carnival or other festivals are going on, the bus schedules are pretty reliable. Sometimes there can be a delay, but nothing compared to Asia or Central and South America where you sometimes have to change your whole planning around.
Public Transport on and between the Canary Islands
Another good thing about public transport in the Canary Islands is, that it´s very safe and you will feel safe. There´s nothing to worry about leaving your big backpack down on the bus and even on the bus you can easily do a little nap without being worried about your stuff. After travelling by public transport on the Philippines, in Sri Lanka, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and around Europe, Australia and New Zealand, I never felt so safe travelling by public transport as I did on the Canary Islands. I´m talking about the island buses here, obviously, more care has to be taken in the city buses, especially in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria or Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Always use your common sense of course, but nothing to worry about.
Also, comparing to 10 years ago, the Canary Islands are now making it much easier for tourist to catch a local bus and the bus drivers recently speak (basic) English too!
Update after the coronavirus: You can now only pay by bank card or a card from the bus company on the bus. So no longer in cash!
Tip for your transport between the Canary Islands
There are boat connections between the islands and the companies to look for are Naviera Armas, Fred Olsen, Trasmediterranea and Lineas Romero, depending on between which islands you are going to travel. All islands are also connected by flights. The companies who do inter-island flights are Binter and Canary Fly, but you can scan the flights with the link in the paragraph below. Most islands are all connected but to reach the smaller ones, like El Hierro and La Gomera, you might have to do a stopover on Gran Canaria or Tenerife. The tiny island of La Graciosa is only connected by boat to Lanzarote.
New! Tip! For flights between or to the Canary Islands
Use 12go.co for transport between the islands. No matter if you like to book a flight or travel by boat. This company scans all available options and price categories for you and you pay the same as if you would book directly. If you book through the links or search tables provided by Splashpacker, I will earn a small commission and you don´t pay extra for it. You can also book your international flight to the island through this company, it will scan all airlines for you!
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Your accommodation during backpacking the Canary Islands
It is not very common to just show up at your accommodation and book a place. Even though there are many hostels in Corralejo, most of them prefer you to pre-book your bed or room. Sometimes the hostels on the Canary Islands are fully booked and you don´t want to end up walking with all your baggage around to find a bed or end up with a more expensive room because the cheaper ones are fully booked. Also, it can be possible that you prefer a private room but only the dorm rooms are available. I highly recommend booking your accommodation in advance. Even though you might not want to stick to strict planning, you can still book the accommodation for your first nights. This way, you can see if it’s possible to extend your stay if you really like the place and want to do this. Then, before you hop on to the next island or place, book again the next accommodation for the first nights.
I booked almost all my accommodations, when I was backpacking the Canary Island, with booking.com They give you the same price as if you book directly with the accommodation and with most accommodation you can cancel free of charge within a reasonable time. Just make sure to check the conditions of your booking. Click here to check on Agado if you prefer booking.
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Tip for excursions on the Canary Islands
Would you like to book your excursions ahead? Use ´Get your guide´ to book your activities during your travels. They offer anything from boat excursions to island tours and anything in between!
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The local people of the Canary Islands
The real Canary people are super friendly and although it would help a lot if you speak some basic Spanish, the locals will try and help you in whatever way they can. I can almost communicate fluently in Spanish but I´ve seen some tourists who didn´t and they were also using local services without too much struggle. I think the government department of the Canary Islands is lately making it much easier for tourists by providing English speaking staff at local services, more and more.
For the bigger tourist places, I don´t think people are aware of the fact that the chance is much higher that they speak to an European, South American, Indian or Moroccan person who is working in a restaurant, bar, shop or another touristic service, then to a local Canary person. In general, the real Canary people are open and honest people. In comparison, and of course, this is only my opinion, the people from the Canary Islands are still more real and kind of innocent. Especially in the smaller places, you sometimes feel like going back in time and they are more likely to forget to put a drink on your bill then that they will rip you off.
More travel information about the Canary Islands?
The archipelago of the Canary Islands is the place where I started my travels over 10 years ago and the place where I came to stand still during my ´safety stop´ in life and in between my travels. The islands, the culture and the people have a special place in my heart and that’s simply the main reason for me to write about it.
I´m creating a series of articles about the Canary Islands, just for travellers who are interesting in doing the same and are looking for some inspiration or for people who are just interested in experiencing the real Canary Islands. Also by sharing my experiences and providing information to other people, I hope to be able to help the less known beautiful places on the smaller islands where local people are trying so hard to become more known. I know that the government does promote the bigger islands of Tenerife and Gran Canaria a lot, I hope to be an addition for the smaller and less known places on the islands of Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro. I will write about Gran Canaria too but for the big touristic places, you have to find another blogger.
In my opinion, if you go for a typical holiday in which you stay within the touristic place and do one or two day tours around the island, you are not going to discover the culture, the people or the REAL island. It might be a nice place to relax, but not really something you can call travelling.
What’s next on Splashpacker?
Although I´m in South America at the moment, I will try to complete as much travel information about the Canary Islands as I can. Since I´m currently stuck in Lima due to the heavy rainfall in Peru, and so I haven´t seen much of the country yet. In the meantime, you might like to follow me on the Splashpacker Facebook page, YouTube or Instagram. Happy reading!