As with the other major islands in the Canaries, Lanzarote is just large enough for a hire car to be useful, and driving is generally a lot more convenient than going by bus, except for the some of the areas around the capital Arrecife, which can be prone to traffic congestion at the busier times.
Independent minded travellers might want to combine a visit to Lanzarote with a trip to other islands in the Canaries, and this is particularly easy to do by taking advantage of the short ferry hop to nearby Fuerteventura. You can also easily reach Gran Canaria by continuing onwards from Fuerteventura by ferry, whereas all of the Canary Islands are interconnected by local air services.
It’s easy enough to find low-cost one-way outbound legs and then to combine them with a return from a different island using one or more of the European budget airlines. If looking at this sort of itinerary, then naturally a hire car makes no sense, because of the extra costs of transporting it by ferry, and potentially exorbitant one-way rental fees.
For anyone who would prefer to explore the island using a rented bicycle instead, it is well worth cycling to the spectacular Timanfaya National Park, although you can only go around the internal loop roads by bus, as cycling and driving in a private car are not permitted. Make sure you are well prepared for the heat – unlike on the Canary Island of La Palma, which has lush shaded slopes, the most impressive places to see in Lanzarote are all well out in the open.
It’s also perfectly possible to enjoy the spectacular volcanic landscapes of Lanzarote by taking some sort of organised bus tour, but scheduled local bus services are limited. For example, you simply cannot take a local scheduled bus to any part of Timanfaya National Park.
Given that almost all visitors per Lanzarote will stay in one place, and that the major resorts all offer plenty to do without needing to get by using anything other than your own two feet, a rental car here is certainly far from essential, but if you are going to get a hire car, it might still make sense to get one for a whole week, rather than just for one or two days. This is especially so if the rental contracts are based on a full to empty tank of fuel. Generally, on airport car hire is also usually cheaper than hiring in resort, but this will depend on seasonality and the offers available at the time.
My personal view
I visited Lanzarote in December 2015, as part of a combined visit to Fuerteventura, travelling to Lanzarote by ferry from Corralejo. A hire car is not practical for travelling between the islands like this, but not having one is extremely limiting for travelling outside the main resorts on Lanzarote. I took one day bus tour of the island – something I usually hate doing, even though the service was extremely good, and the stops were reasonably well timed. The organised bus tours will usually include a trip around the loop road within Timanfaya National Park. If you drive here, you will have to take the bus tour that is provided on site.
I absolutely loved the stark Martian landscape of Timanfaya, but I found the bus tour rather hollow. Not being able to get out made it feel like you were observing from a space craft, rather than actually seeing it from close up. I would recommend planning ahead and taking a walking tour inside Timanfaya if you can. These are only available on selected days, and you must be fluent in the language spoken on the day of the tour, which will typically vary between Spanish, English and German.
the following day I hired a bike, and headed back to Timanfaya early in the morning. This was largely because I had to check out, but going out in the morning or later in the afternoon is also an obvious tactic for avoiding the midday heat! Lanzarote is a great place for cycling, and it’s obvious that loads of people come here for this. You can hire a bike in the afternoon and then use it again in the morning, effectively getting two decent cycle rides out of a single rental period. Daily rates start from anything around €10, but a quality road bike will be closer to €20-25 per day. If you are happy with seeing cycling as an option, then I’d advise this above hiring a car, but otherwise, I think a hire car is still a wise choice here.
Therefore our Lanzarote car hire advice is that you will probably be better off getting one.
Verdict – yes.