As with the other major islands in the Canaries, Lanzarote is just large enough for a hire car to be useful. Driving is generally a lot more convenient than going by bus, except for the some of the areas around the capital Arrecife.
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.
The major resorts all offer plenty to do without needing to get by using anything other than your own two feet, so a rental car here is certainly far from essential. 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 cheaper than hiring in resort, but this will depend on season, and the offers available at the time.
James says - a few trip notes:
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.
So, given a few non-car options you might not have considered, do you still need a car on Lanzarote? Chances are that unless you are someone who generally tries to avoid getting a hire car where possible, you will still want to get one here.
Island hopping from Lanzarote
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.
Mixing & Matching
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.
Yes, even if you are travelling on a budget, you probably will still need a car in Lanzarote in order to actually see the island properly, and in particular in order to see the interior, and the amazing landscapes that it has to offer.
Generally, for a group of budget travellers, then Lanzarote car hire makes for a good value option anyway, but it’s not so good if you are a solo traveller, or if there are just two of you travelling together. A rental car will also make a lot less sense during the busy peak season, when prices rise sharply.
One option to consider if you want to get around the island on a budget, but don’t just want to rely on scheduled buses and coach tours would be to hire a bike for a couple of days instead. The headline rental price for bike hire doesn’t always look that good when compared with some of the very cheap car rental options in Lanzarote, but at least when you rent a bike, that’s usually all you will have to pay for. Lanzarote is small enough so that you can get around some of the most interesting places just using your two wheels.
Hiring a car for even a day can still come with a whole load of hidden extras and worries about returning it with the right amount of fuel in the tank.
Although you are unlikely to cover any massive distances in Lanzarote, car hire does become a little bit better value because the local fuel prices are free from value added tax due to the special economic status of the Canary Islands.
Yes, car hire in Lanzarote generally makes a great deal of sense for families, and parking shouldn’t usually be too much of a problem.
Although buses tend to run frequently between the main resort areas, it’s not so easy to travel around the island by bus, and long waits in hot weather can always be frustrating.
How many people in the group
During the off-peak season, you won’t need to have many people in the car for it to become a better value option, even if that is largely a matter of convenience rather than saving money.
However, Lanzarote car hire prices do tend to rise during the peak holiday season, something that is driven more by demand than it is by seasonal changes in the local climate, which is agreeably warm throughout the year.
Once you factor in all of the costs relating to car hire, during the busy period, based on price alone, it would probably still be cheaper to take taxis and buses, which aren’t subject to seasonal price changes.
Prefer to drive
Yes, absolutely, if you usually prefer to drive, then you’ll find that Lanzarote is a great place to hire a car, and that there are many great driving roads, both within the interior of the island, and also along the coast.
However, one place where you won’t be able to drive is the loop road around Timanfaya National Park. Due to strict environmental regulations, you will only be able to view this spectacular lunar landscape from the window of a bus. You can either drive up to the visitor centre and have a bus tour included within the admission price, or you can take a guided coach tour of Lanzarote, which will usually include a loop around Timanfaya.
Prefer not to drive
Even if you generally try to avoid hiring a car, you’ll still need a car in Lanzarote if you want to see more of the island than that which will be presented to you from a scheduled bus or from a highly packaged coach tour.
There are no railway lines on Lanzarote, and there is no tourist train, cable car or any other such facility. The only island in the Canaries which has any kind of rail system is Tenerife (tram in the capital Santa Cruz and cable car on Mount Teide).
Since there are no trains, then any comparison between renting a car and visiting Lanzarote without a car might be just as likely to look at bike hire as the alternative option.
Generally, you’ll find that it’s easy to get hold of a rental bike in any of the major resorts, and you’ll find that most drivers in Spain are extremely courteous towards cyclists, with a 1.5 m passing rule being strictly enforced. However, there are very few designated cycle paths on Lanzarote, other than one or two token facilities in the main resort areas. This means that cycling is more of an option for confident adult road cyclists than it is for families.
A cycling loop around the edge of Timanfaya National Park will take you to some truly unique landscapes, and seeing them by bike will always make you feel much closer to this unique feat of nature than you will in a hire car. Don’t let the barren nature of this landscape put you off wanting to cycle here – the climate is usually reasonably mild, and you can easily cover a decent route either first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon. You will usually be well cooled by a gentle breeze, but take plenty of water as there will be few opportunities to stop for essential supplies.
There are various options for coastal walks in Lanzarote, and you could use the local buses to get to the start of some walking trails.
However, in many areas, Lanzarote is actually quite difficult for walking, because the barren landscapes, and in particular the rough volcanic rock can make the going very slow.
Walking in Timanfaya National Park
One particular walking excursion which will give you a unique experience that very few visitors get to enjoy is to book a guided hike within Timanfaya National Park. These only tend to operate once or twice each month, and you will need to book well in advance.
You will also still need your own transport to get to and from the start of the walk, so if you haven’t already got a hire car, then you will either need to rent one, or you will want to consider getting there and back by taxi. Don’t be put off by the distance – Timanfaya is actually very close to resorts like Playa del Carmen, and a taxi for up to 4 people shouldn’t cost much more than about €15 each way.
Do I need a car in Lanzarote at any time of the year, or are there times when it is better without one?
The climate on the Canary Islands is warm and usually sunny year-round, but it’s never subject to the kind of extreme heat that you might expect in nearby Morocco or another North African destination like Tunisia or Egypt. This means that in the absence of any other factors, they would be a steady demand for car hire year-round, and the price would stay reasonably constant.
Of course, this isn’t the case – and you will indeed find huge fluctuations in the car-rental cost in Lanzarote, not just from one month to the next, but also between different weeks in the same month, and indeed from one day to the next.
Whereas destinations in many parts of Europe have a very brief peak summer season, the peaks and troughs in car hire prices in the Canary Islands will be driven by demand based around the main holiday seasons, especially the northern European school summers, but also by half terms and by the Christmas holidays.
However, the Canary Islands are not typical weekend break destinations, given that the flying time from most of northern Europe is 4 hours or more, so you should expect less variation between weekday and weekend, but more variation based on the arrival day of inbound flights.
Generally, you will get by far and away the best value if you rent a car for a full week from the airport in Lanzarote, and if you return it there when you are finished. This is because the airport car hire providers tend to have a lot more space, and this is where there is both the greatest supply of, and demand for, car hire.
Always doublecheck that the place you are staying provides car parking, and check whether this is provided free, or if you have to pay for it.
Do I need a car in Lanzarote if I am staying downtown?
Very few visitors to Lanzarote will stay downtown in the main capital Arrecife. However, if you do choose to stay here, then this is where you will have the best options for public transport, because this is where most of the buses for travelling into the interior of the island will leave from.
If you are staying outside any of the main resorts in Lanzarote, the chances are that you will be even more likely to need a rental car than you will if you are staying somewhere more central.
Day trips/day touring
Generally, a rental car is by far your best option for going round and exploring the island for a day. This is the kind of trip that would be almost impossible to do by scheduled bus, since most of the routes simply operate in and out of Arrecife.
There are still numerous tour operators who will provide a single day tour of the island by coach. This might act as a good introduction to the island, but you will always be constrained by the schedule that they have to stick to.
Longer trips/Road trips
The Canary Islands might not initially seem like an obvious place to start a road trip, but it’s certainly possible to travel around between the different islands by ferry or by air.
If you were starting in Lanzarote, then a typical route would take you through Fuerteventura and then on to Gran Canaria and Tenerife, before possibly ending up in La Palma.
Your key problem to consider when travelling around so many different islands in the Canaries in a rental car is that you might have to pay additional insurance surcharges on top of the ferry ticket price.
Generally, it’s going to be much easier to travel between different Canary Islands if you stay as a foot passenger.
This isn’t just about avoiding any possible surcharges, but it also means that you won’t be tied to having to drop the car off from the same place that you picked it up (one-way car-rental that involves a ferry journey is almost always prohibitively expensive). Furthermore, as a foot passenger, you can travel through the Canary Island chain, and then simply fly back home from an entirely different airport.