Winter in Europe is coming, and many of us nomads, sailors, and vanlifers are slowly making way south. Southern Spain and Portugal are as far south and warm as you can get but it does get cold in the winter. How to extend the summer? But without flying? The Canary Islands are a happy, safe, warm, European destination solution :)
1. Sail to the Canary Islands
September, October, November is the time that many sailboats head south, either to spend the winter in the Canary Islands, or to sail across the Atlantic. Many of them welcome or even need extra crew members to make the voyage more fun, less tiring, safer, and more affordable.
I’ve written blogs and a book on hitchhiking / crewing on sailboats. If you’re excited about this as a way of travel but have no idea where to start, you don’t have sailing experience, explore the blogs, my book, and my brand new Sailboat Travel Discovery course to learn all about travelling by sail as a crew member. You can become an Ocean Nomads member to learn more about this way of travel and connect with other crew, boats, and captains who travel by sail and can welcome you on board. Winter 2022/2023 I also organize an expedition around the Atlantic, with Ocean Nomads, with a stop in Canary Islands, check it out!
2. Take a ferry from mainland Spain to the Canary Islands.
If you don’t want to sail or fly, there are ferries making the 750 miles journey from the mainland. You can take your dog and camper van on the ferry to the Canary Islands. I’ve done this trip six times now and figured out a few things.
Taking the ferry from mainland Spain to the Canaries is not such a straightforward thing to do. They are often full, it’s expensive, it’s a long ride, and now in COVID times there are some extra bureaucratics involved. The ride itself, the booking process, the time to prepare and recover, and a return trip to the Canary Islands will take about one week of your life. Is it worth it? Here are some considerations and information about the ferry journey from mainland Spain to the Canary Islands.
The ferry companies operating mainland Spain – Canaries
There are currently three ferry companies going to the Canary Islands from mainland Spain
The route of Fred Olsen is Huelva – Gran Canaria – Tenerife AND Gran Canaria- Tenerife – Huelva. There are two ferries weekly. One goes to Gran Canaria first, and then Tenerife. The other goes to Tenerife first, and then Gran Canaria.
Trasmediterranea operates from Cadiz – Lanzarote – Fuerteventura – Gran Canaria – Tenerife – La Palma.
FRS / ARMAS
Currently, FRS/Armas collaborates with trasmediterranea. Tickets booked via FRS/Armas are operated by the Trasmediterranea The route of FRS / ARMAS is Cadiz – Lanzarote – Las Palmas – Tenerife – La Palma. On the way back this ferry also stops in Puerto Rosaria in Fuerteventura.
How much does the ferry cost to go to the Canary islands?
It ain’t cheap. And that’s a good thing. Only the real determined will make the voyage. Prices fluctuate a lot. The price depends on the size of your vehicle, the time of the year, and the class that you take. There are massive discounts for residents. An average price for 1 person and 1 small camper is around 400 euro for the ‘Butaca’ option and 600 euros for a cabin option (one- way). Add a meter to your camper and the prices jump considerably. For the way back prices usually drop after March.
The bookings process of the ferry
You can book the ferry online, via the phone or via an associated office. The booking forms and process require details and patience.
What is the sleeping situation like on the ferry?
The budget option is ‘Butaca’ which gives you just a chair. Usually, they allow you to sleep on the floor. The comfort option gives you a cabin and food. I’ve done 3 times the Butaca option and 3 times a cabin option when I managed to score for a pretty good deal. A cabin option makes quite a difference in arriving well rested and not having to spend another day recovering. Especially now when wearing the mask is mandatory to wear at all times in designated areas. You’ll have a bed (in a private cabin), a shower, and food included.
How long is the ferry ride from mainland Spain the Canary Islands?
The journey is roughly 750 miles. The ferry vessels operate at a speed of around 20 knots. It depends on the boat and your destination how much time it’ll take exactly. The journey will be somewhere between 27 – 40 hours.
From Huelva to the Tenerife or Gran Canaria it takes about 32 hours. If you leave the ferry at the second stop, you can add another 4 hours to it.
Do you have to take a Covid test to take the ferry?
The regulations change all the time. The last time I took the ferry (January 2022), YES, you have to take a COVID test. You can choose to test maximum 72 prior to arrival in the Canaries, 72 within arrival in the Canaries, or go into quarantine for 14 days when arriving in the Canaries. At the time of writing both the PCR and Antigeno test are valid. With the Antigeno test, you’ll have the results within 10 minutes.
I did the Antigeno test the day before taking the ferry at Huelva Las Naranjas Clinica. The whole process took four hours, and wouldn’t want to repeat again. The price was 40 euro. The price for a PCR test is the double. No one at the ferry checked for the test.
What other paperwork is involved to take the ferry?
At the time of writing, you have to fill out a Declaration of Health form where you state your home address, Canary islands address, and if you test prior or after arrival. The ferry checks this. You have to print this form. Or you can get it at the Ferry office. Check the latest with the ferry company since the requirements change a lot.
Do people get seasick on the ferry?
It happens. I’ve been close to it a few times. It all depends on the sea state. The ferry goes in pretty much every weather condition and there is way less movement as opposed to sailing. The last time I booked the ferry I picked a calm weather window where the swell was little. See the resources page to see what I use for weather checking and navigation. Here’s a blog on how to prepare for and deal with seasickness.
Is there wifi on the ferry?
Yes, there is. At a cost. Last ferry ride it was even for free. The beauty of navigating offshore is to be disconnected from the world wide web for a change. I’d say, embrace it!
What to take on the ferry?
Here my personal ferry survival package:
- A thermos with tea
- Reusable cup
- Water filter
- A blanket. Sometimes it’s cold.
- A hat
- Fruit and food
- Comfortable clothes and layers. As you approach the Canaries, it gets warmer and warmer
- A good book.
- Downloaded music and earphones.
Is it easy to move between islands with the campervan?
Yes, there are multiple ferries operating, with Gran Canaria and Tenerife being central hubs. A one-way costs 40-150 euro for 1 person and a van depending on the distance.
What is the most environmentally friendly operating ferry to the Canary Islands?
There is none. It’s all pollutive, in terms of CO2 emissions, waste creation, and resource management. That said. These ferries are also used for transporting food to the islands. They are going anyway, as opposed to flights, which are mostly used for tourism purposes. This doesn’t justify you just take the ferry and you’re doing good for the environment. See what you can do. Take your responsibility. Give back to the environment in one way or the other.
On the ferry, lots of ‘disposable’ plastics are used for water, food, and even fruit is wrapped with plastic. You can make a difference here by showing up with your travel reusables, say no to plastic-wrapped items, and make some noise about the single-use plastic being used. Bring a water filter so you don’t have to buy 2 euro drinking water in a little plastic bottle. I can highly recommend the Maunawai kini or the bottle that Maunawaii sells (5% discount). It allows me to never have to buy a plastic bottle again. AND the water is much healthier and tastier. It doesn’t just take the pollution out, it gives minerals back. Also useful in the Canaries where tapwater is desalinated.
Consider bringing your own apple ;)
What is the most dog-friendly company operating a ferry to the Canary Islands?
I have taken a dog with Baleria, Transmeditarenea, and Fred Olsen. It’s a tough experience for the dog. The least bad experience I’ve had with Transmeditarenea. You are able to let your dog walk freely. The worst experience I’ve had with Fred Olsen. On the vessel I was on, the dog area is close to the engine and terrifies the dogs. Also, they were strict and few times to walk the dog. The dog had to be on a leash. My dog at the time doesn’t pee or pee when on a leash. It was very sad. They have numerous vessels though so it depends a little on that. On vessel ‘Sardinia’ of Fred Olsen, I’ve seen better possibilities. Fred Olsen sometimes has cabins available in which you can take the dog. This is the best option so you can stay with your dog at all times. It comes at a price.
Discount for the ferry Spain to the Canary Islands
The Spanish autocaravan organisation La Paca offers a 30% discount on numerous ferries operating in Spain. This includes Fred Olsen, TransMediteranea, Armas, and Balearia and their route to and between the Canary Islands.
Here’s how it works. All communication goes in Spanish. They do not speak English.
- You register with La Paca. To do this you fill it out the form from your website and email it to them at email@example.com
- You wait for them to get back to you which usually takes 1-2 working days.
- You have to pay the yearly associate fee (60 euro for the first year, then 35 euro for the years after if you continue being socio) + one-time registry fee (15 euro). If you transfer from an international account, I recommend sending them a screenshot of your payment to speed up the process of registration.
- To book a ferry you have to download a form on the website of La Paca, corresponding with the ferry company. You fill it out and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org . La Paca forwards to form to the ferry and the ferry will apply the discount from reservations sent from La Paca. Usually, this is 30%, taken from the time the booking is processed.
- 1-2 days later you’ll receive an email from both the ferry company and La Paca with a ‘localizador.’ This is not a booking confirmation yet. Check if all the details are correct! On a few occasions, the wrong ‘seat’ was applied and the amount was higher than it was supposed to be.
- You have to pay the ferry by calling the ferry company and mention your credit card details. Once the ferry has been paid, your booking is confirmed. Also, you have to pay a 20 euro processing fee to La Paca. Opt for the phone numbers that do not start with 902. 902 numbers charge more.
- You only need to show your passport at the ferry.
La Paca works weekdays until 13.30 / 14.00 Spanish time. If you want to take advantage of the discounts it’s best to anticipate and start to fill our forms at least a few days before you book the ferry. It’s a bit back and forth emailing and calling but the discount is considerable and often makes it worthwhile.
If you’re last minute with booking you may be better off booking straight with the ferry company. Often closer to date the ferry fees rise, and since making a booking via La Paca takes a few days the ferry rate may be higher by the time you’re booking request is processed.
What else would you like to know about the ferry to the Canary Islands from mainland Spain?
Leave a comment here, and I can add it to the resource.
See you in the Canaries!