EPIC Islands in Europe
La Palma, Canaries
La Palma, Canaries The Weird and Wonderful Island
Santa Cruz - Los Llanos - Roque de los Muchachos - Tamburiente National Park - Chaco Azul - Los Tilos - San Andres - Puerto de Tazacorte - Puerto Naos - Chaco Verde - Poris de Candelaria
In particular the northern and western part of the island are carved up by massive ravines in a landscape that resembles a piece of cake whose slices have been eaten in an un-chronological order. You always wanted to visit the Grand Canyon but are reluctant to embark on a long-distance journey? Come to La Palma instead: land of canyons galore. But beware, adventurous driving awaits you: up, down and around mountains and hillsides, with barely a bridge, a tunnel or even a stretch of straight road. And to top it all off, the island hit global news in 2021, when a volcano by the name of Cumbre Vieja (which rather unimaginatively translates into ‘old summit’) exploded in spectacular fashion. But more about this later.
At the time of writing this post in 2022, there were hardly any direct flights to La Palma with Brussels, Paris, and Frankfurt being the notable exceptions. Take it as a blessing, as a lack of easy connections also means that you will enjoy an island that has not suffered from tourism overkill. You could fly via Madrid, from where there are regular connections with Vueling Airlines. Most people though fly into Tenerife South and take a direct ferry from Los Cristianos to the island’s capital Santa Cruz. Check for departure times at either Naviera Armas or Fred Olsen for the 3 hour crossing. Depending on your flight times, you might need an overnight stay in Los Cristianos with its highly developed mass-tourism infrastructure, which is not to everyone’s taste. As always Skyscanner is an excellent tool for finding the best connections.
La Palma is also accessible via its Canary neighbour La Gomera. Both Naviera Armas and Fred Olsen offer direct links from San Sebastian to Santa Cruz for the 2 hour crossing. But check the webpages carefully. Some crossings will take a detour via Tenerife which can hardly be the point of the exercise.
Like all Canary Islands, La Palma has a well-functioning, publicly owned bus network which runs up and down the eastern side of the island and across the mountain spine to the second city Los Llanos.
Other parts of La Palma are covered by a private company called TILP. So if you are staying in or near Santa Cruz or Los Llanos, or indeed in any of the bigger villages like Puntagorda or Tijarafe, you might just get away with using public transport and the odd taxi.
But most people tend to rent a car as it offers you better access to trail heads, beaches, and some of the more hidden sights. When in the Canaries, I always book through Cicar. On La Palma, the rental company has the distinct competitive advantage of a kiosk right inside the ferry terminal. There is another office at the airport as well.
La Palma is a compact island, and you can get from Santa Cruz (with its ferry terminal and airport) to the western side in one hour. Likewise, the sights of the north and eastern coast are equally just an hour’s drive away.
So you could very feasibly base yourself in the island’s magical capital, with its bars, restaurants and even a man-made beach at your disposal. I have a real soft spot for El Hotelito 27 , a quirky boutique hotel right in the centre of town. It’s worth asking for bigger rooms, some of them even come with a small balcony. Parking though might be an issue, but there is free parking at the ferry terminal (just in front of a massive McDonald’s), from where it is a short(ish) and pleasant stroll into town.
Should you want to stay a little longer (and bring along moody teenagers, whose prime objectives are to sleep off the night’s excesses and get a tan), you might want to book one of the many holiday villas that are on offer, most of them with outdoor pools. I would choose the western side of the island since that part has just that little bit more sunshine. Vrbo has a wide selection.
When to visit
La Palma is a year-round destination with a wonderful climate that barely changes throughout the seasons. This means that you can swim and sun-bathe in the depth of winter, but also avoid the fierce heatwaves that have plagued the Mediterranean in recent years. High season is the period around Christmas and the New year, when sun-starved northern Europeans, but also many Spaniards visiting relatives and friends, get their dose of vitamin C. But even then, the island never feels crowded. You might also want to time your visit to coincide with Carnival in February, which is a mad affair in particular in Los Llanos.
Cervezeria Isla VerdeEl Jesus/Tijarafe: Simple, local dishes, craft beer with a nice garden terrace and glorious sunset views.
El Cuarto de TulaAvenida Maritima, Santa CruzLively tapas bar right on the sea front of the island’s capital; excellent shrimps
El Geco, Los LlanosIn the pedestrianised part of the town, with tables spilling out into the street, and run by an Italian family who make excellent use of a wood-fired oven.
La Colonial, Los LlanosPretty much next to El Geco, for stylish and fine dining.
Bar El Vaquero, San AndresYour fuel stop, when visiting the north-eastern part of the island; local dishes, simple and wholesome, but only open until 5.00 pm.