The Canary Island of La Palma is an island that is lost in the clouds. At just 706 square kilometers the island is an amalgamation of different ecozones and vistas. At around 2400 meters above sea level, you are parallel to the clouds, so close that you could easily touch them with your fingertips. Below you see the valleys, the sides of the mountains and cliffs dense with lush vegetation and rocks. However, if the cloud coverage is quite heavy, you can barely see in front of your hands. As you follow the winding roads, with hairpin turns and jutting rocks, the landscape is dotted with tall deciduous trees and pine trees – native to the island. For a moment, it seems that you have transferred to a whole other country. The forests that line the roads easily look like the forests of British Colombia and Alberta. Soon, you reach sea level. Below the dark rocks dot the shoreline, there is not a cloud in sight. The waves of the Atlantic crash into the rocks, leaving behind a trail of salt water, as the tide begins to recede. The ocean breeze is fresh and chilly. Ahead of you the sun begins to set. In La Palma, as the sun sets, its warm rays cast a glow over the island, the clouds begin to settle, and soon the sky is lit up with a thousand brilliant stars. Everything on the island becomes quiet. It seems that everyone is enchanted by the show above.
The island of La Palma is quite small – compared to the Grand Canary Island. There are two main “towns” in La Palma. The first is that of Santa Cruz de la Palma and the second is Tazacorte. The airport is situated in Santa Cruz de la Palma, along with a few restaurants and small hotels. Tazacorte is the more happening part of town where the main boulevard is dotted with restaurants, locals homes, hotels, and small shops. During the day Tazacorte is busy with tourists but in the evening the locals come out to enjoy a glass of wine or a cup of cafe con leche. Accommodation fits a range of different prices, however for the most part whether you stay in an Air B&B or a hotel, the average nightly cost is anywhere from£30-50 a night. This particular link gives a list of the Top 10 Hotels to Stay in La Palma.
We opted to stay in an Air B&B that was located on the other side of Santa Cruz de la Palma, in the town of La Punta. Aside from the two aforementioned towns – the rest of La Palma is quiet and more residential in nature. Aside from the tourists (of which there are plenty of Germans), the rest of La Palma is inhabited by locals. The neighborhoods are quaint and very quiet. There a few local bar-cafeterias that are scattered about, and there are convenience stores that have a good selection of food and snacks to stock up on.
If you want to be closer to amenities, opt to stay in the main parts of town like Santa Cruz and Tazacorte. However, do keep in mind that La Palma is not an island where you can easily walk around and explore, or totake public transit. You will need to rent a car, so it doesn’t really matter where you stay as long as it is comfortable and within your price range.
The plus side to staying in the main towns is that the selection of places to eat is more varied and these places are open a bit later than the more residential areas.
When in La Palma I wholly encourage you to dine on their seafood. The seafood is not only abundant – but incredibly fresh and delicious. We dined at three restaurants while in La Palma for dinner. We skipped lunch and instead ate snacks we got from the convenience store (I am quite guilty of indulging in Oreos… because as an adult I am capable of making these decisions). As for breakfast, we stopped at our local bar-cafeteria where they made us delicious scrambled egg sandwiches served with piping hot cafe con leche.
The best part of staying in the less touristy side of La Palma, was our ability to dine with the locals. Our breakfast spot was the local hangout for the residents, where at 10 am they would indulge in small glasses of red wine, or for the more bold residents, went straight into a cup of vodka over ice. Perhaps this is just the way things are in La Palma, or maybe life on this island requires a morning cap as opposed to a nightcap – in any case, if you decide to live by the “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” attitude, then La Palma is the island just for you.
As for drinks, La Palma has a few wineries scattered along the valleys. If you’re interested in the wines of the Canary Islands, check this link out here. La Palma is also home to many banana plantations!
Aside from bananas, and wines, La Palma is littered with other delicious tropical fruits like oranges, pomegranates, lemons, pears, and figs. If you want to indulge in a bit of walking and eating around La Palma, this link here gives you a good idea of the different fruit trees on the island! We were quite lucky that our accommodation was situated next to a home that was abundant in all these fruits. We, however, weren’t sure if we could just pluck the fruit, so we just watched them in hungry admiration.
If wine and fruit are not your thing then I highly suggest indulging in cafe con leche or cafe leche y leche (cafe canario or cafe bombon). Cafe con leche is just espresso served with scalding milk. It is simple, no frills and filled with the robust flavour of coffee and the pleasant sweetness of milk. If you’re feeling more adventurous (or you just have a big sweet tooth like myself), the cafe leche y leche is a must. This sweet drink combines espresso with condensed milk, also known as a “Spanish coffee”, this is the best way to have your dessert and coffee first thing in the morning. This TripAdvisor link goes into great depth about the different types of coffee you can order at your local cafeteria.
As for dessert, we liked to indulge in the ice cream bars that you got in those bright blue Nestle freezers. But one item that gets honourable mention are Rosquillas aka Spanish Donuts! Filled with the flavour of anise and lemon, the texture reminds me of a crumbly biscotti / dense shortbread! Just be sure to inquire whether or not the rosquillas have manteca (lard) in them, prior to eating it. Sometimes butter and lard are used interchangeably.
As for restaurants, check out the following:
There is tons to do in La Palma, and you need about 3-4 days to get everything done. There is no nightlife, so a lot of these activities are best suited for the day/evening time. However, by the time you have completed them (and then made the harrowing journey home along the narrow winding cliff-hugging roads), you will be too tired to think of anything beyond going to bed. La Palma is any outdoor enthusiasts dream. But it also has a good balance of less endurance based activities (such as laying on the beach which to be fair does take a lot of endurance). As for the beaches, they are beautiful, but you won’t find fine sand beaches of the Mediterranean. The beaches have pebbles or rocks, and the water of the Atlantic isn’t considered warm to everyone (though to Canadians it’s practically bath water!). And finally, if you didn’t know this, La Palma is an island with an undeniable view of the stars. In fact, stargazing is so important to the island that they have one of the lowest light pollution percentages in the world. This is great for those of you who want to get lost in the brilliant little lights above.
Playa Nogales is a beautiful hidden black sand beach. The views are stunning, with large rock formations and a full view of the Atlantic sea. The sand is black due to volcanic activity and is quite soft. As this is a private beach (meaning hidden) there is no lifeguard on duty. Furthermore, you must climb down a series of steps as well as walk along some large rocks to get to the beach. But once you are there it is well worth it!
If you are looking for a list of other beaches to check out, click this link. It also has suggestions for natural pools of water that are calmer since they are cut off from crashing waves of the ocean.
Roque de Los Muchachos + Observatory
This particular area is actually the highest point in the entire island at 2400 meters above sea level. You can either hike up to la Roque or you can drive. Driving is quite fun but also not for the faint-hearted. Most of the roads in La Palma are winding roads that take quite sharp corners. When driving to la Roque you are essentially driving up the mountainside on a very narrow road while taking hairpin turns. I won’t lie the drive up gave me a lot of anxiety! However, once you reach the top – the views are well worth it. At the top, you can do some more hiking or you can just head straight to actual rock formations. The clouds in La Palma are finicky. At one point you are able to see the valleys below with all the lush green vegetation and in five minutes that view is gone because the clouds are so dense they obscure your entire view. Try to get there early in the morning so you can get yourself some parking and you can get a view pictures of the scenery before the clouds cover it all.
There is an observatory that is open to the public for tours but these telescopes are not meant for public use. For more information check out their website.
As I mentioned before La Palma has one of the clearest views of the sky which makes it perfect for star gazing. However, we are quite unlucky since the days we were there, the clouds were out so we didn’t get to see anything. We had some friends who told us that the moon was shining so bright that it provided so much light it actually obscured the stars. In any case, if you’re lucky to go when there are no clouds then check this link out for more recommendations on star gazing.
Salt Flats (Salinas de la Fuencaliente)
There are still functioning salt flats in La Palma and they are located right next to a lighthouse (another cool monument of La Palma). There isn’t much to see but there is a delicious restaurant right next door so if the salt is making you hungry you can go and eat!
San Antonio Volcano
This now-dormant volcano is a pretty cool place to check out. You can see the craters that were formed from the previous explosion and you get a really nice view of the rest of the island. There is parking on site and it is 5 euros to enter, but you do get to take some cool photos and see La Palma from another viewpoint. However, there are plenty of other volcanoes on the island including la Cumbre Vieja which is rumored to be erupting “soon”, check this link out to explore some more!
Explore the town of Tazacorte
The architecture and urban design of La Palma is beautiful. The town of Tazacorte is very quaint with a traditional Spanish colonial feel. The town is also incredibly colourful! Finally, there are plenty of little spots along the way to stop and catch the sunset which is a must to do in La Palma.
YOU MUST DRIVE in La Palma. I cannot stress this enough. You can either rent a car online (we went with Cicar – though the customer service is terrible), or upon arrival in La Palma airport, you can rent a car from the companies there. Do note that all the cars are manual drive and if you want automatic you have to pay a surcharge. Driving manual is a talent, especially along those winding roads. Google Maps is your best friend! It is quite accurate and gets you to where you need to be. Make sure to download an offline version of the map because sometimes cell reception can be spotty.
There is public transportation but it is quite infrequent so I would not recommend it. La Palma is also not a pedestrian-friendly island. You need to drive to get to places. It takes about an hour or so to get from one side of the island to another. The drive is pleasant because the scenery is so stunning!
I hope you found this travel guide helpful with a few things to do in La Palma. If you have ever been to the Canary Islands, let me know! What was your favourite island and thing to do? I liked going to the beach and eating Oreos 🙂 If you want to see more photos be sure to check out my Instagram