La Palma - What Not To Expect
Miles of golden sandy beaches.
None. La Palma is a volcanic island and the sand is black. Don't be mislead, it's not dirty, the grains of sand really are black. The beaches and sea are cleaner than most European beaches. There are not many beaches here. The main ones are at Los Cancajos, Puerto Naos and Tazacorte with smaller beaches dotted around here and there. Some are accessible only with a jeep or on foot.
Placid seas with gentle rolling waves.
In the summer months the seas are pleasant and fairly calm. In the winter the sea can be very dangerous with waves up to 5 meters high and a vicious undertow. The more daring (stupid?) visitors occasionally get into difficulties and are either unable to get back to the shore, are knocked over by the wild, stone-laden waves or pulled into the sea by the undertow. Every year one or two people drown, and always on days when there is a red flag flying and when the locals warn people not to swim. La Palma is NOT in the Mediterranean sea, it is in the Atlantic Ocean. The nearest land to the west is Brazil! In the winter the waves crash onto the rocks and can be fascinating and spectacular .... if you are watching at a safe distance.
Beaches full of half naked 'birds' and 'hunks'.
If there are more than 50 people on each of the main beaches then it must be a local holiday! The beaches are fairly quiet, and the average age of the visitors is above 40 years old.
Long, lively boulevards full of restaurants.
None of the holiday resorts has one. Puerto Naos has 4 terrace- bars on its boulevard, with a few bars on the small road next to it. Tazacorte recently expanded its boulevard area and has a number of (fish) restaurants. Los Cancajos has several restaurants and bars but no real boulevard.
Shopping centres, hypermarkets and luxury shops (for tourists).
Forget it. Each tourist centre has a few shops selling the usual tourist stuff and a few small shops. There are supermarkets in each village, but they are about the equivalent to a large village shop. The main shops are in Santa Cruz and Los Llanos, but again, don't expect the large chains and warehouses. There are large supermarkets in Brena Baja (on the road from Santa Cruz to the tunnel) and another in EL Paso. If you want a shopping paradise you should do what the locals do ... go to Tenerife.
Disco's, exotic night life, wild parties, foam-bars, all-night-music.
Wrong island. Try Tenerife.
There are a few bar-discos, mainly in Santa Cruz and Los Llanos.
Luckily there is no McDonalds on the island. No Kentucky Fried Chicken. No Burger King etc etc etc.
Plenty of genuine local tapas.
None. There is about 2 miles of dual-carriageway between the airport and Santa Cruz. The rest of the roads are well-surfaced, twisty and hilly.
Everybody speaks English
No. Spanish is the first, second and third language on La Palma. Many tourists expect that everybody speaks their language, but this is not the case. In the hotels the receptionists will probably understand German and maybe some English. Some staff in shops and restaurants catering for the tourists may well speak some German or English. Outside the tourist centres very few people speak anything except Spanish. Bear in mind that La Palma is NOT dependant on tourist money, it has a strong local economy and not everybody is pleased with the influx of all these foreigners. If you make the effort to learn a few basic words of Spanish the people here will make you welcome.
Driving On La Palma
The main roads circumnavigating and crossing the island are generally well maintained asphalt roads. There very few straight, flat stretches of road. The roads follow the contours of the mountains and are therefore very steep and twisty. There are often spectacular views but there are not always safe places to stop and look. Most side roads are also in good condition. The smaller roads are often dirt tracks that are best travelled with a jeep but can usually be used, with care, in a normal car - although you should be aware that your hire-car company might take a different view.
There are a number of potential hazards you should be aware of, even on the main roads.
Stones: during and after periods of rain some stones and rocks may fall onto the road. They are usually cleared fairly quickly.
Animals: Dogs, goats and rabbits are not kept on leads and may wander all over the road. You may also find that in the smaller villages and near farms that the dogs are accustomed to lying in the middle of the road (the asphalt is warm and you get a good view!). They probably will not move out of the way when you approach.
People: Outside the towns the roads are traditionally used by people walking from their houses and farms into the villages. The older generation see no reason to change this tradition. There are no footpaths along most roads and the asphalt is much easier to walk on anyway - especially if you need to walk with a stick! Please respect their right to use the roads in this fashion, and drive accordingly.
Tourists on foot : Some tourists believe that they can walk casually down the middle of the road because "they are on holiday" and "the locals have a relaxed attitude". Don't you believe it. This attitude is a major source of irritation in the holiday resorts and narrow country lanes, and delivery drivers (for example) have tight schedules and may not be happy when confronted with delays caused by tourists!!
Tourists in cars: Tourists drive slowly round corners but fast on straight road. Tourists stop suddenly to go ooh and aah at the magnificent scenery. Tip: Always let traffic behind you pass on straight stretches of road. They will appreciate it, and you shouldn't be in a hurry, after all, you are on holiday.
Cyclists: Only tourists cycle on the roads here. The older Palmero children may have mountain bikes, but they are not a serious form of transport and are seldom seen on roads outside the towns. There are very good reasons for this. There are no cycle tracks, the roads are too narrow for a two cars and a bicycle, the traffic drives fast and there are very many steep hills and blind corners which make cycling on the roads dangerous for the cyclist and other road users.
Local traffic: You may be on holiday but over 80,000 people live on the island and they have places to go, people to see and things to do. They do not like being held up by tourists who think they are driving fast, but in fact are driving irritatingly slowly. They know the roads - visitors don't.
It is common practice for cars and jeeps and pick-ups to hang on your bumper. It's not meant aggressively, but it's a habit that can be intimidating. The best thing to do is wave them past on a straight stretch of road.