First things first – the island of La Palma, and the city of Santa Cruz de la Palma should not be confused with Las Palmas de Gran Canaria or Palma, Mallorca, or even with the much larger Santa Cruz de Tenerife for that matter! We are talking here about whether or not you should hire a car on the much smaller Canary Island of La Palma, the most westerly of all the islands in the group to still have flight links with mainland Europe.
So should I hire a car in La Palma? On balance, our La Palma car advice is that this is a destination where it is certainly worth doing a little bit more local research before committing to a booking, and where you can certainly have no problem getting around without a rental car.
James says - a few trip notes:
The forests on La Palma tend to be evergreen, often covered with Canary Island palms, so there is usually plenty of shade year-round, and there is usually enough of a cool breeze on the hillsides to mitigate the searing temperatures which might be found out in the open.
Even if you’d still rather explore the island in a car, this might well make more sense to do just for a day or two, although this will of course depend on where you are staying, and what sort of car rental contract is on offer. As with the rest of Spain, many of the cheapest La Palma car hire deals tend to be on a full to empty basis, and this can result in a substantial extra hidden cost if you only use a small amount of fuel and return the car with a near full tank, but have to pay for a full tank regardless.
I have just come back from La Palma (December 2017), and I really felt that the Caldera (de Taburiente National Park) was one of the most impressive landscapes that I have visited anywhere. If truth be told, I was a little disappointed with the buses on La Palma – it woudl be easy to say that I had a couple of bad experiences, but other people I was travelling with also warned of their own problems. Having said this, this generally revoled around trying to get the final bus of the day, or an evening connection. I’m still sticking with the overall verdict that you don’t need to hire a car in La Palma, but let’s just say this is a lot more marginal than when I first looked at the island. When it comes to the caldera, this really is somewhere you have to walk anyway – and if you take a taxi to the top, you can then take the amazing path all the way down to the visitor’s centre.
Should I hire a car in La Palma if …..
Luxury travellers / mid-high budget
Probably –if instead you did end up taking a series of taxi journeys around the island, you would probably use the same driver for many of them, and this could be useful in terms of getting to know the island a lot better than you might if you were simply relying on directions from a map or a satnav. Another potential advantage of using taxis over a self drive hire car is that in some smaller towns and villages, it can be quite difficult to find a parking space.
However, the chances are that you will probably still prefer the flexibility of exploring at your own pace to being driven everywhere by someone else, so even if any question of cost is put to one side, getting a hire car in La Palma is still a better option.
No – anyone who wants to hire a car in Spain but is aged 25 or less can expect to pay a considerable premium for doing so. When the extra daily cost of car rental for young drivers is compared with the astonishingly cheap cost of bus travel, based on price alone, it’s really not worth hiring a car in La Palma for anyone aged 25 or less.
Probably not – although this is the sort of destination where it can be extremely useful to have the freedom and flexibility of a rental car, you really don’t actually need to hire a car in La Palma if you are happy to apply a little patience. Based on costs alone, you will find that it’s considerably cheaper to get around the island by bus than it is to travel around in a rental car, even if you also make a few taxi journeys.
Another factor to consider is that if you hire the very cheapest budget car, you’ll find it really struggles up the hills, as the terrain here is amongst the steepest in the world.
Yes, for families it will generally make sense to get a rental car, if largely for the convenience of having everyone travelling together, instead of having to wait around for buses. However, it’s always worth bearing in mind that taxis in La Palma are very cheap as well, so if you are only going to make a relatively small number of journeys, or if you are staying somewhere that is close to a decent bus route, then you might still find that you don’t need a hire car in La Palma.
How many people
Because the buses in La Palma are so astonishingly cheap, and because taxis are also reasonable value, it’s unlikely that you will get better value from a rental car based on price alone if there are just two of you travelling together. Even for 3 or 4 people travelling together, the total cost of using buses and the occasional taxi will probably still be less than using a hire car.
Prefer to drive
Yes – absolutely, if you generally prefer driving, then you really should rent a car in La Palma, because this is the sort of place where you will love the experience of the amazing driving roads.
Prefer not to drive
No – if you generally prefer to use public transport or if you like to cover a lot of distance on foot or by bicycle, then you’ll do absolutely fine without a car in La Palma.
There is no railway of any kind in La Palma, but given that the island is so close to Tenerife, then it would be easy enough to combine a visit to La Palma with a visit to Tenerife, which does at least have a spectacular cable car system on Mount Teide, together with trams in Santa Cruz. Travelling between the two islands by ferry is also quite an experience in itself, and you can usually include a whole day in La Gomera on top.
Yes, absolutely! La Palma really does offer some truly amazing driving roads, and you will want to appreciate as many of them as you can! The only thing that we would suggest is that even though you will absolutely love driving here, and even though you’ll see many truly spectacular landscapes from the road, we would still recommend allowing enough time to actually get out of the car and do a small amount of walking. For example, if you do get a permit to drive to the top of La Cumbrecita, you should still allow a couple of hours to walk the circuit at the top and to fully appreciate this truly amazing volcanic landscape.
Probably – If you are generally neutral about whether you prefer driving a rental car over other options, or if you simply want to do what you feel will be most convenient, rather than necessarily the cheapest option, then on balance, you probably should hire a car in La Palma, although this is the kind of destination where this is quite a marginal decision.
I want to cycle or explore on foot
No – in many ways, La Palma really is a walker’s paradise, with some truly stunning walking trails offering access to landscapes which are completely unique, whilst enjoying a climate which is usually mild year-round.
However, despite the island offering so many off-road paths, getting to and from the best areas for walking can at times be something of a nightmare! Before setting off on a particular route, always check whether or not you are likely to return to the same place, or if there are alternative paths which will bring you back somewhere different. Needless to say, if you want to walk along a route which ends up somewhere completely different to your start point, then you will be much better off using buses and taxis to get your start and end points, rather than a hire car.
However, personal experience has shown that using the buses can still be problematic – bus stops aren’t always clearly labelled, and even if you have an updated timetable, there is no way of getting real-time running information. In some cases, getting to the right bus stop can mean having to cross a dangerous highway, whereas in other locations it isn’t unheard of for the bus to simply go past and be unable to stop because it’s already full.
Even if you plan to return by bus, always have the number of a local taxi provide a handy – these are sometimes available from local taxi stands, but don’t rely on it. If you aren’t able to call a taxi, or if you aren’t able to get mobile phone reception, then you’ll find it very hard to hail a taxi by the roadside.
If all of the above sounds like too much hassle, or if you think that these are just reasons why you should really just hire a car in La Palma, then bear in mind that any hassles involved with trying to take a bus or taxi are really just worst-case scenarios. In most cases, you’ll be absolutely fine, and if you ask locally about any particular places you are planning on visiting, then you should still find that you can do a great deal of walking in various parts of the island, and that you can still visit La Palma without a car and without having any major problems.
In terms of value, you might ask – is it worth hiring a car in La Palma if you are going to spend most of the day walking, and the car is just going to be parked?
If this is the case, then the answer might well be no, especially because if you are planning on doing longer walks anyway, then it should be easy enough to tie in your walking route to a bus stop at each end of your route. Even if you need to take taxis for some of the time, you will probably still spend less than you would on a hire car, especially as it’s nothing like as competitive here as it is on larger island like Tenerife.
La Palma is extremely popular with road cyclists, who love to explore the truly spectacular landscape of the island. However, in some locations, you will still want to park your bicycle and walk in order to access certain parts which aren’t suitable for cycling.
Although you can cycle on the access road to La Cumbrecita, it’s very narrow, and even though drivers are unlikely to harass you, it can still be daunting. You cannot cycle around the paths at the top – these are for walking only.
There aren’t any facilities for transporting bikes on public transport, but many of the local taxis use people carriers or minivans, so you can still move your bike around the island this way.
Bicycle hire locations on La Palma are relatively limited, but you should still be able to get hold of a bike in either Santa Cruz or Los Llanos.
Probably not – La Palma really is the kind of destination that is much more oriented towards impressive landscapes than it is towards buildings of architectural note. Having said that, the island still has no shortage of attractive towns and villages, and in most cases the architecture really compliments the landscape.
You really don’t need to hire a car in La Palma if your main interest is in visiting small towns and villages, because everywhere is connected by bus, and if you have a particular place in mind that you want to visit for a short period of time, you can always get off one bus and then get on to another bus reasonably soon afterwards. In comparison with an island like Madeira, where even some of the trunk island bus routes only operate 3 to 4 times per day, you should find that in many parts of La Palma, the buses operate on 1/2 hourly or an hourly service.
Needless to say, if you prefer the flexibility to stop and start at your own pace, then you probably still should hire a car in La Palma, as you’ll still find that this is a more convenient option than taking the bus, even if parking can sometimes be a problem.
Probably – if your main interest is in visiting many different landscapes, rather than spending time walking around one area, then you probably should hire a car in La Palma. You should still bear in mind that there are numerous locations where your rental car is only going to get you near to the best spot, and that you will still need to walk to reach the most impressive views.
The price of hiring a car in La Palma is actually relatively constant throughout the year. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any fluctuations at all – far from it – but we have simply found that the difference between the highest and the lowest prices for a weeks La Palma car-rental is just an increase of 50%.
This is in stark contrast to other Spanish destinations like Malaga or Alicante, where the most expensive weeks for car-rental can cost as much as 8 times more as the cheapest ones.
However, because the Canary Islands have an attractively mild year-round climate, there isn’t the same kind of spike in demand during the summer season here that there is in mainland Spain.
You are unlikely to find any significant variations from one day of the week to the next, especially because the Canary Islands aren’t really popular weekend break destinations, given the length of flying time from mainland Europe. However, car-rental prices can still be affected by very local variations in demand. Most of the flights into La Palma are interisland services, but if you are arriving at the same time as a load of other travellers from northern Europe, then in effect, you will be competing for the same rental car availability, and this could push prices up slightly. Generally, it’s going to make more sense to book your La Palma rental car well in advance, but there can still be some good last-minute deals available.
Should I hire a car in La Palma for some of my stay?
Renting a car in La Palma for some of your stay might make sense if you have easy access to a location where you can either drop off or pick up a car midway through your holiday. There are various car rental providers with offices throughout the island, but they might not be so keen on allowing one-way rentals.
However, if you are staying on the eastern side of the island, then it would be easy enough to pick up a rental car in the airport when you arrive and then to drop it off back at the airport (or vice versa) and then simply to go everywhere else by bus or taxi.
Since average or typical car-rental prices on La Palma are generally a bit higher than they are on other islands in the Canaries, and since bus travel here is so ridiculously cheap, you could well make quite a substantial saving if you only rent a car for a day or two, and then use public transport for the rest of your stay.
Where are you staying / visiting?
Downtown (Santa Cruz?)
La Palma is slightly different to the other islands in the Canaries in that isn’t completely dominated by a single town. Although the capital is Santa Cruz, and although this is where you will find the main port and bus station, the town of Los Llanos on the western side of the island is actually slightly larger, whereas other locations such as El Paso also have a significant number of local facilities.
If you are staying in any major town centre on the island, then you probably won’t need to hire a car for your stay in La Palma, and you might also find that it is a slight inconvenience in terms of parking. However, you may also still find that travelling by bus can be inconvenient and disjointed, although this is much less likely to be the case if you are staying in Santa Cruz, since this is where most of the bus services congregate.
Outside main town/resorts
If you are staying anywhere outside the main urban centres on La Palma, then you will almost certainly find that you will need a car in La Palma.
Should I hire a car in La Palma for touring around?
La Palma isn’t really suitable for touring around and staying in different places from one day to the next, simply because the island is too small to really make it worthwhile.
Touring around can only really be considered as part of a visit to multiple islands in the Canaries, rather than just La Palma. The nearest major island to La Palma is Tenerife, which can easily be reached by boat or plane, and you can also travel to Tenerife via La Gomera by ferry.
Generally, travelling between the Canary Islands is much easier to do without a hire car. This is largely because as a foot passenger, or simply as a passenger without a car, you have the choice between flying or taking the ferry, but also because you can expect to pay less for any ferry tickets, and you won’t get stung by car-rental ferry supplements.
Another key reason why it’s best to tour around without a car is that you can visit the islands in any sequence you want without having to return back to La Palma to drop off a rental car. You could, for example travel first to Tenerife and then on to Gran Canaria and then fly home from there, or you could also continue to Lanzarote via Fuerteventura. By travelling around between the islands, you can also mix and match in terms of finding the best flight deals back to mainland Europe. You will always be able to rent a car locally as you go if you need to.