Review: Transportes Insular La Palma
Travel Service - Bus & train
La Palma, Spain
Get to know La Palma by bus - Part One
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One of the pleasant surprises of a visit to the Canary islands is how good, and cheap, the bus service is, especially when compared to what's on offer in most British cities (the price in the UK is, perhaps, not such a pressing matter for many who may be reading this but they are the lucky ones, the rest of the population having to pay soaring prices for a worsening service). But back to the Canary Islands.
This means that, with a little bit of planning and forethought, it's possible to get a good idea of whichever island you might be visiting, in the very first days, by simply being prepared to sit on a bus for a few hours. Having a hire car might get you to some of the out of the way places but then, apart from the extra expense you have all the hassle of driving on the types of roads that many don't experience in Britain.
(When I worked as a tour guide and therefore sitting right at the front of a coach beside the driver it was always interesting to see the look of horror on the face of the passenger when the coach driver, on narrow mountain roads, indicated that the car would have to get even closer to that sheer drop, which was a safe distance away, but to the passenger seemed only inches. Remember that in Spain they also drive on the 'wrong' side of the road and getting used to that can be difficult for many people.)
But to get back to La Palma.
All of the relatively small volcanic islands of the Canaries have one thing in common – in the middle of each one is a really big volcano (or series of them). This means that the majority of the settlements of the past (and now towns and tourist centres) tend to be near the coast or on the sides of the mountain and subsequently the transport links have been created to service those centres of population. On La Palma, the major town and terminus for the majority of the public buses is situated in the middle of the eastern seaboard. So starting from here you can do a circuit of the island either in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction.
I decided on the clockwise. One pointer, if you can try to get a seat on the same side as the driver as your view is much better if you are looking out to the ocean.
From the very beginning you get an idea about the economy of the island and its dependence on tourism. The bus station (really a number of stops along the main road) is right next to the port, both for commercial traffic as well as for the ferry terminal which has departures for Tenerife and Gran Canaria.
Just as you move away from the coast and start to climb you will pass a couple of the black sandy beaches that are all around the island. Its this predominantly black sand that gives the island the name of Black Island.
As the route climbs quite steeply taking in the small villages that have grown up on the slopes you start to get an idea of how steep this island is as the airport, almost at sea level looks a long, long way down on the left hand side of the road.
When you pass though the village of Mazo you're in the middle of the wine growing region of the island. In December the vines have been cut down, ready for next season's spurt, but those dry looking branches scattered in the small, walled fields off on both sides of the road will produce what the tourists will be drinking poolside in a year or so. Also in this area are a number of bodegas, tourist attractions at the height of the season but most closed in the winter.
On this stretch of the road it's always worth looking out to sea to the south-east. Unless a particularly hazy or cloudy day you'll almost certainly see the conical summit of Mount Teide, the volcano of Tenerife and the highest mountain in Spain (although you are closer to Africa than the Iberian Peninsular – but then the Falkland Islands are considered to be British). Often the almost perfect cone (from this distance) has a layer of cloud covering the lower part of its slopes, as if the halo had just dropped.
If you plan to do any walking whilst on the island you should also look out for the red waymarks on the posts on either side the road. La Palma boasts the number of paths that are signposted but, I must admit, I found it sometimes confusing as there were so many paths you had to be careful not to be taken somewhere you didn't plan to go. Use a map and compass (and a chunk of common sense) if you want to get to your destination with ease.
If, when you got on the bus there were many people with backpacks, walking boots and an almost infinite number of walking poles you'll find that things get much quieter after arriving at the most southerly point on this trip, the town of Los Canarios. Here there's a small Visitor Centre. With a combination of local buses and walking it's possible to explore this southern tip and get close to the some of the most active volcanic areas.
As the bus heads up the western coast you'll notice what seem to be huge inland lakes, very close to the shore. These are, in fact, the areas where the bananas are grown, under the cover of plastic sheeting which look like water with the reflection the African sun. (There was considerable damage to these areas during a freak wind storm in February 2014). Also here, but it might mean craning your neck backwards, you might be able to catch a glimpse of the salt pans that are at the extreme southerly tip of the island, together with the lighthouse of Punto de Fuencaliente.
The terrain now starts to look very different. The next stretch is where the most recent eruptions in the island's history have occurred, a number of them in the last 60 years or so. It's the lichen and mosses that first colonise the cooled volcanic rock and by noticing how light green the rock is you can tell the difference between the lava flows. From time to time there will be tiny islands of green with one or two relatively mature tree in the centre, where the flow had divided and hence not killing all in its path.
The volcanoes in the south are the most active and you could be in for a surprise – if you believe one school of seismologist thought. This is the Mega Tsunami Theory. If they are correct one day there will be an eruption and a huge chunk of the western part of the island will slip down into the Atlantic and begin a journey that will see the end of the world as we know it. This is not totally fanciful as this was how La Orotava was formed in Tenerife.
Such an event would crate a tidal wave that would virtually wipe out the Caribbean and the eastern seaboard of the United States. Such a disaster would bring about the collapse of the American economy and the impact on the rest of the world would be catastrophic. Living in Europe you can't feel safe as after bouncing off America the wave would come back and do similar, but on a lesser scale, damage to Europe – you just have to think about the storms that hit Britain after a hurricane in the Caribbean and multiply that a thousand fold.
If you are the number 200 bus from Santa Cruz to Los Llanos when that happens you'll get an interesting surfing trip to the US – for free!
The road continues, passing more and more banana plantations until you start to arrive at a much more built up area. Although not the capital of the island the city of Los Llanos, together with the adjoining towns, is the most densely populated area of La Palma and the terminus for this first part of the circuit of the island.
A journey of about an hour and half's duration and for just about a pound.
The bus leaves Santa Cruz (by the docks) at 06.15 (not Saturdays and Sundays, but that's probably too early anyway), 08.15 and then every two hours after that.
Get a Bono Bus from the driver, this is especially so if you plan to do any travelling on buses during your stay. You pay in units of 10 Euros. You give the driver your destination and he deducts the fare and gives you a ticket.
149 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.