Lush banana plantations waving in warm sea breezes, the sharp fragrance of eucalyptus in the hot sun, the bone-shuddering cold of the windy, winding, cloud-covered mountains… exploring the gorgeous volcanic island of La Palma by moto is a wonderful feast for the senses.
Stretching over 706 square kilometres and reaching up to 2,426 metres above sea level, La Palma lies in the northwest of the Canary Islands. Scooter rental for 3 days cost us 35 Euros per day (the longer you rent it for, the cheaper the price per day). We rented from a little blue and white shop located right at the entrance to the port in Santa Cruz de la Palma, within walking distance from the main tourist information centre, at the very southern end of Avenida Maritima: Smily Bike rental (they rent mainly bicycles, but have a few scooters, too).
The scooter’s storage/carrying case behind the passenger seat, plus the storage space under the seat, was plenty of room for two towels, bathing suits, snacks, water bottles, and spare clothes, most of which we ended up wearing in layers due to the wind chill factor when up in the hills, away from the warm sea-level breezes. In fact, that brings me to Tip #1….
Tip #1–Dress Warmly! Yes, there are blue skies and hot sunshine and warm breezes at sea level when you pick up your moto in Santa Cruz, but as soon as you start climbing into the 2000 foot range, (immediately upon heading north or west from Santa Cruz) it is shockingly cold. Teeth chatteringly, get-me-into-a winter-coat, cold. I can’t emphasize this enough. Hoodies, sweaters, pants, jackets… all of these are required for travelling the island by scooter.
Tip #2–Make a plan before you hop on and roar off. There are a surprising amount of stops en-route, and because signage is sparse and all in Spanish, it’s easy to zoom by something of interest. It was an eye-opener realizing how few people speak English on this little island. German, yes. French, un petit peu. English? Rare. (For instance, we communicated with our friendly airbnb host solely through Google translate and hand gestures). Because the island is small, there is the illusion one can zip around it quickly–but it is a mountainous, winding-route island, which one needs to take into account when travelling on a 125cc scooter. Maps are available for free at the information centre as you leave the airport, and again at the tourist centre in town.
Tip #3–Plan ahead where you’re going to park for the night, if home-base is in the centre of Santa Cruz de la Palma. Steep, narrow, cobbled streets mean parking spaces are severely limited. After business hours each evening, when parking-time becomes unlimited and free until morning, it is quite an experience being in the local traffic as cars zip furiously into any and all available spots on the flat Avenida Maritima.
Rather than try squeeze our scooter between cars on a precipitous cobbled slope, we parked our scooter the first night on the sidewalk corner of Avenida El Puente and Avenida Maritima, where several locals were parking their motorbikes and scooters for the night, and we then walked the short distance to our airbnb, Casa Colonial (Buenavista), a fantastic old colonial house right near the central Plaza Espana, with a stunning 4-window view and private terrace and a wonderful Spanish-speaking-only host.
Why go by scooter instead of by car? It’s maybe a little cheaper: we used, on average, less than 5 Euros of fuel a day. But the real reason is the sheer joy of zipping along, being a part of the sea-breezes, scents and sights, instead of watching it all flash by your window in the mundane comfort of your car.