La Palma – the best winter riding spot you’ve never heard of
“La Palma? That’s a city on Gran Canaria right?” Every time I mention La Palma to a friend at home the response is something along those lines. For many, the island appears to be unknown, pushed aside by its popular winter getaway neighbours Tenerife and Gran Canaria. However, La Palma really is the island that has it all.
One day on the bike – trails, unlike anything I’d seen before
I am awoken by the roaring sound of crashing waves. My day starts looking out over the North Atlantic from the window of my seaside apartment. After a quick breakfast and cup of coffee, I walk to meet my hosts for the week, Atlantic Cycling, at their shop in the peaceful beach town of Puerto Naos. Spirits are high as we load our bikes onto the trailer and hop into the minibus. 45 minutes and a scenic drive later we arrive at Refugio El Pilar, a camping and recreational zone situated almost slap-bang in the middle of the island and 1811 meters above sea level.
Our guide for the day, Simone, is a downhill racer from Austria and knows the island like the back of her hand. We lock and load and drop into the first trail of the day. It starts as a fast, flowy descent through loamy pine needle forest. We fly through huge natural berms and over rollers that can be doubled or pumped, whooping and hollering the whole way. After regrouping in a clearing, we drop into the lower half of the trail. Suddenly everything changes, pine trees and loam are replaced with lush jungle greenery, rocks and roots. The speed of the trail changes and smart lines are needed to find flow in the steep rocky corners. Before my brain can process what just happened we arrive at the end of the trail, where our shuttle is waiting to take us back to the start.
Back at El Pilar once again, we start climbing towards the south of the island. The final destination, a volcano called Nambroque. After an hour of climbing and 500 meters of elevation gain, we are nearly there. A short hike-a-bike up the side of the volcano takes us to the crater. The views are stunning. From this point, you can almost see the entire island, and El Teide, the highest point of Tenerife (and Spain) looms through the clouds across the sea. We take in the views whilst refueling with some “bocadillos” for lunch. The descent off Nambroque is up there as one of the most fun trails I have ever ridden. Starting as a flat out blast over rocky steps and drops, with an abundance of natural lines and hip jumps. I follow Simone and do my best to copy her lines gapping over rocks and roosting corners. The trail then leads us back into steep pine forests, littered with technical switchbacks.
From this point, you can almost see the entire island
The next change in terrain is just as drastic as we fly out of the forest and into a crazy lunar world of lava. This is riding unlike anything I have ever experienced before. Surfing through deep lava sand makes you feel like a hero, drifting into every corner and kicking up clouds of dust! At the other side of the lava field, the trail joins the forest again and a hand cut downhill trail called “Moraditas” by the locals takes us to the town of El Paso. Here we enjoy a coffee before riding a pump track like ancient lava stream back to Puerto Naos.
The ride finishes with a beer (or two) at bar Las Olas, right on the seafront. The refreshing Dorada gives us a chance to reflect on the events of the day. The vast variety of trails is truly mind-blowing. In one day we rode flowy trails through pine forest, technical rock puzzles in the green jungle, flat out volcano descents and surfed through deep lava sand.
Where is La Palma?
La Palma is the most north-westerly of the volcanic Canary Islands, and located 400 km west of Morrocco. Many of our road cycling brothers head to La Palma in search of warmer weather, but with the variety of trails on offer, I am surprised that the mountain biking on this island has stayed secret to riders for so long.
La Palma? That’s a city on Gran Canaria right?
Getting to La Palma
La Palma Airport (SPC) is located 8km from the capital Santa Cruz. There are many direct flights from Europe and the UK. If a direct flight is not an option, one of the most painless alternatives is to fly to Tenerife, and then take a boat or short flight over to La Palma. A super fast ferry is operated by Fred Olsen and takes just two and a half hours. Alternatively, there are regular flights from Tenerife Norte airport. However, to get there from Tenefire South airport you will have to take a transfer bus. The journey takes about 50 minutes and costs around €9.70.
Getting around on La Palma
Getting around on La Palma is simple. There are regular bus services all over the island, and the buses have storage space for bikes and bike bags. There are also numerous specific shuttle services available, such as La Palma FREEride and Aceshuttle La Palma. These providers offer shuttling and uplift for rides, as well as airport pick-ups and drop-offs.
Mountain biking on La Palma
The trails on La Palma are truly unique. The combination of breathtaking views and the vast variety of trails make for an unforgettable riding experience. However, due to the remote and exposed nature of the trails and terrain, we would strongly recommend you pay for guided tours. This will not only maximise your safety but also mean you ride the trails that are best for you, as the guides can tailor the tour to your preferences and riding skill. The diversity of trails is extraordinary, and means you can easily spend a week riding without hitting the same trail twice! If you are looking for a guiding company in Puerto Naos to show you around, we would recommend Atlantic Cycling and Bike Station for their smooth operation and great guides.
What bike to bring
Due to the technical nature of the trails, we would definitely recommend bringing your own bike, as you will be most confident on a bike you know. In our opinion, the ideal bike for La Palma is a long travel 29er. We would strongly advise running a tubeless setup with tough, ideally dual ply tires. Upsizing to 200mm disks would be beneficial too, as the bigger rotors will help to deal with the heat build up on the long, steep descents. Frame protection also wouldn’t go amiss and would prove beneficial on the rocky trails. If bringing your own bike is not an option, don’t panic. All the tour providers on the island have their own hire fleet, with prices for a full suspension bike around €40 per day. Special weekly rates are also often available.
What else to do on La Palma
Mountain Biking is not the only activity available on the island. To fully experience the island we would recommend taking some time to soak up the sun on the beach and explore the beautiful Caldera de Taburiente national park. One spot that is definitely worth a visit is the “Plaza La Glorieta”, a beautiful little square with intricate mosaic floors and colourful flowers based on Gaudi’s Parc Guell. It is right next door to a wine museum inside a traditional Palmero building and is a great place to watch the sunset and taste some local wines. If hiking and sightseeing are not your things, there are a host of other sports on offer such as SCUBA diving and paragliding. It’s safe to say that everyone will find an activity they enjoy here.
Food and drink
The gastronomy on La Palma is great too, focusing a lot on fresh seafood and locally grown fruit and veg. Meat is common too, especially grilled pork. While on La Palma you have to try the smoked goat’s cheese (Queso de Cabra), which is absolutely mouth watering when grilled and served with a green chili sauce called Mojo Verde. Simple yet flavourful foods are popular, so expect a variety of tasty stews, as well as the famous Papas Arrugadas (Palmero potatoes boiled in salt water).
The spots favoured by locals often have the best, most authentic food at low prices