The island of La Palma, a trail-running hotspot
La Palma is one of the green islands of the Canary, the Spanish archipelago in the Atlantic ocean. The volcanic island has a series of peaks above 2000m of altitude with Roque Los Muchachos, the highest culminating at 2426 meters. Each year in May, La Transvulcania race attracts trail runners from all over the world. The island, who used to be known for stargazing, hiking and mountain biking, became in the recent years a true hotspot for trail-running.
Run on the volcanoes year round
Due to the tempered climate on the island, most of the trails are accessible year round. Some years the peak Roque Los Muchachos are under a little snow blanket around the month of February. Still the temperature on the coast is likely to be in the 20° Celsius. Simply avoid to hit the trails after a storm or some heavy rains.
The 3 types of trails (senderos) in La Palma
The network of trails covers the all island with about 1000 km of marked and well maintained trails.
GR (Gran Recorrido), long trails, marked white-red. there are only 2 on La Palma, the GR 131 (Ultra La Transvulcania which crosses the whole island) and the GR 130 which goes all around the island ( like a coastal trail).
PR (Pequeno Recorrido) mid distance trails, marked white-yellow, still well indicated and maintained. Some are great trails outside of the obvious GR like La Traviesa (PR 10), some are great trails to connect to the GR from a village. There are about 38 PR trails on the island.
SL (Senderos Locales) small trails, marked white-green, the start can be tricky to find, as well as some connections within small villages… these trails are mostly useful to do loops, short hikes or to reach a bigger trail. You can explore about 24 SL trails.
The major trails to explore
Ruta de los Volcanes
Scenic, easy and very well maintain trails, you run on volcanic rocks and black sand with views on a series of volcanoes, each side of the island and when lucky El Teide, the peak on the sister island of Tenerife.
Refugio El Pilar (1440m) to Fuencaliente (also called Los Canarios, 700m) on the GR 131. Distance: 24 km. Technical level: moderate to easy. Running up from Fuencaliente to El Pilar is more difficult, you have to run some uphill portions on a sandy soft surface like on a dune.
Access from El Paso: start on the PR LP 14 (bus number 300, stop is located after El Paso and just before the visitor center at Mount Colorado), hike up in the pine forest and the lava to Llano Los Jables. At the Mt Enrique, check the signs to keep going up to Refugio El Pilar or to take the SL EP 104 in the pine forest till you encounter the GR 131.
Ruta de la Cresteria
More technical, mostly on rocky single tracks and above the clouds (from 1800 meters of altitude), fantastic views. Can be very windy, especially during winter (December to March).
Access to Refugio El Pilar: there are no bus to the refugio El Pilar, you need to drive. You can run up to the Refugio from EL Paso via the PR LP 14. You can also reach the GR 131 (1400m) at a point called Reventon via Virgen El Pino (800m) on the PR LP 1. It’s a very steep climb from the small church Virgen El Pino, located near by the visitor center of the national park of La Caldera of Taburiente.
Access to Roque de Los Muchachos: you may drive to Roque de Los Muchachos, but you hike or run up to the peak. The access from the village of Roque El Faro (bus 100) to Roque de Los Muchachos is one of my favorite, it’s short (about 9km), steep as you would expect and with incredible views along the initial climb. Take the PR LP 9, from Roque El Faro (1000m) to Roque de Los Muchachos (2400m).
“Sky running” loop: drive up to Los Andenes (2300m), run to Roque de Los Muchachos (2400m) and back. This short trail (about 6km) is great way to see the peaks, enjoy some astonishing views and get you acclimated to sky running in La Palma.
Refugio El Pilar to Roque de Los Muchachos: on GR 131, distance is 26km, technical level is advanced as for most part you run on single track and you are above the clouds via Pico de la Nieve (2200m), Los Andenes (2300m) and finally Roque de Los Muchachos (2400m). Once on Roque de Los Muchachos from El Pilar, if you run down to Puerto de Tazacorte, you would then cover the full distance of the Marathon La Transvulcania, around 43 km with quite some elevation differences from 1400m to 2400m then down to the sea level.
Roque Los Muchachos to Puerto de Tazacorte: On the GR 131, distance is 17km, elevation from 2400m+ to sea level. Technical level: advance, very steep, single track.
La Traviesia — PR LP 10, is an old trail in the north west of the island that was used to access to a series of water sources by the first inhabitants. It’s a great route to explore the north of the island. It’s at low altitude between 1000 and 1400 meters. You can easily use small trails (SL) to access to La Traviesa or to exit. That way, you may explore it section by section (Briestas to Puntagorda, Puntagorda to Tinizara, Tinizara to Tijarafe, Tijarafe to Puerto de Tazacorte). Each village can be reach easily by bus (number 100). In Puntagorda, Tijarafe and Puerto de Tazacorte, you can find supermarkets, pharmacy, ATM, cafés and restaurants. Overall distance: 30km. Technical level: moderate, mostly forest trail.
A series of shorter trails and training spots
Village of San Nicolas / Las Manchas
Lavas de San Juan, PR LP 14.1, is a 10km loop from the altitude gardens, the pine forest to a sea of lava. The first ascend is kind of steep but not too technical. After the loop, you can enjoy a post-run lunch at the restaurant Bodegas Tamanca (a local winery). You can drive to San Nicolas or take the bus number 200 from/to Los Llanos.
El Paso, Lanos los Jables and Refugio El Pilar
There are quite some trail connections in the area of El Paso (600m) and refugio El Pilar (1440m). The landscapes between the pine forests and the dunes of volcanic sand are just magic. Most trails are not technical. El Paso is a village at the center of the island with shops, cafés and restaurants. The bus 300 circulates between Los Llanos and El Paso. No bus goes to El Pilar, you have to hike or drive up to the refugio. Once there you will find parking spaces, picnic areas and toilets.
PR LP 14, El Paso to Refugio El Pilar via Llano de los Jables. Distance 5km and Technical level moderate. Astonishing views on the Caldera and the west coast of the island.
El Reventon, from Virgen El Pino (800m) up to the GR 131, then to Refugio El Pilar (1400m) or to the left up to Punta de Los Roques (2000m).
Loop around El Pilar, on the PR LP 16, SL VM 125 then back to El Pilar on the GR 131. You will have some views of the east side of the island and if lucky you may see El Teide, the highest peak of the island of Tenerife.
From El Pilar (1440m) to the GR 131, you can go up to Punta Los Roques (2000m) on the peaks route (12km one way). Punta de Los Roques is also a refuge with a shelter and water, where you can sleep over night. Or you can go to the Deseada II (1937m) on the volcanoes route (7km on way). By doing these trails and return, you get to explore those routes while keeping your car at Refugio El Pilar.
Puerto de Tazacorte
Puerto de Tazacorte is the small harbor and beach of the village of Tazacorte. There is a pharmacy, ATM, mini market, cafés and restaurants. There are 2 buses between Puerto de Tazacorte, Tazacorte and Los Llanos, number 207 and 100. The bus number 100 heads to the north of the island and the village of Puntagorda.
Vertical run El Time, one of the most popular short training spot. It’s the beginning of the Vertical kilometer of La Transvulcania on the GR 131 from the beach of Puerto de Tazacorte. Within 2km, you reach a first mirador at 250 meters, where you can just return down to the beach. If you feel motivated, you can keep going to the Mirador of El Time at 3.5km. The most adventurous may keep going on the GR 131 till you reach La Traviesa ( PR LP 10) at 1200m, you will have run the whole Vertical Kilometer of La Transvulcania.
The Paris Chiquito Trail, the local race from Tazacorte goes to Puerto de Tazacorte, then follows the barranco (river bank) de Las Langustias up to a bridge. On this bridge, take the left to climb on the GR 130 up to El Time. When you finally reach the top at 650m, you can go down by the GR 131 to Puerto de Tazacorte. Some adventurous runners may keep going up on the GR 131 to reach 1200m (signs of the departure of La Traviesa, PR LP 10) before running down on the GR 131 to Puerto de Tazacorte.
GR130 to Los Llanos (the last part of the Ultra of La Transvulcania), run from Puerto on the barranco (river bank) de Las Langustias up to a bridge, don’t run on the bridge but turn on your right on the GR 130 up to Los Llanos de Aridane. You will arrive first in Argual, keep on the GR 130 till the main road to arrive to the center of Los Llanos. Los Llanos is the most dynamic city of the island, with all shops, bars and services as well as the bus central station.
Prepare your road book
You can get a free map of the all network of trails (Red Senderos) in any tourism office on the island. This map is very detailed and useful to navigate and explore. The website www.senderosdelapalma.es (in Spanish, English, French and German) is a great free online resource to prepare your road book and get elevation gains, distances in kilometers and indications of the level of difficulties. The given durations are based on hiking not trail running, a basic division by 2 gives you a rough indication of the time to expect.
Run safely and responsibly
These trails are isolated, mostly in altitude and the weather can change within minutes… So you should always have trail-running apparels and shoes, a bag, an extra layer or a rain jacket, water (min 1 liter), money, your mobile phone (the local emergency number is 112) and a trail map. Most of the trails are part of the natural park and the whole island has been recognized UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, so don’t litter or leave traces and respect this unique and preserved environment.
3 trail-running major events
La Transvulcania on GR 131, The most renowned event on the island with a series of races: a Vertical Kilometer from Puerto de Tazacorte, the Half Marathon from Faro Fuencaliente to Refugio El Pilar, the Marathon from the Refugio El Pilar to Puerto de Tazacorte and the Ultra distance about 75km crossing the whole island from the Faro bellow Fuencaliente to Los Llanos. When: 1st or 2nd weekend of May — Web: http://transvulcania.es/?lang=en
ReventOn Trail, Sprint, Classic & Marathon between El Paso and the Refugio El Pilar. When: beginning of April — Web: http://reventontrailelpaso.com/
Copa Spar Carreras de Montana, a series of mid distance trails part of the local championship of mountain running. Web: http://www.copaspar.es/
Transportation on the island
You can rent a car to navigate and explore conveniently. Most trails accesses have parkings. The local buses (Guagua) offer a practical way to travel around the island and get an easy access to the villages and the main trails. You just need a free transportation card, to pay directly to the driver some units in advance (10 or 20€) and then pay each trip using the card when boarding the bus (the fare per trip is 1.10 or 1.70€ depending of the distance). You can get the bus schedule at the central station in Los Llanos or find it online.
The coexistence of sub Tropical and Mediterranean climates as well as the volcano water are allowing a flourishing agriculture and a wide diversity of fruits (bananas, mangoes, avocados… as well as grapes, almonds, figs, apples…) and veggies including heirloom endemic varieties with cool names like « boniato » a sweet potato, « bubango » a gigantic zucchini or « calabacin » a white zucchini…
I am into plant-based cuisine, so all I know are the farmers market, the “fruterías“ (selling “frutas y verduras” aka fruits and veggies) and some local restaurants offering vegan friendly dishes. « Papas arrugadas con mojo » are local small wrinkly potatoes baked in sea salt, served with a red (or green) spicy sauce (called « mojo » rojo o verde). « Pimientos de Padron » are small green peppers baked in sea salt. « Ensalada mixta » is just a simple mix salad, served with the dressing on the side (olive oil, black pepper and vinegar).
Also tasting some local wines (Los vinos de La Palma) is definitely something to consider while exploring the island. The island offers a great diversity of wineries due to drastic differences of soil, altitude or climate. Most of the grapes are heirloom old grapes adapted to the local conditions. My preference goes to the Tendal (white wine in a blue bottle), the Tamanca Negramoll (red) and La Traviesa (red, white).
Few local restaurants
Restaurant Pino de La Virgen in Puntagorda, web page: https://www.facebook.com/restpinodelavirgen/
Bodegas Tamanca in San Nicolas / Las Manchas, web page: https://www.facebook.com/bodegas.tamanca/
La Tasquita in Tazacorte, webpage: https://www.facebook.com/La-Tasquita-580328502020082/
I first came to La Palma in January 2012 to explore the trails, then kept coming back almost every winter and finally about 5 years ago I adopted it as my base camp to enjoy this unique environment year round. Don’t hesitate to contact me about trail-running in La Palma.