Not having any great desire to visit Spain but wanting to be in warmer weather for the long weekend, I booked a trip to Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Little did I know I would absolutely fall in love with the Spanish lifestyle combined with island relaxation. Between hiking a small portion of the old GR221, feasting on some fresh calamari, and kayaking on a small inlet along the coast, it’s safe to say this island stole my heart.
Getting There & Around
Due to the whole island factor, the only ways to get to Mallorca are through flights or ferries. Many cruises depart from Palma and other coastal towns, as well as back and forth from mainland Spain, but coming from the Netherlands I had to fly. Two buses (I took the #1) will each take you easily to the main part of Palma and the main bus/train station, so for the budget traveler like myself a 3 Euro ride to worked perfectly in the budget. As for getting around the island and the city of Palma itself taxis are surprisingly inexpensive; a 1am taxi home from a bar cost 6 Euro while a half-hour 6am taxi ride from a small town to the airport ran me only 37 Euro. If you’re a single traveler or willing to play by the rules of bus schedules, Mallorca’s public transportation runs all over the island and is extremely inexpensive for day trips and beach hopping.
Before I embarked on this island adventure I did fairly little research in comparison to other trips on where to eat. This time I lucked out! While there are some restaurants in Palma that are a bit more touristy (read: Hard Rock Café), a good look at the menu will usually give you a good clue as to the flair of the food and its authenticity. Since this was a solo trip I based a good amount of my food decisions on whether I could a) people watch, b) eat my food on the go, and c) how fancy and therefore how long the meal would take. This ended up in me grabbing an ensaimada and coffee for breakfast every morning, which may not be the most nutritious breakfast but man was it a delicious way to start the day. For those who don’t know, ensaimadas are fluffy crescent-like pastries dusted with powdered sugar and either plain or with a topping of fruit or sweet sauces. Aka heaven. Seriously, breakfast every morning. Lunch led me to a few tapas samplings including spinach tortilla española, calamari, and empanadillas. I would suggest snacking around. Spain is tapas country, snack a little here, snack a little there, snack all the time.
Dinner was seafood time. Since Mallorca is an island it has an abundance of fresh fish and you 100% should take advantage of it. I wandered around from my Airbnb near the center of the city towards the harbor and stumbled onto Bar Cuba (which incidentally is also a hostel, could not tell from the boomin’ service they were doing in the restaurant!). Hello king prawns and a tom collins for night one. Bar Cuba is located in a trendy neighborhood and walking area with plenty of bars for after your appetizers or a nice walk near the harbor and I would highly recommend it for casual fare or drinks and appetizers before heading out for nightlife. Night two I decided to try a menu I’d passed the night before, but didn’t feel put together enough to eat in. Thank goodness I did. Appetite had a filled list of local and naturally based foods, most of which included some sort of caught fresh or organic description. Splurging a little, I indulged in fresh calamari with mouth-watering garlic aioli and a Ping Pong (passionfruit drink with lime vodka) followed by fresh sea bass with a cranberry and gin concoction called Mrs. Wong. 10/10 would highly recommend stopping in this little find, your taste buds will thank you. Although I didn’t get a chance to stop here, one place on my list that came highly recommended was Sa Bodegueta which caters to seafood and traditional Spanish and Mallorcan cousine. Guess I have someplace to come back to!
Do you even need my recommendations for dessert? There are gelato and pastry shops on every corner. I believe in your choices.
The Doing and Seeing
While the island may not be huge, the culture and geography more than makes up for the size. Whether the beaches and sand bring you, the nightlife in Palma, the history in old towns all around, or the adventurous sports that can be done here, Mallorca has something for every traveler.
Specifically in Palma I did most of my exploring by walking the city. Get a good map and head to the Catedral de Mallorca (tour the inside or gaze at its vast decorated architecture from outside), walk along the Passeig des Born, wander the harbor area, and finally meander your way through the shopping streets near the Placa Major. Spending the first few hours (or day even) strolling to some different points of interest is a great way to get a feel for the city and do some great shopping (shoes, anyone?). Bellver Castle is a fantastic choice to get experience “old” Palma, aka 14th century old, and the castle has fantastic views over the city. Palma’s aquarium is a surprisingly good attraction, with an opportunity to feed some of their sharks and touch their resident stingrays. One place I’d definitely recommend is the Mercat de l’Olivar! Between the aisles and aisles of fresh fish and veggies for sale, you can also get amazing food to eat at the market. Fish, ham, cheese, veggies, tapas, even sushi! Remember that snacking I mentioned earlier? This is a great excuse for it.
Being a self-proclaimed “outdoorsy” person I wanted to experience the natural side of Mallorca on my trip. This started with a half-day trip to Santa Ponsa for kayaking. Boy, was it worth it. Zoea Mallorca is a great outfitter for kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, diving, etc., and their shop is right on a harbor meaning easy access to the Balearic Sea. There’s nothing like feeling the ocean wind through your hair while you paddle surrounded by mountains and the calming coastal soundtrack. A few hours is enough to kayak to Malgrat Islands Marine Reserve and enjoy seeing some puffins, Balearic Lizzards, jellyfish and other wonders of the protected wildlife area.
My other outdoor adventure was to hike a small portion of the GR221, an old dry stone route that runs through parts of the island and the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range. Besides being declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO, the landscape views over the sea and island just looked too good for me to pass up. There are helpful guidebooks for walking the whole route but my section titled the “Old Postman’s Route” from Esporles to Banyalbufar was extremely well marked and no outside maps were needed. Starting in Esporles, I trekked for 2.5 hours through the smaller end of the mountains and around farms with fresh citrus trees and sheep, to reach breath-taking views of the village of Banyalbufar set amongst fog covered ranges and budding up right next to the sea. I hiked there and back in one day, but you can hike through multiple towns and stay in hostels along the way (like Esporles’ Sa Fita or Banyalbufar’s Son Burguny which also serves a fantastic meal – caprese salad with a side of homemade fresh garlic aioli has never tasted so good).
Caution: if you head to the island outside of tourist season make sure you communicate ahead of time for services in smaller towns; I almost couldn’t rent a kayak because the shop wasn’t fully open yet!
Soller is also a solid day trip out of Palma. The highlight is probably the transportation to and from the town actually; the Ferrocarril de Soler picks up just outside the central station in Palma but the kicker is the train is an antique one and the old carriage cars take you through tunnels and around the mountains to reach Soller. Buy a roundtrip ticket all the way to the harbor to save some money on the trip. During the ride you’ll get sweeping views of the mountains, and end up right in the center of Soller. From there wander around the small market or sample some tapas (most restaurants are comparable in price and quality) before catching the trolley to the harbor. Here again is shopping and snacking, while beaches are a short way away.
My trip to Mallorca was in mid-March, meaning not quite warm enough yet to swim. However, with a little research you can easily find a secluded beach (or party beach if that’s your style – try Magaluf!) and transportation to get there for a day or weekend.