For most of the inhabitants the agriculture with its large subventions from EU provides the only safe income, especially in summertime, when there are no tourists.
The deep valleys in the north and the calderas in the south are not applicable for agriculture, so the arable land is very limited. Beside La Palma has got the most favourable climatic terms for agricultural purposes, the water supply is often problematic. Most farmers planted Canary bananas as monoculture in the past, which even aggravates the problem because this plant needs up to ten times more water than any other agricultural product. But the Canary banana with its small size and high price does not fit the world market standards and its production is decreasing. As it happened to sugarcane and wine from La Palma before, the banana can be produced both cheaper and better in other regions of the world. While the government tried to subsidise the banana-cultivation in the first years, the politics changed and more and more farmers switched to other products like avocadoes and papayas. Some farmers cultivate potatoes and tomatoes, but also without being competitive. It is an irony of fact that most agricultural products are imported from abroad.
The lack of water and arable land make the agricultural mass production on La Palma more expensive than in other regions, and a huge problem is the contamination of soil by using toxic pesticides in the past. The refrain from using pesticides became accepted slowly and some areas still need decades to regenerate. Fertile and ecologically clean soils are a rare commodity but the environmental awareness has grown and the first changes make hope for the future. This process was long overdue, because almost every third job depends on the agriculture and it is still the most important economic sector.
Especially people from England came in the late 19th and early 20th century to La Palma, the first hotel opened already in 1890. But only few decades later the development took a downturn and in the Sixties there was no tourism anymore on the island. Since the reform and opening policy was launched in the late Seventies in Spain and especially at the end of Franco's dictatorship La Palma could partly benefit from the upcoming mass tourism on Tenerife and Grand Canary.
After the airport expansion for international carriers the tourism increased rapidly on La Palma. While the tourism is shaped by affluent and individual people, the mass tourism could not get a foot in the door. The absence of large holiday resorts and hotels fosters the existence of small vacation homes and boarding houses. A remarkable innovation is the historic restoration of old farmer houses to vacation houses, which are provided under the label of "turismo rural". A lot of these houses are located in the north or offside the touristy areas and provide the opportunity to offer more accommodations while keeping the environment save from a loss.
Most holidaymakers still prefer the beaches like in Puerto Naos, near Los Llanos on the Westside and Los Cancajos, in the east. The island's government supports an increasing tourism, but ecology groups combat this project. The water shortage gives them a strong argument against the construction of new hotels and accommodations.
Beside agriculture and tourism there are also some art craft manufacturers and a small industrial production on the island. Most of them are small enterprises which are processing agricultural products or provide building material. Also the construction sector could benefit from the growing tourism in the last few years.
Looking at the export market, La Palma's agriculture dominates, but the balance of trade is significant negative. While seventy percent of all agricultural products have to be imported from Spain, the rate for animal products and other goods (like cars, gasoline and consumer goods) is even higher.
Most of precipitation runs off unused through the calderas to the ocean. While some accumulation lakes exist in the north, there is quite no surface water on La Palma. Because the level of ground water decreased sharply in the past, depth drillings for water are rarely too. To make things worse, the agriculture's need for water is enormous. In summary water is a key economic factor and water shortage a considerable problem on La Palma.
La Palma's road system is about 1200 km and most roads are in well condition but sometimes – of course – very curvy. There are only few hard accessible places or villages in the north which are not connected to the main roads. A circular road (LP-1 and LP-2) with a length of 180km covers the whole island (Santa Cruz–Los Cancajos–Mazo–Fuencaliente–Los Llanos–Tijarafe–Puntagorda–Barlovento–San Andrés–Puntallana–Santa Cruz); another communication road connects the east with the west from Los Llanos to Los Cancajos with two tunnels. A third road connects the east with the northwest (LP-4) and passes the highest mountain, the Roque de los Muchachos.
The public transport system operates on the whole island, but in some areas there are only few buses per day
The bay of Santa Cruz is used as a port since the Spanish conquerors arrived. Today daily ferries connect La Palma with the other islands and the Spanish peninsula. In the past some ferries went to the new-built port of Tazacorte on the west coast too.
After the construction of the new airport near Santa Cruz in 1970 the old airport in Brena Alta was closed down. After its upgrade in 1987, Santa Cruz de la Palma (SPC) became the sixth international airport on Canary Islands. Direct flights to Tenerife, Grand Canary and Madrid run daily and the whole year round to other destinations abroad. Since the expansion in 2011 with a new Terminal and multi-storey car park La Palma's airport certainly will be prepared for all future developments.