Canary Islands Guide - La Palma Island
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La Palma
By Lucy Corne

Although tourism is on the increase in La Palma, the ‘Isla Bonita’ (pretty island) still offers untouched landscapes and its towns ooze traditional Canarian charm. A little over 2500m above sea level at its highest point, the interior is characterised by sweeping views and nausea-inducing roads. Top activities on the island are hiking and star gazing: the observatory at the island’s highest point, Roque de los Muchachos, is among the most important in the northern hemisphere.

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The Caldera de Taburiente takes up most of the central part of the island and its shaded hikes, hidden waterfalls and simply breathtaking views deserve a full day’s exploration. Just south of the Caldera, the landscape changes and becomes undeniably volcanic, with the bright green of sturdy pine trees providing a glorious contrast to the charred backdrop. The best way to really discover La Palma’s volcanic side is on the Ruta de los Volcanes, a superlative if challenging hike, stretching from El Paso in the centre of the island to the southern coast. En route you tramp along paths of volcanic ash and pass the cones of some dormant but far from extinct volcanoes. The route can end in the low key village of Fuencaliente (AKA Los Canarios) but those with energy to spare can carry on to the Volcán San Antonio, which has an excellent visitor centre and easy paths allowing you to get up close to one of the Canary Islands’ more recent volcanoes. The visitor centre is also accessible by car if you don’t fancy hiking. The full hike is long, hot and tough – allow six to seven hours and take plenty of water as there is nowhere to stock up once you set off.

There are no golden beaches in La Palma, but the black sand coves have an undeniable charm – not least because they are often deserted. Shun the modest tourist resorts and stay in the charming capital, Santa Cruz.

Top layer - Santa Cruz de La Palma. Bottom Layer - A La Palma beach view.

Santa Cruz de La Palma
La Palma’s largest settlement is a clear contender for the title of prettiest capital, with its perfectly preserved Canarian balconies and peaceful, cobbled streets. Close to both the port and airport, it makes sense to use Santa Cruz as a base while you’re travelling around the island. There is a small tourist resort, Los Cancajos, 3km south of the town, but it lacks the appeal that the capital has.

The first thing you should do is wander the town, admiring the photogenic homes and many, many churches scattered around. Obviously if you’re happy to snap the churches from outside you can wander at any hour, but should you want to take a look inside, mornings are the best time to visit.

Some of Santa Cruz’s streets are steep and after an hour or so of wandering you might be in need of a pit stop. Luckily there are plenty of good pavement cafes hidden away in traffic-free side streets and courtyards. La Palma is a dream for travellers with a sweet tooth as it is known for the array of traditional desserts, including bienmesabe (which literally translated means ‘it tastes good to me’).

Once you’ve wandered enough, there are two good museums worth a visit, the Museo Naval and the Museo Insular de la Palma, which tells you everything you could need to know about the isla bonita, from geology and history to flora, fauna and festivals.

Finally, and rather surprisingly, the capital has a small but vibrant night life scene. There are a couple of nightclubs, but most people prefer to grab a mojito from one of the many excellent Cuban bars (Cuban culture is huge on La Palma) and sip it on a terrace under the stars.

Continue: La Palma Island, page 2 - Parque Nacional Caldera de Taburiente

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Canary Island photographs provided by Lucy Corne.
Copyright 2009. Jerrold's Travel Guides, LLC, holds exclusive rights for internet publication.