Visiting La Palma - What to See and Do
(La Palma Airport SPC, Spain)
The nickname La Isla Bonita (the beautiful island) is a very apt description of La Palma, one of the main islands in Spain's Canary Island archipelago. It is connected to the rest of the region via two ports and an airport outside of Santa Cruz de la Palma.
With a total population of around 100,000 people, the island only has a handful of small towns. Most of them are quite pleasant, offering travellers a place to stay, eat and shop. However, the real attraction of La Palma is its countryside. A mix of soaring volcanic mountain ranges and lush lowland valleys creates a marvellous environment for outdoor recreation.
You can climb the 2,440-metre / 8,000-foot El Roque de los Muchachos to stick your head above the clouds or explore the underground water tunnels carved out by volcanic activity and rainfall. There are great hiking trails all over La Palma, and the tourist office in Santa Cruz has excellent maps for visitors. In the centre of the island is one of the world's largest volcanic calderas, a highlight well worth visiting.
Ten things you must do in La Palma
- The capital of La Palma is Santa Cruz, a mellow little town with a nice range of colonial architecture and cobblestone streets. This is the main port of the island, and the best place to find restaurants, bars and shops. Since most of the hotels are here, Santa Cruz makes a good base while exploring the natural attractions of the island.
- El Roque de los Muchachos is not only La Palma's highest mountain, but also a superb place to take a hike. The summit is easy to reach by car, except for a few days each winter when it actually snows on the peak. A paved road leads to a major astronomical observatory, so access to the summit is limited to the daytime. The real thrill here is walking above a sea of clouds, and if the weather is clear you get a 360 degree view of the whole island.
- If you approach the island by air, you cannot miss the massive volcanic crater at its centre. The Caldera de Taburiente ranks amongst the world's biggest and is a really exciting destination if you are the adventurous type. You will need a guide to navigate the trails leading into the caldera area, but it is an excursion that always rewards with great memories and photographs.
- Los Llanos de Aridane is La Palma's other large town on the western side of the mountains, being a useful base of operations if you don't want to stay in the capital Santa Cruz. It has a solid range of amenities for travellers, making most of its income off tourism. This town is the most convenient starting point for excursions into the caldera area.
- Los Tilos is one of the island's most popular destinations for its unique lava flow tunnels. Carved naturally by rain, the locals transformed these tunnels into a water system for their villages. You can walk through the system of 13 tunnels for a really unusual adventure. The route is well-marked and not dangerous, offering at least one superb lookout point along the way, with tremendous views over the sea.
- The Ruta de los Volcanoes is perhaps the best trail for hikers who want to really immerse themselves in the fascinating volcanic environment that dominates La Palma. It can be done in a day, running along the ridge of the Cumbre Vieja, a traditional mule path that affords awesome views of volcanic valleys all the way.
- La Palma also has plenty of pretty beaches that are one of its main tourist draws. The biggest and busiest of the bunch are the beaches of Charco Verde and Puerto de Naos, located in Los Llanos de Aridane. There are lovely beaches at Tazacorte such as El Volcan Beach, as well as outside of Fuencaliente at Zamora Beach. Most beaches near towns have basic facilities like changing rooms and perhaps a few cafés for food and drinks.
- To escape the relative crowds of the island's two principal port towns, stay on the warmer west coast. Here you can find little fishing villages like Tazacorte and Puerto Naos, that have just enough amenities to cater to the few travellers who visit. The beaches all along this coast are beautiful and the atmosphere as mellow as you like.
- The capital Santa Cruz de la Palma has a number of interesting 16th-century churches, such as the Church of Santo Domingo. This town is where you will find the bulk of the island's historic attractions. Simply wander around its small patchwork of neighbourhoods like San Telmo and you can find quaint cafés, bars, local shops and other landmarks.
- If you've seen all the sights on La Palma, you can take a boat over to La Gomera, an even smaller island that is essentially one big volcano with slopes that taper down to the sea on all sides. Here, the UNESCO World Heritage Site Garajonay National Park is a worthy destination for anyone looking for an adventurous hike into the volcanic wilds that dominate the Canary Islands.