La Palma, the northernmost Canary Island and the 5th largest of this popular tourist archipelago, used to be known as the forgotten island. However, this decade has seen a change in its fortunes as the island sees more visitors coming to it shores. Whilst still not succumbing to mass tourism, this increase is due to the rising visibility of La Palma’s offering and, to some extent, by those already well-acquainted with the Canaries but who wish to try something a bit different.
Landing at La Palma airport 5 miles south of Santa Cruz, the tiny but bustling capital, the first thing to greet sun worshippers and hikers alike is the mountainous volcanic landscape interwoven with fertile green hills and the ever-present banana plantations. The prevalence of fauna and flora on the island is aided by the island’s rainfall; a consequence of the central high peaks of the island that capture the Atlantic westerlies.
Getting around the island does require a car and, whilst driving around the mountain roads can at times be pretty hairy, it does allow for numerous excellent photo opportunities. Places to stay are dotted around the mountainside and come in all shapes and sizes representing local Canarian culture and cuisine.
Parador de La Palma is one such hotel with local Canarian architecture and a host of native plants and fruit trees in their vast gardens. The hotel was built in the 17th century and renovated 25 years ago. Situated 5 minutes from Santa Cruz, it provides a mountain-side base from which the island can be explored
Meals can be taken on the terrace overlooking the sea and include a wide range of Canarian food including grilled local goat cheese with mojo sauce and honey, homemade croquettes, and the local Canarian dessert Principe Alberto (a nutty chocolate mousse). Canarian potatoes are on the menu and come with the red or green mojo sauce. A historic import from Venezuela whose people emigrated to the island during times of hardship, these wrinkly salted potatoes, papas bonitas, are a Canarian institution.
What else does the island have to offer? As one of the steepest islands in the world, getting around on foot is not for the faint-hearted yet the dramatic landscape rightfully attracts hikers from all over Europe. Head for the centre of the island to discover the Caldera de Taburiente National Park with its pine forests and one of the largest craters in the world. Likewise, visit Belmaco Archaeological Park or Los Tilos, home to one of the world’s last laurel forests. Los Tilos was the first part of the island to be designated a UNESCO Biosphere reserve with the whole island awarded the Biosphere Status in 2002. The tourist board have more information on all recommended routes.
Whilst La Palma’s is popular amongst the 50+ market, families are increasingly well-catered for. Bananas are the chief export on the island and the banana plantation, Ecofinca Platanologico is a perfect trip for young and old alike. Kids can walk amongst the banana trees and enjoy the array of colours displayed by both the medicinal and ornamental plants. Most popular amongst the smaller visitors are the plantation’s animals. Sheep, chickens and a donkey all contribute towards fertilising the crop and showcase the plantations bio-diversity. Tours can be booked to view the plantation and explain how the famous Palmeran banana is grown.
Just down the coast is the port of Tazacorte where dolphin-watching tours are available. Viewing bottle-nosed dolphins is practically guaranteed and other sea-life such as turtles often pay a visit. The boat, Fancy2, has a downstairs deck where under-water viewing is recommended. For the more energetic there’s always the included banana boat rides which are normally available towards the end of the trip.
The highlight of any trip to La Palma has to be star gazing. Providing one of the clearest vistas in the world, La Palma is renowned for its astro-tourism. There are many astronomical viewpoints on the island including the Llanos del Jable viewpoint in the town of El Paso, which allows visitors to view one of the furthest celestial objects visible to the naked eye, the Great Andromeda Nebula, which is situated more than 2.2 million light years away. The Roque de los muchachos vista is also recommended where, on a good night, the Milky Way is visible. Elevated at 2,396 metres above sea-level and with the clouds some 1000 metres below blocking out light pollution, the views are world-class. Indeed, as the world’s first Starlight Reserve, various laws are in place to protect its heritage and “the right to observe the stars”. Roque de los Muchachos Astrophysics Observatory is based here and open to the public daytime only where visits need to be booked a day in advance. It is important to note that the Observatory is not open at night to the public as the astrophysicists work during that time.