La Palma, the ‘isla bonita’ of a thousand landscapes
*Note: Barely a few weeks ago, Cumbre Vieja erupted with its lava flows burying hundreds of homes and everything in its path. We hope with all our might that there be no more devastation, that no more people are affected and that the islanders and all those affected receive aid as soon as possible and that this suffering ends. This island and its inhabitants are worth their weight in gold and all this suffering is a tragedy. We have to stand with La Palma today and always.
La Palma is one of the eight islands in the Canary Islands and is known as the ‘Isla Bonita’ (beautiful island). And it’s no wonder. La Palma is one of those places that remains engraved in your brain and heart forever, and that’s no exaggeration.
Welcome to La Palma!
La Palma is located at the most Northwestern point of the Canary Islands and belongs to the Santa Cruz de Tenerife province. It has an area of 708 sq km and a population of over 85,000 inhabitants. It is divided into 14 municipalities and has a great number of different landscapes and climates that has led the whole island to be declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a Starlight Reserve and Tourist Destination.
A privileged climate
La Palma, together with the rest of the Canary Islands, has a spring climate throughout practically the whole year. This means you can take a dip at the beach in mid-December or go hiking in August without melting. That’s why this island is “open for business” all year round, and it has become, along with its sister islands, an ideal tourist destination 365 days a year.
Even so, this island is also known as the island of microclimates, and this is part of its charm.
An island for hikers
La Palma is heaven for hikers. But this doesn’t mean that anyone who is not used to walking along paths or mountains are excluded from this dream place. Mainly because this island has different levels and alternatives depending on the approach we want to take. What is interesting is that it is a destination offering multiple adventures in very different and beautiful settings. And that’s what makes it unique. As you will be able to see for yourselves when you go, La Palma’s natural environment is marvellous and surprising.
#Efectolapalma (The La Palma effect)
La Palma has a special vibe that is captivating, even for “town rats” like us. It can be uncomfortable because accessing certain sites requires time and effort, but the pleasure that discovering those places gives you makes any “buts” vanish immediately. Because La Palma has the power to regenerate, revitalize, relax, disconnect and recharge you with very good energy.
A thousand and one landscapes
The Green Island is a collage of landscapes: black sand beaches, volcanoes, moutains covered in pine trees, infinite cacti, thousands of banana plantations, rocks that resemble the Arizona desert, brightly coloured villages, emerald green natural pools, white and pink salt fields, and the sea in its widest palette of blues…In fact, more than a third of its surface is protected, with the National Park of La Caldera de Taburiente as its best example. Its topography, a result of a dramatic formation process over millions of years, allows us the distinction of a large number of microclimates and a great variety of surprising landscapes and contrasts in its vegetation. That’s why you’ll get the feeling to be visiting different places, and that the time spent on the island will feel much longer than it is and more intense. It’s hard to put into words…
Starlight Tourist Destination
La Palma is the first Starlight Reserve in the world, as it has one of the best night skies on the planet.
At its highest point, at an altitude of 2,426m, is the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, above the so called “sea of clouds”, where there is a clean atmosphere, free of turbulence, stabilized by the ocean and the trade winds. That’s why this observatory is considered one of the best places in the world for stargazing.
Long live bananas from the Canary Islands!
The island’s subtropical climate favours the appearance of bananas. This delicious fruit is the only one that has the PGI seal (Protected Geographical Indication) and there are many plantations in La Palma, that resemble the seas of olive groves in Andalucía. Crème de la crème!
What to see in La Palma?
La Palma is a destination that takes several days to explore. Meaning at least a week to be able to see all its splendor. As we mentioned before, although the island is small, its orography can make reaching certain places difficult and that means time and hours in walks and in the car. If you go for three days, you will hardly have time to see anything.
These are the hotspots that are a must in our opinion:
The Volcano Trail
This hiking route is mandatory. It can be planned in different ways, but spectacular views are guaranteed regardless. We started from the San Antonio Volcano – it costs 5 euros for non-residents, this includes parking, access to the San Antonio Volcano’s visitors’ centre and a stroll along the top of the crater- and from there, we went to Teneguía, which is the last volcano to have erupted on the island, in 1971.
Cubo de la Galga
This is a circular route that is approximately 11kms long and lasts about four hours. We opted for the shortest option that consists of leaving the car in the car park (where the Environmental Information Point is) and entering the Cubo de Galga trail on foot leaving via the same point having gone up to the natural viewpoint. It’s a two-hour walk (one hour each way) and for us, that was more than enough as you will be amazed at the laurel forest and the feeling of being in Narnia. Note: We recommend using trekking poles, if you have them.
The day you visit Cubo de Galga take the opportunity to see the Bosque de los Tilos (the Til tree or Lime forest). This beautiful place is home to one of the most important laurel forests in the Canary archipelago. It is an ecosystem from the Tertiary Period which became, in its day, the first Biosphere Reserve on the island. The longest route reaches the crater called Nacientes de Marco y Cordero and the shortest routes go up to the Espigón Atravesado Natural Viewpoint or up to the Barandas Natural Viewpoint. What you cannot miss under any circumstances is the waterfall. It is amazing and if you feel up to it, you can cross it!
Roque de los Muchachos
It is the highest point on the whole island, and it takes an hour and a half by car along a winding road to get there. The landscape is amazing, but we warning you so that you can plan ahead because as well as the time it takes to get there and back, you have to take into account the time you will spend at this incredible place.
When you go, we recommend you do so first thing in the morning so you can park easily. From 12 o’clock midday, you may encounter traffic and traffic jams. Once you arrive, there are two viewpoints you can access on foot (hiking shoes at all times please). The trail to the last viewpoint is very narrow and there are no railings. As there is a sheer drop on the right hand side… be careful and sensible. Bearing that in mind, all you have to do is enjoy the views, the landscape and the sea of clouds formed by the trade winds coming from Tenerife. This place is magical and sometimes you can see the islands of La Gomera and El Hierro.
As we visited in summer, the pink lilac Tower of Jewels flowers had already dried but their shape looks like they are from another planet. In spring, they can be seen in all their glory.
Roque de los Muchachos Observatory
The observatory is on the edge of the Taburiente National Park, at an altitude of 2396 metres above sea level and it is amazing. It has one of the most complete arrays of telescopes in the world. And thanks to the sky above La Palma, this observatory enjoys the best conditions for astronomical research and that is why it attracts some of the giant telescopes of the future as well as the next generation of Cherenkov telescopes designed to study the universe in very high energy gamma rays.
The site currently hosts the largest optical-infrared telescope as well as twenty other telescopes and astronomical instruments for different types of study: nocturnal observations, robotic observing, solar physics and high energy astrophysics. Great advances in the study of the Universe have been done with these telescopes.
Caldera de Taburiente National Park
The spectacularity of this crack that has a diameter of eight kms and a depth of one and a half, covered with thick forests of Canary Pine trees scored by deep gullies is one of the greatest tourist attractions of the so-called “Isla Bonita”.
There are different ways of visiting it because, as well as being enormous, it has many routes. From the cascade of colours in the Barranco de las Angustias – summer visits are not recommended because it is dry and you cannot enjoy its full splendour- to the Cumbrecita Natural Viewpoint. The best thing to do is to go to the visitors’ centres for recommendations on the best hiking routes, according to your expectations.
Porís de Candelaria
Porís de Candelaria is a large volcanic cave bathed by the ocean, the inside of which is home to a small fishing village with twenty whitewashed houses of brightly coloured doors and windows. These houses are over 80 years old and partly embedded in the rock. Their owners use them to escape the heat and enjoy their holidays. The truth is it is an impressive hotspot.
Additionally, you should know that getting to Porís (which means dock or natural port) de Candelaria is no mean feat. The access to the closest car park is complicated and you need to cross very steep and narrow winding dirt tracks. But once you manage to park the car, it becomes much simpler. You only have to walk along a descending path for which we recommend you use hiking shoes. After this last effort, you’ll stumble on this wonder. You will have seen many photos but it’s nothing compared to seeing it live.
Apart from taking a thousand photos, save some time for a swim. It’s well worth it! Ah! Take your snorkelling kit.
La Fajana pools
They are situated to the north of the island, next to the Punta Cumplida Lighthouse. When we went, there was hardly anybody there and the truth is they are great. Emerald green waters and lots of fish. Incredible! Also, after taking a mandatory swim, the best thing is to have lunch in La Gaviota restaurant which is next to the pools and where you can enjoy delicious fresh fish as well as delighting in the views.
Definitely our favourite beach.
You need to drive down a very steep road and later walk down a very sharp slope but it is well worth it. What beauty! Swimming is not recommended but it is safe close to the shore.
The Playa Echentive or Playa Nueva Fuencaliente is a pebble beach, located in the south of La Palma island. The beach was formed in 1971 following the eruption of Teneguía. The unique landscape surrounding this beach hides spectacular natural pools in which you can take a relaxing swim even on days with large waves. Very close by you can visit Fuente Santa, a healing water spring that was buried by the same eruption that created this beach. Highly recommendable! Don’t forget your water shoes and your snorkelling mask.
Playa de los Cancajos
This beach is right in front of the hotel we stayed in, Hacienda San Jorge, and although it’s not spectacular, it’s very quiet – obviously depending on the time of day and the season-, it has black sand and some cubist style mounds opposite.
Fuencaliente Lighthouse and Salt fields
The Fuencaliente Lighthouse is located on the southernmost area of the island and it is also the end of the volcano hiking trail. The salt fields are made up of a beautiful pastel colour palette and a restaurant, the Jardín de la Sal, that we recommend you book in advance and where the food is great. Just next to it, there is a small beach where you can rest and enjoy a refreshing swim.
Mirador de los Dragos
It’s not the most spectacular natural viewpoint but you can take a walk from there to other viewpoints. What is really interesting are the enormous dragon trees.
Villages of bright colours and flowers
Santa Cruz de La Palma
It is the capital of La Palma. It was founded on 3rd May 1493 by Alonso Fernández de Lugo. The 16th century was its most glorious time, as it became the third port in Europe after Antwerp and Seville. The city has temples with abundant Flamenco religious art pieces and a unique series of balconies carved in wood full of colourful flowers looking onto the sea. It’s a small town that is easy to get around in. Don’t miss Plaza España, Calle O’Day known locally as Calle Real, the balconies on Avenida Marítima or the Mercado de la Recova. Don’t forget to have a barraquito aka Canarian coffee in the Café de Don Manuel at the Casa Cabrera.
This beautiful town with a port and a beach has houses in a thousand colours. The Hacienda de Abajo is located here, an old 17th century sugar plantation which was renovated and converted into a luxury hotel. George Clooney stayed here with his family recording his TV series in February 2020. It has an excellent restaurant called El Sitio.
Los Llanos de Aridane
Located to the west of the island, this municipality offers one of the main tourist hubs on the island, Puerto Naos. It has two of the beaches on the island that have been awarded the Blue Flag, Puerto Naos and Charco Verde. It is also one of the entrances to the Caldera de Taburiente National Park. Its historic old town stands out with its show of palm tree architecture and a hundred graffiti carried out by well known illustrators.
It is a bay of black sand and pebbles, about 150m long, where small coves are formed with moderate waves that act as swimming areas. It’s also ideal for watching the sun set and eating traditional Canarian cuisine at Kiosko 7.
This is the northernmost town on the island and includes the Roque de los Muchachos Astronomic Observatory within its limits. Blessed with an amazing and beautiful yet, at the same time relaxing, rural landscape, it also has good walking trails and is a great example of rural tourism. Here, in the Las Tricias district is the Camu-Camu tapas bar.
Another aspect that surprised us the most about the island was its gastronomy. Beyond papas arrugas and mojos (typical Canarian potatoes with sauces), the island has excellent gastronomic options and very good restaurants.
These are some of our recommendations:
La Gatera gastrobar: We ate here on two days because, for us, this was the Top number 1 restaurant in La Palma. Excellent, creative and very flavoursome food. The chef is a genius and the service is exceptional. Take note because this place is going to make some noise. P.S. The brioche with scarlet shrimp and the sweet potato salad are amazing!
El Duende del Fuego: We ate the best rice we have ever tasted here. This restaurant is located in an old palm tree house and its chef and owner is a great guy who is passionate about good food. His menu has many options for people with intolerance to different food groups.
El Jardín de la Sal: This is a must on the island. Located at the Fuencaliente salt fields, this food house is fantastic. Its menu is very comprehensive, and its fresh fish is just crazy – we still recall the sea bass we had. Mmm…- P.S. Order the turmeric and raisin bread, it’s delicious!
La Gaviota: Not to be missed if you visit the natural pools at La Fajana. Its limpets with mojo sauce are really tasty, as are the shrimp and the tuna cooked in any style. Ah! If you have a sweet tooth, they have polvito canario. It’s a bomb but it’s delicious.
Camu Camu taperia: It is in the pretty town of Garafía, at the viewpoint. They serve modern recipes here like hummus, falafel or different salads in a very cosy environment.
Casa Goyo / Chipi Chipi: Both restaurants belong to the same owners. The former is more modest and they serve great fried fish there- the fried moray eel is incredible- and the latter, that has a special and more polished look, stands out thanks to its dense vegetation and its rooms with round windows and doors in white and green. They both play the same game: a space with different doors that lead to rooms that can be dined in, but at Chipi-Chipi, they specialize in grilled meats.
El Rincón de Moraga: A beautiful spot where they serve excellent dishes in a pretty patio. It is at Llanos de Aridane. The service and the attention to customers are excellent.
La Casa del Volcán: It is located next to the San Antonio Volcano. They produce really delicious wines here. It is a cosy place to dine under the light of a thousand stars.
Kiosko 7: Located right at the entrance of the coastal town of El Remo and just a few kilometres from Puerto Naos. We loved its modern and “futuristic” design, as well as its dishes and, of course, its ocean views.
Other recommendations we received but that we didn’t try were Bodegas Tamanca, Enriclai (it was closed temporarily) and Franchipani.
If you love a good coffee, you have to go to Café de Don Manuel. They have different locations and the specialty coffee they prepare is really good. The Pastelería Zulay, where they also have this coffee, is great to sweeten your day with their cheesecake croissant or any of their other pastry delicacies.
We stayed at the Hacienda San Jorge, this is an old banana plantation converted into a very cosy lovely hotel. An oasis full of native plants, that has all the commodities to help you relax after an endless day of adventures. We highly recommend it because it brings you the essence of typical Canarian accommodation and because of the excellent service and attention, as well as an enormous swimming pool in which to strand yourself at the end of the day.
During our stay there, we felt that time stood still and that everything flowed better. Additionally, it’s in a good location, ten minutes from the airport, in front of the Los Cancajos beach, ten minutes from Santa Cruz and it has really good options for accessing the main natural attractions on the island by car. A winner in accommodation.
Additionally, we combined this accommodation with a night at the Punta Cumplida Lighthouse, Spain’s oldest lighthouse which was converted into a luxury hotel in 2019, and which we’ll tell you about in another post. A true wonder!
As we said, the island is paradise and you need to be well equipped to discover it. In order to do so, it is essential you take hiking shoes. This is not an option but a necessity in order to enjoy everything that La Palma has to offer in comfort.
Similarly, if you have trekking poles, we also recommend them. Above all, for long walks and steep slopes. They help quite a bit.
Although it is not a beach island, it is one of natural pools. And as these are rock pools, you need to take water shoes so as not to hurt your feet and be able to enjoy them.
A hat and sun cream are also two basic musts, because although it may not be scorching heat, the sun rays do their thing, and you have to protect yourself.
Regarding clothes for hiking, the most important thing is that they are comfortable. It’s also advisable that you take something weatherproof, a thin jacket or a sweatshirt, shorts and, of course, swimwear.
Another tip we want to share is that La Palma is not an island to discover alone. You need to have company as there are areas where there is no signal and if you are the driver, you need someone to give you directions because, even when Google Maps works, it’s not always reliable. Also, with an island as packed with adventure as this one is, it’s always better to be able to share it! In any case, you always have the option to hire organized tours with Isla Bonita Tours.
We’ll say no more, having experienced it, we can only recommend this destination. It has fascinated us and we will return as soon as we can.
(*) Photos by Ely Sánchez and Cecilia Camacho