La Palma is the fifth largest island in the Canaries with a surface area of 706 km2 roughly in the shape of a heart. It has a population of approximately 90,000. Located in the most north-westerly of the Canaries, its main income is derived from the production of bananas with tourism coming second.
La Palma is known as the most mountainous island in the world for its size as its peak rises to 2426m above sea level.
What is one of La Palma’s most important assets? It is home to one of the most extensive fleets of telescopes to be found anywhere in the world.
The north of La Palma
The north is the oldest part of the island which remains largely unchanged and unaffected by tourism. It is typified by its green-clad mountain ridges and deep ravines with many caves and natural springs. Small hamlets scatter the ridges with traditional Canarian cottages. La Zarza archaeological museum and gorge walk with pre-Hispanic rock engravings is also in the north.
The two main towns are Barlovento in the north east and Santo Domingo in north west which are largely farming communities. Along the north east flank is the town of Los Sauces and on the north west flank, Puntagorda.
The south of La Palma
The south of the island is of a generally volcanic landscape with a central ridge running down the middle from the mid-point at El Pilar to the extreme south and which is known as the GR131 Volcano route or the Cumbre Vieja. The last two volcanic eruptions were in 1949 and 1971.
The capital of the island is located on the east coast, more or less at midpoint with the airport of Santa Cruz de La Palma (code SPC) just 10km to the south.
There are just three main holiday resorts on La Palma – Los Cancajos which lies between the airport and Santa Cruz in the east and Tazacorte and Puerto Naos in the west.
In the middle!
In the centre of La Palma is the Caldera, what was once thought to be an erosion crater but is now considered to be a mountain range rather than a crater. The Caldera forms an almost complete circle and at its opening is the Barranco de Angustias, the largest ravine on the island which flows out to sea at Tazacorte. Thus, along with the volcano route this forms a question mark shape or El Bastón (Walking Stick) in the centre of the island.
The observatory is located just below the highest point on the island of Roque de Muchachos.
Tourism is relatively new on La Palma and whilst there are numerous good beaches and coves, it is not likely to become a resort of mass tourism. The main draw for tourists is the tranquillity, diverse nature, walking and relatively recently, ‘star tourism.’
The leisure pursuits on La Palma are accented on nature with over 1000km of marked walking trails which include the 155km GR130 Camino Real (Royal Way) and the 83km GR131 El Bastón which is used for the Transvulcania Ultra Marathon. However there are good beaches, all of the black sand variety, and other watersports too. La Palma is also now offering Star Tourism with observing holidays and it is also regarded as one of the prime locations in the world for paragliding.
La Palma’s first main fiesta is in February with the Diá de los Indianos, representing the return of the many Palmerans who emigrated to Cuba and Venezuela in the 1950’s and returned in later years. The Bajada, literally the ‘bringing down’ when the statue of the Virgen of the Snows is brought down from the church of Las Nieves, is another of the largest fiestas which takes place over the course of two weeks. The largest Bajada fiesta is held every five years with many celebrations culminating in the Dance of the Dwarves.
Like all the other islands in the Canaries, fiestas take place all year round.
The main road, the LP1, circumnavigates the north of the island from Santa Cruz de la Palma to Los Llanos in the west. The LP3 crosses the centre of the island between Santa Cruz de la Palma and Los Llanos with two dual carriageway tunnels cutting through the mountainous ridge in the middle of the island, one of 2km in length for traffic travelling in the west to east direction and another shorter tunnel higher up for east/west traffic. The LP2 runs around the south of the island from Los Llanos to Santa Cruz.
Buses are operated by Transportes de La Palma and offer a reliable and regular service all around the island.
There is one main hospital on La Palma and this is located in the east at Buenavista de Arriba, Breña Alta on the LP3 main road above the capital. In addition, each small town has its own medical centre, Centro de Salud, and pharmacies.