La Palma is the most North Westerly of the Canaries and is distinctive because it’s been relatively untouched by mass tourism. There are only a handful, the beaches are black and because of its position in the Atlantic, it attracts more cloud and rain than the others.
However that also makes it the greenest with lush vegetation in the north and thick pine forests in the mountainous centre. In fact the whole island was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and is honeycombed with a network of hiking trails. The most is the famous Ruta de los Volcanes, a hike along the spine of the volcanic ridge sitting in the centre of the island.
Santa Cruz de La Palma
The capital sits at sea level and it was a major halt on the way to and from Central and South America from the 16th century onwards. At one point it was the third most important port in the Spanish empire just behind Seville and Antwerp. These days it’s just the ferry to Tenerife and a couple of large cruise ships who moor here, but the old town is still remarkably intact.
It doesn’t take long to explore as it’s not much more than a couple of long streets running parallel to the sea, on different levels, Still, they’re lined with renaissance churches, vintage shop fronts and imposing 18th century mansions. Everything revolves round the Plaza de España which has the town hall on one side and the fortress-like 16th century El Salvador church opposite. Inside, the ornate canary pine ceiling is a fine example of Mudéjar or Islamic style architecture.
Ruta de los Volcanes from Volcan San Antonio to Salinas de Fuencaliente
La Palma is an island on the move, with volcanic activity adding land in the south, most recently. Strong seismic activity was detected in prompting speculation that another eruption is due. There’s an informative visitor centre here which details the geology and also has footage of the last eruption. There’s also a seismograph constantly monitoring volcanic activity, and today it looks like it’s safe to go outside.
I start by walking round the crater of the San Antonio volcano, formed by a year long eruption. The edge of the cone is narrow and there are stunning views into the crater, and across to the town of Fuencaliente.
I carry on across the black barren landscape, aiming for the southernmost point of the island. On my way is the Teneguía volcano, which erupted and I can’t resist climbing to the top. There’s a distinctive smell of sulphur and its lower slopes are populated by vines. The soil, coupled with the sea breezes, is responsible for producing some of La Palma’s distinctive.
I carry on downhill along what is the last section of the Ruta de los Volcanes, a longer trail which starts on the heights in the middle of the island. At the end are a couple of lighthouses and a collection of salt pans, still used for harvesting flor de sal. It’s now lunchtime and I sit on the terrace of the El Jardín de la Sal on Calle Maldonado, enjoying fresh fish and a glass of the local.