This is a beautiful little gem of an island and my favourite of the four Canary Islands I visited this time. It is a small island, volcanic in origin, covered in ancient forests with high altitudes second only to Tenerife. The huge Caldera in the centre of the island was allegedly responsible for the word ‘caldera’ entering the geographical vocabulary. Vast areas of the island are covered in ancient laurel forest and walking is very popular.
I had planned to arrive in La Palma in the evening, flying in from Tenerife North airport. I had booked an apartment in the capital, Santa Cruz de la Palma, and a hire car from the airport. We took off from Tenerife as planned (Canary Fly twin propellor plane again, 30 minute flight, €30) but as we were due to land the Captain announced that he couldn’t see the runway due to low cloud. He said he’d go round again and if he still couldn’t see anything, we’d have to fly back to Tenerife! And so that’s what we did!
Once back in Tenerife airport, the flight attendants disappeared without a word and we were left to our own devices whilst the airline waited for the weather to clear. I started chatting to some of my fellow passengers and made friends with Yunior – originally from Cuba – and his British husband, Alex, who live on La Palma and had just popped over to Tenerife for a business meeting. They bought me a gin and tonic, became my new friends and livened up my evening nicely!
A lot of poorly organised to-ing and fro-ing ensued with the airline ground staff extremely unprepared for this eventuality. There were about 30 of us in all, mostly Spanish residents of La Palma, and they were a friendly (and very patient) bunch. We chatted whilst we waited and translated the ‘Passengers’ rights’ document they handed out in English! Eventually we were dispatched on a coach to a hotel in the south of the island – an hour’s drive away! We arrived at midnight and were allocated apartments in an enormous holiday complex which might have been nice under different circumstances. My apartment had 6 beds!
The bar was shut and there was nothing to eat and nowhere nearby to get anything. We were told the coach would come and collect us at either 5 am or 7 am the next morning! Hungry and thirsty, Yunior and I convinced the kind barman to serve us beer even though he was closed and the receptionist took pity on us and gave us a pizza delivery leaflet and Yunior ordered food for us all. We teamed up with two German ladies, Katja and Gitta, who also live in La Palma who kindly invited us to their apartment to eat our food. A lovely little midnight feast party with new friends!
After 3 hours sleep, I leapt out of one of the 6 beds in my enormous apartment and joined some of the others for a quick buffet breakfast and the 5 am bus back up to the airport. My friends opted for the 7 am bus and a little lie in. By 7.30 am I was boarding the plane to La Palma and by 8.30 am I was on the ground on a clear and beautiful morning!
Everyone was amazing about arriving a day late (I had called to let them know)! Hertz moved my reservation and upgraded my car to a Renault Megane with a bit more ‘oomph’ and the lovely people at Rocamar Apartments in Santa Cruz de La Palma (booking.com) allowed me to move my reservation. I was due to fly back to Tenerife that same afternoon and fly on the next day to La Gomera but decided to take the boat instead as it meant I had more time to spend in beautiful La Palma and could go directly to La Gomera.
I abandoned the car and set off on foot to explore the capital and buy my boat ticket for tonight. Santa Cruz is the capital of La Palma but with 16,300 inhabitants is actually the second largest town on the island after Los Llanos de Aridane.
It’s a beautiful, colourful and compact little town right on the island’s east coast. The port is in the centre of town and the airport is only a five minute drive away. Carnival had just finished and there was still evidence of recent festivities hanging from the buildings and a festive atmosphere in the air! The sea front is lined with typical Canarian houses with flower-festooned balconies. They are all beautifully looked after, painted in bright colours with flowers and plants cascading over the balcony tops.
In 2002 UNESCO declared the whole island of La Palma a World Biosphere Reserve. It is known as La Isla Bonita, the beautiful island, and is famous for its volcanoes, lush forest, beautiful beaches and clear skies. It is well worth a visit!
With over 1,000 kms of well signposted and cared-for paths, it is a dream for walkers of all levels. I read about Los Tilos Forest on the plane over so decided to make a walk in the forest the highlight of my day here. I drove the narrow and stunning drive through forest and banana plantations to Los Tilos Forest and did an amazing 2 km walk up into the heart of the forest to enjoy the breath-taking views over the forest from the Mirador del Espigon – a tiny viewpoint situated on top of a very narrow rocky outcrop literally hanging over the valley – definitely not for the faint-hearted!
The walk down was almost as tough as the walk up! I loved being in the forest but after 4 hours of walking, I was quite happy to be reunited with my car. To finish off my lovely day on La Isla Bonita I thought I would go and visit my new friends Alex and Yunior in Puntagorda – on the west side of the island. Little did I know that 50 kms would take me over 2 hours on the bendiest road known to man!
I drove north from the forest of Los Tilos towards the town of Los Sauces. From the road I had spectacular views of the Los Tilos Viaduct. Built in 2004, it is 353 ms wide and 150 ms high with an arch that spans 255 ms, the bridge enables Highway LP-1 to link the capital city of Santa Cruz with the northern provinces. I’m happy to say that when you drive over it, you can’t see what is underneath you and you remain blissfully unaware until later!
The drive across the north part of the island was stunning through beautiful pine forests with ear-popping altitude changes. Eventually I arrived in Puntagorda! The boys were very patient with my inability to find their house and together with their lovely dogs (Yaiza, Wahira, Amande and Freddie) gave me a very warm welcome. We sat in their beautiful garden with amazing, uninterrupted views of the sunset through blossoming trees. Alex rustled up drinks and a mini feast before I sadly had to get back in the car and drive to the airport to drop off my car by 9 pm. One of things we all agreed on is that part of the fun of travelling is the friends you make along the way. Thanks for the hospitality guys! Sadly I had a problem downloading the photos we took so I have borrowed (with permission) a few pictures of the boys’ and their lovely garden.
Luckily there was a slightly quicker but no less bendy route back. It was dark so I couldn’t actually see the fact that I was descending into a huge volcanic caldera! The twinkling lights down in the valley gave me a clue though. I dropped the car off, took the bus back into Santa Cruz and wondered through the streets stopping for a glass of wine and a snack before grabbing a few hours sleep. Getting up at 2.30 am is never good but it was quite exciting walking along the promenade to the sound of crashing waves to catch my 4 am ship to La Gomera.
The Volcan de Taburiente is a huge ship built to carry over a thousand passengers as well as vehicles and cargo. There were only about 6 of us waiting to board but one of the many great things about any Spanish territory is that where there are people, there is coffee! I had a delicious coffee, boarded the ship, said goodbye to beautiful La Palma and tried to get a couple of hours more sleep before arriving in La Gomer
My thanks to Katja, Gitta, Alex and Junior and all the other lovely people I met here and on my way here. I hope to be back one day!
NEXT ISLAND: The last in the series of Islas Canarias, La Gomera.