This article is part of our series on Discovering Something Different in the Canary Islands. Be sure to check out the central hub to this series here.
We think we know the Canary Islands. This group of Spanish islands in the Atlantic Ocean – off the coast of North Africa – has long been a favourite destination for those looking for year-round Sun. The Canaries are home to a wealth of fantastic resorts and hotels catering for all ages and tastes. However, those who don’t venture beyond their hotel are truly missing out as the islands are a vividly beautiful place. What’s more, even though the islands are all relatively close together each one has its own unique character.
A Landscape format image. Waves crash against sea cliffs which sit in shadows. Tumultuous sea spray fills the centre of the frame, but the ocean is calm and blue-green on the right.
La Palma stands apart from the other Canary Islands. It’s often called the ‘steepest island in the world’ and, whilst it isn’t home to the tallest mountain in the Canaries (that honour belongs to Mt. Teide on Tenerife), it certainly ‘feels’ a lot more mountainous than the other islands, with mountains running straight down into the ocean at many points. The verticality of the island leads to a climate that’s very different to the other Canaries too – Whilst the other islands are dry and almost desert-like in large areas, on La Palma there’s plenty of flowing water and besides the ubiquitous banana plantations, you’ll find lush, deep woodlands that could almost be considered rainforests.
A Landscape format image. High in the mountains, a rock ridge, illuminated gold by the sun appears to float on a sea of clouds. A vivid blue sky fills the top of the frame.
La Palma is a relatively large island, and it’s helpful to hire a vehicle to get the most out of a visit- especially if you want to head into the Island’s interior. All of the main car hire companies have a presence on the island and your hotel can help you arrange daily hire. As with all of the Canary Islands, the main roads are generally very good, but be aware that some of the side roads your sat nav may navigate you onto can be unsuitable for regular vehicles – so, it’s best to stick to the main roads when driving outside of built-up areas and don’t be afraid to double back if your sat nav takes you on a ‘shortcut’ that turns into something more like a 4×4 trail!
A Landscape format image. Above the clouds in the high mountains on Roque de los Muchachos. Enormous, near vertical cliffs can be seen in the middle of the image whilst the foreground is bathed in warm, golden light.
Below, we’ve outlined some of our suggestions to allow you to explore and discover a different, nature based side to La Palma allowing you to truly switch off and connect to the world around you.
Take A Walk in (and Above) the Clouds
Much of the fresh water on La Palma comes from a phenomenon called the ‘Mar de Nubes’ – the Sea of Clouds. This is a layer of clouds that come in across the Atlantic and hit the high mountains on the island at an altitude of between roughly 1,200 and 1,600m. Below the clouds, the weather can be humid and misty, but journey higher up the mountains and you’ll pass through the clouds and often emerge into open sunlight. The Parque Nacional de la Caldera de Taburiento sits in the centre of the island and, as the name suggests, is centred around the massive caldera – or crater – of a long-extinct volcano. A drive through this park is a spectacular experience in its own right. The landscape is almost alien and constantly shifting as the volcanic landscape of dizzying, rock spires reveal themselves and are just as quickly hidden again by cotton-wool clouds. Journey to the higher points on the island – all accessible by good roads – and you’ll understand why the clouds that create the island’s unique climate are referred to as a sea. The park is also home to a number of walking trails, ranging from short, family-friendly routes through to lengthy, multi-day hikes, challenging even for experienced hikers. There’s some suggested routes here and, if you’d prefer to have a guide, be sure to check out TUI’s suggested experiences here and here.
A Landscape format image. Jagged rock formations, illuminated gold by the Sun appear for a few moments from the shifting clouds in the high mountains on Roque de los Muchachos.
Look at the Stars
Above the clouds, La Palma enjoys clear skies for most of the year and this quality has made the island home to a number of international observatories. You’ll find these on Roque de los Muchachos on the boundary of the national park and they can clearly be seen from the LP-4 highway (the construction of these observatories means there’s great road access into the high mountains). These are all working sites performing cutting edge scientific investigation every night, so visiting the actual observatories is, understandably, difficult. However, the observatories are still quite a sight – even from a distance – and more importantly there are plenty of star-gazing experiences available on the island. TUI offer some fantastic astronomy experiences such as this.
A Landscape format image. A lush green forest emerges from a sea of clouds in the high mountains. The scene is in shade and colours are predominantly cool blues.
Follow the Coast to the North
Check out the North of the island on maps and you’ll see twisting roads that often follow cliffs. There are numerous scenic viewpoints – signposted as ‘Mirador’ – along the roads and you can easily spend a day or more taking in the sights. This is a great area to explore on two wheels, but remember that this island is steep, so if you prefer your bikes to have pedals, you may want to consider hiring an e-bike to help on some of the climbs. Look beyond the road and there’s countless wooded valleys and hidden waterfalls to discover and explore. This part of the island is relatively lightly trafficked and sparsely populated, and this is therefore a great place to find true solitude in a pristine landscape.
A Landscape format image. Powerful waves from the Atlantic Ocean fill the frame. The white water takes on a golden hue from the light of the low sun.