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Escape the Winter in La Palma

Angela Wood

Senior Contributor

Unlike livelier neighbouring islands of Tenerife and Gran Canaria, La Palma is a veritable feast of natural beauty. On this verdant isle in the Canaries, you can hike through UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, stargaze at the astronomical observatory, take a cultural tour of capital Santa Cruz or dine on delectable seafood. The weather is mild year-round, so pack your bags and get ready to explore one of the most unspoilt islands of the archipelago. Here are our top tips of things to do as you Escape the Winter in La Palma.

Hike through the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of La Palma is akin to an enchanted forest, a place where cotton-wool clouds hover above treetops and giant ferns drip with moisture. As you stroll along ancient pathways you are transported back millions of years when these Laurisilva forests began their existence. A great place to begin your hike of the biosphere reserve is at Los Tilos in the north of the island. Begin at Los Tilos Information Centre making your way through tunnels, subtropical forests and canyons observing rare plants, endemic bird and insects along the way. As you follow the pathways, gushing waterfalls appear, cascading down rocky promontories. Cascada de los Tilos is a great place to break for a picnic with friends, photograph the verdant landscape or spend time reconnecting with nature. After your hike, head a few miles towards the coast to San Andrés y Sauces and cool off with a dip in the best natural pool in La Palma – Charco Azul.

Los Tilos ravine, La Palma Island

Photographer: Finiestafoto

Stargazing at the Observatory

With low air pollution, temperate climate and clear skies, La Palma is one of the best places in the world for stargazing, and there’s no better place to view the night skies than at Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory. During daylight hours, book a guided tour of Gran Telescopio de Canarias. It’s one of the world’s largest optical-infared telescopes and the most advanced, consisting of 36 hexagonal segments, which act as a single mirror. To put this into context, the power of sight from the telescope is equivalent to four million human eyes! In the evenings, group and private tours can be arranged to 16 astronomical viewpoints across the island. Here you can marvel at the constellations and question your existence in our vast universe. If you want to experience something a little different, book a Starparty VIP tour – a personalised trip which includes solar observation, wine tasting, an astronomy talk and stargazing! 

The Milky Way over Roque de los Muchachos Astronomical Observatory

Photographer: Ingaav

Scuba and Snorkelling in the Atlantic

Whether you’re a seasoned diver or learning to scuba, La Palma caters to all. Year-round diving, good visibility and warm sea temperatures tempt seafaring enthusiasts from all over the world. That’s not all. Some of the most spectacular underwater landscapes lie beneath La Palma. With basalt archways, canyons and unusual lava formations, there’s plenty to entertain even the seasoned diver. Most sites are located around the southern regions of the island, where subterranean environments are home to soft corals, sponges and algae. The dive site Arecife de la Casa is superb for entry level divers. The house reef is only 50 metres and you’re likely to see mackerel, Greater Amberjacks, dotted morays and skipjack tuna on your travels. There are several coral reefs and lava formations in this region too, so plenty to captivate a newbie. Advanced divers will enjoy diving at Torre de Malpique – where angel sharks, manta rays and even 40 memorial crucifixes can be seen - the latter dedicated to missionaries who were attacked by pirates! If you prefer to remain nearer the surface many dive schools offer both diving and snorkeling tours.

Scuba diving in the Atlantic Ocean

Photographer: Stylefoto24

Cultural Tour of Santa Cruz de La Palma

Santa Cruz de La Palma is awash with a kaleidoscope of colours. Along slender streets, houses with wooden balconies are bedecked in flowers and decorated in eye-catching shades of ochre, apricot and Wedgewood blue. It’s fair to say the city emits a certain Caribbean vibe as Santa Cruz was one of the main commercial ports for New World explorers. You can see remnants of the city’s trading heritage at the working Silk Museum and in tobacco farms and banana plantations across the island. If you wish to explore Santa Cruz from an architectural perspective, Plaza de España has some of the best Renaissance architecture in the archipelago. Overlooking the square, 16th century Iglesia del Salvador showcases impressive Mudéjar ceilings and a tower built of volcanic stone, but if you want to delve deeper into the island’s maritime heritage venture to Plaza de la Alameda. Here, at the side of the road sits a replica of the Santa Maria – one of Christopher Columbus’ famous ships. It contains the city’s Naval Museum displaying a selection of nautical charts, model ships and navigational instruments. As you wander the decks, you begin to imagine what it was like to sail to uncharted distant shores in centuries gone by. Before you depart the city, don’t forget to visit Santa Cruz Market located in an old hospital. You can find a variety of fresh local produce here and even sample a glass of sugarcane juice garnished with mint, lemon and a shot of rum!

Santa Cruz city on La Palma island in Spain

Photographer: RossHelen

Explore the Route of the Volcanoes

La Palma’s Route of the Volcanoes is divided into three regions – Caldera de Taburiente in the centre of the island, and to the south, Cumbre Nueva and Cumbre Vieja. The landscapes of each area change dramatically, so if you plan to hike the 15-mile or so route, remember to dress for all occasions! The most popular trek begins at Caldera de Taburiente National Park, 30 minutes’ drive from Santa Cruz. From here, you’ll traverse rugged pathways peppered with bubbling streams and waterfalls. Significant endemic plant species and Canary Pines dot the mountainous landscape, presenting exciting photographic opportunities. However, the main highlight is the caldera (or cauldron) itself - a huge erosion crater measuring around 6 miles across and 2000 metres deep! Further south, Cumbre Nueva and Cumbre Vieja offer a different experience with changing dark volcanic landscapes coming into play. As you make your way along the trail, remnants of prehistoric lava flows lay beneath your feet. The altitude of this part of the hike offers breathtaking coastal views and on clear days you can see across to La Gomera and other Canary Islands. Don’t worry if this all sounds a bit strenuous. There are several ways to explore Route of the Volcanoes including guided day excursions, dune buggy rides, e-bike tours and horseback riding trips.

Roque de Los Muchachos in La Palma, Canary Islands

Photographer: Nikiforov Alexander

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