The municipality of Puntallana lies immediately north of Santa Cruz de La Palma, and makes a pleasant day-trip from the capital. For those not planning to hire a car, several of the places described below can also be reached by the Nº 100 bus service, which departs regularly from Santa Cruz. What follows is a scenic tour of the area by car, with some sight-seeing on foot, and with a short hike to begin with.
1. Hiking the Barranco del Agua ravine
Circular hiking routes are few and far between on La Palma. The rugged topography dictates the layout of the footpath network, with deep ravines hampering communications across the island's flanks. The following circuit in the Barranco del Agua ravine in Puntallana is a notable exception.
Getting to Llano de Tenagua
The trailhead for this short hike is at Llano de Tenagua. To get there, take the main LP-1 road northwards from Santa Cruz as far as the Shell petrol station at Tenagua, the first settlement in the Puntallana municipality. About 100 metres beyond the petrol station, a slip road on the right takes you over the main road via a bridge. Keep straight ahead at the roundabout to enter the street which winds uphill through the housing. The lane passes several turn-offs to holiday accommodation, and continues climbing until the asphalt eventually comes to an end at a farm. The flat agricultural land roundabouts is the Llano de Tenagua, or "Tenagua Plain". Parking space is available near the sign for the PR-LP 4.1 hiking path, where the walk begins.
Impressions of the island's rural past
After crossing the fields, the path leads down into the shady ravine, past a historic washing place, and back out of the valley again. The entire circuit is clearly waymarked. Just follow the signs for the Lavaderos, the outdoor laundry where people did their washing in the good old days. This formerly well-trodden footpath leads through exuberant vegetation, including small remnant patches of laurel forest.
At the secluded Lavaderos, you'll find yourself immersed in a peculiar silence, in stark contrast to the activity and lively chatter which reigned there in the past, when water gushed from the nearby spring, and people plied the path carrying baskets of clothes. You can almost imagine the women at work, as you contemplate the overgrown, stone washbasins, and the large flat rock on which clothes were laid out to dry.
Completing the circuit
The path stays close to the valley floor, nicely circumventing rocky obstacles in the wooded stream bed, until it eventually comes out at a clearly-marked junction. Turn left, and the SL-LP 21 will take you to the PR-LP 4.1, and back to your starting point at Llano de Tenagua. Once on high ground again, don't miss the views across the gigantic Barranco Seco ravine to the south. All-in-all, with photo stops included, this fascinating circuit takes less than two hours to complete. And on the way back towards Llano de Tenagua, the Santa Lucía hermitage comes into view in the distance, the next stop on our itinerary.
2. A short stop at the Santa Lucía hermitage
Nestled among gently rustling palm trees, this picturesque hermitage stands on the brink of the Barranco del Agua ravine, and affords splendid views of the coast to the east, and the densely-forested mountainsides to the west. Its precise year of construction is unknown, but the original building dates to sometime in the 16th century, and is considered the oldest chapel in honour of Santa Lucía (Saint Lucy) on the Canary Islands.
As you gaze down on the constant flow of traffic along the LP-1, it's hard to conceive that in the 19th century, the traditional way of making the pilgrimage to Santa Lucía from places further south was by sea, due to the lack of roads. La Palma's illustrious water-colourist Manuel González Méndez depicted just such a journey in his Romería de Santa Lucía ("Pilgrimage of Santa Lucía", 1878), which can be viewed in the Town Hall of Santa Cruz de La Palma.
To get to the Santa Lucía hermitage, simply continue northwards from Tenagua along the LP-1 and after going through the Barranco del Agua tunnel, keep an eye open for the sign to Santa Lucía on the right, where you must enter the bay in order to make a left turn.
3. A stroll around the historic centre of Puntallana
Ideal for a leisurely stroll, the old part of Puntallana harbours some well-preserved samples of traditional architecture, including a late 17th-century mansion you can actually visit inside.
The stately Casa Luján
This late 17th-century house provides vivid insight into the everyday life of the island's wealthy landowners. While it might not overwhelm you by its sheer size, it is considered a grand property by Canary Island standards. The imposing stone portico topped by a cross, and the paved inner courtyard with its wooden gallery above, all serve to create an impression of privileged well-being. You can go inside and peek into the various rooms, including the kitchen, bedrooms, and an old-fashioned schoolroom on the ground floor.
Next door to the property, a small crafts centre displays intricate embroidery, woodwork and pottery, all genuinely handmade on the island. Enquire there for entering Casa Luján.
Access roads to the village centre, and nearby Casa Luján are all signposted, so getting there presents no difficulties.
The village springs, vital sources of water
Continuing on foot from Casa Luján, a cobbled alley leads steeply downhill to the historic centre, where two small, but once vital sources of fresh water are located. One of the springs, La Fuentiña, is equipped with stone washbasins similar to those seen in the Barranco del Agua earlier. The other spring, San Juan, is set in an idyllic corner, where the sound of dripping water, and birdsong, issue from behind a thick curtain of vegetation.
Puntallana's literary connection
The placid village of Puntallana was a favoured retreat for the German writer Günter Grass, whose son owns a house there. During one of his his sojourns, the Nobel laureate officially opened the Biblioteca Internacional en Lengua Alemana (International German-Language Library) shown below. He otherwise kept a low profile while on the island, most of his time being spent touring around with his family, sketchbook in hand, eager to capture local scenes.
The farmers' market
Finally, if you happen to be in Puntallana on Saturday, check out the farmers' market. You'll find a good selection of fresh fruit and vegetables, some of which might be intriguingly unfamiliar. Other specialities on sale include exquisite local cheeses and delicious pastries.
4. The acclaimed Playa de Nogales
No doubt about it, Playa de Nogales is the most famous beach on La Palma. Reaching a maximum length of one kilometre at low tide, it has been praised in the Spanish press on a number of occasions for its stress-free, Robinson Crusoe ambience and fine sand. It was listed in El País in June 2018 as one of the "Eleven Spanish beaches unique for their forms and colours".
To find out exactly what it means to be one of eleven beaches, just take the turning in the centre of Puntallana, and follow the signs coastwards. When the strip of jet-black sand at the foot of those towering cliffs eventually comes into view, people's reaction tends to be one of disbelief: "how on earth do you get down there?", they wonder. Actually, it's quite easy. From the carpark at the end of the asphalted approach road, a well-made path expertly negotiates the steep descent via (according to El País) 340 steps, with a handrail for reassurance, and spectacular sea views throughout. Sufferers from severe vertigo might wish to abstain.
5. The coastal loop
On the way back from the Playa de Nogales, instead of turning right towards the village of Puntallana, loop left along the LP-102 through the banana plantations. You'll soon encounter two side roads leading down to rocky inlets on the shore, both clearly indicated. First comes Puerto Paja, then Puerto Trigo. These two coves have been equipped with smart wooden sun-decks, showers and other basic amenities, and offer good bathing opportunities when sea conditions are suitable.
As the road continues uphill away from the coast, it winds through some of the most extensive patches of Canary Island Spurge (Euphorbia canariensis) on La Palma, designated as one the island's protected natural areas, the Cardonal (spurge thicket) de Martín Luís.
This long uphill section ends at the junction with the LP-1, where the Shell petrol station will be seen a short distance to the right. The café-bar associated with it makes a good place for refreshment, or a bite to eat before heading for home.
Puntallana has a lot to offer visitors, yet no trip would be complete without experiencing one of La Palma's natural highlights, an outstanding area of laurel forest located at the northern limit of the municipality. The classic day-hike through the lush Cubo de La Galga ravine is a must-do activity, and will be featured in a future post. Watch this space.