Here's an enjoyable linear hike which doesn't require a car to get to the trailhead and back home again. It links the towns of Los Sauces and Barlovento, and can be done in either direction. The advantage of starting from Los Sauces (260m), rather than Barlovento (560m), is that by going mainly uphill, you avoid a tiring (ca. 500m) descent at the end of the walk.
The regular 100 bus service operates between Santa Cruz de La Palma and Barlovento, stopping in Los Sauces along the way. A pdf of timetables can be downloaded here: https://www.tilp.es/cogerlaguagua/
Hiking from Los Sauces to Barlovento
I chose to start from Los Sauces on my recent trip. The town has a small supermarket in the centre, handy for any last-minute supplies. There are also banks, a pharmacy, and plenty of cafés for that last cup of coffee before setting off. From the main square, I turned up the street aptly named "The Street" (La Calle). This first section is a steady climb in mainly urban surroundings, past houses, banana plantations, and gardens. After about 10 minutes, the restored watermill known as El Regente appeared on the left.
Dating from 1873, this peculiar construction is closed to the public at the time of writing, and from the outside, it might not be obvious how it worked. Briefly, the mill-race to drive the mill-wheel flows in an overhead channel, supported by masonry arches. To see this part for yourself, climb the steps to the top of the tower. At the top, the water plunges down an internal chute, hitting the mill-wheel at the base of the tower, which is geared to the the mill-stones inside the building. The water then returns to an open channel and continues its downhill journey through the banana plantations. El Regente was used to mill corn into gofio and flour.
Above the mill, I passed the last houses to reach the Llano Clara viewpoint (460m), with its conspicuous eucaliptus trees. It's worth stopping here for the views of the Barranco del Agua. The densely-forested slopes in the upper reaches of the valley constituted La Palma's first Biosphere Reserve, an area of 511 hectares designated in 1983 by Unesco as "El Canal y los Tiles". Despite its relatively small size, the original reserve encompassed an important stronghold of laurel forest. In 1998, the Reserve was extended to include most of the island's northeastern sector until finally, in 2002, the whole of La Palma was declared a World Biosphere Reserve, with Los Tilos (alternative spelling, Los Tiles) as its core zone.
A traditional path to the summit
At Llano Clara, I braced myself for what looked like a steep climb. The stone paving and low walls beside the PR LP 7 hiking path indicate that this was one of La Palma's traditional footpaths, part of a network originally built to link settlements located on different sides of the island with one another, and with the capital Santa Cruz. For long distance travel on foot, people used to climb about 2,000m up a radial path of this kind to reach the summit, continue along the relatively flat rim of the Caldera de Taburiente (often after having spent the night up there), and then descend 2,000m via another radial path to reach their final destination.In the northern half of the island, except for short journeys between neighbouring villages, this was actually easier than the coastal route, which entailed crossing numerous deep ravines.
Mirador de Las Barandas
I progressed unhurriedly up the PR LP 7, which had now become a dirt track. After some 250 metres of ascent from Llano Clara, a sign on the left indicated the Mirador de las Barandas, a viewpoint perched directly above the Visitor Centre in Los Tilos, on the PR LP 7.1 hiking path. This spacious picnic site is equipped with wooden tables and benches, and is worth the short detour for the impressive views over the lush, forested gorge.
When it's clear, you can even pick out details on the island's summit. On the day I was there, a delicate layer of mist blanketed the higher slopes.
Backtracking from the mirador, I regained the dirt track, and turned left. The next landmark on the hike appeared within minutes, the junction signposted to the Laguna de Barlovento, and by this point (ca.775m), the main uphill section of the walk lay behind me. Time for a drink and a bite to eat before pressing on.
Exuberant plant life and endemic butterflies
From here onwards, the earthy, leaf-strewn track winds through shady woodlands, where the closed canopy creates a cool, humid environment ideal for ferns and mosses. This is probably the best section of the whole walk. Long, arching fronds of Woodwardia or "chain ferns" fringe the path. Their puzzling English name alludes to the linked sori (spore-producing receptacles) on the underside of the fronds.
Wherever light manages to break through, there's a good chance of finding Echium pininana, a giantViper's Bugloss speciesendemic to La Palma. The pale-blue flowering spikes act as magnets for butterflies and bumble bees, and reach heights of over 5 metres, a striking example of the tendency of island plants to become woody (insular woodiness).
Butterflies add a fleeting dash of colour to the dark green undergrowth. The Canary Admiral (Vanessa vulcania), is relatively common here, its wing pattern differing subtly from the well-known Red Admiral. Another beauty is the Canary Island Cleopatra (Gonepteryx cleopatra cleobule), a species with large, pale yellow wings which immediately close when the insect lands, to the frustration of would-be photographers.
Crossing the Barranco de la Herradura ravine
The track continues its descent into the depths of the Barranco de la Herradura ravine, passing more giant Viper's Bugloss and patches of wild geraniums. On the left, the grating across the entrance to a gallery comes into view. These manmade tunnels resembling mine-passages were dug horizontally to obtain groundwater, by intersecting water-saturated geological formations. Despite the demands of irrigation and domestic water supplies, La Palma still has abundant freshwater reserves in its aquifer, and seawater desalination is unnecessary. In addition to hard work and ingenuity, gallery construction required considerable investment, and since the public sector was never interested in financing such projects, private investors were given a free hand. As a result, all water extracted is regarded as a freely tradable commodity owned by the companies that built the galleries, creating a situation peculiar to the Canary Islands within Europe.
Exit from the Barranco de la Herradura is via a narrow path which includes several flights of steps and at one point, a wooden bridge.
After this enjoyable ascent, I emerged into open country among small orchards planted with apple trees, a fruit not usually associated with the Canary Islands. The varied microclimates of La Palma enable temperate crops to flourish at higher altitudes, while tropical and subtropical fruits prosper in the warmer conditions nearer the coast.
I followed the track downhill and, purely by chance, came across the best example of Echium pininana of the day, in an overgrown field on the left.
The route to the Laguna de Barlovento traverses varied terrain making for pleasant walking. The agricultural mosaic is crossed by gullies containing residual pockets of evergreen woodland. Avocado and other cultivated trees dot the landscape, and at one point I passed some splendid walnut trees.
The Laguna de Barlovento
The Laguna itself has an interesting history. The reservoir occupies a volcanic crater which tended to collect run-off water from the surrounding slopes. Several decades ago, cows used to graze on the lush grass carpeting the swampy hollow. In the 1970s, the first steps were taken to build an irrigation reservoir, by enlarging the depression and making it watertight. Coatings of both local, and non-locally sourced clay were tried, without success. Finally, concrete was used, and between 1989 and 1992, the inner slopes were clad with PVC sheets, while the water-level was lowered to minimise leakage.
Nowadays, it's hard to imagine the bucolic origins of this featureless piece of infrastructure. Set amid red-earth hills the verdant surroundngs are nevertheless attractive, and have become a popular destination for weekend outings and group activities. The purpose-built leisure area features picnic and camping facilities, holiday cabins, and a café-restaurant. The PR LP 7.1 officially ends here, so to get to the centre of Barlovento, you need to switch to the PR LP 8.
After skirting the reservoir, I picked up the sign-posted path on the right for a gentle descent through the fields, away from the asphalted road most of the time.
Half an hour later I arrived in Barlovento, administrative centre of the municipality of the same name. The high street is well-endowed with cafés offering refreshment and a chance to unwind, before catching the bus back to Santa Cruz. The day's walk from Los Sauces had taken me through seemingly pristine forests, into areas clearly transformed by human activity, offering a fine sample of La Palma's natural and cultural landscapes.