Getting to the sea is not always straightforward on La Palma. Its mountainous northern half is fringed by sheer cliffs, with only a handful of tortuous routes down to the shore.
The municipality of Tijarafe has one of the most precipitous coastlines on the whole island, essentially a 200-metre-high wall rising out of the Atlantic, made up of countless layers of lava. Considering the scale of this formation, it's remarkable the sea can be reached at all. Yet Tijarafe has two regularly-used roads which take you to within easy walking distance of the heaving ocean below. Combined into a Coastal Loop, they make a spectacular drive.
The Coastal Loop to the Candelaria cove and La Veta beach
Taking the turning located just south of the kiosk "El Diablo" in the centre of Tijarafe, I followed the steep street downhill. The initial tarmac was soon replaced by the concrete surface of a narrow lane which descended through terraced farmland, to reach a dirt track visible below. Bearing left at the track, and then immediately right, I continued down the asphalted road seawards.
I was heading for the "Poris" of Candelaria, a term used in Canary Island Spanish for a small, natural harbour, or landing-stage. This particular poris is located in a cove beneath a gigantic overhang in the cliffs, which amplifies the sound of breaking waves like an echo-chamber.
Don't be deterred by the hairpin bends and narrow dimensions of the road. Passing-places are found at strategic points, and local drivers are extremely patient with visiting motorists...let's face it, they often have to be. At the end of the panoramic descent, a parking area awaits, from where you'll be more than happy to cover the remaining distance on foot.
The Poris de Candelaria
The Poris (or Proís) de Candelaria never fails to surprise. A row of white, box-like constructions curves around the inner walls of a cavernous rockshelter, jammed in between the cliff behind, and the not-always-placid waters of the Atlantic ahead. This juxtaposition of an imposing rockface, and the seemingly precarious houses huddled beneath, creates a unique picture in which the tiny breeze-block constructions seem doubly threatened: from the massive cliff arching overhead, and the ocean surging at their feet.
These modest homes are mainly used by local people at weekends, or for longer stays during summer. On the day I was there, the Atlantic swell was exceptionally heavy, whereas calmer conditions are the norm. This is a favourite place for families to chill out in summer. Swimmers venture into the sea via fixed ladders, while kids splash around in the sheltered rock pools. The outlying promontories are popular spots for rock fishing, away from the hubbub.
Playa de La Veta
From the Poris de Candelaria I drove back uphill to the junction with the dirt track, and turned left along it. The track contours northwards, remaining level the whole time, since it runs parallel to a major irrigation canal. Keep driving until you see a stainless-steel street sign on the left indicating "La Veta". It's easy to miss. If the road starts climbing, you've passed the turning. The approach by car is less of a challenge than the descent to the Poris de Candelaria, and eventually ends at a concrete parking area, from where a short walk leads to a tunnel.
I was surprised to find a switch on the wall, just inside the entrance: electric lighting seemed somehow incongruous in the roughly-hewn passage. Once out of the tunnel, the landscape opened up dramatically.
The path threads its way steeply downhill, incorporating steps and protective fencing where necessary. Its destination is a miniscule bay backed by a cluster of holiday cabins. Playa de La Veta is Tijarafe's very own beach, and the locals are justly proud of it. While not exactly "secret", it certainly isn't widely-publicised. On the day I was there, some family groups could be seen heading for the houses to spend the Easter weekend, carrying all their provisions, including butane gas bottles, on foot.
Alas, the "playa" at Playa de La Veta had disappeared, the heavy surf having temporarily washed away all traces of sand. Nevertheless, it's a great walk, and a fantastic spot to unwind for a couple of hours, or even to spend a day or two. For the ultimate escape, a still remoter beach can be accessed via the narrow trail visible in the photo above. These wild, boulder-strewn landscapes have a unique appeal, and make good alternatives for hikers, for days when conditions are adverse in higher parts of the island. Such arid regions also provide ideal habitat for succulent plants, and I spotted several attractive Aeonium species along the way, including this flowering Aeonium sedifolium.
From Playa de la Veta, I returned to my car and drove uphill, bearing left at the junction with the sign to "La Veta". The road zigzagged up to the main LP-1, where a right turn led me back to the main village of Tijarafe and completion of the Coastal Circuit.
Crossing the Barranco del Jurado ravine
If there is one ravine synonymous with Tijarafe, it is the Barranco del Jurado, among the deepest on the entire island. The toponym comes from the conspicuous holes produced in the crags by erosion, known locally as juras. The gorge is crossed by signposted footpaths at two different points west of the LP-1 road:, the short-distance PR LP 12.2, and the long-distance GR 130.
The PR LP 12.2 short-distance path
On the map, the circular PR LP 12.2 looks deceptively easy. However, the 650 metre height difference between the village of Tijarafe and the coast shouldn't be underestimated, especially since the long ascent lacks shade.
To get a taste of the Barranco del Jurado, you can drive down the LP-116, signposted to Jesús a La Costa, and then take the lane known as Camino Tierras del Puerto towards the mouth of the gorge. The Barranco del Jurado viewpoint is eventually reached, from where a well-preserved, cobbled section of the PR LP 12.2 snakes down to the valley floor.
Sundry constructions and a pebble beach are visible in the ravine mouth. This isolated enclave once served as a base for fishing, shellfish gathering, and harvesting seasalt; in times of drought, the brackish water from a nearby well was an invaluable resource. It also acted as an alternative landing-stage to the Poris de Candelaria, for the shipment of goods. Those times are long gone, and nowadays the huts and caves fulfil purely recreational purposes, for sea-related activities, or contact with nature. If you're curious, it's worth hiking down to the bottom and taking a look round.
The GR 130 long-distance path
The section of the GR 130 between Tijarafe and El Jesús (overlapping the PR LP 12.2) provides an easier way to experience the ravine, and gives a different perspective. This short crossing of the Barranco del Jurado makes an interesting walk in itself, or it can form part of a longer trek along the GR 130.
On my recent visit, I decided to enter the ravine from El Jesús, where parking spaces are available next to the historic chapel, within sight of the red GR 130 pointer. From the sign, the way is paved with chunks of black basalt, whose polished surface hints at the many footsteps borne over the centuries.
I followed the path downhill, pausing to take photographs, examine plants, and admire the scenery. In the distance, the southernmost houses of Tijarafe stood out as tiny blocks of colour on the skyline. Below me, the Barranco del Jurado dipped seawards, a jagged gash in the island's flanks, patiently carved by erosion. The main LP-1 road was only a short distance above, but no traffic noise was audible: only the occasional bleating of goats rose on the thermals from the abyss at my feet.
In addition to its spectacular coasts and ravines, Tijarafe harbours traditional architecture in the main village and surrounding hamlets, archaeological sites, local-history museums, and large swathes of pristine pine forest. The municipality also enjoys one of the sunniest climates on La Palma.
Tijarafe's own craft brewery, Cervecería Isla Verde
Sight-seeing can be thirsty work in such weather, and a convenient watering-hole is always welcome. A mere stone's throw from the chapel of El Jesús lies an ideal oasis: the highly-recommendable craft brewery Isla Verde. Opened by a Polish-Belgian couple in 2010, they currently produce seven different artisanal beers, including dark, light, and gluten-free ales, and also Pilsen. A selection of tasty food is available in their indoor and outdoor dining area. Check their website for more information.