What you can’t miss on La Palma

Places you really have to visit on La Palma to properly experience the Canary Islands

La Palma is known for its huge, lush, ancient forests, but the magic of its natural spaces goes much further. Pathways amid volcanoes and seas of clouds, spectacular observatories and viewpoints for looking out at the night sky or salt flats that are open to the sea are just the start of an amazing journey to discover the true essence of the island.

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Caldera de Taburiente National Park

Located at the heart of the island and surrounded by steep ravines, this immense cirque with a diameter of more than eight kilometres has a very special feature: water, which is omnipresent in the park’s streams and little waterfalls. But that’s not all. The imposing vertical walls that surround the caldera are covered in the intense green of the lush pine trees, creating a stunning landscape that immediately catches the eye. In addition to the Canary Islands pine tree, which is a natural symbol of the island, a wide variety of species of flora and fauna also live in this area, many exclusively.

Venturing along the trails of this natural wonder will allow us to discover all of it, hearing the birds and the rustle of the branches in the trees. After our walk, the fresh water in the streams invites us to stop, rest and recover our strength, intensely enjoying the moment.

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It’s one of the most beautiful trails on the planet and among the most famous on La Palma, as it used to be an important road link between the different areas of the island. It has to be said that it’s hard to do in its entirety, but following this trail through the Cumbre Vieja Natural Park, which takes just over eight hours, allows us to view the two sides of the island, dizzying landscapes and, on clear days, the neighbouring islands of La Gomera, El Hierro and Tenerife. Amazing!

And if we’re lucky enough to experience this at the start of the summer… There’s a bonus! The perforate St John's-wort, an endemic species, will be in bloom, dressing the island in an intense yellow that, together with the green pines, draws a beautiful contrast against the dark volcanic earth.

 

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One of the most important laurel forests on Earth is located on this island. Los Tilos is an ancient, humid forest made up of many plant species that disappeared from other places towards the end of the Tertiary Period. The walkways let us venture into vegetation so thick that, at some points of the forest, not even light can get through. This lushness, however, does allow us to see giant ferns, many tree species, some of which reach massive heights, streams, small wooden bridges… And, with a bit of luck, we can even see one of the elusive and shy Bolle’s pigeons that live in this forest.

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On the peaks of the island, at nearly 2,500 metres, and on the edge of the spectacular Caldera de Taburiente, is one of the best astrophysical observatories in the world. Due precisely to this high altitude and other factors such as its fantastic geographical position and exceptionally stable atmosphere, the island has garnered the attention of the astronomy and astrophysics world, resulting in the best telescopes on the planet being installed here. But this extraordinary environment must be preserved, which is why there is a specific law in the Canary Islands that protects these skies from light contamination.

As well as these imposing telescopes right before us, with top scientists from more than 20 countries working tirelessly with them, the highest point on La Palma has other surprises prepared for us. As well as a view the Caldera de Taburiente in all its glory, we also have stunning, natural volcanic scenery all around us, which appears lifeless until the endemic ‘codeso’ and broom come into bloom…After that, whites and yellows take over the landscape.

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The island’s capital is a pretty little city where daily life goes on with no hurry. Walking along the cobbled streets of the historic quarter, we can admire the carefully maintained traditional architecture, featuring magnificent balconies on the big wooden houses, doubtlessly some of the best preserved in the Canary Islands. The Plaza de España is one of the most visited areas in Santa Cruz de La Palma. It shows off some of the best Renaissance pieces in the Canary Islands Archipelago. This small city is also home to many curious celebrations. One of them is the ‘dance of the dwarves’, a unique spectacle that takes place every five years, and the famous ‘Los Indianos’, one of the most unique festivities in Europe.

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In the south of the island, we can find a visual spectacle where the blinding white of the salt and the pink of the ponds contrast with the dark volcanic rock. As well as its undisputed beauty, this place is also of high ethnographic value, as it still uses traditional methods for extracting salt, obtaining an eco-friendly product of extraordinary quality that we can even take home as a souvenir.

As if all that wasn’t enough, the Fuencaliente Salt Flats were declared a Site of Scientific Interest for being a nesting area for migratory birds.

 

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This young volcano, which lies close to the Fuencaliente lighthouse, erupted in 1971, creating breath-taking scenery with dark sand and lava that increased the surface area of the island.

To learn more about volcanology in the local area, we can spend some time at the nearby San Antonio Volcano Visitors’ Centre, which is the starting point for the trail that goes around the crater and then up to a vantage point. The views are simply indescribable, so you’ll have to come and see them for yourself.