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La Palma, Canary Islands: A Visitor's Quick Guide

Updated on March 26, 2011

La Palma, Canary Islands: A Quick Guide

When on vacation, in order to be a great guest in your host country, it pays to be informed. If your travels are taking you to the Canary Islands, the small island of La Palma has much to see and enjoy. La Palma is also known as the Beautiful Island.

Following is a visitor's guide as well as links to more world travel destinations.

Location:

Considered one of Spain's best kept secrets, La Palma is the most northwestern of the Canary Islands. The island evolved from a collapsed volcano with an enormous caldera (crater).

Located in the Atlantic Ocean, the Canary Islands, also known as the Canaries, are a Spanish archipelago located off the northwest coast of mainland Africa, west of Morocco. La Palma is one of the smaller islands. Mass tourism is not common, but many cruise ships stop here. The island has volcanoes - including one of the world's largest craters, as well as beaches, forests and it is ideal for walking, hiking and just getting away for some peace and quiet.

General Information:

La Palma rises up dramatically out of the sea and has the greatest altitude to surface ratio on the entire earth. The island is covered with vegetation and trees and has a small rainforest on the northeast side of the island. The capital is Santa Cruz.

Population - La Palma is home to about 90,000 people. The capital, Santa Cruz, is where 18,000 people live on the side of Calderata - a volcanic crater.

Economic Foundation - The high quality hand-rolled cigars of La Palma are world known. Agricultural products are the economic foundation. Bananas have now replaced sugar as the main crop.

History:

The existence of the Canary Islands is filled with legends and can be traced back to Greek authors such as Plato and Homer. In antiquity, these islands were known as the Fortunate Island and remained mythical until after the middle ages.

It is believed the first inhabitants were cave-dwelling people known as the Guanches who arrived in the first or 2nd century BC from North Africa.

European conquest began in 1402 and by the end of the 15th century the Spanish had conquered all seven islands but not without Portuguese resistance during the mid 1400s.

The next several centuries saw the Islands as the bridge between the 'Old World' and the 'New World' as they were called.

The 17th to 19th centuries saw economic ups and downs due to dependence on certain crops. Sugar profits greatly declined due to cheaper sugar from the West Indies. Grapes became a main crop which resulted in the productions of a sweet wine - Malmsey - which still enjoys world recognition.

The mid-19th century brought about lowered duties and trade barriers. Las Palmas and Tenerife of the Canary Islands became two of the busiest ports in the world. The local government decided to improve the economy and welcome tourism by improving infrastructure which included the airport. With the banana crop and growth of tourism the Canaries have a stable economic base.

Places of Interest:

Santa Cruz - is the capital of La Palma and a good place to start your sightseeing. The city, home to 18,000 people, is made up of brightly colored homes filled with historic architecture with ornate balconies - many lining the waterfront, as well as lovely plazas and deep alleyways. There are many art galleries to explore as well as the Museum of Natural History, and the Naval Museum. Visit Real Street which is the center of commerce, and Espana Square is where the 16th century Town Hall is located. Also found here is the church Iglesia del Salvador.

San Pedro - is known for the famous "Palmero" cigars. Producing cigars became part of La Palma specialty crafting by the end of the 19th century when emigrants returned to the island from Cuba. Visitors can witness first-hand how the local people made cigar-making an art form.

Los Tilos - is declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Visit this lush park and view the Canarian bellflower, the Canarian Holly tree and strawberry trees.

Volcano Related Sites:

Teneguia Volcano - is the youngest of all Canary Island volcanoes. It last erupted in October 1971. Enough lava was created from the eruptions to increase the size of the island.

Charco Azul - is made up of natural seawater swimming pools formed from lava flowing in the ocean. This popular destination is known for its clear waters.

Caldera de Taburiente - is a National Park that was created in 1954. Here you will find one of the largest craters in the world. The park has hundreds of falls, streams and certain species of trees considered authentic living fossils.

San Antonio Volcano - is believed to be about 3,200 years old. At the Visitor's Center you'll be given insights into the powerful forces at work here as well as views of the crater

Fuencaliente - a much sought after spa before the 17th century. The soothing benefits of the hot water springs gave this town its original name - Fuenta Santa (Holy Fountain). When the San Antonio Volcano (see previous entry) became active for two months in 1677, the flow of lava buried the Holy Fountains. Volcanic soil in the area is now famous for the wines it makes.

More Places to Visit:

Santuario Virgen de Las Nieves - is the image of the island's patroness who resides in a stunning 16th century renaissance building. The location is a few miles outside of town in the hills overlooking the city.

Roque de los Muchachos - is the highest mountain on the island. On top of the mountain you will find several important astrophysics observatories.

Brena Alta - is located nestled on the hills of the east coast. The village offers panoramic views of the mountains and sea and is known for its beautiful sunrises. Many vacation villas are located here.

La Galga - is a small town located on the edge of two deep gorges. The viewpoint known as Mirador de San Bartolo provides great photo ops of the spectacular terrain.

Los Sauces - is the principal and prosperous commercial and farming center on the northern part of the island. This fertile area is one of the densest forests on La Palma.

Note: Any admission charges are in the local currency - the euro.

Local Customs and Information:

Cuisine - Fish is a staple and includes tuna, swordfish, octopus and sardines. A variety of meats are also served. Paella (a combo of seafood, chicken, vegetables and saffron-flavored rice is readily available. Also available are tapas (appetizers). Many fresh vegetables are served. Deserts are varied and are often made with local honey and almonds. Flan is a popular dessert.

Drinks - The famous wine is known as "Malmsey" - Malmsey wine is made from the volcanic soil and tends to be sweet. Sangria is a popular island wine.

Tipping - All menu prices include taxes and services charges. However, it is still customary to leave a tip between 5% - 10%.

Shopping - hours are usually between 9am - 1pm and then again at 4:30pm - 8pm - this is in observance of fiesta. In 1852, the islands were declared a duty-free zone to stimulate economic growth and remains duty free. Goods are imported without restrictions from all over the world. The same items, however, can be found at the airport. Local handcrafts are available and the most celebrated is embroidery done on items such as napkins, bedspreads, towels and table cloths. Also offered are silk goods, pottery, baskets and of course the handmade cigars.

Currency - The unit of local currency is the euro.

Post Office - The main one is located at the entrance to the city,

Telephones - The use of coins or calling cards are needed for local phones.

Transportation - Taxis are limited and it is advisable to negotiate a fare before traveling. Tipping is usually 10 percent. The local bus systems is not designed for tourists.

Check local Tourist Information Centers located at the airport or next to the port's terminal building.

Enjoy!

For more world travel destinations and suggestions, see links below:

Comments

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    • CountryCityWoman profile image

      CountryCityWoman 

      7 years ago from From New York City to North Carolina

      I love volcanoes and had no idea there were so many islands made of volcanoes. This is so appealing. Thanks for such a thorough quick guide. I'll be prepared when I get there. Rated up!

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 

      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      My cousins just visited La Palma as part of their cruise and it is just as lovely as the photos. The volcanoes will get me there.

      Thanks for a well-done guide. Love the wine!

      Rated up!

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 

      7 years ago from Washington

      Looks lovely! Very well presented!!

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