We have four friends visiting Spain’s Canary Islands, as well as many other wonderful destinations via the 56-Day Grand Mediterranean Cruise on the ms Prinsendam. We wish we could join them as the Canaries – the seven islands off of the coast of West Africa – are still on our bucket list.
When we do visit, these are 7 things we’d want to see and do while on a port call to Santa Cruz de la Palma.
The most north-westerly island of the Canary Islands, La Palma is about 175,000 acres in size with a total population of about 86,000 people. Nearly 18,000 of them live in Santa Cruz de la Palma, the island’s capital city (known by locals as simply Santa Cruz.)
The city of Santa Cruz was founded by Alonso Fernández de Lugo on May 3, 1493. Originally called Villa del Apurón, the city served as a key port that connected Europe to the Americas, exporting goods from the island such as sugarcane. Pirates repeatedly sacked the city.
1. Learn about the town’s history at the Museo Insular de La Palma (Island Museum of La Palma) located in a 16th-century Franciscan convent. Exhibits about ethnography, natural sciences and art are displayed in rooms with elaborately carved ceilings around a courtyard of orange trees.
2. It’s hard to miss the Museo Naval (Naval Museum) as it is housed in a ship. The museum building is a full-sized concrete reproduction of the Santa Maria, aboard which Christopher Columbus discovered the West Indies in 1492. This small museum details how Spanish conquistadors had taken sugar from the Canary Islands to Cuba, and how thousands of Canarians immigrated to Cuba from La Palma during the 19th century to work in the sugar industry. This ship building also plays a role in the city’s major festival every five years.
3. Visit the church that houses the Virgin of the Snows. The island is predominately Roman Catholic and since 1676, has been known for the Fiestas Lustrales de la Bajada de la Virgen de las Nieves (the bringing down of the Virgin of the Snows.)
Every five years, people come to Santa Cruz for the celebration. The image of the Virgin is taken down from her church sanctuary — the Real Insular Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows — which located in a hilly area on the outskirts of Santa Cruz — and paraded around the city of Santa Cruz during a two-week festival before she is returned. The last time this event was performed in 2015 and the next will be in 2020. The festival also features the dancing of “enanos” — costumes that people wear that give the appearance of dancing midgets.
Although Mr. Blahnik now lives in Bath, England, surely there are shops selling his shoes in the city where he spent his childhood and still visits?
La Palma, like the other islands of the Canary Island archipelago, is a volcanic ocean island. The volcano rises almost 4 miles above the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.
5. Take a drive or ride around the island. La Palma has 750 miles of roads – most paved but with sharp bends and very narrow spots. You can drive completely around the island on a 112 mile-long road. There are also several public bus routes.
There is a road that runs from Los Llanos de Aridane to the capital city of the island Santa Cruz de La Palma. This road is a two-lane highway that includes a pair of two-lane tunnels that go right through the top of the mountain. When traveling from one side of the mountain, you may enter one side of the tunnel in complete clouds and come out to sun on the other side.
6. See some of the fifteen enormous telescopes were arranged along the ridge of Caldera del Taburiente National Park. There is road access from sea level to the island’s highest summit at 7,959 feet. This outcrop of rocks is called Los Muchachos “The Lads” or “Rock of Boys.”
As one of the world’s best places for stargazing, a number of international observatories have been built on the Roque de los Muchachos.
7. Take a hike along the water tunnels. Many people come to La Palma to hike, and there are at least 622 miles of marked paths all over the island. The most famous structures of La Palma are the minas galerias (water tunnels) which carry the water from sources in the mountains to cities, villages and banana plantations. The galerias have been cut into the rocks over centuries. It is possible to walk alongside many of the aqueducts, a popular activity for tourists.
This is what I most want to do while on La Palma, but this video shot with a GoPro Hero 4 head-mounted camera by Randy Hoffman might make me a little nervous. I’d definitely want a good local guide.
Randy writes this description with his video:
This figure-8 loop hike starts at the Barco (ship) in the centre of Santa Cruz and follows the PR LP 2.2 through residential areas to join the PR LP 2.3 (Ruta de los Molinos) into the Parque Natural Las Nieves. The trail then winds through a Laurisilva forest deep into the Barranco de la Madera through tunnels along a sheer cliff face with many “windows” to peer through. The water channel supplies rainwater from the mountains to the towns below. It was extremely hot and humid that day, and the “Calima” phenomenon (sand blown from the Sahara) was at its peak, making the air thick and more difficult to breathe as the day progressed. It was a long full-day hike … and that Dorada beer back in town tasted great afterward!
Note: There are a few exposed sections that may not be suitable for those with vertigo, and rock falls can occur at any moment. Cell coverage is sparse.
Have you visited La Palma in Spain’s Canary Islands?
What sights do you recommend?