During our gloomy winter, I was in desperate need of some sunshine so I indulged myself in a few days at La Palma and Tenerife. In my blissful ignorance on account of never having travelled to either of the Islands before, I had only anticipated the guaranteed sunshine and was unsuspecting of how many delights lay ahead.
We arrived at Tenerife South airport in the afternoon and got things started immediately with a guided walking tour of the historic quarter of the world heritage site, San Cristobal de La Laguna. The former presence of royal power and influential families is evident in the impressive architecture, with their beautiful stone facades and finely carved Canarian pine details.
After a leisurely lunch of traditional Canarian fayre at the hotel Laguna Nivaria of grilled cheese, dried salted fish, and a barraquito (coffee made in layers of condensed milk, cream, rum and cinnamon), we were transferred to the smaller, North airport to board the short half-hour flight to La Palma. Upon our arrival, it was clear that La Palma was entirely different to Tenerife with a discernibly slower pace and relaxed atmosphere. Though tourists were few, we found the locals to be quiet, yet respectful and welcoming. We stayed at the 4 star Hotel Las Olas, a large complex, in simple but comfortable and clean apartments, with access to three pools with views of the sea and a poolside bar.
Given its location as the most north easterly of all the Canarian Islands, La Palma is first to meet the prevailing trade winds, bringing more rainfall, endowing the Island to with a wetter climate, increased biodiversity and lush, green landscape, to create the nick-name ‘the beautiful island’. Much of the Island is used to grow bananas, particularly at low levels, and to the south of the Island, 23 varieties of wine are produced. Many are unique as they are blended from ancient varieties which were wiped out across Europe hundreds of years ago.
La Palma boasts a large population of 85 thousand people, relative to its size of only 708 square km. The Island has been declared a world biosphere reserve and the locals are dedicated to preserving and maintaining the beauty and cleanliness of their Island; all the vital qualities which make it an attractive and prime hiking destination. Many of the tourists were making use of the expertly-planned and mapped walking paths, of which there are 3 levels of duration and difficulty.
We drove up to the Caldera de Taburiente, a protected national park, where we took the short hiking path ‘Mirador de la Cumbrecita’ and experienced the most spectacular views of the entire trip. We trekked up to the most spectacular site in La Palma, the Barranco de las Angustias, which takes the shape of a caldera, spans across 8 kilometres, and is carpeted in Canarian pines due to the cloud cascade created by the north easterly trade winds. The trees provide welcome relief to trekkers from the hot sun, making the trek more pleasurable. It creates an astonishing, panoramic view too large even for my wide-angled lens. We watched many young families leisurely trek the gentle gradient of the Caldera’s pathways, with their babies and toddlers propped up on their backs in baby carriers and baby slings.
Later, we took a short stroll through the town of Los Llanos de Aridane, taking in its narrow and intricate streets, quaint street cafes and colourfully painted doorways. Los Llanos has received lots of investment recently and is a great centre for shopping, more so than Santa Cruz de La Palma, which acts as the Island’s administrative centre. Santa Cruz de la Palma has stopped developing, being constrained by the inclines surrounding it.
After our tour of Los Llanos, we enjoyed a beautiful lunch in a charming restaurant ‘Le Casa del Volcan’ in Tazacorte on the west of the Island, with divine homemade black pudding, much like our own Irish black pudding, but freshly made on the premises with extra sweetness and a light, fluffy texture. It wasn’t long before we were moving again and took another hiking path, this time ‘Refugio del Pilar’ where we got to appreciate the volcanoes of the Island and learnt about the Island’s geology and volcanic activity. Here there were no pine trees providing shade which made walking more difficult in the hot sun, so I highly recommend sun hats, plenty of sunscreen and bottled water.
The next morning we rose early to begin yet another adventure and one of the top ten recommended treks – a refreshing journey up through a ravine, taking the route ‘Cubo de la Galga’ on the north-east of the Island in the Laurisilva forest. We meandered our way through waterfalls, twists and turns, and clambered over steep rocks while the walls of rock grew closer and closer, gradually blocking out the sunlight, until eventually they closed together and we had to turn back to begin our descent. Our feet got wet and our hair went fuzzy, but in the warm weather we soon dried off and were enjoying a four-course lunch in the best seafood restaurant in La Palma ‘Restaurante San Andreas’. With full tummies and tired legs, we just about managed another excursion, this time to the Aldea rum distillery. We sampled many varieties, but in the end we all agreed and highly recommend the vanilla rum as superior. Towards the end of our trip we stopped to admire La Fjana which is a beautiful series of natural seawater pools, frequented by locals and tourists alike.
As there no direct flights to La Palma, we travelled back to Tenerife and enjoyed a few days at the fabulous 5 star, Hotel Vincci Seleccion Buenavista Golf and Spa before our departure from Tenerife South Airport. On our first day in Tenerife we went snorkelling at the base of La Galagos cliffs. We paddled from the harbour to the cliffs in our 2-man kayaks before jumping in for a swim. The guides taught us to dive with our snorkels on and where to look for fish. For me, this was the most exciting and unforgettable part of the trip. We stared down through crystal clear water, so warm and calm that our kayaks bobbed just where we left them, leaving us free to explore the rocks and fish below the surface. As we paddled back to the harbour in single file in order to avoid the speed boats, I was thrilled when our guide stopped to draw our attention to an Osprey flying overhead – apparently one of only nine present in all of Tenerife. The Teno Activo guides were so enthusiastic and knowledgeable and they certainly made the experience all the more enjoyable, demonstrating another side of Tenerife such as the great outdoor pursuits and wildlife.
Tenerife and La Palma have become astro-tourism hotspots. Our charismatic guide, José gave us a brilliant introduction to the skies late at night in the Teide National Park. This was another unforgettable experience, but just remember to wrap up warm as it gets very cold at night at that altitude. Towards the end of our trip we enjoyed the freshest and most beautifully prepared seafood at La Masia del Mar in La Caleta de Adeje.
All in all, I was struck by the cleanliness of La Palma and Tenerife, the geology, lava tunnels, and the great variety of outdoor pursuits such as cycling, hiking, stargazing and whale-watching. La Palma is altogether a quieter location in comparison to Tenerife, and with this in mind, it provides a more family-orientated holiday destination and is suited to those holidaying with younger children.
Check out these great websites for more information:
www.senderosdelapalma.com Fantastic network of walking tours in La Palma.
www.visitlapalma.es General tourist information.
www.maroparque.es Small zoo on the east of La Palma.
www.volcanolife.com For tour guides, walking tours and star gazing excursions at Teide national park.
www.tenoactivo.com For guides in Tenerife for outdoor pursuits, hiking, kayaking and snorkelling.
www.starexcursions.com Contact José for tailor-made tours and star gazing in Tenerife.
Originally published in Mums & Tots, Spring issue 2015.