La Palma - General Information
Welcome to La Palma. And where exactly is La Palma, I hear you ask? No, it isn't in Gran Canaria or Mallorca. La Palma is an island - one of the three smaller ones situated at the most northwesterly point of the group known as the Canary Islands. But please don't let that turn you off. Don't think of mass tourism and the cheap pleasures of the beach! The Canary Islands have more to offer than "just" sand and sun. Lots more… an island called La Palma for instance. La Palma, the "Beautiful Island", is a fascinating mini continent with incomparable natural landscapes. Barren volcanoes and sub-tropical forests, high mountains and deep ravines, small swimming bays with black volcanic sand and a mild climate all year round are what make the "green island" an ideal destination for nature lovers, as well as a hiking paradise par excellence.
La Palma is a true collector's item for holidaymakers who like to visit and explore the unknown. Where else, at the drop of a hat, can you experience the freezing cold mountain air blowing about your ears only to later go for a pleasant swim in a concealed bay? Where else can you go one day gathering chestnuts and mushrooms in an autumn forest and the next find yourself wandering through an impressive landscape of volcanic craters and crevices illuminated by the penetrating rays of the midday sun? Where else can you find prehistoric art, Flemish paintings, Andalusian madonnas, Indian silver and Cuban cigars side by side? And where else in Europe can you find a South American ambience in a colonial style town? The answer is: only in La Palma, the green pearl of the Atlantic.
Location and size
La Palma is one of the three smaller Canary Islands and is the most north-westerly in the archipelago. This triangular island has a surface area of 708 sq.kms (273 sq.miles), and is 45 km (28 miles) long, 28 km (17 miles) wide and 2,426 m (7,959 ft) high (at the Roque de Los Muchachos). It is 85 km (53 miles) away from its largest sister island, Tenerife, and 445 km (277 miles) from the African coast.
Topography and nature
La Palma is a recent volcanic island. Its heart is formed by the erosion crater - 10 km (6 miles) wide and a good 1.5 km (nearly 1 mile) deep - of the Caldera de Taburiente. This is a national park whose steep walls continue up to the Cumbre, the mountain range running from north to south which divides the island into a more humid eastern side and a drier western side. Many different layers of vegetation are found growing in close proximity on the steep mountainsides. The mountains are characterised by sparse pine groves, the rugged coastline by succulent undergrowth, the older north by dense laurel forests traversed by deep ravines (the biosphere reserve known as Los Tilos) and the still active south by bizarre volcanic landscapes. It was here that Spain's most recent volcanic eruption took place - Teneguía, in 1971.
Climate and weather
On La Palma it is always spring. In winter the temperature barely drops to 18 degrees, in summer it is a good 25 degrees. The Cumbre acts as a meteorological divide. There is a barrier effect as the constant north-easterly trade winds reach the Cumbre and the trees milk the sea of cloud. Heavy rains can be expected only in winter. On La Palma the sun is almost always shining somewhere, usually on the side that is protected from the wind. The north-easterly trade wind ensures that the climate is equable all the year round. The mountains have a barrier effect and around lunchtime a bank of cloud forms between 600 and 1,700 m below an expanse of deep blue sky. It only becomes oppressively hot and unpleasantly dry if the wind is blowing from the south (calima), when everything gets covered in dust from the Sahara. Once or twice each winter an Atlantic trough sweeps in over the island from the west and brings heavy showers.
Population and economy
Until the island was conquered by the Spanish in 1492 La Palma was inhabited by the Benahoaritas, a pastoral people originating from North Africa. Markings etched into the rocks and earthenware vessels testify to this era. After the conquest in the name of the Crown of Castille the island's capital, Santa Cruz, developed into a hub between the old world and the new. An important shipbuilding industry evolved and Spanish, Flemish, English and Portuguese traders set up in business there. Products such as sugar cane, wine, silk, tobacco … made them very wealthy while various economic crises forced the impoverished rural population to emigrate to Cuba and Venezuela. Today the 80,000 islanders earn a living primarily from agriculture, particularly from growing bananas. The tourism that is developing at a gentle rate is of secondary importance.