15-22 October 2016
We had both decided that we really needed to get some autumn sun this year, and I needed some well deserved rest after the marathon training. But knowing us, we couldn’t just chill on a beach for an entire week, we needed something more. Preferably beautiful nature where you can go hiking, good food and drinks, and a minimum of tourists. Turns out, La Palma (one of the Canary Islands) has all this and more. As they just got their own airport, it is still pretty undiscovered and laid back, especially in the fall. The tourists we did meet were mainly German, which also turned out to be the second language of the locals (almost no english).
We had found a hotel on the west side of the island, in a small village called Puerto de Naos. The hotel was a classic charter resort, but the location was beautiful; just by the beach and surrounded by banana plantations. And located on the west coast meant that we could enjoy lovely sunsets into the Atlantic every evening.
Our plan was to spend some days relaxing by the pool and on the beach, and then spend the rest exploring the island. We had rented a car, which we really recommend as hiking trails etc are usually rather remote and can be hard to get to by bus. La Palma is not a large island, but has among the most winding roads I’ve ever seen so it usually takes a bit longer than expected to get from A to B. The quality of the roads themselves really surprised us though, looks like they just repaved all of them just last year.
After spending the first two days reading and sunbathing by the pool, taking my first swim in the Atlantic (!) and exploring the village, we felt it was time to get some exercise. We had found a hiking trail in the north eastern part of the island, in the Los Tilos forest. This trail passed one of the island’s famous waterfalls, Cascade de los Tilos. What we didn’t quite expect was that after the waterfall, the trail continued steadily uphill… for about 10 kilometres! This was a relentless, steady climb for over 1000 vertical metres leaving us quite knackered when reaching the “top”. We had previously read that this hike would take us through the forest, climbing the side of the mountain, passing through a dry river bed before finally arriving at the Marcos Springs. That might all be accurate, except that the “spring” we found was rather a trickle… A bit of a anti climax after that climb. Then again, the beautiful nature and amazing views along the route made it all worth it in the end!
After that adventure we both felt the need for a day off from hiking. La Palma has a large starlight reserve, which is an area with minimum light pollution from artificial light. This provides very good conditions for star gazing, which of course is good news for astronomers. In the star light reserve, on one of the highest peaks of the island (2420m above sea level), a large astronomy research base is located with several observatories, to which scientists from all over the globe travels to conduct their research. This was of course something we didn’t want to miss, so we jumped in the car, braved some serious serpentine roads and finally arrived at the peak and the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory. The first thing you notice when you get out of the car is the breathtaking views over almost all of La Palma and the Atlantic. Being on an altitude of over 2400 metres above the sea, the temperature was about half of what it was down by the beach. You can look down at the clouds, floating far below, which almost gives you the feeling of flying. There are a few trails starting on the mountain peak following the ridge downwards, but as we still suffered a bit from the hike the day before we decided to get in the car and drive back towards the hotel. On the way we passed through gorgeous terraced farm land, mostly populated by wine yards. There was even a special “wine trail” you could walk, between the different producers. Oh well, next time!
Next day was another lazy day spent by the pool, watching German tourists and enjoying the extremely strict happy hour at the pool bar (2-for-1 quite literally meant 2-for-1, you couldn’t get just one drink even if you wanted, so when we ordered one beer and one glass of wine we got two beers and two glasses of wine – not that we were complaining!).
For our last full day, we had researched a hiking trail in Caldera de Taburiente National Park. A shuttle bus service drove us to the top of the mountain (Mirador de Los Brecitos), which we were pretty grateful for. Caldera de Taburiente is believed to be a giant crater, 10 km across, and we started on one of the peaks forming it’s walls, continuing along its inner wall before making our way down onto its floor. The hike itself was rather easy, but the views from the route was truly magnificent. I can honestly say that this is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to.
At the half way mark, we had our packed lunch in one of the designated camping grounds that is located along the main hiking trail around the island. This would make it easy to stay out longer, and bring your own tent and sleeping bags. We are already discussing if this should be our next adventure on La Palma… A short while after our break we reached the beautiful waterfall Cascada de Los Colores. Maddie had found this waterfall online when searching for waterfalls around the island and was very happy that it was a part of this trail. For the last part of the hike we followed a mostly dried out river bed, surrounded by impressive mountain peaks, eventually leading us back to the car. It was a great day out, definitely our favourite part of the trip!
The following day was the last day of the trip, so we had a couple of hours to spend before we needed to head to the airport. We decided to drive up to another part of the Caldera de Taburiente national park, called Mirador de la Cumbrecita, located on the eastern side of the park. That day the mountains were shrouded in clouds and mist making the views even more spectacular. We only had time for a brief stay before heading to our next stop, the Refugio el Pilar. This is a large pine forest in the middle of the island, and a popular destination for the locals who comes here to have barbecues and family days out. Driving up the mountain we passed through black lava fields, almost lifeless with the exception of a few, scattered pine trees. This made for a very peculiar looking landscape, completely different from the rest of the island. After having our packed lunch at the main visitors centre, we followed one of the hiking trails up the mountain side. The weather had changed with mist rolling in, giving the forest a dreamy feeling. As we gained altitude the landscape changed, with forest giving way to lava rocks and scattered trees. Together with the mist it gave the landscape an almost alien feel. Unfortunately we could only stay for a short while before we had to head to the airport and leave La Palma for this time, but I am sure we will be back!
We had a wonderful week and we were both positively surprised by what this small island had to offer. It is definitely a place to go if you are looking for an active vacation, with beautiful nature AND beaches. It is not touristy (not yet at least) and food and drink is cheap (Prosecco for £2 a bottle!). When we first arrived to the hotel we were afraid that we had to endure their buffet every night (tried it the first night, that was more than enough) but as we ventured into our small village we found a couple of lovely restaurants with delicious fish dishes. Our two favourites were Playa Chica and El Rincón del Pescador for dinner, and Bar Ola for lunch. There were also a number of nice cocktail bars along the beach, serving really potent gin and tonics.
We are both certain that we will return to La Palma, there are still a lot of hiking trails we haven’t experienced!