November 2016 I guess is the 12 month anniversary since I discovered the Canary Islands, and how I have realised how unlike the proverbial UK/Irish lager-lout destination as portrayed in the media the majority of the islands geography actually is… so this November I thought I would go to a fourth one, the lesser known island of La Palma. Maybe it is lesser known because it is rather less beachy than the others, or because there are rather less hotels than some of the typical ones… or because, as it turned out, the weather is rather fairer and more variable (at least in autumn) than the other islands I have visited. Anyway, having already visited three of the islands in a spell of four months in a period spanning last Christmas, and in a continued quest to conquer ever more of the world within easy reach, I chose La Palma for my late-autumn holiday this year.
Being less touristy/popular, La Palma cannot be reached directly from Europe, so I had to fly via Gran Canaria which meant the start/end days of my holiday were mostly travelling… but as I had decided to stay a whole week this time then I didn’t mind much. I descended into Gran Canaria on a Sunday with lots of blue skies and sun and so had high hopes for good weather… but my arrival into La Palma was comparatively disappointing, with grey clouds all around. I picked up my hire car and headed out of the airport at around 3.45pm, uncertain what to do… and my gut instinct kicked in and thought, well, maybe if I head to higher ground then it will brighten up – north of the island capital, Santa De La Cruz, I headed uphill on one of the few main roads (LP4), up and up, into drizzly clouds… and lo and behold, after about 40 minutes, I saw blue sky, and eventually sun too. Near the high point of the island astonishing views like the one below presented themselves – above the clouds I felt on top of the world, and it was so tranquil too. As the sun started to sink I drove down the other side of the mountains and then headed east to my base for the next two nights, the Hotel Romantica in a town called Barlovento. I think the label ‘Romantica’ referred to the nicely laid out grounds, because the hotel inside turned out to be rather dated and somewhat falling apart… but I retired to bed after a reasonable meal.
The next morning after a DIY buffet breakfast I drove along the north coast, but a pretty cloudy sky prevented me from doing much exploration. I did find some impressive coastal views on the north-western side once in good sun, as per the picture below, but an attempted walk became very disappointing when it turned out that the path did not remotely follow the route shown on the map. I continued to drive what turned out to be an anti-clockwise loop around the top half of the island and back to my hotel.
Tuesday morning I left the hotel in light rain! That wasn’t what I had hoped at all for my holiday, even if the temperature was very mild. On this day luck was not on my side, for I drove to the summit of the island as per my arrival day but this time it was covered in cloud… although I did get the picture below of a quite other-worldly rock formation and rainbow. Driving from east to west the higher areas also seemed disappointingly cloudy and so by 4.00pm I had arrived at my next accommodation at a town called El Paso, a pink bungalow with a terracotta roof which was really cheap, and quite well equipped as it turned out, although the alleyway to it was so ludicrously tight that if I had had a car any larger than a Polo then I’m sure I would have scraped it trying to turn around; the rest of my stay I parked it on the road! After the owner met me and showed me around, I did some unpacking, shopped at a nearby supermarket, and then cooked myself an omelette with the owner’s free range eggs… and a yummy choccy cake slab for dessert.
By this time I had figured out that the geography and climate of the island are such that the weather starts off lovely and sunny and then cloud soon glues itself to the higher parts of the island – La Palma is actually the steepest island in the world. So Wednesday morning I got up good and early and left the house complete with packed lunch by 8.30. This meant I got quite nice views of the nearby volcanic area nearby (as per below), but a walk from a place called El Pilar though quite pleasant, eventually meant I was walking in and out of clouds and although I did see two big craters which were quite impressive the cloud cover meant good photos were impossible and temperatures became very cool, and so I turned back, returned to the car to complete a 9 mile walk, and then ended up back at the house to eat my lunch and have a cup of tea to warm up. In the afternoon I explored the coast to the west of me and found some fantastic cliffs and coastline below a place called El Jesus, as well as some lovely warm sun around 23C. Back at base at dinner time I noticed a couple of little ants by the kitchen sink! Odd I thought… and little did I know that the adventures of Andrea Attenborough (David’s distant relative but lesser known nature lover and explorer) would soon begin… not that I like the kind of nature I found in this abode very much!
The next morning I was also up fairly early because I was visiting the number one attraction of the island called Caldera de Taburiente, one of the largest craters in the world, not a volcanic one as stated locally but one caused by a monumental rock collapse eons ago. Very popular it may be, with sightseers and hikers alike, but the parking facilities are ludicrously limited, to only 16 places at one time… although one can take an expensive taxi from the visitor centre up to the crater. Anyway, I had booked a parking spot for several hours a week beforehand and I headed up to arrive at around 10.00am, delighted to find the sun glorious and not too much cloud. I did a 2km walk taking in two good viewpoints but then quite typically it started to cloud over and I started to do a climb but then gave up due to poor sun – I just knew that I wouldn’t get any good pictures if I carried on. So I returned to the house to eat lunch… where I discovered a plethora of ants in the kitchen that had emerged from tiling at the kitchen floor, and were crawling up a cupboard and also along the floor – I rang the owner who came to have a look (because he didn’t understand enough English to figure it out on the phone) and then popped to local store for a spray which sorted them out. In the afternoon I drove to the north-west coast and did a very pleasant walk down to find lovely coastal views (see below); once back at the house while taking my makeup off in the shower room I happened to look into the shower tray when I dropped a makeup lid and noticed a small lizard sitting in it! :-O I put a glass over him, so that he wouldn’t run into a bedroom, but with a tiny gap for him to breath… and then went to bed.
Friday I had thought I would get up really early and do a similar walk to a couple of days beforehand in order to get some photos of the volcanic area, but when I awoke the whole area was grey with spotting rain… so I went back to bed for a little while and eventually headed off south where webcam pictures indicated the possibility of sun. Indeed once I got to the main town at the south of the island, Los Canarios, it was indeed sunny… but when I parked on a road near a big volcanic cone it was blowing a gale, and so I tied my hair in a pony tail before I headed off on a circular walk taking in the best volcanic area of the island with multi-coloured rocks, assorted cones, craters, and fields of ash debris. The highlight of the walk was reaching the pinnacle of land at the summit of a cone called Volcan de Teneguia… where I noticed something I found really special, from that point I could see the distant outline of three other Canary Islands – La Gomera, El Hierro, and Tenerife with the snow-clad peak of Tiede poking through a layer of cloud (see below). Alas on my route back to the car I got caught in a heavy rain storm, and returned to my house drenched… to find another outbreak of ants, which I quickly sprayed, before commencing packing.
Saturday after getting my face on I had breakfast and prepared a packed lunch… and stood on something that felt a bit squelchy – I thought it was perhaps a tomato or a grape, but no, it was a MASSIVE centipede, about five inches in length! Ugh!! Even writing this now makes me feel a bit queasy, just as I was as I finished making my lunch. I packed final things, left the keys on the table (as instructed), and hastily departed. As it was my last day I was determined to cram in quite a few things. Firstly I did a similar walk to the day before, but from a different starting/end point, and got much better weather and views including vineyards cascading down the hills, then I headed onto a set of working salt pans (see below) that produce hundreds of tons of salt per year, and then hurtled (legally) to the north of the island where I had planned a walk… but soon after starting off I couldn’t see a path continuing where the map suggested and it was also clouding a bit, so I thought I would zoom up the northern side of the high mountains to the very top… and I was so lucky because after driving through rain showers and then misty clouds I emerged in bright sunshine to find spectacular views again over the crater (see bottom picture)… although also very chilly temperatures, which dipped to 1C at one point once I departed and descended just below a rising cloud line. I got to my hotel near the airport at around 7.30pm after a long descent and enjoyed a fine meal out to nicely finish off my latest Canaries holiday.
Overall I had a good time despite somewhat variable but warm weather and saw some fantastic sights… I’m just not sure the two-leg journey will prompt a return, at least for some time… despite impressive sights like this final one below.