La Palma is well worth a detour with its fascinating geology and great hiking. We berthed in the marina at Santa Cruz - the capital of the island - which was built just a few years ago inside the main port and close to where the ferries and cruise ships berth. It is convenient and comfortable except for being woken in the middle of most nights by the noise of one particular ferry going about its business. The cruise ship passengers soon pass by, seeking out the delights of the town and inland.
Santa Cruz de La Palma, from the hermitage above
Santa Cruz is a very pretty town with meandering cobbled streets lined with shops catering for the prosperous islanders and numerous visitors. The atmosphere is very convivial, especially at sunset when everyone is out and about shopping or sitting in one of the many bars having a drink and snack.
Apparently La Palma was discovered in the 1960s by German hikers, who surprised the locals by wanting to walk along the old tracks which were increasingly being abandoned in favour of roads built for motor vehicles. We have these pioneers to thank for the restoration of the trails which include a 139 km coastal path, a walk around the rim of the vast Caldera de Taburiente - passing through the island's highest points - and walks up from the coast to the various highpoints. The valleys are so steep sided that the quickest way to walk to the neighbouring coastal settlement was to climb all the way to the rim and descend in the next valley. Hoping you have chosen the right one!
Looking towards Puerto Tazacorte, the only shelter on the west coast of La Palma
The weather forecast was perfect for us: sunshine and clouds but no rain. Not having done any serious hiking for at least 2 years, we started off with some gentle walks at low altitudes, through laurel woodlands in the north of the island. Gentle is a relative term since most walks involve plenty of up and down, crossing ravines or walking along dry-ish riverbeds. At least the paths are well marked.
After a few days practice we decided to tackle one of the high points, Pico de la Nieve. From the coast the walk would take at least 8 hours so we cheated and drove up as far as about 1800 metres altitude where the Canary pine forests make for pleasant walking. Once above the tree line it's a steep walk up to the edge of the Caldera de Taburiente but then the reward is stunning views when the skies are clear.
Above the tree line, with a view to Tenerife and La Gomera islands
Back down through shady Canary Pine forests
Stargazing instructions (for landlubbers!) on Ruta da Volcanoes
Laurisilva forests on the north coast
The next day we went down with colds so had to hang up our hiking boots. We did manage to drive to - and sneeze at - the highest point of the island, Roque de los Muchachos where there are many telescopes for astronomical observation. Light pollution is strictly controlled - noticeable when driving at night as the main roads are barely lit and use of main beam headlamps forbidden.
Six of over 30 observatories near the high point
All too soon it was time to move on - just 52 miles southwest to La Gomera where we plan to spend Christmas.