Many people have never seen a truly dark sky, but then comparatively few have visited La Palma, the most north-westerly of all the Canary Islands. With towering peaks that rise above the ‘sea of clouds’, little urbanisation and no western neighbour to speak of, this unassuming isle enjoys near-perfect conditions for stargazing – making it an ideal home for the world’s largest telescope, located on high at the island’s Roque de los Muchachos Observatory. To ensure its prized clear skies are conserved for future generations, La Palma was also chosen as the globe’s first Starlight Reserve and Starlight Tourist Destination.
This is all very impressive, of course, but before we get too starry eyed over the island’s astronomical potential I’d like to refocus our gaze on some of its more tangible natural wonders. Known as La Isla Bonita (‘the pretty isle’), La Palma is widely considered to be the most beautiful of the Canaries, due in part to its mind-boggling diversity: from the lava fields of the south to the pine-forested central crater and dense, tropical north, there is so much to love and admire about this fascinating island, and no better way to explore it than on foot.
For though La Palma has managed to remain far below the radar of mass tourism, its status as a walker’s paradise is well established. A vast network of footpaths criss-crosses the island, covering just about every type of terrain going – some routes will see you venturing deep into subtropical rainforests, while others traverse dramatic ridges with far-reaching views. One of our favourite trails crosses land that didn’t even exist before the volcanic eruptions of 1971 – beginning at the San Antonio Volcano, it winds past cones, craters and unusual rock formations to reach the southernmost tip of the island, where you’ll find the only remaining working salt pans in the Western Canaries – an important stopover point for many migratory birds.
For something with a little more pedigree, we recommend descending into the palm-studded Caldera de Taburiente, an ancient crater where waterfalls cascade and brooks flow across the floor of the mighty Angustias Ravine. And then there’s Cubo de la Galga – a wonderful trail that takes you through some of the finest laurel forests on the island, where the dense canopies and over-sized ferns create a real Lost World feel.
Quite a variety, we know, but that’s La Palma for you.