Let’s get one thing straight – I’m not one for a tropical holiday. I sweat (a lot) and I don’t live up to my fire-haired nature and burn that remarkably, or get any colour in fact. I also have a strange scepticism of holiday resorts. I’m not going to go about this post like a well put together journal entry, but more of a rambling mess by a girl who went on holiday before balancing out her medications – because that’s what it is. All photographs are my own (and more here).
I’m not sure if I’m just cynical, however resorts seem to put me on edge. Each one is often based on the ideal of paradise, frequently contrasting the landscape of the outside to make people feel safe and calm etc. Whilst being at the La Palma Princess resort I did encounter English newspapers, though they were The Sun & the Daily Mail and on this holiday I wasn’t feeling particularly racist or eager to body shame. I tend to feel this obtuse guilt of not knowing what is happening in the world when I go away, despite the fact that nobody cares nor do I have the means to discuss anything noteworthy. Whilst my mind was often pestered by this I eventually found myself blissfully ignorant by the pool, forgetting I had set an alarm in order to return to my room and watch Trump’s inauguration and cry a little (a lot). I admit I enjoyed sitting by the pool and playing bingo to try and win a free trip to the spa, mainly so I wouldn’t have to use the free sauna where I would, no doubt, be lectured by a raging nudist about how the temperatures will ensure any garment I wear harbours bacteria and can probably kill me/screw up my junk a little. I enjoyed eating copious amounts of bacon as well as churros for breakfast and gaining 6lbs in the process, and I enjoyed drinking tequila sunrises until I slipped into a brief coma; the €2 cigarettes were just a bonus.
And so, to the matter at hand. Here are some words I have written that will undoubtedly not do enough justice to this beautiful, lesser-known Canary Island covered with bananas – La Isla Bonita (not the Madonna song).
This trip was planned pretty last minute for someone who enjoys nothing more than being prepared years in advance, but the journey went without a hitch and I completed a productive total of 5 chapters of My Dad Wrote a Porno. I recommend it wholeheartedly. The coach trip from La Palma Airport to La Palma Princess took around 40 minutes, though I was captivated for around half of that time by the sheer amount of bananas there are on the island – there’s a lot, and I made a conscious effort not to photograph them. We had nothing planned for our first half-day, so following a brisk check-in we went to explore the complex. The gym was a little disappointing, though I guess it wasaccurately described “with exercise machines like bicycle ergometer, weights and power racks” – it was just a little… dingy. They also failed to mention it is directly next to the nudist area overlooking the “private garden”, but I narrowly avoided seeing any wrinkly balls. The food during the day that is available at the pizzeria is probably the best throughout the entire complex, especially since we later discovered much of the food available at dinner was lacking in taste, and it also seemed to mainly be food thought to appease Brits (i.e. chips, chicken etc.) I just really, really wanted paella. Everything else was satisfactory and the staff were very friendly. A very cute bartender dealt with me badly flirting (I thought flirting was tipping him €10), but alas we did not fall in love; also whoever makes the posters for the day-to-day activities needs to stop using WordArt ASAP. It’s 2017.
While I like to think I’m productive and see as much as possible when I travel, I did none of the main sports & leisure opportunities La Palma offers. Sure I hiked, but I did no horseback riding, mountain biking, paragliding, nor did I scuba dive (I actually really regret that part, that water is damn clear). I’m not completely ignorant to the fact that people go on these types of holidays in order to relax and take a break, especially during this period in January when the majority of people my age are at university and families with kids are extremely scarce. But whilst over 90% of those staying at La Palma Princess were probably over the age of 50, each person was suited up in their hiking gear or heading out on busses every single day. I met an elderly couple during a hike around the Teneguía Volcano who had a hike planned for every day of their visit… their stay was almost two weeks long. I can’t even wake up two days in a row let alone ten. Although, despite my undiagnosed narcolepsy/anaemia/laziness, I still managed to visit Los Llanos de Aridane, Playa de La Zamora, Tijarafe (for a brief time), Los Tilos, San Andrés y Sauces, Santa Cruz de La Palma and hike Ruta de los Volcanes. Instead of booking a car in advance we left it until we had properly scoped out the island. It should also be noted that as long as you have an EU Driver’s License and €40, you can rent a car in La Palma; you don’t need a credit card in order to pay a deposit etc.
So, after an utterly lazy day spent mostly at the pool bar and the Pizzeria (or as my dad calls it, Pizz-iera) like the greedy brits we are, we decided to go on our first trip. We had heard that there was a bus to Los Llanos, located in the west of La Palma, for only €20pp and while the key phrase to describe this town was “it’s great for shopping!” I figured I could still find some hidden gems without actually having to buy any crocs.
After an hour’s journey we headed straight for the closest curiosity – Cementerio Municipal. This cemetery is one of my most treasured finds on this trip, it was elegant and modestly grand, with large silver graves dating back to the 1800s.
From Cementerio Municipal we set off to find any other places of interest. In the town centre of Los Llanos there is the Museo en La Calle, which consists of a variety of contemporary art murals painted on the sides of buildings. While many of the art murals are in the town centre of Los Llanos, there are a few to be found through the streets of the town. The first piece I came across was Canary artist Matias Mata’s vibrant mural on the wall of the adjacent stadiums to the Estadio Municipal Aceró. The rest of the photos I took of this mural are on film, so I will post them once developed. Matias’ mural for CEMFAC (The City in the Museum, Forum of Contemporary Art) can be seen in full on his website, along with his other works.
We visited the Museo de Arte Sacro, located in La Parroquia Matriz de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios. Although we arrived too late to see any of the displays, it was still fully worth seeing the Mudéjar architecture style of the buildings and the clock tower. We visited the market of Los Llanos, purchasing various fresh fruits and some saffron made in La Palma, as well as stopping in Plaza de España to visit the kiosk there and enjoy some coffee and música en vivo. We didn’t have much time left to explore the rest of the town by this point, so we rushed around trying to see as many of the statues in the city as possible, such as the Monumento a la Madre at the junction of Avenida Carlos Francisco Lorenzo Navarro and Plaza de la Constitución, although the view was slightly tarnished by the mesh of Christmas lights forming a nativity scene in front of it,Cabeza Guanche que mira al sol, a sculpture of steel by Fernando Bellver; The Guanches are believed to be the original inhabitants of the Canary Islands. The bronze statue of a folk musician playing a ukulele, in honour of the folkloric group Arriero, and Monumento a Los Regantes a Calabazo.
 It seems to be a routine thing each year that the Christmas lights of La Palma are not taken down for a while after the holidays. I was constantly wished a “Feliz Navidad!” via a Christmas display wherever I went. I’m all for it.
I would have been pretty gutted to have missed a visit to Los Llanos de Aridane. I felt as if noting it mainly for its shopping centres is a bit of an understatement, but I guess some have to pander to that audience; the mountainous views as well as the rustic wooden balconies of Los Llanos are also things to be acknowledged.
What I wish I had seen/visited in and around Los Llanos: Puerto Naos; Shrine of Nuestra Señora de Las Angustias; Benahoarita Archaeological Museum; Todoque; La Glorieta – Mosaic Las Manchas.
The following day we decided to take it easy and join a few others at the hotel on a trek to Playa de la Zamora, a small sandy bay surrounded by cliffs. The volcanic rocks from afar look menacing, but when you climb down amongst them to the natural rock pools the landscape is anything but. There is a kiosk at the top of the steps that lead down to the beach, though I recommend taking a few of your own beers down to the rock pools and taking in the environment.
Whale Watching North Route (with transfer). We booked this trip via First Choice for the next day and I pumped myself full of travel sickness remedies before we set off on a glass-bottomed catamaran. Enthusiasm was prevalent among everyone on this trip, mainly because nobody had told us not to get our hopes up, and the harbour was rife with signs reading “100% GUARANTEE OF DOLPHINS AND WHALES” and photos of schools of dolphins descending from the water alongside the boats; we were told frequently that while whale sightings are quite rare, it is almost inevitable that you will see a dolphin on your trip. Luckily it was considerably sunny on this day, and we stopped to feed the fish and see them up close through the bottom of the boat.
We then visited Cueva Bonita and Cueva de Candelaria where we were given a brief history of the 17th century pirates who used to frequent them, and the story of several fisherman who cheated death by escaping through the second mouth of the cave. We then headed out further in search of cetaceans and after a while I was becoming considerably drowsy, probably due to my travel sickness aids, and it wasn’t helped by the lengthy process of trying to find any kind of sea life. Luckily we had a Swedish tourist among us who was an avid whale watcher and had brought his own pair of binoculars, and eventually he shouted out to the team and guided them to where he had seen a fin “larger than a dolphin’s”. We watched and hoped for something to puncture the surface.
AYO. THAT’S A WHALE. It looked small from the top of the boat, but once I went to the lower deck and it was right beside me I was in awe of its size. I’m still not entirely over the fact that there was a real whale next to me.
What we had encountered was a Ziphius Cavirostris, or rather a Cuvier’s Beaked Whale or the Goose-Beaked Whale. I felt deeply connected to this whale because, not only do we both feed on several species of squid, but our awkward noses give us character.
Following the sighting we headed back to the harbour. Whilst the experience is slightly tinged with disappointment, I can still say that I treasure it. Although if the Swedish man hadn’t been on our trip we probably wouldn’t have seen anything so I kind of owe it to him. Thanks Swedish man. If only you had a name.
Lava, Wine & Tapas: This trip was booked via NATOUR, so I may as well quote their website to give you the basics. “At the foot of Fuencaliente, 650 metres above sea level, we find the San Antonio volcano, about 3000 years old. From here, we can see the whole west side of La Palma and the small surrounding villages. The Teneguia volcano erupted in 1971 and is now below this one. The track descends from the crater of San Antonio, through an arid landscape of volcanic scoria and dunes of black sand contrasting sharply with the bright blue of the sea.” As you can guess from the title of this excursion, it is one of the shortest and easiest hiking routes of La Palma. Despite this, it is also one of the steepest and most appealing. This route allowed us to see both volcanoes from various viewpoints, as well as learn about their vast history whilst encircled by scoria. We also got to see the Roque Teneguia, where the original inhabitants of the island would perform rituals and have left engravings on many of the rocks, though few are left due to houses being built from them as well as thieving.
At the end of the trek we walked toward the Fuencaliente Lighthouse and the Salt Pans, built in 1967, where salt is extracted from the sea water and sent to various businesses on the island.
We got to explore this part of the island whilst waiting for transport to take us to Playa Chica where we enjoyed our wine and tapas.
On our final day we rented a car in order to travel to the northern part of the island and visit its highest viewpoint. There was a trip offered by First Choice to discover the Natural North, but we decided to do it ourselves and just copy their destinations. Driving in La Palma isn’t as dangerous as it looks, although it feels like at some point you’re going to topple over the edge and plummet to your death – you’re probably not.
Our first stop was Santa Cruz de la Palma, which Annie Bennettdescribes as “like walking through a paint chart”, which is invariably true. The sheer collection of colours and vibrancy throughout this city is something to be admired, as well as its history & art.
When we reached the cobbles of Calle Real I was surprised by the amount of historic buildings amongst the shops and cafés. The first building we visited was a house built around 1811 by José García Carballo, a councillor and liberalist whose modern politics and cultural views are reflected in the design of the house, planned by priest and architect José Joaquin Martín de Just – “The main façade has a classical design of alternating curved and triangular pediments and traditional balconies, with wooden roofs and balustrades, overlooking the side and rear streets”.
We then visited Salazar Main House to attend El Arte de Vivir, aretrospective exhibition reviewing half a century of Luis Morera Filipe’s artistic career not only as a painter, but as a musician, poet, sculptor and architect.
Our next location was the Ayuntamiento de Santa Cruz (town hall) which was built between 1559-1567, and is said to be the best example of Renaissance civil architecture in the Canary Islands. The interiors of the building were renovated in the mid-twentieth century by architect Tomás Machado, and there is a twentieth century mural in the stairwell by Mariano de Cossio.
Opposite the town hall in the Plaza de España square is Iglesia Matriz de El Salvador, one the most lavish and striking churches I have ever encountered. The main feature of the altarpiece in the church of El Salvador is a 19th century painting by the Sevillian painter Antonio María Esquivel of the Transfiguration. “Highlights on the outside of the church include the Renaissance portico and an adjoining tower built of volcanic stone blocks.”
With most of the day gone, we headed to the San Bartolo Mountain Viewpoint. The viewpoints of La Palma offer an astronomical lookout on the island, however we went during the day and missed out on this. Still, we got a sweeping view of the island and of the clouds hugging the tips of the mountainous landscape.
We then headed to San Andrés y Sauces to visit the Los Tilos Rainforest, the first World Biosphere Reserve on the island and home to various wildlife, lush greenery and natural water springs. Despite the cold, we sat outside of Casa Demetrio among the laurel forest. The term “restaurant” is a bit far-fetched for this place, “café” may be more apt. I ordered queso con miel because it seemed the most appetising thing on the menu – it still wasn’t that good.
Things perked up however once we left for a short stroll around the rainforest, discovering various animals as well as seeing the majestic Los Tilos Waterfall.
Our final stop of the day was El Charco Azul, home to “the best natural pool in La Palma”. The rocks act as a partition between the Atlantic ocean and the calm translucent water of the pools, creating a unique place for bathing on hot days. It was far too cold for me to bathe during my visit, but I plan on returning to fully experience this part of San Andrés.
I wish my visit had been longer as La Palma is a destination that deserves enough time to be explored thoroughly, and I also wish I had researched more beforehand.Also revisiting the rainforest is something I would like to do with a tour guide in order to learn more about the botanical aspects. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to La Palma and I recommend it to anyone interested.