Unique La Palma
This is the island for those wanting to escape the fast pace of modern life and offers great opportunities for relaxation. The island is green with inland areas covered with forests of pine and laurel trees and giant ferns and this is because the climate here is cooler and wetter than on other Canary Islands.
The central part of the island is the massive volcanic crater of La Caldera de Taburiente which is over 8 kms across and is of important botanical and geological importance. At the highest point on the island you will see the International Astrophysics Observatory. This was built here in 1985 through the co-operation of several different countries because the remoteness of the island and its lack of urban development means that the sky is clear throughout the year; mostly above cloud level and with no artificial light pollution. Although not normally open to the public, the grounds are open during daylight hours and provide excellent views over the surrounding area. Although La Palma has mild temperatures throughout the year, the Observatory is so high that temperatures are much lower and it can snow during winter months.
The southwest coast has a marine reserve to protect the sea bed and underwater life from exploitation, as some plants and animals are rare or endangered. Diving and fishing in this restricted area is not permitted, but there is a visitor centre in the old lighthouse at Fuencaliente that gives information about life in the Marine Reserve and its work in protecting this area.
In the northwest of the Canary Islands, 85 kilometres from Tenerife, is the island of La Palma. It is often called Isla Bonita (pretty island) or Isla Verde (green island) because of its lush green forests and incredible natural beauty.
The Spanish conquest of La Palma took place in 1492. The original inhabitants called their island Benaohare and it was divided into 12 feudal estates. By the 16th century the island’s economy was very strong, thanks to the growth of the sugar industry. La Palma was also exporting large quantities of Malvasía wine, honey and other products. The first shipyards appeared and the port of Santa Cruz de La Palma became a hub of commercial activity, with shipping routes to mainland Europe and America.
In the 18th century Santa Cruz was one of the major ports of the Spanish empire. Ships left the island destined for America. Shipbuilding benefited from the abundance of wood in the island’s forests. The first yards opened soon after the conquest and shipbuilding was a buoyant industry on the island until the 1940s.
In the 19th century, cochineal production was introduced to make dyes, and this became a significant source of income. The dye is obtained from a scale insect that lives its life sucking on the prickly pear cacti.
At the same time, sugar production, which had been abandoned, made a comeback, and the first banana plantations were laid. In the 20th century the banana production underwent a massive expansion and now the fruit is the mainstay of La Palma’s economy, with annual exports in excess of 130 million kilos. Other important industries on the island are goat farming, a small tobacco enterprise, wine and avocado production and a developing tourist industry.
In spite of the predatory hands that have laid siege to the island ever since the conquest, La Palma still has large swaths of its vegetation intact, most importantly the laurel forests in the north, for example El Cuban de La Galga and El Canal.
The Los Tilos laurel forest has been declared a biosphere reserve and as such is protected by UNESCO. Canarian pine trees cover a large part of the island’s surface and for years now there has been a ban on their logging. This has meant that the tree, which grows even in very poor soil, is coming back to reclaim land that was previously taken from it.
There are 70 native species of plant on the island, 104 others that are native to the Canaries.