10. La Palma (19 Mar – 1 Apr 2014)

At the end of our 80-mile sail from San Sebastian in La Gomera – via Los Gigantes in Tenerife (Blog 9) – we pulled into Marina La Palma in Santa Cruz, Isla de La Palma.

 Sailing route from Tenerife, via La Gomera, to La Palma   

The marina is at the northern end of the island’s only remaining commercial port, which accommodates ferry, cruise liner, container and fishing vessels.

In January 2010 we made landfall and provisioned at Santa Cruz on our second Atlantic Circuit in Island Drifter. At that time the marina and complex were in the early stages of construction. 

Marina La Palma, Santa Cruz, from the hillside above 

Unfortunately the marina still suffers from a problem with swell, even in totally calm conditions, and has developed a “reputation” amongst Cruisers. As a consequence it was only a quarter full.  This suited us in that there was plenty of space and prices have been kept down in order to encourage visitors.

Marina La Palma in Santa Cruz, empty of cruising boats due to its reputation for “swell”

The Port Authorities and the Marina owners have been partially successful in reducing the swell by introducing concrete baffles along the harbour walls within the marina – at a cost of £0.7M, paid for with, no doubt, an EU grant.

Concrete baffles on harbour wall designed to reduce swell

After successfully experimenting with a ferry parked across the marina entrance to see what effect it had, they now intend to install a 5m-deep barrier that can be raised and lowered like a guillotine from towers on either side of the entrance. This is expected to be built and in operation by the end of 2014.

Ferry across marina entrance to test whether a barrier could reduce the swell. The test proved successful.

The port of Santa Cruz lies in a deeply indented bay in a natural harbour halfway down the east coast of La Palma.  With its long, enormously high and wide breakwater, boats are well protected from wind and waves from all directions.  Currently in bad weather, however, the swell in the marina increases significantly and can, we are told, be very uncomfortable.

Looking over Santa Cruz’s well-indented bay from the south. Its commercial port, marina and city are to the left.

Santa Cruz is an attractive city. Its central streets, which encompass the old town, are mostly pedestrianised and it has a wealth of old restored buildings. These give the area a colonial feel that is complemented by bustling cafés, restaurants and quality shops. It is, we think, the most appealing capital of the seven in the Canaries.

 Views of Santa Cruz’s attractive city:

Old traditional Canarian balconies on 
houses along the seafront

Plaza España with Iglesia El Salvador through archway

Pedestrianised street

One of the many bustling, open-air cafés

Impressive interior of Iglesia El Salvador in Plaza España

La Palma is a “young island” in that it is only 2 million years old! Today it extends over approximately 706 square kilometres, is approximately 50kms long and is the third smallest island in the Canaries.  Half of its 84k inhabitants live in the two cities of Santa Cruz and Los Llanos and the other half are spread about the country and in, now, small tourist resorts.

 Outline map of La Palma showing roads 
and principal locations referred to in this Blog       

Isla de la Palma is known within the Canaries as La Isla Bonita (The Beautiful Island). This accolade is well deserved.

Scenic views of the island:

Traditional stonework used in houses and walls

Canary Pines grow well on the upper slopes

Iglesia de las Nieves (Church of the Snows) 
in the hills above Santa Cruz

Water heavily laden with minerals in the Caldera de Taburiente National Park – the colours are not exaggerated!

The only mountain stream on the island flows from a spring in the Caldera de Taburiente in the National Park

Almond blossom in Puntagorda in the north of La Palma 

The island is essentially shaped like a large question mark with a lot of rock draped around it.  The question mark is formed by a central spine of volcanic mountains – the Cumbre Vieja to the south, linked by the Cumbre Nueva to the loop of the Caldera de Taburiente in the north.

Picture of the mountain ranges  
           shaped like a question mark             

The craggy Roque de las Muchachos, 2426 metres high, in the north, dominates the island. It overlooks the extinct Caldera de Taburiente, one of the world’s largest volcanic craters.  They are a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site.  They are also the most striking features in La Palma.  At dusk the mountain’s shadow can reach all the way to Tenerife, some 85 miles away.

Roque de los Muchachos

Looking south, from the Roque de los Muchachos, across the Caldera de Taburiente, 
one of the world’s largest volcanic craters

The collapsed rim of the Caldera de Taburiente, 
seen from Island Drifter, while sailing up the west coast 

Near the Roque de las Muchachos, the island’s peak, is the International Astrophysical Observatory.  Clear and cloudless nights, lack of light pollution, and an undisturbed air flow as a consequence of the mountains’ shape all contribute to making the Observatory one of the best in Europe. Large numbers of both professional and amateur astronomers visit each year.

International Astrophysical Observatory below  
Roque de los Muchachos

To the south of the island is the Cumbre Vieja, where the volcanoes are smaller but have formed more recently. The last volcanic eruption was in 1971 when the lava stream flowed into the sea at the tip of the south coast. 

Volcano Martín at the south end of the Cumbre Vieja range – with the island of El Hierro in the background

Today, a new lighthouse and saltpans have been built on the lava.

Faro de Fuentecaliente, on the southern tip of La Palma, with saltpans and the black lava from 
the 1971 eruption in the background 

The north of the island is wild and green with a blanket of dense forest thanks to the humidity carried by the Trade Winds.

Laurisilva forest blanketing foothills 
with tree heather in foreground 

Significant parts of the south are a frazzled wasteland blackened by volcanic activity and only sparsely forested.  Surprisingly the volcanic soil is particularly good for growing vines and bananas. At the Carballo Bodega, a vineyard that has been in the same family for five generations, we tasted some of their wines before buying a few bottles to take back with us. The 25€ bottle of Malvasia was particularly good. Not surprisingly they do not offer a taste of the 100€ bottle, of which only 200 are produced each year!

      Aerial view of Cumbre Vieja volcanoes

Wine-tasting at family-owned Bodega Carballo

Much of the island’s coastline is comprised of steep, rocky lava cliffs with barrancos [ravines] leading down to black sand bays.

Playa de Nogales on the east coast north of Santa Cruz

Costa de Garafía on the north coast

Typically steep coastline at El Tablado 
(Note GR130 hiking trail)

The prevailing north-easterly Trade Winds and the high mountain range at the north of the island have ensured that La Palma has remained self sufficient for water and, apart from in the extreme south, it is green and colourful. Trees, shrubs and flowers grow prolifically in the fertile soil and there are many species of flora that are endemic to the island.


Echium wildpretii  grows in mountain regions

Bejeque growing in crevice in the lava

The favourable all-year-round climate at sea level enables the growth of tropical fruits. Higher up, in the foothills and ravines, most vegetables, sub-tropical fruit and cultivated flowers grow well.

Ubiquitous La Palma bananas – small, sweet and delicious



Typical small vegetable farm in an alluvial plain

As for tourism, La Palma was fortunately a late starter due to its location, lack of golden sandy beaches and challenging topography.  A few years ago, however, a programme of low-key tourist development was initiated in nominated locations. To date this has not had an adverse effect on the island and hopefully will not be allowed to do so.

Puerto Naos, on the west coast, the largest holiday resort on La Palma (actually it’s not very big)

Los Cancajos, south of Santa Cruz, the second largest holiday development (even smaller!)

Seawater swimming pools, like this, are being developed where there are no beaches

In addition, considerable effort is being made to encourage activity holidays, in particular hiking, cycling, mountain biking, boating, diving, fishing and hang gliding.

 Hang glider landing on the black 
sand beach at Puerto Naos

Mountain biker on a time trial – a popular activity 

The fact is that tourism is now, and will continue to be, by far and away the predominant source of income and employment on the island.   Once it was sugar cane. 

Statue commemorating the importance of sugar-cane production in Los Sauces, one of the centres of the industry

  Puerto Espíndola, once a major port for the export of sugar cane and subsequently bananas. 
The harbour is too small and shallow for yachts.

Bananas, said to be THE fruit of the twenty-first century, took over from sugar cane.  Currently the industry is flourishing.   Banana plantations cover large swathes of the coastline like a green blanket, broken up by rough riddled concrete walls erected as windbreaks and enormous plastic sheds where greater protection from the sun and wind is necessary.

Banana plantations are everywhere 
along the coast and foothills

Rough concrete and reinforced plastic banana sheds – ugly but effective windbreaks

Bananas grow up to and within 
many of the towns and villages

Dotted around the island are picturesque hamlets and houses used as holiday homes, rental accommodation or lived in, commuted from or farmed by the local population.

Typical houses spread around the countryside:


La Palma is as inaccessible by road in its central National Parks as La Gomera is on its coast. It is equally steep and its ravines as deep. The first major metalled roads in the north of La Palma were laid only some thirty years ago.  However, there has been more extensive investment on roads than in La Gomera.  In La Palma tunnels and bridges have been forged through mountain ridges and across barrancos and there is a complete road system around the island.  (In La Gomera, which is significantly less populated and smaller, a principal road has simply been built around the upper contours of the central plateau, with secondary roads radiating off it to a handful of small hamlets.)

We noticed, however, that, like the painting of the Forth Bridge, the servicing and repair of the roads appears to be a never-ending task and cost.
One of the many tunnels blasted through the mountain ridges running down to the sea (note old road off to the right that used to follow the contours of the ridge)

     Bridges cross the barracos [ravines] running down to the coast from the volcanoes and mountains

Road repairs after a land slide – 
an apparently continuous process!

Hiking opportunities have always attracted visitors to the island. The Canaries’ GR131 route runs from Puerto Tazacorte, through the National Parks, to the lighthouse at Fuentecaliente in the south of the island. The much longer GR130 runs around the island.

Noticeboard showing hiking routes, 
in particular the GRs130 & 131

There are many other well-signposted PRs (Pequeña Recorridas) and local paths (Senderos Locales) on the island that sometimes join up with the GRs.  Accommodation has developed to cater for hikers, although it is necessary to camp in the wilder regions, on the longer routes in the centre of the island. Local guidebooks recommend that water and rations for up to three days are carried on the GR131 route!

Hiking routes are well signed at intersections

The painted cross helpfully advises walkers that they have just taken the wrong path

Picnic lunch with fellow cruisers 
while on a hike in the sun above the cloud level

GR131, the cross-island hiking trail, which runs through every one of the Canary islands

After exploring the island by car, bus and foot while based in Santa Cruz, we sailed down the east coast and round the south of the island up to Tazacorte marina, halfway up the west coast.

      Sailing route from Santa Cruz to Puerto Tazacorte       

Our sail round the southern tip of the island was invigorating since the wind increased dramatically as we approached and entered the Wind Acceleration Zone. It then dropped from 35 to 3 knots within the space of 100 metres as we left the WAZ.

Sailing through the Wind Acceleration Zone (35 knots) at southern tip of La Palma. 
Soon after, the wind dropped to 3 knots!   

We came to Tazacorte at least in part to enjoy the excellent weather that prevails in the micro-climate along this protected (from the prevailing winds) west coast – the only disadvantage of Santa Cruz, apart from the swell in the marina, being that, while warm and convenient, it was invariably windy and influenced by the cloud cover created by the mountains to the north.  While such weather is no doubt conducive to work within the city, particularly in the summer, it is not what WE came to the Canaries for at this time of year!

Looking south down the west coast from the cliff to the north of Puerto Tazacorte. 
The marina can clearly be seen mid-frame.

We also wanted to meet up with fellow cruisers whom we had previously met in other places in the Canaries and with whom we have remained in contact.  They all appeared to have temporarily gravitated to Tazacorte, before disappearing in their separate directions.  In particular, we were motivated by the fact that Bryan and Dorothy Collins were hosting a midday BBQ and party on their yacht Caitlin of Argyll.

Unfortunately, while preparing our contribution to the BBQ, Helen put a knife right through her finger. Since we could not stop the bleeding by compression and elevation, we called the paramedics who took her to A&E in Los Llanos (the island’s second city) where she was promptly treated and ended up with five stitches.  That did not stop her joining the party after being “repaired”.

Helen’s finger with five stitches after trip to hospital

Fellow cruisers at Bryan & Dorothy’s lunchtime BBQ showing solidarity with Helen as she tries unsuccessfully to stem the bleeding by elevating her arm 
prior to being whisked off by ambulance to A&E

While it has a pleasant micro-climate, Tazacorte marina is nevertheless on the west coast of La Palma, facing the Atlantic.  To survive the inevitable Atlantic storms it has not one but two enormous breakwaters!  As a consequence it is now one of the best-protected marinas in the Canaries. 

Tazacorte marina with its enormous double breakwater

The adjacent beach (now Puerto Tazacorte) was where Alonzo Fernandez de Lugo and the Spanish Conquistadores landed on La Palma in 1492. Today the old fishing village of Puerto Tazacorte is a sleepy little beach town. It has a few nice bars and restaurants, a pleasant and spacious promenade, and an excellent black sand swimming beach protected behind another enormous breakwater. It faces south and therefore gets the sun all day. The port’s old streets behind the promenade are lined with colourful old La Palma houses.

A narrow street in Puerto Tazacorte

Puerto Tazacorte’s excellent well-protected beach with its small colourful town in the background

The old, significantly larger, town of Tazacorte itself is located on the hill overlooking the coast and port.  It is characterised by its scenic squares and attractive narrow streets. There is a splendid view over the surrounding coastline and countryside that, from a defensive viewpoint, would have been important to the early Spanish settlers.

Colourful old houses along Tazacorte’s town promenade 
            overlooking the coast                   

View from Tazacorte town of the enormous double breakwater protecting the marina   
(just to the right outside frame)

We have decided to wait for Helen’s finger to heal before continuing to explore the archipelago further.  This gives us an opportunity to re-think our forward plans, repair sailing gear (an ongoing task), visit a few attractions that we had previously missed, take a bit of exercise, enjoy the environment and even read a book!

Sangria – our latest tipple which we have been testing out on unsuspecting fellow cruisers.  Part of our Five-A-Day!

Linda and Andy Thornton, fellow Ocean Cruising Club members, joined us for an extended sun-downer prior to leaving on their second Circumnavigation in their 
Nicolson 35, Coromandel. 
 It will, incidentally, be the yacht’s fifth time around the world, so it should by now know its own way.  

Bryan Collins, like most financially conscious cruising friends, saves 8 on laundry fees by using the cruisers’ stomping technique

 Helen walking up the start of 
the GR131 from Puerto Tazacorte

Mike, having been in the textile industry, particularly wanted to visit the silk museum and workshop in El Paso where silk fabric is still produced using equipment and techniques introduced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when the industry in La Palma flourished.  Their yarns are dyed in an amazing range of colours that are all produced from natural substances, such as cochineal, indigo, saffron, almond shells and bay leaves.

Skeins of hand-made silk yarn, coloured with natural dyes

In these days of automation, La Palma’s limited production is prized for its unique character. The whole process is so labour intensive that it is not surprising that a small neck scarf costs at least 250€ and a tie 150€. Interestingly, modern automated production techniques in the textile industry, in terms of yarn and fabric production, operate on the same principles as used four centuries ago. 

Old silk loom still in action

Helen’s stitches are due to be removed later this week, after which we’ll sail south to El Hierro, the smallest, least populated and most westerly of the Canary Islands.    

Canaries Archipelago

P.S.  Just as we were about to press the button to publish this Blog, we were hailed from the quayside by Alain and Josie Denis, whom we first met last year on the way up the Norwegian coast. They'd come from Santa Cruz by bus to check out Marina Tazacorte. We were delighted to see them both and their friends on whose boat they are currently cruising in the Canaries.  A small world!


  1. Your pictures keep getting better and better. Well done and trust the finger will soon knit. Meanwhile, take things easy.

    Bob & Beryl

    1. Thank you. We enjoy taking them - pleased to hear that you enjoy looking at them. Have always worked on the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. Currently planning to leave the Canaries by the end of April to come straight back to the UK, either via the Azores or up the Portuguese coast, depending on weather.

  2. Another tour de force...sorry to hear of galley accident...delegate
    everything to El to both S & M xx

  3. Absolutely STUNING photos, enhanced Charts and topographical maps and story line - sorry to hear about the hand incident, hope it heals soon. Lots of SANGRIA should help :-)
    Grahame & Monica (BERMUDA)

    1. It might have been the sangria that caused the problem...! Stitches came out this morning, so on the mend. xx

  4. Fascinating blog - as always, and the photos are indeed "stunning". I hadn't realised how pretty La Palma is. I presume that is whipping line that I see on your finger Helen? Sorry, tasteless joke. Hope it has healed well now. Delighted to see that the injury didn't stop you enjoying the BBQ.
    Keep well.

  5. Fascinating blog as always, and the photos are indeed "stunning". I hadn't realised that La Palma was so pretty. I presume that it is whipping twine that I see on your finger Helen?! Sorry, tasteless joke. Hope that the injury has now fully healed. I am delighted to read that it didn't stop you from enjoying the BBQ! You are missing little here.
    Keep well.

    1. Have to say that we have been completely and utterly impressed by the Canary Islands. They are beautiful, each in their own way. Regarding the whipping twine! It was done in A&E by someone who looked about 12 and Helen was simply grateful that they could stick it together!

  6. Crikey, that's some wound Helen. At first glance I thought you'd let Mike do the stitching after all that sangria. It doesn't seem to have slowed you down though. What a trooper ;-)

    A 100 euro bottle of grog? That's . . . now let's see . . . oh yeah, 100 litres of Don Simon!!

    A pleasure to read the blog as always.


    1. Although we did pay 25Euros for a bottle, they didn't even let us taste the 100Euro bottle since clearly the man had worked out that Mike is a Don Simon afficionado and would not have appreciated it! Good to hear from you.

  7. My goodness you two must both be extremely fit going by the photos on this blog. Has to be a thousand times better than sitting behind a desk Mike. Sorry to hear about the finger Helen, looked nasty. Safe passage back home. Diana x

    1. Not as fit as we could be - but fitter than we were! This is a really great place for activity sports. There's even one hotel we saw where people just go to train for marathons! x