La Palma

La Palma is a relatively uncrowded island, with a convenient airport and flights to and from the mainland of Spain. Its real attractions for the naturalist are the wide range of habitats and good protected areas in national parks and reserves. It is the only island besides Tenerife with environments above the Pinus canariensis forests. Thus, it has a major astronomical observatory near the summit area. There is a windy road that reaches the highest point of the island, where dry landscape are found. These have spectacular flowering plants during early summer.

Although there are Laurisilva forest on the western slopes of La Palma, these are not as conveniently accessed as those on La Gomera, El Hierro or Tenerife. However, there is ar excellent trails through pine forest in the erosion-produced “caldera” of the Caldera de Taburiente National Park. A few actually border on dangerous – if one were to accidentally step off the trail on the very steep slopes, it is possible to fall a long way.

A major volcanic eruption occurred on the western side of La Palma in 2021; this eruption lasted longer than any in the Canary Islands in recent history. The eruption has ended and it will be interesting to see how the land slowly recovers and vegetation becomes established. Unfortunately, I suspect that authorities will move to restore and modify the eruption landscape as rapidly as possible which would be unfortunate from a natural landscape perspective. Some web summaries of the eruption are here and here.

There is a major tunnel through the ridge of the island that makes it easier to cross from the east to west side. Although we took this tunnel more than once, the much more scenic route is to climb over the ridge on a lightly traveled road.

A final word of advice: though the island doesn’t appear that large on the map, it takes an entire day to drive around it. The road circumnavigating the island is windy in many places and subject to traffic. In fact, we didn’t drive a portion of this road on either of our trips – it was not justifies in our view.

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