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La Palma
Flag of La Palma with CoA.svg
Flag of La Palma
LP Canarias.png
Location Atlantic Ocean
Coordinates 28°40′N 17°52′W / 28.667°N 17.867°W / 28.667; -17.867
Archipelago Canary Islands
Area 706 km²
Highest point Roque de los Muchachos (2,423 m)
Autonomous Community Canary Islands
Province Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Largest city Los Llanos de Aridane (pop. 19,659 (2004))
Population 86,528[1] (as of 2008)
Density 122 /km2 (320 /sq mi)

La Palma is located at 28°40′N 17°52′W / 28.667°N 17.867°W / 28.667; -17.867, making it the most northwesterly of the Canary Islands. La Palma has an area of 706 km2 making it the fifth largest of the seven main Canary Islands. The total population is about 85,000, of which 18,000 (2003 data) live in the capital, Santa Cruz de la Palma and about 20,000 (2004 data) in Los Llanos de Aridane.

La Palma, like the other islands of the Canary Island archipelago, is a volcanic ocean island. The volcano rises almost 7 km (4 mi) above the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. There is road access from sea level to the summit at 2,423 m (7,949 ft),[1] which is marked by an outcrop of rocks called Los Muchachos ("The Lads"). This is the site of the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, one of the world's premier astronomical observatories.

La Palma's geography is a result of the volcanic formation of the island. The highest peaks reach over 2,400 m (7,874 ft) above sea level, and the base of the island is located almost 4,000 m (13,123 ft) below sea level. The northern part of La Palma is dominated by the Caldera de Taburiente, with a width of 9 km (6 mi) and a depth of 1,500 m (4,921 ft). It is surrounded by a ring of mountains ranging from 1,600 m (5,249 ft) to 2,400 m (7,874 ft) in height. Only the deep Barranco de las Angustias ("Valley of Fear") canyon leads into the inner area of the caldera which is a national park. It can be reached only by hiking. The outer slopes are cut by numerous gorges which run from 2,000 m (6,562 ft) down to the sea. Today, only few of these carry water due to the many water tunnels that have been cut into the islands structure.

In 1815, the great German geologist Leopold von Buch visited the Canary Islands. It was as a result of his visit to La Palma and Tenerife where he visited the Las Cañadas and Taburiente calderas, that the Spanish word for cauldron - "Caldera" - was introduced into the geological vocabulary.

From the Caldera de Taburiente to the south runs the ridge Cumbre Nueva. The southern part of La Palma is dominated by the Cumbre Vieja, a volcanic ridge formed by numerous volcanic cones built of lava and scoria. The Cumbre Vieja is active - but dormant, with the last eruption occurring in 1971 at the Teneguia vent which is located at the southern end of the Cumbre Vieja - Punta de Fuencaliente, (The Point of the Hot Fountain).

La Palma is dominated by the colours blue, green and black. Blue represent the surrounding ocean, Green represents the abundant plant life (which is the most diverse in the Canary Islands) and Black comes from the volcanic rocks that forms the landscape and the numerous playas (beaches) of black sand.

La Palma is nicknamed "Isla Bonita" [2] ("beautiful island") and the "island of San Pedro" (after its patron Saint: Peter). San Pedro is also a music venue on the island where international bands play[3], something which may be referred to in La Isla Bonita.

Santa Cruz de La Palma (the island's main port) retains many elegant 17th and 18th century houses, and produces high quality hand made cigars made from locally grown tobacco.



The island is part of the province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The island is divided into 14 municipalities:


Satellite image of La Palma, with the Caldera de Taburiente visible (north is to the lower right)
A view looking south, of La Palma

Like all of the Canary Islands, La Palma originally formed as a seamount through submarine volcanic activity. La Palma is currently the most volcanically active of the Canary Islands and was formed three- to four-million years ago. Its basement lies almost 4,000 metres below sea level and reaches a height of 2426 metres. About a half-million years ago, the volcano, Taburiente, collapsed with a giant landslide, forming the Caldera de Taburiente. Historic eruptions (those since the Spanish occupation) have occurred seven times:

During the 1949 eruption from the Duraznero, San Juan, and Hoyo Negro vents on the Cumbre Vieja, an earthquake, with an epicentre near Jedy, occurred. This caused a 2.5 kilometre-long rift to open, with a width of about a metre and a depth of about two metres (Rubio Bonelli, 1950).

In a BBC Horizon program broadcast on October 12, 2000, two geologists (Day and McGuire) cited this rift as proof that half of the Cumbre Vieja had slipped towards the Atlantic Ocean (Day et al., 1999; Ward and Day, 2001). They suggested that this process was driven by the pressure caused by the rising magma heating water trapped within the structure of the island. They hypothesised that during a future eruption, the western flank of the Cumbre Vieja, with a mass of approximately 1.5 x1015 kg, could slide into the ocean. This could then potentially generate a giant wave which they termed a "megatsunami" around 650-900 m high in the region of the islands. The wave would radiate out across the Atlantic and inundate the eastern seaboard of North America including the American, the Caribbean and northern coasts of South America some six to eight hours later. They estimate that the tsunami will have waves possibly 1,000 ft (305 m) or more high causing massive devastation along the coastlines. Modeling suggests that the tsunami could inundate up to 25 km (16 mi) inland - depending upon topography. The basis for Ward and Day (1999) modeling the collapse of a much larger portion of the western flank than the currently visible surface fissures suggest is unstable was evidence from geological mapping by Day et al. 1999. In this paper they argue that a large part of the western flank has been constructed in the scar of a previous collapse and therefore sits upon unstable debris.

The claim was also explored in a BBC docu-drama called End Day which went through several hypothetical scenarios of disastrous proportions.

However, the Tsunami Society (Pararas-Carayannis, 2002), published a statement stating "... We would like to halt the scaremongering from these unfounded reports ..." The major points raised in this report include:

  • The claim that half of Cumbre Vieja dropped 4 m (13 ft) during the 1949 eruption is erroneous, and contradicted by physical evidence.
  • No evidence was sought or shown that there is a fault line separating a "block" of La Palma from the other half.
  • Physical evidence shows a 4 km (2 mi) long line in the rock, but the models assumed a 25 km (16 mi) line, for which no physical evidence was given. Further, there is no evidence shown that the 4 km (2 mi) long line extends beyond the surface.
  • There has never been an Atlantic megatsunami in recorded history.

Other workers also disagree with the hypothesis of Day et al.; (1999) and Ward and Day (2001). In fact no scientists have expressed support for their speculations.

There is however, a consensus by geologists and volcanologists that edifice failure (large-scale collapses or mass wasting) of volcanic islands does occur and that large tsunamis have occurred in the Atlantic in the geological past. Despite this there is still no evidence reliably proving a cause and effect. All the documented large scale tsunamis in the Atlantic have been verifiably attributed to underwater earthquakes and not island collapses.[citation needed] Evidence of Tsunami deposits has been reported from the Caribbean and the Canary Islands. Since the 1990s the area has been (and continues to be), monitored and no movement has been detected.[citation needed] Ongoing and recent (2008) monitoring shows that the dimensions accord with those recorded in 1949. Thereby indicating that the block has not moved since 1949[citation needed]. Controversial evidence on the island of Bermuda is said to be tsunamite deposited by a tsunami that was generated by edifice failure on the adjacent island of El Hierro.

The actual distances involved in the 1949 rift are as follows: horizontal ~1 metre, vertical ~2 metres. Volume involved of the whole of the Cumbre Vieja is ~5 x 1011 m3 with an estimated mass of 1.5 x 1015 kg.

Flora and fauna

As with all the Canary Islands, La Palma has several endemic species.

Although large areas have been deforested, the upland areas of La Palma retain some of the temperate cloud forest, or laurisilva (laurel forest), dominated by Laurus, but including Juniperus cedrus (Canary Islands Juniper) and other trees. This is a relic of the Pliocene subtropical forests which used to cover all the Canary Islands.

The Canary Island Pine (Pinus canariensis) is endemic to all the Western Canary Islands, whilst Genista stenopetala, or sweet broom and Spartocytisus supranubius, a white broom known locally as Retama del Teide, are native to La Palma and Tenerife. Echium webbii, a variety of Echium virescens (Tower of jewels) is endemic to La Palma, as are Ceropegia fusca and Ceropegia dichotoma; varieties of Cardoncillo.

Several animals are endemic to La Palma, including:

In addition, many other animals have been introduced, including rabbits and Barbary Sheep, or Aoudads, which have become a serious threat to endemic flora

A biosphere reserve was established in 1983, and extended and renamed in 1997 and 2002


At the time of European colonization, the Canary Islands were inhabited by native Canarians, referred to collectively as Guanches, although the natives of La Palma are more correctly known as Auaritas (See Canary Islands in pre-colonial times). The origin of these natives is unclear but they are believed to share common ancestry with the Berbers of North Africa. The Guanches had a Neolithic culture divided into several clans led by chiefs. Their name for La Palma was Benahoare. The main remnants of this culture are their cave dwellings, enigmatic petroglyphs and paved stone paths through the mountains. After the Spanish occupation of La Palma, the native Canarians vanished by either being killed, sold into slavery or by assimilating into the Spanish population.

It is believed that the Canary Islands were known to the Phoenicians and Greeks, but the earliest written evidence is by the Roman writer Pliny The Elder, who quoted Juba II of Numidia, but Juba's writings were subsequently lost. The Genoese navigator Lancelotto Malocello reached the archipelago in 1312 and remained for two decades until expelled by a native uprising. In 1404 the Spaniards began the conquest of the islands. Though the first landing on La Palma was in 1405, it took until 1493 and several bloody battles until the last resistance of the natives was broken. The conqueror of La Palma was Alonso Fernández de Lugo, who defeated Tanausu, the last king on the island. He ruled the area known as Acero (Caldera de Taburiente). Tanausu was ambushed after agreeing to a truce arranged by Fernández de Lugo and Juan de Palma, a Guanche who had converted to Christianity and who was a relative of Tanausu.

For the next two centuries, settlements on La Palma became rich as the island served as a trading post on the way to the New World. La Palma received immigrants from Castile, Portugal, Majorca, Flanders, and Catalonia.


La Palma has a road network of some 1,200 km (746 mi). All the main roads are asphalted and in a good state, although there are many sharp bends, some very narrow. In order to reach some small hamlets in the north of the island it is necessary to travel on earth tracks. A good paved road approximately 180 km (112 mi), circumscribes the island. Several bus routes exist that unite the main localities on the island; for more details see [1].
La Palma Airport serves the island, and several airlines run services to and from it.

Water tunnels

The most famous structures of La Palma are the minas galerias (water tunnels) which carry the water from sources in the mountains to cities, villages and farms (mainly banana plantations). La Palma receives almost all of its water supply due to the mar de nubes (sea of clouds), stratocumulus cloud at 1200-1600 m altitude, carried on the prevailing wind which blows from the north-east Trade Winds. The water condenses on the long needles of the trees and other vegetation, it then either drips onto the ground or runs down the trunk etc into the ground. Eventually it collects inside the rock-strata, and is then drained via the galerias into aqueducts and pipes for distribution. The galerias have been cut into the rocks over centuries. To visit the galerias a permit is required. It is possible to walk alongside many of the aqueducts, a popular activity for tourists (similar to the levadas of Madeira). The tour to the Marcos y Corderos waterfall and springs is also popular.


A sea of clouds below the William Herschel Telescope.

Due to the location of the island and the height of its mountains, some 2,400 m (7,874 ft) above sea level, a number of international observatories have been built on the Roque de los Muchachos. The particular geographical position and climate cause clouds to form between 1,000 m (3,281 ft) and 2,000 m (6,562 ft), usually leaving the observatories with a clear sky. Often, the view from the top of the volcano is a sea of clouds covering the eastern part of the island. Telescopes at the observatory include:

The DOT and the SST have been specifically built to study the Sun.

See also


  1. ^ a b ISTAC "Instituto Canario de Estadistica" (In Spanish). Retrieved April 24, 2009
  2. ^ Walks in La Palma, La Isla Bonita
  3. ^ La Isla Bonita
    Anthrax at San Pedro, La Isla Bonita
  • Bonelli Rubio, J.M., 1950. Contribucion al estudio de la erupcion del Nambroque o San Juan. Madrid: Inst. Geografico y Catastral, 25 pp.
  • BBC 2 TV; 2000. Transcript “Mega-tsunami; Wave of Destruction”, Horizon. First screened 21.30 hrs, Thursday, 12 October, 2000.
  • Carracedo, J. C; 1994. The Canary Islands: an example of structural control on the growth of large oceanic-island volcanoes. J. Volcanol. Geotherm Res. 60, 225-241.
  • Carracedo, J. C; 1996. A simple model for the genesis of large gravitational landslide hazards in the Canary Islands. In McGuire, W: Jones, & Neuberg, J. P. (eds). Volcano Instability on the Earth and Other Planets. Geological Society, London. Special Publication, 110, 125-135.
  • Carracedo, J. C; 1999. Growth, Structure, Instability and Collapse of Canarian Volcanoes and Comparisons with Hawaiian Volcanoes. J. Vol. Geotherm. Res. 94, 1-19.
  • Day, S. J; Carracedo, J. C; Guillou, H. & Gravestock, P; 1999. Recent structural evolution of the Cumbre Vieja volcano, La Palma, Canary Islands: volcanic rift zone re-configuration as a precursor to flank instability. J. Volcanol. Geotherm Res. 94, 135-167.
  • La erupción del Nambroque : (junio-agosto de 1949) / por José Romero Ortiz y Juan Mª Bonelli Rubio Madrid : Talleres del Instituto Geográfico y Catastral, 1951 100 p., 1h. pleg.;23 cm
  • Moore, J. G; 1964. Giant Submarine Landslides on the Hawaiian Ridge. US Geologic Survey Professional Paper 501-D, D95-D98.
  • Pararas-Carayannis, G; 2002. Evaluation of the Threat of Mega Tsumami Generation from Postulated Massive Slope Failure of Island Stratovolcanoes on La Palma, Canary Islands, and on The Island of Hawaii. Science of Tsunami Hazards, Vol 20, No.5, pp 251–277.
  • Rihm, R; Krastel, S. & CD109 Shipboard Scientific Party; 1998. Volcanoes and landslides in the Canaries. National Environment Research Council News. Summer, 16-17.
  • Siebert, L; 1984. Large volcanic debris avalanches: characteristics of source areas, deposits and associated eruptions. J. Volcanol. Geotherm Res. 22, 163-197.
  • Ward, S. N. & Day, S. J; 2001. Cumbre Vieja Volcano; potential collapse and tsunami at La Palma, Canary Islands. Geophys. Res. Lett. 28-17, 3397-3400.
  • van Nieuwkoop, J, 2006. Technical University of Delft. Landslide in La Palma will not lead to mega-tsunami.
  • Prof. Dr. Nieuwenhuis, J.D, Ir. van Berlo, J, Ir. Labeur, R.J, Technical University of Delft. The day the world ended. La Palma megatsunami suffers a slight delay.

External links

La Palma island

Megatsunami threat?

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Ruta del Vulcans footpath ("Route of the volcanoes")
Ruta del Vulcans footpath ("Route of the volcanoes")
Spectacular views looking down from La Roque De Los Muchachos over the clouds and the astronomical telescopes at nightfall
Spectacular views looking down from La Roque De Los Muchachos over the clouds and the astronomical telescopes at nightfall

La Palma [1] is a Spanish island in the Canary Islands. It is near Morocco, Cape Verde and the archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira, both Portuguese. The nickname of the island is "La Isla Bonita" (the beautiful island).

Other destinations

The other islands in the Canary chain are:


The island has a small population of just under a hundred thousand. It has one major port (Santa Cruz de la Palma), a second small port (Tazacorte) and an international airport (SPC).

There is a regular ferry connection to Tenerife and freight-only ferries to the other islands, to Cadiz in mainland Spain and the African coast.

There are local direct flights to Tenerife, Gran Canaria and El Hierro. There are flights with Iberia and Binter to/from several airports in mainland Spain including Madrid and Barcelona, Paris, Madeira and Milan.

There are charter flights from Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands and mainland Spain.

Ethnically the population is mostly Hispanic (actually a mix of Spanish, Berber and Portuguese), with a small number of European immigrants and very small number of African and Eastern European immigrants.

The island exports bananas, rum, gofio and some tobacco, and hosts a major international astronomical observatory [2].

Get around

A hire car is the best option for discovering the remote wilderness regions. Reputable companies include La Palma 24 Rent-a-Car S.L. [3], CIcar [4], Autos Taburiente [5] and OASIS La Palma [6].

Roads are well-maintained and marked for traffic control. Only sharp turns and verticals on side roads may challenge some drivers.

By train

There are no trains on La Palma.

By bus

Buses are the most common method of public transportation around the islands. A bus ticket never costs more than €2 if you don't need to change bus. Do not expect the drivers to know more than a couple of sentences in English or German, though they will try to be helpful.

By taxi

Taxis can be expensive, and inside a city they are not worth the money unless you are in a real hurry or can't balance yourself after a shopping day. It is unlikely that you would be cheated. From the airport to Puerto Naos costs roughly €35 (May 2006).

By ship

If you want to travel between the islands a good option might be to take a ship if you are in any particular hurry, specially between close by islands. Most ferries are now quite modern and cheap. The most important companies are Fred Olsen, Transmediterránea and Armas.

By plane

If you are afraid of the sea or get sick just by staring at a ship a plane is what you need, and that usually means a turboprop ATR-72 by one of the local airlines like Binter or Islas Airways. They are perfectly safe and adequately fast as you are likely to spend more time at the airport than in the plane itself.

The airport on La Palma is called "Santa Cruz de La Palma, Canarias" (airport code SPC) -- not to be confused with other similarly named airports around the world.


There are a few nice towns, but the main attraction is the countryside. Spectacular volcanic landscapes reaching up above the clouds with dense vegetation in the valleys make for some spectacular hiking.

The highest point on the island, El Roque de los Muchachos (2426m -- about 8000 feet), is easily accessible by car most of the year and the views from there are spectacular and provide a good introduction to the geography of the island (note that access is restricted at night as this is the site of a major international astronomical observatory -- always read the signposts -- also note that roads and trails can be closed for a few days in the winter due to snow). There is a very extensive network of marked walking trails over the whole island which are well signposted and walking maps are available from the tourist office in Santa Cruz.

Along the northeast coast, you'll find masses of intricately terraced crops (especially bananas) interlaced with small towns and villages.

Canal tunnel on the Los Tilos walk
Canal tunnel on the Los Tilos walk

Los Tilos walk - if possible get four wheel taxi up to start of walk. Then walk around the canal (what in Madeira would be called a levada) following the contours of a steep tree-lined barranco walking through 13 tunnels (stooping to avoid hitting your head). Tunnel number 12 is wet inside - one guide book described it as like a power-shower. Then down through the laurisilva forest (a tiring but stunning descent of about 1000m). Also don't miss the lookout - a volcanic dyke about two feet wide with sheer drops on both sides, but protected by handrails with totally stunning 360 degree views - makes Symond's Yat look a bit pathetic. Details of the walk are in Walk! La Palma [7] and also in the Sunflower book guide [8] though take the times given for the walk with a pinch of salt - this took us about 6 hours. But well worth the effort. See picture at right.

Ruta del Volcanoes
Ruta del Volcanoes

Ruta del los Volcanos - part of the GR 131 long distance path - along the length of the Cumbre Vieja, a route with fabulous views all round, and with volcanic craters for most of the length. Again, quite a demanding walk on a hot day, and dust kicked up by walking companions gets everywhere, but a stunningly memorable walk.


Goat - cabrito (young goat, usually fried) Cabra (older goat, usually stewed). beinmesabe - means 'tastes me good' and it does - ground almonds in honey, it is very sweet.


Espresso with sweetened condensed milk, and sometimes a shot of alcoholic liquor is a local speciality -- Barraquito. The island has a large amount of vineyards. Shakespeare mentioned the Malvasia (sweet Malmsey) coming from the Canary Islands.


There are tourist hotels and apartments in Los Cancajos, Puerto Naos and Los Canarios with some 'city' hotels in Santa Cruz and Los Llanos. There are 'pensions' (bed and breakfast) in Santa Cruz, El Pasa, Los Sauces, Puntagorda, Franceses and Fuencaliente

Camping is strictly forbidden all over La Palma except in a few designated places which must be booked in advance and are not intended for backpackers or holiday-camping but are primarily ecological education centres for local schools. There are difficult to reach and have no shops nearby and are generally not on public transport routes. Fines for wild-camping can be expensive. The campsite in the Caldera in the center of the island must be booked months in advance in order to guarantee a permit in the summer. The campsite is only accessible on foot along a trail of several kilometres.

Hostal Canarias is a cheap, modern and clean option in Santa Cruz.

There is a wide variety (hundreds) of 'country cottage' and gites-type accommodation in most parts of the island. There are refered to as casitas and are bookable via Internet.

Can recommend Casa Alijibes [9] in Las Tricias - the best equipped holiday house I have stayed in - the publicity photos don't do it justice, and the owners were very generous with food etc. Can recommend Accommodation suche La Palma La Palma 24 S.L. [10] Another recommendation is the Rosario Apartments [11] close by to the Caldera De Taburiente National Park. As well as a villa that would be more suiteable for groups La Palma Villa [12]

Stay safe

112 is the common emergency number.

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