La Palma holidays are all about pretty cobbled towns, dramatic volcanic scenery and pristine Blue Flag beaches. No wonder this place is known as ‘the beautiful isle’…
The old-school Canary Island
As one of the smaller Canary Islands, La Palma is off most people’s radars. And long may it stay that way. Its 280 square miles give you a taste of the Canaries the way they used to be – all hushed coves, cobbled towns and the odd low-rise resort. It’s not short on scenery, either. The world’s steepest island – 2,426 metres at its highest – La Palma’s barely got an inch of flat land, so expect soaring mountains, sloping forests and hairpin bends at every turn.
Fuencaliente's quiet coastline
For the ultimate chill-out holiday, head to Fuencaliente on the south coast. Surrounded by forests, vineyards and no less than 7 volcanoes, it’s home to some spectacular walking trails. And in town, you’ll find a handful of whitewashed restaurants, an 18th-century church and a coastline freckled with tiny black-sand coves.
Blue Flag beaches in Los Cancajos
A 40-minute drive from Fuencaliente on La Palma's eastern coast is Los Cancajos. It might be made up of modern hotels and shops, but tranquillity still rules. It’s particularly popular with families thanks to its three Blue Flag bays. When the weather’s right, you can see all the way to Tenerife from their dark volcanic sands.
Things to See and Do in La Palma
The dark side
This island beauty is one of the smallest Canaries, but it’s got some first-rate beaches on offer. Don’t come expecting golden sands – it’s a volcanic spot, so things are dark and mysterious. There are year-round sea breezes here, too, so it’s a top pick for watersports like wind and kite surfing.
The Big Beach
The beach at Los Cancajos is by far the most popular stretch. It’s made up of three bays, all with the Blue Flag seal of approval. The sands are dark and volcanic, the seas are clear and great for snorkelling, and the beaches come complete with postcard views across to Tenerife and La Gomera. There are also loads of watersports on offer, a playground for the kids and a generous helping of bars and restaurants.
The Secret Beach
For a more out-the-way spot, try La Zamora Beach, 15 minutes’ drive from Fuencaliente. It’s a pretty rugged spot – all black sand, pebbles and craggy cliffs – but it’s usually deserted, so if you prefer to have the sands to yourself this is the place. There’s not much in the way of facilities, though, so it’s a good idea to pack a picnic if you’re staying for the day.
As you'd expect on such a small island, designer labels aren’t big news. The locals nip over to Tenerife to get their high-end fix. That said, you will find stores like Benetton in the cobbled shopping streets of Santa Cruz's centre. And there are a good few boutiquey places spread around Calle O' Daly, which is better-known locally as Calle Real.
Browse the shops in Santa Cruz and you'll find some selling hand-crafted cigars. Made half-an-hour down the road in Mazo, they're cheaper than the ones from Havana but just as good. Plus, they were supposedly a favourite of Churchill. The Centro de Artesania in Fuencaliente is a top spot for handicrafts – it's open every weekday 'til 6pm and you can pick up embroidery, tapestry, and hand-woven baskets.
Santa Cruz is a 40-minute drive from Fuencaliente, and home to the 100-year-old Mercado Muncipal. This indoor market runs from 7am until 2pm Monday to Saturday, and is fantastic for fresh produce like goats' cheese, traditional pastries and wine. Los Cancajos is a similar distance, and at its flea market on Saturday mornings you can pick up everything from flowers to pottery. You'll find it at the south end of the seafront.
Easy evenings are what La Palma does best. Places like Fuencaliente have a clutch of low-key restaurants and bars in town, and the hotels will normally have their own entertainment laid on. If you want to head further afield, take the 40-minute drive to Santa Cruz and try wandering down Avenida Maritima. This seafront stretch has a good few family-friendly cafés and restaurants to pick from.
La Palma isn't big on neon nightlife, but head for Centro Commercial in Los Cancajos and you'll find a lively set of watering holes. The new marina in Santa Cruz is also a good bet for bars with a bit of buzz about them. For something different, try a DIY wine tour. Fuencaliente, Puntagorda, Tijarafe and Teneguina all have their own unique varieties. All you need is a Sat Nav and a designated driver.
The name of this starter means 'old clothes' and it's so hearty it's sometimes served as a main. It's a hefty mix of potatoes, chickpeas, ham, tomatoes, meat and eggs. Originally a dish for using up left-overs, it got so popular that it spread around the world. You'll find versions in Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
You can't open a menu in La Palma without seeing a fish dish – the island is surrounded by the sea, after all. One of the best has to be Sancocho, a slow-cooked stew of salty fish, veg and potatoes. The type of fish varies by restaurant and depends on what's been caught, but it's often sea bass or halibut.
Goat meat is a popular choice on menus in La Palma, and it has a really rich flavour. Cabrito frito is seasoned and deep-fried goat's meat and, while every restaurant will have its own version of this dish, it often comes on the bone. If so, do as the locals do – ditch the table manners and use your fingers.
When you browse the dessert section, this is probably the one that will stand out. It's a cone-shaped stick made of traditional Canarian flour and sugar cane syrup, with things like almonds, cinnamon and lemon added to give it some flavour. You can get chocolate, milk and coconut versions, too.
Europeans first settled on La Palma 500 years ago, and it wasn't long before they planted vineyards. Pretty soon afterwards, La Palma became famous for its strong, sweet wine – it's been namechecked by the likes of Shakespeare and Byron. It's traditionally a dessert wine, but locals also drink it on its own.
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