Santa Cruz de la Palma
Santa Cruz de La Palma is a beautiful city with a colonial air which retains in its historic quarter, declared an Historic-Artistic Site, numerous palaces, colonial buildings and houses built in the traditional Canary style. Nor should we forget its churches and the Sanctuary of the Virgen de las Nieves, the setting for a century old tradition: the descent of the patron saint of the island. The enormously varied landscape housed by what is known as the “pretty island” is accessible from the capital of the island. An authentic natural paradise which offers the possibility of practising hiking among volcanoes and laurisilva woodland in any of its protected areas, among which stands out the Parque Nacional de Caldera de Taburiente.
The history of Santa Cruz de La Palma dates from the late 15th century, when Alonso Fernández de Lugo conquered the island and made it part of the possessions of the Crown of Castile. From that point on, the city began to acquire substantial economic power.
Its importance on the trade routes to Europe –and particularly to the Americas– was so great that in 1558 it became the home of the first Courts and Assizes of the Indies. The city had become a flourishing export hub and attracted a large number of merchants and bankers. All this, in combination with the intense naval activity undertaken by its shipyards, served to make Santa Cruz de La Palma the third most important maritime port in the Spanish Empire, after Seville and Antwerp.
The city This glorious past can still be seen in the historic centre of Santa Cruz de La Palma in the priceless legacy of palaces, colonial-style buildings and houses bearing typical elements of traditional Canary Islands architecture such as the wooden balconies.
Plaza de España square is home to some of the most important buildings on the island, and is the site of the Town Hall, built in the 16th century during the reign of Philip II. The building's façade is presided by an image in relief of the monarch, and the coat of arms of the Habsburg dynasty. The interior offers the chance to see some fine examples of the wooden coffering typical of the island, and various frescoes.
Another exceptional example of noble architecture is the Casa de Salazar, built in the first half of the 17th century. The building, which has recently been restored, is currently used as a venue for a range of cultural events.
Around the centre of town there are also a number of outstanding religious buildings. Along one of the sides of the Plaza de España square stands the church of El Salvador, begun at the start of the 16th century. Highlights on the outside of the church include the Renaissance portico and an adjoining tower built of volcanic stone blocks. The building is divided into three naves covered in Mudéjar-style coffering. The main feature on the altarpiece of the high chapel – in the neoclassical style– is a painting of the Transfiguration by the Sevillian painter Antonio María Esquivel (19th century).
The 16th-century church of Santo Domingo belongs to what was once the convent of San Miguel de las Victorias. The church is built on the old shrine of San Miguel, and has a floor plan in the shape of a Latin cross and Mudéjar roofs. Its interior contains a rich collection of Flemish paintings, including particularly the 'Holy Dinner' by A. Francken (16-17th centuries).
Flemish imagery is also present in the church of La Encarnación. Highlights here include the Annunciation (16th century), a sculpture group from Flanders made of polychrome wood.
It is also well worth visiting the church of San Francisco, which has been declared a Historic Artistic Monument. The building is in the Renaissance style, and was once part of the Royal Convent of La Inmaculada Concepción, today the site of the Island Museum. Certain architectural features of the interior are particularly noteworthy, including the dome-shaped coffering on display in the chapel of El Señor de la Piedra Fría. Its art treasures include the Flemish sculpture group depicting Saint Anne, the Virgin and Child (16th century), and the Lord of the Fall, a carved Sevillian figure dating from the 18th century.
The shrine of the Virgin of Las Nieves is located in the highest part of the town and is one of the most popular in the capital as it contains the image of the island's patron saint (14th century). Highlights of the interior are the main altar, dating from the 17th century and worked in silver, in addition to various Flemish carvings, altarpieces and paintings.
Gastronomy, festivities and the surrounding area Santa Cruz de La Palma offers the chance to discover all the most representative dishes of the island gastronomy. The best options include papas arrugás con mojo (tiny potatoes boiled in their skin with lots of salt and accompanied by red or green mojo, the typical sauce of the Canary Islands), potaje (a hearty soup) or bienmesabe for dessert (a sweet made from egg yolks, ground almonds, sugar, etc.), all served with wine with the La Palma Designation of Origin.
Both the city itself and all over the island visitors will find a wide range of hotel options. Near the capital and on the shores of the Atlantic stands the La Palma Parador hotel, a new building created in the typical architectural style of the Canary Islands.
The local inhabitants of La Palma – like the rest of the Canary Islanders– are friendly and fun-loving, as can be seen from their festivities. The Descent of the Virgin of Las Nieves takes place every five years and includes the famous Dance of the Dwarves as one of its main attractions.
The island is also home to other places of interest to visitors such as Los Llanos, the second most largest town on the island; El Paso, known for its silk craftsmanship and cigars; Mazo, where sights include the pre-Hispanic cave of Belmaco, and Fuencaliente, a wine-producing area.
La Palma is a genuine natural paradise with a multitude of hiking options. A national park and two nature reserves are evidence of the island's valuable ecological resources.
The Caldera de Taburiente National Park delimits an extensive territory in the centre of the island containing a spectacular crater, eight kilometres in diameter, and peaks soaring over 2000 metres high. This unique landscape, cloaked in lush vegetation with an abundance of native species, can be seen from the viewing points or by following some of the numerous trails around the crater. El Paso and the Roque de los Muchachos both have visitor centres offering a wide range of information on routes through the park, in addition to highlighting the attractions of the park and the island through a series of exhibitions and audiovisual displays. There are information points on the main access routes to this site. Visitors who wish to stay the night inside the park will find a camping area (the Los Llanos-Los Brecitos trail) and a nature classroom-camp for organised groups.
The Las Nieves Nature Reserve is the proud home of one of the largest concentrations of laurisilva in the Canary Islands (a family of native plant species that disappeared from Europe during the Tertiary Era). Meanwhile the southern part of the reserve features predominantly pine trees and a number of protected plant species. It is worth noting that the territorial limits of the nature reserve also include the site known as Los Tiles and declared a Biosphere Reserve by the UNESCO.
The Cumbre Vieja Nature Reserve lies to the south of La Palma, and its landscape is evidence of the volcanic nature of the whole island. Within the limits of the park there is an abundance of Canarian pine and laurisilva forests.