Santa Cruz de La Palma: history and culture in the Canary Islands
Arriving along an old lava flow is a dramatic welcome for the 200,000 plus cruise passengers who visit Santa Cruz each year.
La Palma’s capital sits on the east coast of the 706 square kilometre island. It’s the fifth largest and most north-westerly of the seven main Canary Islands.
Small but mighty, you’ll discover quaint colonial streets, volcanic remnants, dramatic black sand beaches and spring-like weather all year round.
The cruise port is conveniently located just five minutes from the capital city of Santa Cruz de La Palma. A free shuttle bus runs between the ships and the port gate.
Arriving passengers can simply walk along the Avenida Maritime promenade to reach the city’s Old Town.
Plaza de Espana is the city’s centre. There are taxis at the port gate, and car rental offices inside and outside the port gate.
Walking north from the port gate, the Tourist Office is directly in front of you. To your left you’ll see the entrance to Calle O’Daly, the main street that runs through town.
A concrete replica of Christopher Columbus’ flagship, the Santa Maria, dominates the north of the old town. Housing a naval exhibition, this museum plays a key role in the Quinquennial Fiestas, a festival celebrating the Descent of the Virgin of Las Nieves. The festival has taken place every five years since 1680.
Roque de los Muchachos
A must-see stop is the view from the 2,423 metre-high Roque de los Muchachos. This rocky outcrop enables a heart-thumping walk from volcano rim partway across the Caldera de Taburiente crater. The views drop up to 2,000 metres either side. Famous for its extensive walking trails through volcanic landscapes and lush vegetation, the pine aroma makes hikes even more atmospheric. There are also viewing platforms aplenty.
A flat walk of approximately one kilometre from the port brings you to the start of the main street Calle O’Daly. Ambling along the cobbled streets, browsing craft shops and people-watching at a street cafe is the order of the day. Food-wise, try La Placita for grilled goats cheese and salted Canarian potatoes. Mid-street you’ll find the Plaza de Espana, home to the Renaissance Town Hall and the Church of El Salvador.
Good to know
La Palma is easy for cruise ship passengers to explore in a day. Transportation via a tour, bus or taxi is required for exploring the area outside Santa Cruz. For those staying longer pre or-post cruise, renting a car is a great way to explore the island. There is road access from sea level to the summit at Roque de los Muchachos (2,426m). The road network covers 1,200km and all main roads are in a good state. Beware the hairpin turns almost as soon as you start heading inland. Approximately 20 bus routes cover the island’s main sites, with a single bus fare costing two euros or less.
Shopping isn’t bad at all, especially if you like jewellery, artwork and almond cakes! Head to Calle Real for a mix of fashion, traditional crafts and accessories. Find local rum and almond cakes in La Molina, or check out Sanlupe for its renowned panama hats. You’ll also find exclusive boutiques near Placeta de Borrero. Stop for lunch on the Avenida Maritima before hitting La Marina shopping centre for more retail therapy.
Food & Drink
Simple and rustic, the food in La Palma is a mixture of Latin American and Spanish tastes. Serving traditional Canarian cuisine, the smallest restaurant on the island, Enriclai, is popular with locals. With capacity for only 14 people, it gets busy fast. Tapas lovers should try Restaurant Tasca Catalina, located in the middle of the mountain overlooking the sea. Situated on the beach is El Pulpo, which was established in 1971 and is famous for seafood and paella. The vibe is relaxed and prices are reasonable, too.