Capital of the Canary Island of La Palma and showcase of Canarian Renaissance architecture, Santa Cruz de la Palma is a delightful blend of South American colonialism and culture, centuries old traditions and contemporary artistic style. As gateway to an island as rich in natural treasures as it is poor in mass tourism, the city offers its own blend of history, architecture, shopping and dining as well as being the perfect base from which to explore the Isla Bonita (beautiful island) as it’s known.
Lying on the central eastern coast of La Palma, a five minute stroll from the main ferry port which links the island to Tenerife and La Gomera, and a ten minute taxi drive from the international airport, the centre is an easily explorable space bordered to the south by its marina and port, to the east by its sea front and to the north by Avenida Las Nieves.
Thomson fly direct to La Palma from Manchester and Gatwick or you can take the ferry from Los Cristianos on Tenerife (2½ hours via La Gomera) or you can fly Binter airlines from Tenerife North or Las Palmas de Gran Canaria if you want to enjoy a two-centre Canary Islands break.
The central pedestrian street of Calle O’Daly (popularly known as Calle Real) begins at the roundabout at the city end of the marina and runs the length of the centre, becoming Calle Anselmo Perez de Brito. Running parallel to Calle O’Daly and bordering the sea is Avenida Marítima. Most of the city’s exploration will bring you constantly back to these two main arteries and make navigating your way around very easy.
Along Calle O’Daly you’ll find many of the city’s best examples of Canarian Renaissance architecture dating from the latter half of the 16th century, the city’s oldest buildings having been razed by fire in the pirate attack of July 1553 by French sea terrorist Pata de Palo (Peg Leg). Here is where you’ll find the Town Hall with its semi circular arches beneath which the city’s senior males take refuge from the sun’s glare to discuss world and local affairs. On the square opposite is the Church of El Salvador with its tower of black volcanic stone and at number 22 the Casa de Salazar was formerly the family mansion of the Salazars and has a lovely balconied courtyard. Many of the buildings are shops at ground level and you’ll find trendy boutiques, book shops and chemists whose interiors have frescoes, carved cornices and mudejar roofs. Follow the street northwards to its end and you’ll find yourself face to broadside with a full sized replica of Columbus’ ship, the Santa Maria, which acts as an appropriately quirky setting for the Naval Museum.
Along Avenida Marítima are the city’s iconic Casas de Los Balcones, intricately carved wooden balconies adorning the rear of seven houses, their front doors facing onto Calle Perez Brito. Constructed from tea wood, these types of balconies were influenced by the Andalusian and Portuguese artisans who settled on the island and later became the blueprint for colonial architecture in Latin America. Continue further north along Avenida Marítima and you’ll reach Castillo Santa Catalina, the city’s only remaining military architecture.
Where to stay
Base yourself in the heart of the city in La Fuente apartments (00 34 922 415 636; Calle Perez Brito, 49) where you’ll find simple, self catering accommodation from €38 per night. Ask for a room in the old house and if you’re lucky you’ll get one of the two front rooms with wooden floors, mudejar ceilings and window seats overlooking the street. The same family also now own the characterful Pension La Cubana (00 34 922 411 354; Calle O’Daly, 24), basic self catering accommodation in an historic building from €22 per night.
Where to eat
Take advantage of La Palma’s South American connections to enjoy some Venezuelan ‘arepas’ for a lunch time snack from El Encuentro on the plaza opposite Columbus’ ship. Deep fried corn cakes with various fillings (try carne machado, spicy shredded beef or Reina, chicken with avocado) and lashings of avocado and chilli sauce. One is never enough and two is too many.
Santa Cruz de La Palma is no gourmet destination but neither is it short of places to try good, Canarian cuisine. La Placeta (00 34 922 415 273; Plaza Borrero, 1; laplaceta.es) is arguably the best but La Lonja (00 34 922 416 693; Avenida Marítima, 55; lalonjarestaurante.co) is also very good and has an atmospheric, floral courtyard.
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+