We treasure La Palma. Holidays here are noticeably different from anywhere else on the planet, due to the island’s unique ecosystem. By declaring the region a biosphere reserve, UNESCO has not only recognised the significance of this environment, but also created an official, lasting sanctuary for local wildlife.
An Island Eden
In 1983, La Palma became the first Spanish island to host a designated biosphere reserve. Gratifyingly, the protected area was extended fifteen years later, before the decision was made in 2002 to expand the biosphere to cover the entire island. This landmark step will hopefully inspire others to take such practical action to protect our planet.
As I explored in a previous blog post, the Canaries as a whole are ideal for keen walkers. La Palma is particularly exhilarating, with its large swathes of primeval laurel forest creating the kind of dense woodland we simply don’t see in northern Europe: lush, evergreen and dripping with creepers. The survival of this endangered landscape was a driving force behind the biosphere project.
Rather than striking out entirely on your own, I recommend that you explore the forest through escorted hiking tours. These are run by a company called Natour, which caters especially well for the La Palma holiday-goer with a keen interest in wildlife.
Birds and Beasts in the Biosphere
Several endemic species can be seen flitting among the deep green foliage of the forests. One of my favourites is a subspecies of the red-billed chough, distinguished by an even longer bill than its mainland cousins and adorned with beautifully glossy feathers. This inquisitive, aerobatic bird is one of the official symbols of the isle.
Birdwatchers with beadier eyes than mine might also spot a painterly La Palma chaffinch, a pretty, understated Canary Island chiffchaff, or a tiny, very talkative Canary Islands goldcrest. Not a bad roll call of names to tick off the target list!
Other endemic species flourish in the secluded nooks and crannies of the island. Most excitingly, in 2007 a photograph of a large lizard was published in El País, Spain’s national newspaper, causing a furore among the international scientific community. Some believed this to be a miraculous return of the hitherto extinct giant lizard endemic to the region. Others were more wary, likening the lizard’s comeback to the controversies of the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot. No consensus has yet been reached, so the question remains tantalisingly open…
Even if it’s the great outdoors that brings you to La Palma, holiday comforts are nevertheless a necessity. For that touch of luxury, we would recommend staying in Brena Baja, a quiet, countryside resort ideally situated for exploring the whole forest. It’s also home to the excellent Parador de la Palma, one of the best hotels on the island. Immersed in its own botanic garden, with sea views out of every room, it’s the ideal sanctuary after a long day’s hike. Indulge in a sauna to ease your tired limbs, or simply sit back and relax on your private balcony, glass of wine in hand.