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Monday, 28 August 2017

Observatory Tour at Roque de Muchachos

If you're thinking about taking a tour at the La Palma Observatory at El Roque de Muchachos (ORM), we can highly recommend it! 
It's something that we are often asked about and no wonder, the Roque de Muchachos Observatory is one of three best observatories on Earth - and home to the largest optical telescope in the world.
Taking a trip up to the Roque de Muchachos is practically a must while on La Palma. At 2426m above sea level and the highest point on La Palma, it's an awesome drive to the top and an even more awesome view when you get there! 

So don't miss the opportunity to tie in the visit to the Observatory with some sightseeing and maybe a walk along the GR131 El Baston walking route while you're there. Just a tip though - at the moment, there are no facilities such as cafe or toilets although this is in progress. Also, be prepared for all types of temperatures.
MAGIC Telescope, La Palma
The tours are only held in the day - sorry, no night time viewing for us general public. The night is a highly precious time when the scientists are observing. In fact, you can't even take your car up to the Roque de Muchachos at night which would cause light pollution.

And if you didn't know, you might be surprised to hear that there is even a Sky Law on La Palma, I kid you not. This is a law made in 1988 which enforces the control of light pollution by regulating street lighting and air communications routes.

So what goes on in these great big white domes? This is where the conducted tour comes in as you get to see the interior of one of the telescopes at the Observatory such as: Gran Telescopio de Canarias (Gran TeCan)William Herschel TelescopeGalileo Telescope

Casual entrance is not allowed, it is strictly by booking in advance. This can either be done online using the calendar of available dates or directly at the Astro La Palma office Los Cancajos.

Entrance is 9€ per adult, less for residents, strictly no under 12's. The tour lasts 70 to 90 minutes and I recommend you get there at least 15 minutes early. This is your one and only chance to use the facilities (toilet) as they are not available once the tour starts or at the end.
It's a good idea to take a jacket just in case it's cold as the first part of the tour is a talk outside. Also, once inside the dome, the temperature is kept at ambient night time temperature, so expect cool or even cold.

 So is it worth a visit? Absolutely! For more information on the observatory and star-gazing on La Palma, check out our webpage:
Astronomy on La Palma

For a brilliant, informative yet light-hearted book we recommend :

A Breathtaking Window on the Universe:A guide to the observatory at the Roque de Los Muchachos
by Sheila M. Crosby.  Click on the link for details and excerpts.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Plaza la Glorieta, Las Manchas

At a quiet crossroads on La Palma, you may be surprised to stumble across an almost hidden enclave filled with sub-tropical plants, dragon trees, man-sized lizards and circling crows.
You may think you've been time-warped back into a prehistoric era and just need a few dragons to make the fantasy real. But this is no fantasy as everything is depicted in tiny mosaics.

The Plaza de Glorieta in Las Manchas Abajo (or the Plaza de Los Cuatro Caminos, Plaza of the Four Roads) is an impressive and painstaking masterpiece of design by La Palma's own Luis Morera. Word has it that the late Cesar Manrique, the famous and much-loved Canarian artist and architect, recommended Morera for the work.
Each scene is made  from tiny, fragmented tiles of every colour. Even the benches are decorated in a beautiful mosaic of flowers. Meanwhile, other natural elements are used with swirls of small, smooth stones from the ravines and beaches of La Palma.
Volcanic rock is used to showcase a stage, pillars and shady pergolas brimming with bougainvillea.

Natural foliage and Morero's own impression blend almost seamlessly into one.
Thankfully there was help to create this masterpiece but even so, the work still spanned from 1993 to 1996. That's a long time to be working on your hands and knees!
Nearby facilities and location:
A few metres away is the grocery store Las Manchas de Abajo which although small is massively well stocked. And less than 100m away is the small Casa del Museo de Vino las Manchas, Wine Museum House, not large put pleasant none the less and you can also buy La Palma wine there (closed Sundays).
The Las Manchas Plaza de Glorieta, like nature, is never closed and there is no entrance fee. You just need to get yourself there!
For transport by bus to the plaza, take #205 From Los Llanos main bus station to Las Manchas. Buses run at 09.00, 11.00, 13.00 and 14.45hrs. Buses return 45  minutes later or 2 hrs 45 mins later.
By car, take the LP213 to Todoque and continue south to Las Manchas. From Fuencalinete, take the LP2 towards Las Manchas and then Las Manchas Abajo.
Here is the link for Google maps:
Have fun!

Monday, 19 June 2017

San Andres and Marine Walk to Charco Azul and Puerto Espíndola - Part II

On our way now from the beautiful little village of San Andres to the Puerto de Espíndola, this the second part of our blog post - you can see the first part here:
Although the walk is very easy and quite short, there are many things to see along the way and of course even a bit to learn. For example, you'll be able to read from one of the information boards about how the settlement of San Andres was the most important trading centre in the north-east of La Palma, especially in the 16th and 17th century. It's hard to imagine what it was like that far back!
But the tiny port of 'La Cuevita' that is passed along way was doubtless key and you can still see the winch that was used in more recent times to get boats in and out of the water. Before the advent of the fantastic roads we have now, it was quicker to make the journey to Santa Cruz by sea than by road, as you can well imagine. But it's good to see that people are still using it as a place from where to fish. Oh, and sunbathe and swim :)
Along the marine walk, it's also interesting to see the few houses that there are. I'm sure each one has an interesting history. A few hang at the edge of the cliff practically dipping their toes in the sea. Whilst another is distinctly wacky!
Not quite as wacky as the odd collection of boards and bridges which look like something out of Popeye's village. Definitely not approved by the Health and Safety Executive, so please don't test it out.
From San Andres it is only a walk of about 15 minutes before arriving at Charco Azul which is a well known place on La Palma owing to its sea pool of azure blue, hence the name. The pool is very well fed from the sea and people love to line up against the sea wall and have the mighty Atlantic throw itself in. But it's calm as often as not, so those that like a bit of 'water action' can take advantage of the pump-operated waterfall which intermittently spouts out water in one corner of the pool.
There is also a pool for small children and great changing rooms, reminiscent of beach huts from yesteryear. And totally free of charge.
Another great attraction is the Restaurant Charco Azul which directly overlooks the pools. And just around the corner on street level is the Restaurant Rompecabos which has a slightly calmer atmosphere.
Not to be missed is the small museum of the Aldea rum distillery where you can have a guided tour or even just purchase one of the many types of rum made there. At one time there were around 30 rum distilleries on La Palma and it was a significant industry. However, now there is just the Aldea distillery. Tours are Monday to Saturday, 10.00 and 12.00hrs. But the shop (which is fascinating in itself) is open 09.00 to 14.00hrs and 15.00 to 17.00hrs Monday to Friday and Saturday mornings.
Aldea Rum Distillery and small museum
And finally, yes finally after all that excitement and interest ... is the glorious sandy beach of Puerto Espíndola. This is a place which has certainly seen some changes over the past ten years. From what was a small harbour, this has now been usurped by a far larger harbour on the other side of the bay.
The wide swath of sandy beach was created a few years ago and this has got to be the largest beach in the whole of the north. Access to the beach itself is very easy and so is entry and exit into the water. There is even another little cove next to it which we highly recommend for snorkelers and confident swimmers too.
If not a swim, the restaurant Mesón del Mar which is housed in a wonderful old building and overlooks the bay is the perfect place to end this little journey.
Restaurant Meson del Mar

Friday, 19 May 2017

Dolphin Spotting from Tazacorte

Our latest adventure was the very much awaited for boat trip from the Puerto de Tazacorte.
This was the big one on my List of Things to do on La Palma and I can't tell you how long I've waited for this! Well, if pressed, probably 15 years but with a whole lot of other things clamouring for attention, it's only in the last few years that it is has doggedly moved up to pole position. But still held held back by the self-closing doors of time and opportunity.
Until as luck would have it (and with David's family over on holiday) we found ourselves staying at one of the self-catering apartments at Tazacorte and right by the marina for a whole week. This was my big chance!!
As many of you will know there are several boats that run trips to see the dolphins and whales from Tazacorte Marina. A sighting is not guaranteed of course but a visit to the Cueva Bonita and the chance to swim or snorkel and/or go on the banana boat is also a possibility. A view of the coast from seaward is also a very exciting prospect!
The number of boats offering dolphin and whale spotting trips has increased over the years and I can tell you, the decision is very, very difficult. In the end we chose the Fancy II because it has underwater viewing and maybe also because it's been around the longest!

However, the Flipper Whale Watching boat has underwater cameras with the viewing sent directly to screens so everybody can get a view of what's going on below. And the Fantasy has the most amazing inverted glass dome so that everybody can see what's going on underwater all the time. But all the boats have their own special features so it's entirely up to you to choose the boat that offers what is important to you! Have fun deciding on that! 🤔🤔
Flipper Whale and Dolphin watching
So that's it, we were onboard and off and I'll let the photos with captions do the talking.

Leaving Tazacorte behind, Pico Bejanado in the distance
Skipper is on the look out for dolphins and whales

Here they are - he's found them for us!

Atlantic Spotted dolphins seem even more beautiful from below deck
From the twin hulls of the catamaran, there's plenty of other fish to be seen
So I can highly recommend this trip! The crew were absolutely brilliant, bringing free cake and sandwiches, (beer and coffee is available for sale) chatting with us and making sure everyone was OK and enjoying it. 

If we hadn't seen any dolphins, it would have been a shame of course but even so, we would have really enjoyed it. After the dolphins we headed back towards Tazacorte Port closer to the cliffs so we could see the shanty villages.

And then took a detour right inside the Cueva Bonita with its azure water.  

Would we do it again? You betcha! Naturally on a different boat and if we're not careful, I can see that we'll be making up for lost time!
More about the boats: 
The Inia RIB (rigid hull inflatable boat) - if you want to have some fun with a bit of close to the water speed - go for it!

The Bussard  built in 1970's was originally a shrimp boat. With a maximum of 12 passengers, it's a more sedate experience on the Atlantic Ocean around Tazacorte.
 The Bussard
The Fantasy - a combination of speed and viewing of marine life
Or sports fishing with Atlantic Experience

Ocean Explorer operate the Flipper, Inia RIB and the Bussard -

Fancy II and the Fantasy -

Atlantic Experience for sports fishing from Tazacorte -