La Palma is home to observatories because of its favorable climatic conditions. With state-of-the-art equipment, people look up to see the sky and what’s beyond it. In the northwest of the island, though, it is the clouds that come to meet its magnificent peaks and landscape.
Garafia and its winding roads are often veiled by mist casting a mystical aura. At times, it feels like entering an enchanted place. With a captivating terrain and bewitching network of trails, oh, enchanted it indeed is.
La Palma’s First Aboriginal Settlement
The Auaritas or more commonly referred to as Guanches were the first inhabitants of La Palma. Like all living creatures, they, too, settled in a place where they would thrive.
It had abundant natural resources, as it does up to this very day. Freshwater springs quenched their thirst. Fertile soil raised lush vegetation. The expanse had enough grazing grounds for livestock. Thus, it’s not surprising that the area was the first to be inhabited in the island. A place now called Garafia. In fact, the name itself means ‘living space’ in the aboriginal language.
What’s in the Northwest of the Northwestern Most Canary
La Palma has a beautiful countryside and lots of lovely rustic towns. Garafia, though, is the most rural. Even if it’s the oldest and largest municipality, it’s also the least populated. Unfortunately, many of its youths failed to resist opportunities in other parts of the island. And, over time, it took a toll on its development.
As many of the idyllic towns in the archipelago transformed into tourist resorts, time seemed to stop in Garafia. Instead of tourist traps, this emerald expanse captivates visitors with its uncompromising natural beauty.
Roque de Los Muchachos
At 2,426 meters above sea level, Roque de Los Muchachos is the highest peak in La Palma and second in the Canaries. Its name translates to ‘Rock of the Young Men.’ While it is an impressive sight from the lowlands, the vantage points it offers across the island is nothing short of spectacular.
Visitors can drive to the site, but many prefer to hike from the observatory center. On the way up, fantastic sceneries await guests at Mirador Degollada de Los Franceses. Feast on the Caldera and the islands of Tenerife, El Hierro, and La Gomera. Although the path is steep, it is still quite an easy hike.
Roque de Los Muchachos Astronomical Observatory
Far away from highly industrialized nations, the clean air and clear sky is a testament to the commitment of the Canaries to conservation and going green. As such, its climatic condition made it the perfect location for stargazing. Besides an observatory, the site is also host to many state-of-the-art telescopes from many other countries.
Roque de Los Muchachos Astronomical Observatory became operational in 1984. A year after, it was inaugurated by the king of Spain and six European heads of state. Since then, more facilities were built as more nations got involved.
Seeing the sky and the stars is a surreal experience. For the astrophysicists, a range of telescopes has been put up to enable a peek into the far reaches of galaxies. Amongst the many night and solar telescopes, the star is Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC), the most massive optical telescope in the world. Besides the scientists and casual stargazers, the site is also a favorite of photographers and especially videographers capturing time-lapse videos.
The observatory is sprawled on a 2,400-meter high mountain. Thus, it’s chilly all year long. Hence, it’s a must to wear or bring warm clothing even in summer. Visits should also be scheduled early morning when the clouds won’t block the view. Then again, looking at the sea of clouds is itself quite an extraordinary experience.
Parque Cultural La Zarza
For nature and history enthusiasts, take a short but fascinating walk off the beaten track. After passing through enchanting laurel and pine forest, the path leads to Parque Cultural La Zarza.
At the information center, visitors can watch a video on the life of the original settlers of the island. But the best part of visiting the site is to see the mysterious petroglyphs. At the back of the center, a path takes guests to different locations to see ancient caves and the geometrical rock carvings.
Discovered in the 1950s, the petroglyphs still puzzle experts to this day. Much studies and explanations have been made about the rocks carvings. No one, though, has been able to decipher the possible meanings of the symbols. It seems the original inhabitants of the island will keep everyone mystified for now.
Church of Nuestra Señora de la Luz
Before anyone sighs at the mention of another church, be assured that this one isn’t like the rest.
It is of traditional Canarian architecture – whitewashed with cobblestone corners and accents. Imposing wooden doors welcome sightseers and parishioners. The customary bell on top of the nave is also present.
So, what exactly is ‘unique’ in the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Luz? Well, seeing the shrine for the first time makes people think they see a double. It must be because of fatigue from all the walking. But actually, there are indeed two.
The abbey has two naves which make it out of the ordinary. Its ornate wooden beams and Mudejar coffered ceilings are also engrossing. Several valuable sculptures of great age are also under its sacred clay tile roof.
Visitors should also walk around the spacious Plaza Baltasar Martín. From this square, they can cherish the view of the majestic azure Atlantic. After, it’s recommended to go around and appreciate the village as well.
Mirador de Santo Domingo de Garafia
Mirador de Santo Domingo offers glorious views of the mountains and the seascape. While the lush green slope is in complete contrast to the rugged cliff coast it’s standing on, the vast blue ocean meeting the expansive blue skies on the horizon is breathtaking.
The most notable sight from this viewpoint, though, is the Roque de las Tabaidas. It’s a tiny rock island that is only a stone’s throw away from the coast. It looks like a part of the craggy seaboard that drifted away to shine on its own. And, it seems it has. Amongst all the marvelous panoramas here, it is the crowd favorite.
Puerto de Santo Domingo
The only port in Garafia is Puerto de Santo Domingo. It’s long been left dormant though, so do not expect to see a busy harbor with colorful boats moored around it. Instead, visitors are welcomed by the grand display of crashing waves. On their way down to the port, they can marvel at the old cliffside cave houses, some of which are ancient. They may look uninhabited, but they are still used during weekends and summers.
From the parking lot above to the port below, tourists can marvel at the Roque de Santo Domingo, El Roque de Las Tabaibas, and El Roque de El Guincho. These rock formations are so eye-catching that they rival the magnificence of the sea. They also look as though they are part of the Santo Domingo coast that wandered away. Gorgeous with a touch of peculiarity, nature sure made them exceedingly bewitching.
Museo de Interpretacion del Gofio
The old windmill of Las Tricias, El Molino, was operational until 1954. After long decades of inactivity, it was finally restored in 2002. Beneath, the building was rebuilt and expanded for Museo de Interpretacion del Gofio.
The first thing that visitors will notice is the scenic views around the windmill. The delightful terrain of Garafia, all the way to the coast, can be seen from here. There are some pines, rows of dragon trees, scattered cacti, and almond trees are around. A few Canarian stone houses are also sprinkled here and there.
In the museum, guests will get to understand gofio thoroughly. The processes it goes through, and its relevance to the Canaries are discussed in the panels. The grain milling method, which is the first step in making gofio, is also demonstrated live. To learn why Canarians love this nutritious food, do buy and try it before leaving.
Getting to Garafia
From Santa Cruz de la Palma, take bus line 100 (1-2) to Barlovento. The bus departs every hour, and the trip takes around 30 minutes. From Barlovento, take bus line 100 either 9-10 or 11-12 depending on where in Garafia you want to go. Please note that this line departs only every four hours. Hence, it is essential that tourists plan their travels ahead.
Bus line 100 9-10 stops at Franceses, Roque Faro, La Mata, Llano Negro, and Santo Domingo. While bus line 100 11-12 stops at all those towns and Cueva de Agua and Las Tricias too.
Where to Stay in Garafia
In Garafia, tourists get to experience authentic Canarian living without sacrificing modern comforts. Feel cozy in a charming holiday home of stones and wood that is more than a 100 years old. Step out for a hike and bask in all the exquisite natural allures that surround the abode. In this municipality, guests can enjoy their rural vacation as soon as they open their eyes.
The most important choice to make is whether to stay in a rental with mountain views or seascape. There are no hotels or apartments, but its country dwellings have all the essentials. They have seating and dining areas, a fully-equipped kitchen, and a sun terrace with vistas.
With Mountain Views
Casa Rural el Riachuelo is a traditional whitewashed stone house in Las Tricias. This rustic home is in the vicinity of a popular cycling area with fantastic mountain panoramas. It also has a lovely sun terrace for those who would like to enjoy the views from within the property.
For a country home near beautiful hills and hiking trails, El Jaral in El Palmar is the place. This lovely one-bedroom casa is encompassed by a cactus-filled garden as well. Guests also love that they make use of the free WiFi and have BBQ afternoons on the patio.
With Ocean Views
Casa Rural Los Barranquitos is a clifftop home in El Palmar with an uninterrupted view of the blue sea. Its two bedrooms have direct access to the terrace too. The place also has plenty of space for everything except boredom. Guests can hike in the surroundings and enjoy a BBQ weekend with family or friends.
Llano Negro’s Casa Rural Las Llanadas comes highly recommended for many reasons. It’s a two-bedroom house on a hill that overlooks the majestic Atlantic. Night sky watchers will have a blast here as there’s almost no pollution. Guests can also have a BBQ party in the garden and update their social media real time using the free WiFi. This rental is undoubtedly the complete package.
Gastronomy in Garafia
Most of the restaurants in Garafia offer Canarian cuisine. And, tourists who love Spanish food often enjoy the gastronomic scene here. They especially like the African and Mediterranean influences in the islands’ dishes. Don’t only expect traditional plates though. This municipality also loves to create original recipes and reinvent good old ones.
The best restaurant in on all of Garafia is Restaurante Azul. They have a great selection of local wines, and all their plates look incredible. Their best-sellers include crackers and cream cheese, Mediterranean seafood soup, baked sweet potato with a zucchini salad and king prawns served with garlic or orange sauce. For a heavenly dessert, try their almond caramel ice cream, cocos pannacotta with raspberry, flambe bananas, or mousse au chocolat.
After visiting Roque de los Muchachos and the observatory, tourists must be hungry. The good news is Tasca El Castillo, a stunning tropical garden restaurant, is very near. Amongst the menu of sumptuous meals, the Provence style lamb, boiled fillet of veal with horseradish sauce, Sicilian fillet of beef, spicy curry, and hearty goulash stand out. They also serve vegetarian and vegan-friendly dishes, just let them know. The icing on the cake? It must be the butterflies that join in while diners are enjoying their meals.
The Best of Bargains
When people see the menu and plates of Taberna Santi, the last thing they expect are for them to be cheap. But, they are. The shock in their diners’ faces is priceless, much like the food they serve here. Their must-trys are garbanzo soup, fried cheese with mojo sauce, papas arrugadas, goat stew, and any of their fish dishes.
For a really simple meal that is sure to satisfy, drop by Restaurante Parrilla El Bailadero. They serve classic hearty Canarian dishes that reminds even the locals of home. The most popular ones on their menu are conejo frito, papas arrugás con mojo, queso asado con mojo, and salchichas o longaniza.
The Old, the New, and the Natural
There are many sides to the splendor of Garafia. Its old villages seemed to have been forgotten by time, and the restored windmill is an excellent reminder of the municipality’s culinary past. The new is well represented by the futuristic scientific observatory center. As for the natural? The natural magnificence of Garafia is everywhere. It’s on every square meter, every cliff, slope, valley, and at every turn.
There are very few places in the archipelago that is still genuinely Canarian. And, Garafia is one of them. What makes it more special, though, is its many facets. Why must tourists experience only one when they can witness several?