La Palma – most active volcano of the Canary Islands

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La Palma, a Spanish island, is one of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean off Africa. It is located at 28°40′ N, 17°52 W.


La Palma is one of the Canary Islands, with an area of 706 square kilometres. Total population is about 80,000, of which 18,000 live in the capital, Santa Cruz de la Palma. Its geography is a result of the volcanic building of the island. The highest peaks reach about 2,400 meters from the sea level and additional more than 3,000 meters below sea level. The northern part of La Palma is dominated by the Caldera de Taburiente which with a width of nine kilometers and a depth of 1,500 meters is surrounded by the Cumbre Vieja, a ring of montains of 1,600 to 2,400 meters in height. Only the deep canyon Barranco de las Angustias leads into inner area of the caldera which is a national park. It can be reached only by hiking. The outer slopes are cut by numerous gorges which run from 2,000 meters down to the sea. Today only few of this carry water due to the water tunnels. Through the southern part of La Palma leds the ridge Cumbre Nueva formed by numerous volcanic cones build of ashes, a rather bizarre landscape. The southern cape Punta de Fuencaliente where the most recent volcanic activities took place consists of lava and ashes. La Palma is dominated by the colors blue, green and black. Blue is the surrounding ubiquituous sea. Green comes from the abudant plant life, the most variegate one can find in the Canary Islands. Black from the volcanics rocks that still fill the landscape, and from the numerous small beaches made of black sand.


The island is part of the province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The island capital is Santa Cruz de la Palma. The other major city on the island is Los Llanos.


The island was formed as a seamount by the volcanic activities like all of the Canary Islands. La Palma is the most active volcano of the Canary Islands and was formed 3 million years ago. It rises 3,500 meters from the seafloor to the sea surface and reaches a height of 2,426 meters above sea level. 500,000 years ago the primary volcano Taburiente collapsed whith a giant landslide which formed the Caldera de Taburiente. The known historic eruptions are:

  • 1470-1492 Montana Quemada
  • 1585 Tajuya near El Paso
  • 1646 Volcán San Martin
  • 1677 Volcán San Antonio
  • 1712 El Charco
  • 1949 Volcán San Juan, Duraznero, Hoyo Negro
  • 1971 Volcán Teneguía

During the 1949 eruption the western half of the Cumbre Vieja ridge slipped several metres downwards into the Atlantic Ocean. It is believed that this process was driven by the pressure caused by the rising magam heating and vaporising water trapped within the structure of the island. During some future eruption within the next few thousand years the western half of the island, weighing perhaps 500 billion tonnes, will slide into the ocean. This will generate a giant wave known as a megatsunami around a kilometre high in the region of the islands. The wave will fan out across the Atlantic and strike Africa and the Western American seaboard several hours later with a wave possibly 90 meters (300 feet) high causing massive devastation along the coastlines.


The Canary Islands had been settled by the native Canarians called Guanches whose origin is still controversial. They had a neolithic culture without agriculture and split up in several clans led by a chief. Their name for the island was Benahoares. The main relicts of this culture are the caves they lived in, petroglyphes which are mysterious stone engravings of cultic meaning (perhaps) and the stone paved pathes through the mountains. After the Spanish occupation of La Palma the native Canarians vanished completely by assimilation into the Hispanic population. Though some historians think that the Canary Islands were known to the Phoenicians and the Greeks, there is proven knowledge that the Genoese Lancelotto Malocello reached the archipelago in 1312. In 1404 the Spaniards began the conquest of the islands. Though the first landing on La Palma was in 1405 it took until 1493 and several bloody battles until the last resistance of the natives was broken. The conqueror of La Palma was Alonso Fernandéz de Lugo who defeated Tanausu the brave last king of Benahoares finally. Tanausu was captured by the Spaniards by betrayal. For the next two centuries La Palma became rich as a trading post on the way to the new world.

Water Tunnels

The most famous buildings of La Palma are the water tunnels which carry the water from sources in the montains to cities, villages and farms (mainly banana plantations and vineyards). La Palma is blessed with a plenty of water due to the clouds brouhgt by the Trade Wind. The tunnels were carved into the rocks over centuries. One can follow some of the tunnels by hiking which is a great but wet adventure. Well known is the tour to the springs of Marcos y Corderos.


Due to the location of the island and the height of its mountains, some 2,400 meters above sea level, a number of international observatories have been built on the Roque de Los Muchachos. The particular geographical position and climate cause clouds to form between 1,000 and 2,000 meters, leaving the observatories always with a clear sky. Often, the view from the top of the volcano is a sea of clouds covering the eastern part of the island.



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