The capital of La Palma island shares the same name as Terceira’s capital in the neighbour archipelago of Azores Islands, hence the need to distinguish them by calling this one Santa Cruz de La Palma, the other one Santa Cruz de Terceira. Incidentally, La Palma sometimes creates nominal confusion with the city of Las Palmas in Gran Canaria, or with Palma de Mallorca, a popular holiday spot in the Balearic Islands.
It’s a very attractive town situated on the east coast and surrounded by high hills. Many of the streets are steep and narrow, climbing out of town to the rim of La Caldereta, an extinct volcanic crater to the south, but a wide avenue, Avenida Maritima, follows the waterfront along a stretch of level ground. Avenida Maritima has many beautiful examples of typical Canary Island architecture, displaying single or double-storey balconies made from the native laurel, often intricately carved. Parallel to Avenida Bias Perez Gonzalez, the southern extension of Avenida Maritima, there are more handsome old colonial mansions in the town’s main commercial and shopping street, Calle Real, their elegant façade lending a touch of class to the neighbouring shops and offices.
At the end of Calle Real is the Plaza de Espaiia, heart of the capital. It’s a charming small square with a stone fountain (built 1776) in the centre, surrounded by interesting buildings, including the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall), built in 1563 with a renaissance portico. One of the most popular snapshots of Santa Cruz features the nearby church, taken from under the Town Hall’s arches; this is the Iglesia de San Salvador, mother church of La Palma (founded 1500), with a very remarkable renaissance façade. Inside is a magnificent carved altarpiece, a mudejar (Moorish) style carved wooden ceiling and a rich treasury of paintings and images donated by wealthy merchants or emigrantes who had made their fortunes in the New World.
North from the Plaza, Calle General Mola leads to Plaza General Franco, beside the wide Barranco de las Nieves, a ravine marking the north boundary of central Santa Cruz. In this square stands the full-size stone replica of Colombus’s ship, Santa Maria. Now housing a small naval museum, the ship is ‘dressed overall’ with flags and flowers for the five-yearly festival of La Bajada de la Virgen. By a small fort, Castillo de la Virgen, on the north bank of the Barranco, a road heads up into the hills to the Sanctuario de Nuestra Setiora de las Nieves, the shrine in which the Virgin of the Snows is kept. The image itself is of unknown origin, but the shrine is thought to date from the early 15th century.
The small fort on the waterfront is the Castillo Real (17th century), now a National Monument. Just a few hundred yards away on Avenida Maritima is La Palma’s 3-star parador, the island’s No. 1 hotel, overlooking the sea. Past the hotel on the quay is a small Tourist Office, where you can get excellent information about the town and the rest of the island. The Muelle (quay) curves south round the port full of fishing boats, yachts and occasional inter-island ferries, watched over by tall white office blocks and old colonial mansions side by side, nestling under a steep hillside.