Where the heck is La Palma anyway?


I originally came to La Palma to work at the astronomical observatory here. Almost as soon as I heard I’d got the job, my parents went to a travel agent to find out how much it would cost to visit.

The girl at the desk said, “Las Palmas de Gran Canaris? Certainly Sir. I’ll just look it up for you.”

“No,” explained my father. “The island of La Palma. My daughter’s going to work there. It’s the Civil Service, so I don’t think it’s a cover for the white slave trade.”

“But there’s no island in the Canaries called La Palma. Just the city of Las Palmas on Gran Canaria.” And she got out a map to prove it. It showed the four islands where they sold package holidays: Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fueraventura.

I can just picture my Dad trying to keep his temper at this point.

So my parents went across the road to the bookshop, who knew them well enough to loan them an atlas. They took the atlas to the travel agent, and said, “Look!”

“Oh!” she said, much astonished. “In that case it can’t have an airport.”

My father took a deep breath. “My daughter is not planning to swim there.”

The travel agent finally admitted to ignorance.

To be fair this was 1990. Not many travel agents would have done any better at the time. These days there’s a direct flight from London Gatwick, and the place is onthe map, literally.

But for the benefit of anyone still in the dark, the seven (not four!) Canary Islands are an autonomous region of Spain, but they lie about 125 miles off the coast of Morocco. La Palma is one of the smaller ones, at the top left-hand corner of the archipelago. It’s about 31 miles long, 16 miles wide, and an amazing 8,000 ft at it’s highest point.

And yes, it has an airport.

Posted by sheila

Sheila came to La Palma with a six month contract and has stayed 24 years so far. She used to work as a software engineer at the observatory, but now she's a writer and Starlight guide.

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