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Santa Cruz de la Palma has the only major port in the island, serving ferry routes to Cádiz in Spain, as well as to Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote. The main ferry operators in the port are Naviera Armas and Fred. Olsen Express, and many cruise line firms visit the port.
 
If your idea of a perfect day in port includes ambling along winding cobbled streets, browsing offbeat craft shops and watching the world go by from a street cafe, look no further than Santa Cruz de la Palma.
 
Santa Cruz de La Palma (Spanish for "the holy cross") is the capital of La Palma, the most northwesterly of the Canary Islands. On the island, the town is sometimes referred to -- confusingly -- as just La Palma. To further complicate the name game, the island itself has many guises, too: Its full name is San Miguel de la Palma, but it's also known as La Isla Bonita y Verde, "the beautiful green island."
 
Whatever you call La Palma, often found on trans-Atlantic itineraries, you'll find fine Spanish colonial houses with elaborate balconies and bougainvillea-draped white frontages -- and one of the world's largest volcanic craters. The Caldera de Taburiente measures nearly 17.5 miles across and nearly half a mile deep, and because it is home to rare animal and plant life, it has also been designated a national park.
 
Like the rest of the Canary Islands, the origin of La Palma is volcanic. The fact that some of La Palma's dramatic volcanoes are still active will add an extra frisson to your explorations, as will the fact that although it was claimed by the Spanish in 1493, both human remains and ancient utensils indicate that the island has been inhabited since pre-historic times.
 
An international body has designated La Palma as one of the three most beautiful islands in the world, and it is easy to see why. The magnificent scenery and fascinating vegetation make an immediate appeal to all who explore the island, either on foot or by car. And because it lacks any large beaches it has remained largely unspoiled by mass tourism.
 
Santa Cruz de la Palma, the island's chief town, lies on the east coast, on the rim of a volcanic crater, La Caldereta. The life of the town is centered on its two main streets running parallel to the coast, the Avenida Maritima and Calle O'Daly (or Calle Real), which have preserved a number of old houses with finely decorated wooden balconies alongside imposing modern buildings.
The Caldera de Taburiente, in the center of the island, was declared a National Park in 1954. With a circumference of 28km/17mi and a maximum diameter of almost 9km/5.5mi, it is one of the largest volcanic craters in the world. There is a magnificent view into the crater from the Cumbrecita viewpoint (1,833m/6,014ft), which can be reached by car on a narrow asphalted road
 
Where You're Docked
You'll disembark at the port of Santa Cruz, located on the eastern part of the island.
 
Hanging Around
The port itself is unpretentious and un-commercialized, which is a nice way of saying there's no reason to hang around.
Getting Around
On Foot: Most ships offer free shuttle buses from the small cruise terminal to the main port gates; from there, it is a five-minute stroll into town.
 
By Bus: Local buses operate around the island from the Avenida de Bajamar, and for a couple of euros you can buy a return ticket on an hourly service to the nearest beach, Playa de los Cancajos, which lies about three miles away to the south.
 
By Taxi: A taxi from the port (just outside the terminal) to the beach costs between 10 and 12 euros one way (approximately $13 - $15.75) -- not too bad if you're sharing, and more reliable than the buses if you're on a tight schedule. For an island tour, budget between 25 and 40 euros (approximately $32.81 - $52.50) for an hour or so, depending on your negotiation skills (do establish the fare in advance).
 
By Car: If your ship is in for some time, you could consider hiring a car at Autos la Palma on the Avenida Maritima, but people very rarely do this and it's not recommended on a short cruise call, as the local roads are winding, mountainous and slow to negotiate.

Watch Out For
Busy traffic as you walk into Santa Cruz from the port gates; you need to cross several junctions, and although there are crossings, traffic seems to come from all directions, so you need your wits about you.

Attractions
A stroll along pretty, cobbled O'Daly Street -- a magnet for tourists -- with tempting antique and craft shops and easy access to the main sights. Named after an Irish merchant, O'Daly runs parallel to the Avenida Maritima, Santa Cruz's waterfront promenade.
 
Walk back to your ship along the promenade, which -- like O'Daly Street -- is lined with 18th-century mansions notable for their elaborate wrought-iron balconies, massive doors and fine courtyards. Another incentive is that waterfront concerts are regularly held here, so you could enjoy music while you walk.
 
Plaza de Espana, a palm tree-filled, bougainvillea-draped courtyard just off O'Daly Street, is home to an artisans' market selling high-quality lacework, embroidery and leatherwork. Don't expect cheap prices here; a small handmade leather bag cost 52 euros (approximately $68.26) and a hand-embroidered, wood-framed kitchen clock is 72 euros (approximately $94.50), but the craftsmanship is exquisite.
 
The Iglesia de El Salvador is a 16th-century white church -- the Plaza de Espana's high point. The church's jewel-bright stained-glass windows, fret-worked roof rafters and intricately carved choir stall epitomize the Mudejar style of decoration, which combined Moorish influence with Christian symbolism.
 
Explore the area around the Plaza de Espana -- a must for lovers of fine architecture as it holds the Italian Renaissance-style Ayuntamiento (Santa Cruz's 16th-century town hall) and the Convento de San Francisco (on Calle Real).
 
Visit the star-shaped 17th-century Castillo de Santa Catarina fortress, which lies on Avenida Maritima overlooking the waterfront -- it's a national monument.
 
Take in the striking timber replica of Christopher Columbus' famous ship, the Santa Maria, which is known to the locals as the Barco de la Virgen and particularly worth seeing during one of Santa Cruz's many fiestas when it is dressed in flowers. Walk right along the promenade, past the Castillo, then head left up Pedro J. de las Casas; turn right at the top.
 
Sweet lovers will want to tuck into light-as-air custard and puff pastry tarts from a heavenly bakery on Avenida de la Puente (just go left at the end of O'Daly Street; follow your nose).
Been There, Done That
A day at the beach too tame? Take a walk on the wild side of a volcano from Fuencaliente, 20 miles and about an hour's (and a 25 euro) taxi ride from Santa Cruz. This is, as you might say, the gateway to volcano land -- thrill seekers can view the still-active Volcan de Teneguia or walk to the calmer (we hope) Volcan de San Antonio.
 
Closer to Santa Cruz (about a 10 euro cab ride away) is the lovely hill village of Las Nieves, famed for its fragrant citrus groves and 14th-century terracotta statue of Our Lady of the Snows, La Palma's patron saint.

Shore Excursions
Best for Foodies: A trip to the Caldera de Taburiente National Park offers fabulous views of the island's moonscape-style volcanic scenery and includes a stop for wine, cheese and macaroons. 4 hours.
 
Best for Volcano Enthusiasts: A 7-hour trip combines Taburiente with the island's other volcanoes, San Antonio and Teneguia, plus a call at the El Molino pottery, which produces some of the Canary Islands' most distinctive craftware.
 
Best for Wine Aficionados: A "Wine and Countryside" tour combines a scenic drive with a visit to the Palacio del Vino wine cellars, which are built into volcanic rock. 4 hours.
 
Best for Active Travelers: A 4-hour "Northern Sights" tour takes in Los Tilos laurel and pine forest (a UNESCO biosphere reserve), a haven for flora and fauna. This tour allows time for an optional walk through a banana plantation; another option is the "Hike in the Forest" tour (also 4 hours and Los Tilos-based), aimed at more serious walkers with a 2.48-mile trek led by a botanist.
 
Dining Out
If you prefer a lazy lunch to local pastries on the hoof while you're exploring, you'll find some good local restaurants near the waterfront, either on the Avenida Maritime or one street in on the Alvarez de Abreu. Wherever you eat -- and whatever diet you're on -- do order pudding, as the locals are rightly proud of their puds. Bienmesabe (a kind of almondy eggy custard) is particularly good.
 
Heading for the Beach: At La Fontana -- right on the seafront at Playa de Cancajos -- you can try fresh seafood in the local coriander or herb sauce (mojo verde), or sample Canarian specialities like rancho canaria (a rich meat and vegetable stew) and cabrito al homo (roast baby goat).
 
Close to the Port: La Bodeguita del Medio at 58 A. de Abreu -- about 350 yards from the port gates -- is a good bet, while for lunch with a sea view, the restaurant at the Hotel Maritimo (Avenida Maritima) is recommended.

Shopping
Forget it. Each tourist centre has a few shops selling the usual tourist stuff and a few small shops. There are supermarkets in each village. The main shops are in Santa Cruz and Los Llanos, but again, don't expect the large chains and warehouses. There are large supermarkets in Brena Baja (on the road from Santa Cruz to the tunnel) and in El Paso, Los Llanos and Tazacorte. If you want a shopping paradise you should do what the locals do ... go to Tenerife.

Everybody calls the main street in Santa Cruz de la Palma, “the Calle Real”, but nowhere along it’s length is there a street sign with that name! I used to suspect that the whole thing was invented to confuse visitors, but now I know better. It’s called the Calle Real (Royal Road) because it’s the one the Kings come along to visit baby Jesus each January 5th.

The southern end of the Calle Real (from the post office to Avenida El Puente) is called Calle O’Daly, and the northern end (Avenida El Puente to Plaza Alemeda) is Perez de Brito. Christina’s shop is at Perez de Brito, 28, just south of the Placeta.


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