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Mark Daniels

My holiday in La Palma and tips if you are thinking of going

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So just got back from my La Palma adventure. So letting you guys know my humble opinion and hopefully pass on information that may be of help. 

Firstly its how I see the island you may obviously feel different. 

Big question did I enjoy it?......yes
Would I visit again?.......No
Are there issues going there?.....yes big time
Was it value for money?......most definitely 
What should I take to see the stars?......depends greatly on where you are
Biggest disappointment?.....bright moon

Ok lets elaborate

Firstly if you are going then plan very well for no moon!!!!!  This was a holiday with my wife and straight after christmas so no choice. But the skies are so crystal clear that the moon is unbelievably bright. It was 1/3 full on arrival and pretty much full when i left. Also if you are going to stay by the coast then west is best i researched that and it was so true. La palma has a very micro weather system and this time of year east is cloud west is clear. Literately 10 miles is all it takes. We stayed south of the island west side. Only 2 days of broken cloud, rest clear skies ,and amazing sunsets. The resort north of us again gets sun and clear skies. 
However........ if you head up the island and stay say 800-1000 m this time of year you will be in cloud as it gets held by the landscape which ever side you are. Above 1200 m you get above the low cloud ( Mostly) but 1400m to be safe. 
What you should take is based on what holiday you are intending. If it is a family break then what i took was just right. Small telescope 50x is adequate also couple of lenses and a few filters. Camera dlsr with wide angle and attachment for scope. Bag to carry it in( Rucksack( A must) and some 10/50 binoculars. Its mainly DSO stuff and a good opportunity to landscape. A good tripod. 

If you are going as a purely Astro tour then boy thats different and i will elaborate later. 

We booked a star gazing trip which are a very easy and well planned affair but....... it was cancelled!  The weather up at 1500m was windy very cloudy/ misty and raining. Where we were was clear and warm. Now i thought to myself this is a winter thing. No. It can happen all year round though summer is obviously better and clearer. 
The tour provide talks and telescopes, they are run by astronomers. If you go on a holiday company one ,the coach picks you up and back they last about 5 hours in total including travel time. You can arrange separate ones but you need to get cab or drive. More of that in a bit. 

Is it value for money
Yes we paid little over £500 each the hotel was big clean and well run. The food was ok and the booze was good.  We went fully inclusive. 
The trip we did to the observatories and island tour was one of the best i have done. Full day so high up with stunning views and to stand way above the clouds was incredible. 
It also included a lunch stop at a local restaurant with great food, a tour of the northwest and the national park which was breath taking and very high also. The weather that day was perfect and the sights will last in my memories for a long time. The other tour was a half day trip to Santa Cruz the capital. That was cheap but disappointing. Very small some nice buildings but not a lot else. It is also a port so not very scenic and the beach is very man made. I would not recommend staying there. We saw all there is in about 2 hours. 
You need to appreciate the island as a tourist spot is based on its beauty with very limited tourism and is really aimed at hiking and outdoor activities. I would say if you are fit and i mean fit you will have a tremendous time getting lost in the natural wilderness and crazy volcanic landscapes.
If you are not very fit then ............ you will need a car.......GULP!!!!!!!!

Driving La Palma 
You will need nerves of steel! Seriously big fat nerves of steel. Until about 30 years ago there were very few roads. With the siting of the observatories there came a increase in tourism and a massive infrastructure program 
But also ......strict laws to protect the islands natural beauty and strict light pollution laws. Consequently there are limited tunnels and the roads zig zag up and down the terrain. Also most are unlit at night. 
Ok the highest road we travelled on by coach had a vertical drop of 1000m. It was very narrow and had minimal barriers. All of the roads have minimal barriers and have considerable drops most being very high indeed. Meeting an on coming coach and squeezing around it would be heart pounding unless you are very confident with both heights and driving. And thats day light! 
I would not drive as it would be very stressful. 
The other factor to consider is that the island is ( with the exception of two or three areas) very sparsely occupied. Total population is about 80,000 so the small villages (that really only have a taverna ,a cafe or shop ,and a church ), have an average populations around 100 locals spread over several km. Most shopping is done in Mini markets here and there attached to petrol stations here and there.  
Getting anywhere takes time

Example of how much time it takes to get from AToB.
 Our big trip
If we took measurements from hotel to Northwest observatory point and back via national park its about 50 km. the total distance travelled was 179km and the trip took a full 12.5 hours. We elevated to 2460m and the coach preformed 2460 sharp bends winding through the terrain.

Even a trip to Santa Cruz some 20km took an hour.

Buses are very good run on time but about every 2 hours. Most things shut between 2pm and 5pm so plan excursions accordingly. 

So what did i see?
Best view of orion ever. Beautiful Venus. The Moon ( couldn’t miss the [removed word]). Andromeda was good. Millions of stars everywhere. 
That was all from a quite spot i found away from the hotel on the cliffs next to a banana plantation about 15 minutes walk. In fact whilst the local band played and the people danced my wife and i strolled the local cliff path and looked up in wonder and she read and drank Cava ,while i gazed through my little scope and took a few snaps. It was magic. 

So the Biggy question 
“I am a serious astronomer who wants to go to La Palma and see the stuff only dreams are made of. What should i do?”

This what I would do.......

    1.    Plan your timings so no moon
    2.    Get a villa high up on the west side ( It will be expensive)
    3.    On arrival hire a car driven by at least 2 people who are very competent and have very good nerves 
    4.    Drive to Santa cruz next to airport and buy everything you will need for the week....... everything. 
    5.    Get to your place and park for the week unless near local bus or not frightened by drive there (in which case enjoy, you mountain goat you)
    6.    Take the kit you need but double up on plenty of consumables like batteries
    7.    4 G   Is excellent so get as much Data allowance as you can. I had 25gb and that was good for me 
    8.    Take stuff to do during the day or walk and enjoy the views
    9.    Take warm cloths as it is cold above 1200m even in the summer at night

I think for me i will try other places with my travel kit, and that was the most pleasing thing knowing that it doesn’t take a lot to get to see some great  things. 

The skies of LaPalma even under poor conditions are well worth seeing even if only the once. 
👍


 

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Nice write up, we went 2 years ago and much like you, my wife booked it (for me really) but didn't take into account the near full moon. We had a few nights toward the end of holiday where it rose fairly late though so did get to see how beautiful the sky was. Driving ... Yes, nerves of steel agreed.

I took DSLR, star adventurer mini and 12-24mm lens.

Again, similar to you, I found a nice dark secluded cliff edge about 10 mins walk from the hotel ... Could barely see the ground (til the moon rose) very scary being alone but worth it, even bumped into (what I thought at the time might be locals about to mug me or worse) a German chap hand holding his DSLR trying to take milky way shot and then a Polish chap shortly after. Even though we couldn't really communicate I let them both put there camera on the star adventurer for a few 30 second exposures ... Their faces were a treasure to remember 😄

Glad you had a good trip 👍

Attached my memory from the south east of La Palma. Bit gutted as slightly out of focus but still a lovely memory.

... Next time ... Take focus mask 😁

DSC_0709-1-01.jpeg

Edited by knobby
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Yes i should have taken a tracker but my weight limit was pretty close. The milky way was hard to get without but hey ho. Also moon set around 4 am and i think the local wines prevented me getting up that early!
i have ordered a omegon lx2 clockwork tracker which i hope eill solve the problem. As an island i really like Lanzarote so will experiment there next year. Seeing the observatories was great. 

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Thanks for that comprehensive report, I have copied it to my PC in case I decide to go there.  Glad you had a great time. 

Carole

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Thanks for the write up. That sounds great, it may have to go on my list!

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Went in Oct/Nov 1995..... roads v.dicey.... could still shudder at some driving 'experiences'.

Sky definitely v. good!!!

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Thanks for the review.

It is things like this that make me remember why I haven't been to La Palma (yet).  I do have the OH well trained in moon cycles (an app on her phone) so that will definitely not be a problem for me. However the driving part will be. I have been driving for 25 years but there's no way I want to drive on holiday under those conditions, holidays are for enjoying not for inducing stress. 

The other thing is that I could quite easily survive on bread and water for a week, sleeping during the day and doing astrophotography at night, however the OH wouldn't be too happy with that. In the past we have been to Fuerteventura and after midnight I would venture off and do my thing, but there was plenty of things for her to do during the day. 

It isn't easy is all I can say.

 

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my wife is also forgiving. She was fine but we missed being able to walk to a local bar but there really isnt much to choose from. The resort of Peurto Naos north of where we were had beach and seafront walk with a few bars etc but I dont think it would be as dark sky as the area we where. Again the travelling by car would be the same. 
to get the best you do need to be able to get to one of the islands view points. 

 

 

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Thanks for the report Mark! I have been thinking of going to La Palma for a wee while now and I feel much better informed now. 

I'm thinking about a week solo in the Canaries for Feb new moon while my wife is away volunteering in South Africa and trying to decide between La Palma or Tenerife... I've been to Tenerife lots of times in the past for winter windsurf weeks and know my way up to the Parador in the crater of Teide so might do that instead and leave La Palma for another time!

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If you are thinking of going to La Palma try Casa Rosabel. Dark skies without the hassle and they have decent telescopes. Just take your camera. A little remote but accommodation is excellent.

http://casa-rosabel.com/en-gb
 

also in the canaries in general because skies are so dark you can get away with some ground illumination if you go to a shaded area. I took this from a garden in a brightly lit hotel in La Gomera.  Just stay away from major towns.

get.jpg?insecure

 

Edited by maxchess
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