At 2426m La Palma is the second highest of the Canary Islands. Its weather is dominated by trade winds, which often cover ranges between 1500m and 2000m in clouds. Above that elevation, especially during the nights, the skies often are crystal clear, some of the most stable weather conditions anywhere on European territory. In consequence Europe's biggest astrophysical site has been set up near the highpoint of the island, Roque de los Muchachos (2426m). Today, about a dozen telescopes of all sizes and ranges can be found up there, with their gleaming white and silver domes a startling sight. Most of these telescopes have been built on the north-west slopes of Pico de la Fuente Nueva (2370m), the second highest summit of the island.
Pico de la Fuente Nueva (2370m) is part of the giant Caldera de Taburiente, one of the earth's largest and tallest erosion craters. At a diameter of 9km, a circumference of 29km and an average height of the caldera wall of almost 2000m it is truly an impressive sight. Along the rim of the crater the mountains line up like pearls on a necklace with the highest summits located to the north-west of the caldera. All these summits - and Pico de la Fuente Nueva is no exception - can be easily reached from the outside slopes which rise at angles of 20° - 30° but on the inside they drop into the abyss of the crater.
Like its neighbours Pico de la Fuente Nueva is made up from volcanic cinder, sintered together into a moderately solid formation. Here and there more solid basalt walls can be found, most of which are not rooted to deeply in the rubble. All kinds of colours can be seen on the caldera walls but here a reddish brown prevails. Pico de la Fuente Nueva is climbed rather often though it is certainly not the main attraction on the caldera rim. Most visitors hike between Roque de los Muchachos and Degollada de Franceses, where the closest paking spaces can be found.
Thanks to the observatories a road almost reaches the summit structure on top of Pico de la Fuente Nueva. However the access along this road is restricted and only the astronomers are allowed to use it. Nevertheless it's a strange feeling to stand on the second highest mountain of an island with a road right behind your back. Anyway you can easily feel observed as quite often the observatory domes are opened during the day and the large eyes of the telescopes appear to be looking at you.
Pico de la Fuente Nueva is a wonderful lookout summit. From the summit structure, which can only be climbed by one person at a time you can look through a gap into the Caldera and beyond. The central attractions are Punta de los Roques and Pico Bejenado on the southern side of the Caldera with the Cumbre Vieja Range seen above the gap of the Cumbrecita Saddle. On clear days (always) Tenerife can be seen in the east while the lower La Gomera and El Hierro are often hidden beneath the trade wind clouds.
The mountain was named after a source which can be found close to Degollada de Franceses on the outside slopes.
La Palma, like all the other Canarian Islands can easily be reached from almost all major European airports. The airport is rather small and compared to Tenerife or Gran Canaria air trafic is rather low. Only Iberia has regular flights but all year round you'll be able to book charter flights. The airport itself is located on the eastern coast of the island, almost at its centre.
There are several trailheads which can be used to climb the mountain. All lie on LP-4, the high mountain road which connects Santa Cruz de La Palma with Garafia and which serves to support the astronomical observatories on top of the caldera. Pico de la Fuente Nueva is home to most of the observatories so that roads almost reach its summit. However, road access is restriced to the scientists so that the closest parking lots are at Degollada de Franceses on LP-4 to its east and on the top of Roque de los Muchachos to its west. Other trailheads are at Pico de la Nieve 9km to the south and Pico de la Cruz, 2km to the south-east.
- Follow LP-1 from the airport through the capital of Santa Cruz.
- After the city, at El Morro, LP-4 turns off to the left (west). There are signs for the observatories at Roque de los Muchachos.
- Follow the winding road towards Pico de la Nieve or Roque de los Muchachos. The Pico de la Cruz and Degollada de Franceses trailheads are directly beside the road in its highest section.
The summit of Pico de la Fuente Nueva is part of the Parque Nacional de la Caldera de Taburiente. This means on the inside of the park boundary you are not allowed to leave the trails or to camp in the vicinity of the summit. Depending on the weather, leaving the trails can be rather dangerous. The caldera is composed of rather loose rocks and in wet or stormy conditions many a rock fall will occur.
As mentoned above, road access to the observatories on the mountain is restricted to scientists.
Accommodation is not much of a problem. Though there are no campgrounds on the island, hotel rooms and apartments (or number of beds) exceed the actual number of travellers by a ratio of 3:1. Every European travel office will be able to book hotel rooms and apartments for you. Or you can simply use google to find good offers. Often rural fincas can be much less expensive than the regular tourist offers though quality might be more of a problem.
Usually all year round the Canarias have the same weather with little alterations: north-eastern trade winds which deposit fog and dew on the north-eastern slopes of the islands. The eastern and southern parts usually are very dry and there you'll get some hours of sunshine each day. Especially on the higher islands like La Palma you usually don't have to worry about weather too much. The mountaintops will stick out of the clouds.
Now here's the problem: We spent two vacations on La Palma in late February 2005 and late December 2009. Both times we had fierce western winds which were loaded with moisture. We had torrential rain for hours on end and several times couldn't even drive by car because the roads were flooded. In these conditions anything can happen in the mountains!
There are no reliable weather forecasts for the mountain regions of La Palma. Often a cloudless day turns into a foggy one within half an hour. Forecasts for the coastal regions, however are available. You have to subtract 0.7°C for every 100m of altitude so that Roque de los Muchachos will still be near freezing when the coasts have already fine and sunny beach weather. The following table gives a little overview about the average weather data of the capital of Santa Cruz:
|Avg. day temp.[°C / °F]||21 / 70||21 / 70||22 / 72||22 / 72||22 / 72||24 / 75||25 / 77||26 / 79||26 / 79||26 / 79||24 / 75||22 / 72|
|Avg. night temp.[°C / °F]||15 / 59||14 / 57||15 / 59||16 / 61||17 / 63||18 / 64||19 / 66||21 / 70||21 / 70||19 / 66||18 / 64||16 / 61|
|Water temp.[°C / °F]||19 / 66||18 / 64||19 / 66||19 / 66||19 / 66||20 / 68||22 / 72||23 / 73||22 / 72||22 / 72||21 / 70||20 / 68|
|Sunny Hours / Day||5||6||6||7||8||9||10||9||8||6||5||5|
Maps & Books
I have used a fantastic map by Freytag & Berndt which shows all of the many hiking and biking trails of the island. With its scale of 1:30000 it is still large enough to be usefu for car tours as well. Moreover here you will find all the new designations and acronyms (which were changed some few years back).
- La Palma
Edition Freytag & Berndt
The guidebook I used is every bit as good as the map with excellent tour descriptions. It is available in English as well but I am not sure about the quality of the translation.
- La Palma
A. and W. Wolfsperger