Declared a national park in 1954, this pristine nature reserve is the heart of La Palma, both geographically and symbolically. Extended across 46.9 sq km, it encompasses thick Canary pine forests, a wealth of freshwater springs and streams, waterfalls, impressive rock formations and many kilometres of hiking trails. Although you can reach a few miradores by car, you’ll need to explore on foot to really experience the park’s beauty. The morning, before clouds obscure the views, is the best time to visit.
The heart of the park is the Caldera de Taburiente itself (literally, the Taburiente ‘Stewpot’ or ‘Caldron’). A massive depression 8km wide and surrounded by soaring rock walls (it doesn’t take much imagination to see where the name came from), it was first given the moniker in 1825 by German geologist Leopold von Buch, who took it to be a massive volcanic crater. The word ‘caldera’ stuck, and was used as a standard term for such volcanic craters the world over. This caldera, however, is no crater, although volcanic activity was key in its creation. Scientists now agree that this was a majestically tall volcanic mountain, and that it collapsed on itself. Through the millennia, erosion excavated this tall-walled amphitheatre.
As you explore the quiet park, all may seem impressively stoic and still, but the forces of erosion are hard at work. Landslides and collapsing roques (pillars of volcanic rock) are frequent, and some geologists estimate it will finally disappear in just 5000 years. See this fast erosion near the Mirador de la Cumbrecita, where a group of pines stands atop a web of exposed roots, clinging miraculously to the hilltop. These trees were once planted firmly in the ground, but metres of soil have been lost during their lifetime.