The World’s Largest Telescope
No, those round, space-age-looking things squatting on the peak of Roque de los Muchachos aren’t something from a theme park, and no, they’re not alien spaceships come to explore earth. They are the telescopes of the island’s astronomical observatory, one of the world’s best places to study the night sky. So much so that in 2012 it was deemed the world's first Unesco-certified Starlight Reserve. Tossed out in the Atlantic, far from urban centres and city lights, La Palma is an ideal place to stargaze. More than 75% of the nights here on El Roque are clear, a statistic that’s hard to beat.
The mammoth Grantecan (Gran Telescopio Canario; GTC), the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos boasts one of the world’s largest telescopes. The €1 million investment allows scientists to study the formation and evolution of the galaxies throughout the history of the universe as well as investigate the stars and observe the rings of spatial material that give birth to new planets.
The observatory has long been home to Europe’s largest telescope and the site of important research. La Palma’s observatory is linked with the Observatorio del Teide on Tenerife, and together they form the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (IAC). The observatory can be visited by reserving in advance via the www.iac.es website. Multilingual 90 minute tours take place on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and cost €9. There are also a number of private tour companies who organise stargazing tours; look for the flyers at any of the island's tourist offices.