For splendid views down the valley to Santa Cruz, put aside time to tackle the 4km uphill hike north of town to La Palma’s main object of pilgrimage, the 17th-century Santuario de la Virgen de las Nieves with its fabulously ornate interior. The wooden Mudéjar-carved ceiling, sculptures and sparkling crystal chandeliers are the precursor to the 82cm-tall Virgin Mary herself, surrounded by a glittering altar. The 14th-century sculpture is the oldest religious statue in the Canary Islands and the object of deep veneration.
The sculpture was believed to have been brought by merchants before the arrival of the Spaniards; every five years she is carried down to Santa Cruz in a grand procession.
The church sits in a peaceful spot in the hills surrounded by trees and greenery, all in typical Canarian colonial style with balconies and simple facades. The walk up is quite steep going, so take some water. By car, follow signs from Avenida Marítima where it crosses the barranco, then turn right on the Carretera de las Nieves (LP-101) and continue winding up the hillside until you see signs for the sanctuary; the curve-filled 5km trip takes nearly 15 minutes. Bus 10 (€2, approximately 20 minutes) comes up hourly from the town centre from 6.45am until 8.45pm, less frequently on weekends.
There’s a bar-restaurant in the square right by the church. If you take the steep path to the right (as you face it) of the souvenir shop opposite the church, it takes you to a higher position to photograph the mountains and also to find a track that leads to excellent views over the city below. Other stunning views down the barranco valley to Santa Cruz await down the road away from the church to just before the first bend.