Astronomy on La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain

It seems that holiday makers are suddenly waking up to the night skies of La Palma! Yes, the bright light in astronomy is La Palma, a small island in the Canaries. With its lack of air pollution thanks to negligible industry and relatively little traffic, lack of light pollution due to its mainly rural nature and its ready access to considerable height at 2396m above sea level which provides viewing about the cloud layer and well away from sea moisture.
To top it off, La Palma is governed by the Law of the Skies (the first island to do so) which controls light pollution, radio electrical pollution, atmosphere pollution and aviation routes.
As you can see, La Palma ticks all the boxes!


 Isaac Newton Telescope INT La Palma ORM Observatory Roque de Muchachos  William Herschel Telescope ING La Palma ORM

Star-gazing on La Palma is in the very top league of astronomy - it is home to one of the most extensive fleets of telescopes to be found anywhere in the world. To view the night skies above the island is not just a staggering spectacle for the casual observer gazing up to the skies without any form of telescope or binoculars, but the professional and hobbiest astronomers are pretty impressed too. In fact, because of its clean air and clear skies, the island of La Palma is chosen to be home to the largest single aperture optical telescope in the world at 10.4m diameter, the Gran Tecan. Yes. It's Awesome. 

 observing the observatory
Observing the observatory
william herschel telescope ORM Observatory Roque de Muchachos 
William Herschel Telescope
Rosette Nebula INT Roque de Muchachos ORB 
Rosette Nebular taken by INT
telescopes available with holiday home la palmaTelescope available with holiday house astronomy - observing the night skies La Palma Polaris - viewing areas for astronomy on la palmaOne of the viewing areas for astronomy

There are several ways to enjoy the night skies of La Palma:
1) Casual observing -  just look at the skies most evenings and you will be amazed at the stars - honestly, it's that good. If you are staying in a rental cottage or casa rural, you might just have some great viewing from your own terrace - ask us which rural houses are suitable for stargazing and we'll be happy to help. You might also find this list of astronomy view points on the island very useful.  
2) Organised evening group course - for a deeper understanding of observing La Palma night skies, Astro Tour offer an organised evening of group observing with a trained instructor and using a telescope and/or binoculars.
3) Holiday Accommodation with telescope included -  you can of course bring your own telescope/binoculars or we can arrange a holiday house to rent with telescope provided
4) Observatory tour - there are organised tours of the Roque de Muchachos observatory with a qualified Astroguide. The tours always take place in the day - night-time tours are not available as this is when the scientists are working. In fact, at night you cannot take your car up to where the observatories are because of light pollution by car headlights and that section of road is closed. If you would like to go on one of the tours, you must book and pay in advance. It is highly recommended that you book as soon as possible - please don't wait until you are on La Palma as the Observatory tours are often fully booked. To book a guided observatory tour of the Roque de Muchachos telescopes, click here: Observatory Tour La Palma.
You can read a really useful article about astronomy on La Palma here:

About the Roque de Muchachos Observatory, La Palma
The particular geographical position and climate cause clouds to form between 1,000 m (3,281 ft) and 2,000 m (6,562 ft), usually leaving the observatories with a clear sky.  Telescopes at the observatory include:

  • The Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes (ING) operates three telescopes:the 4.2 m (14 ft) William Herschel Telescope, the 2.54 m (100 inch) Isaac Newton Telescope and the 1 m (3 ft 3 in) Jacobus Kapteyn Telescope.
  • The 2.5 m (8 ft 2 in) Nordic Optical Telescope (NOT).
  • The 1 m (3 ft 3 in) Swedish 1-m Solar Telescope (SST) operated by the Institute for Solar Physics.
  • The 0.45 m (1 ft 6 in) Dutch Open Telescope (DOT).
  • A 0.6 m (2 ft 0 in) optical telescope.
  • The Carlsberg Meridian Telescope (CMT).
  • The 1.2 m (3 ft 11 in) Mercator Telescope.
  • The 2 m (6 ft 7 in) Liverpool Telescope.
  • The 10.4 m (34 ft) Gran Telescopio Canarias (Great Canary Telescope, dedicated 24 July 2009).
  • The 3.6 m (12 ft) Telescopio Nazionale Galileo (TNG).
  • The 17 m (56 ft) MAGIC Telescope, an air shower Cherenkov telescope for observing high energy gamma rays
  • The SuperWASP-North telescope, used to detect extrasolar planets.
    * The Dutch Open Telescope (DOT) and the Swedish Solar Telescope (SST) have been specifically built to study the sun.

Astronomical Viewpoints around La Palma

  • 1 - Montaña El Molino (Barlovento)
  • 2 - Montaña San Bartolo (Puntallana)
  • 3 - Montaña Buracas (Villa de Garafía)
  • 4 - Montaña Miraflores (Puntagorda)
  • 5 - Amateur Pico Cruz - Sur (San Andrés y Sauces)
  • 6 - Mirador al Infinito (San Andrés y Sauces)
  • 7 - Mirador Barranco del Carmen (Santa Cruz de La Palma)
  • 8 - Parque Los Álamos (Breña Alta)
  • 9 - Mirador La Muralla (Tijarafe)
  • 10 - Mirador de San Borondón (Tazacorte)
  • 11 - Llano del Jable (El Paso)
  • 12 - Llano de la Venta (Breña Baja)
  • 13 - Puerto Naos (Los Llanos de Aridane)
  • 14 - Montaña de Las Toscas (Villa de Mazo)
  • 15 - Mendo (El Paso)
  • 16 - Volcán San Antonio (Fuencaliente)

Reading matter about the Roque de Muchachos Observatory:
A Breathtaking Window on the Universe: A guide to the observatory at the Roque de Los Muchachos” by Sheila M. Crosby.
About the book: Welcome to the Roque de Los Muchachos, where 15 telescopes from 19 nations use the best night sky in Europe to explore the cosmos. Find out what it’s like to work in this strange world above the clouds. Learn about each telescope, how they’re run, and a little of what they’ve discovered.
Sheila Crosby knows the observatory well. She worked there as an engineer for nearly 12 years, and has been a tour guide there for three, showing hundreds of tourists, journalists and students around.
This book is written for the general public rather than professional astronomers, with over 120 photos and diagrams, and a full glossary of all the technical terms for non-geeks.
The recommended retail price is €17, but books bought through this website link will cost just 15€ + P&P.