Guide to Garafia, north/north-west La Palma
Garafia lies in the far north west of La Palma in between the two municipalities of Barlovento to the east and Puntagorda to the west. It covers 103 sq. km. rising from sea level to the highest point of the island at the Roque de Muchachos. Yes, that’s all Garafia!
Garafia is the oldest part of La Palma and the first to be inhabited due to its source of natural springs and abundant vegetation. In fact, the name ‘Garafia’ in the original language of the Aborigines literally means ‘living place’ which distinguished it from other parts of the island that were barren and not ‘living places.’
However, it has traditionally been an isolated area due to the terrain which is a series of ravines and ridges and led to a decline in population, particularly in the 1950’s and 60’s. Nowadays, despite it being the second largest municipality on the island, it is also the least populated with just 2,000 residents which accounts for around 2% of the population, as opposed to 5,000 inhabitants in the 1950’s.
The area of Garafia has 14 districts which include Franceses, El Tablado, Don Pedro, Roque Faro, La Mata, Juan Adalid, El Palmar, El Mudo, Llano Negro, Cueva de Agua, Hoya Grande, El Castillo, Las Tricias and the small town of Santo Domingo, which is its capital. These districts are scattered throughout Garafia and used to be isolated from each other and the rest of the island, linked only by paths and tracks.
Whilst these tracks remain and indeed have been restored and way-marked in very recent years, there is also the LP1 main road which runs across the north with a road to each village or hamlet.
Traditionally, people have always lived from the land whether that is agriculture or livestock. Being a Catholic country and with no pension system, families were large due to both religion and necessity. What better way to ensure being cared for in old age than producing, on average, 12 children who also helped with the land and animals? Whilst levels of agriculture have dramatically declined and the tradition of large families has swung the opposite way, most people still grow some vegetables and possibly have a few hens or goats.
Apart from this, there are however many large goat farms and Garafia still has the largest number of goats and sheep on the island. Cheese therefore is one of the major products of Garafia along wine production and with various handicrafts such as embroidery, wicker and leather crafts.
In the 1990’s, with many deserted cottages practically littered across the region and with a desire to fulfil the market for quality tourism, many of the traditional stone cottages were restored. This, albeit in a small way, does help to contribute to the income of Garafia not just to the owners of the cottages (who do not necessarily live in Garafia) but also to the shops, bars and restaurants.
There is a small amount of work derived from selling wooden staffs from the higher, forested areas of Garafia. These are used to support the bananas and vines and apart from being used all over La Palma, they are also exported to the other Canary Islands.
Manual labour is also employed by the Forestry Commission who are responsible for keeping clear the walking paths and fire breaks, and with the Council who are responsible for keeping the roads clear of fallen stones and rocks and clearing encroaching vegetation from the sides of the roads.
Main points of interest in Garafia
The Roque de Muchachos Observatory:
The observatory, inaugurated in 1985 by the Spanish Royal family, is located at an altitude of 2,400 metres above sea level, just below the Roque de Muchachos. It is the second-best location for optical and infrared astronomy in the Northern Hemisphere after Hawaii and has the largest single-aperture optical telescope in the world.
To avoid light pollution of the night sky above La Palma, the Government of the Canary Islands has promoted the ‘Law of the Sky’ which regulates nocturnal street lighting. The observatory started with the Isaac Newton Telescope which in 1979 was moved to La Palma from the Royal Greenwich Observatory site in Sussex, England. With hindsight, it was realised that it would have been cheaper and easier to have built a new one.
It is currently possible to take part in a guided tour on certain days with a previous booking. However, it is not permitted to drive up to the observatories during hours of darkness due to light pollution from car headlights.
In the 1950’s, a series of rock engravings were discovered in hollows between La Mata and Llano Negro and these, along with subsequent findings, have proved to be the most important in the Canary Islands. A small museum has been built at La Zarza which depicts life in Garafia from the 15th century onwards when people lived in caves. Alongside there is a circular walk along a wooded path into the two small ravines of La Zarza and La Zarzita to view the petroglyphs and caves.
Opening hours: Summer 11.00hrs to 19.00hrs. Winter: 11.00hrs to 15.00hrs. Price 2€
Church of Nuestra Señora de la Luz, Our Lady of the Light, Santo Domingo
The church was built to replace the original one at San Antonio, a place which suffered poor weather particularly in winter. Due to the majority of people in the area being of Portuguese origin, the religious documents were drawn up in Portuguese.
The current church was built between 1651 and 1664 and, with its two naves, is the only example in La Palma and one of only a few in the Canary Islands. It has one of the most important Moorish alters in the Canaries. Mass is held on Mondays and Thursdays at 5 pm, Wednesday at 9 am and Sunday and fiestas at 12 pm.
Port of Santo Domingo and Port of La Fajana
There are only two major ports across the whole of the north coast although neither of these is in use any more. They do however remain an area of natural beauty and interest.
The walk down to the port of Santo Domingo reveals many caves where people once lived and still today they are used at weekends.
The port of La Fajana can be accessed by road almost all the way and the port buildings are still largely intact. There is a small village alongside currently with approximately eleven inhabitants whose main income is derived from the surrounding banana plantation. It is also a popular spot with fishermen who fish from the rocks.
Windmills and Eras (stone threshing circles).
In times gone by, Garafia was known as the ‘threshing floor’ of La Palma as it had both the fertile land and manpower to grow wheat but also the wind to mill it and failing that, the beast to drive the grinders using a stone era. The eras were threshing circles measuring approximately 5 metres in diameter and edged with large stones. The oxen were driven around the perimeter of the circle, grinding the wheat or corn as they went.
Eras can be seen in many locations in Garafia including Franceses, although many are now overgrown. Windmills can be seen in Llano Negro and Santo Domingo.
Fiestas in Garafia
Fiestas played a large part in the lives of Garafianos due to their enforced life style of hard physical labour and relative isolation. Apart from the religious element, fiestas are still am important part of life on the island and during the summer months, every weekend there will be a fiesta taking place somewhere.
The main fiesta lasts for three whole days around the date of 12 June – apart from live music, mobile bars there are several competitions and displays with livestock. The last fiesta in the year is on the nearest weekend to 11 October and this is in Roque Faro – it starts late by the way!!
Beaches and sea water swimming pools
Although there are not many beaches as such in the north of La Palma, there are still various options so don’t forget your swimming gear!
Puerto de Santo Domingo – access via the road going out of town towards Cueva de Agua. Take a right by the football ground and follow the road for a few kilometres until it ends in a car park. From there, walk down the stone path to the sea which takes about 15 minutes – there are some great cave-houses along the way. In summer, there is a ladder to get into the water but even so you should sit and watch the sea for 5 or 10 minutes before committing yourself because there can be some sudden big waves which make exit difficult.
El Puerto Viejo – on the road going out of Santo Domingo to Cueva de Agua, take a right turn after the first bus stop shelter and follow the road to the bottom. From there, it’s a walk down to the sea where there is a sand and rock beach.
La Fajana de Garafia – take the turning from the Franceses village road and follow it all the way to the bottom which is about 3km. Once at the end of the road, walk along the village road which is to the left, then take a right turn through the banana plantation. At the end is a sand and rock beach. You can only swim when it is super-calm but beachcombing is always a good option!
La Fajana de Barlovento sea pools and open sea – located halfway between Barlovento and Los Sauces. There are three sea pools, one quite large, and all teeming with fish. In summer, you can get into the open sea – this is fabulous for swimming and especially snorkelling.
Playa de Puerto de Espindola – close to San Andres, the iconic village below Los Sauces. A large sand beach with easy entry/exit and snorkelling in the next bay is brilliant.
Charco Azul – just along from the Puerto de Espindola, in fact you can walk as it’s only a few minutes. The ‘Blue Pool’ there is a bit small for my liking but people love it! You can also continue the walk along the sea front to San Andres, get a coffee in the plaza and walk back. Very pleasant indeed!
Tazacorte – on the west coast just south Los Llanos at approx the 100km point. It’s a bit of a drive but great to make a day of it and have lunch at one of the seafood restaurants overlooking the sea. It’s not brilliant for snorkelling though as it’s a sandy beach – generally it’s best to stick to the breakwater end as further away from there, an occasional wave comes high up the beach.
This is the nearest town where (for food shopping) there is the Spar supermarket, UDACO supermarket, butcher on the road from the roundabout. The UDACO will make a bocadillo sandwich on request.
Santo Domingo The Spar in the main street of Santa Domingo is a small supermarket where you can buy most things including cold meats, frozen produce, goat cheese, wines and vegetables. Hours: Monday to Friday 08.30 – 14.00hrs, 17.00 – 20.00hrs. Saturdays 08.30 – 14.00hrs.
Llano Negro: A small but surprisingly good supermarket and which is open Sunday mornings too – not a very good range of fresh vegetables though.
Puntagorda This is the nearest town to Santo Domingo and has a reasonable range of shops including two mid-size supermarkets, butcher, baker, etc.,
Puntagorda also has a weekend market which is worth going to – Saturdays 15.00 to 19.00 hrs and Sunday 11.00 to 15.00 hrs. Apart from plenty of fresh vegetables, they also have handicrafts, meat, cakes and La Palma wines.
Facilities in Barlovento
Located 20/25 minutes from Franceses by car, these are the nearest and most comprehensive facilities which include:
Two banks, chemist, one supermarket, mini-market, butcher with groceries, five bars, one restaurant, florist and two hairdressers.
Facilities in and around Santo Domingo
Medical There is a Health Centre in Santo Domingo – it’s on the road going out of Santo Domingo towards Cueva de Agua.
Chemist Located in the Health Centre in Santo Domingo. Chemist also in Barlovento.
Banks There is one bank in Santo Domingo, opposite the bus stop in the centre of ‘town.’ This is the only bank and only ATM in the whole of Garafia. There are several banks in Puntagorda and two banks in Barlovento, all with ATMs. All banks close at 2pm.
Gifts and Handicrafts In the main plaza, there is the enticing shop of Angie with its varied cave-like rooms with local handmade crafts and second-hand items. Angie herself specialises in jewellery made from the seeds of the dragon trees. However, there is a whole range of other crafts which definitely makes it worth a visit.
Gifts and hardware Located a couple of doors along from the Spar in a basement, they sell 1000 + 1 items for every occasion. Worth a look and very cheap! They also sell a few groceries.
Outside the bank in Santo Domingo. The mobile phone signal is usually excellent.
Restaurants/Bars in Garafia
Santo Domingo Town
El Bernegal – an absolute must! Beautiful building, beautiful food, beautiful service, not expensive. If you don’t want a meal, you can pop in to the bar for a drink or even just a desert. Located 75m along the road going out of Santo Domingo towards Cueva de Agua. 12.00 – 17.00hrs. Closed Mondays.
Taverma Santi - bar/restaurant next to the Spar supermarket. Closed Monday.
Cafeteria Plaza and Restaurante Santo Domingo in the plaza
If these options are closed, try the ‘hidden’ bar which is behind the Spar (go down the side road by the bus stop).
Roque Faro – basic, traditional restaurant where food is cooked over a log fire.
Main courses consist of rabbit, goat and pork, salad and papas arrugados (wrinkly potatoes). For vegetarians, they will make a fresh omelette from their own free-range chickens, goat cheese also available. If it’s a cold day or in the evening, take something warm to wear as there is no heating and the restaurant is at 1000m above sea level.
La Mata – recently been refurbished. It has a very nice indoor restaurant just off the bar and an outdoor area. This restaurant is also at 1000m.
Restaurante Azul, El Castillo – approx. 3km from main road. If you can’t live without lamb or rump steak, this is the place to go. Open weekends only – Saturday and Sunday from 13.00hrs. Reservation advisable: 0034 922 40 06 60
El Bailedero, Hoya Grande – particularly nice on a sunny day so you can eat outside. Ideal port of call when going up to the Roque de Muchachos – stop for a coffee and cake then you can use the toilets are there aren’t any at the top. Closed Mondays.
Restaurants in nearby Barlovento
La Pradera, Barlovento – an original ‘road house’ with pork chops probably the biggest you’ve ever seen. Not a vast menu and for vegetarians, apart from goat cheese or omelette, salted fish is the only option. Popular with families and groups as there are plenty of long tables with bench seating so you might just find yourself sharing a table with a dozen other people. Sunday is the most popular day. Located on the old road on the right just before La Laguna
Hotel Romantica, Barlovento – restaurant in a small country hotel with the added benefit that it is open 365 days of the year. Guests who have eaten there give a good report.
El Campesino, Barlovento on the corner of the LP1 towards Santo Domingo. A good restaurant with a varied menu.