A year after its eruption, the La Palma volcano attracts tourists in droves

A year after its eruption, the La Palma volcano attracts tourists in droves

Many travelers come to discover the lunar landscapes created by the volcanic disaster.

On September 19, 2021, began in the small town of El Paso, in the Canary Islandsa eruption that would last three months. Nearly a year later, the mountains of ash continue to cover the surroundings of the La Palma volcano. Teodoro Gonzalez walks through a forest covered in volcanic residue. “It’s like walking on a new planet”breathes this hiker.

When this volcano – now called Tajogaite and not Cumbre Vieja as when it erupted – woke up last year, the 54-year-old nurse rushed to the small island of La Palma to see the lava flows burning with his own eyes. A year later, he returned, this time to admire the extinct volcano. “Seeing a recently erupted volcano is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”explains the 50-year-old, who came from the neighboring island of Tenerife.

Since the beginning of the eruption, which ended on December 25 after 85 days, tourists have flocked to discover these lunar landscapes. And interest in La Palma, until then one of the less visited islands of the Canary archipelago, has since boomed.

Growing interest in the island

According to the hotel organization Ashotel, the average occupancy rate in establishments on the island reached 90.9% in August. A number well above expectations. “Before the eruption, we had trouble making ourselves known”explains Carlos Garcia Sicilia, the vice-president of Ashotel. “Certainly, the volcano was a great misfortune, a blow to the economy of the island. But I think half the planet has heard of La Palma by now.”.

Nicknamed “La Isla Bonita” (“The Beautiful Island”), La Palma is home to unspoiled nature, including verdant forests, rocky peaks and desert landscapes. It has been declared a biosphere reserve by Unesco.

“Certainly, the volcano was a great misfortune, a blow to the economy of the island. But I think half the planet has heard of La Palma by now”

Carlos Garcia Sicilia, Vice President of Ashotel

Assets of choice that tour operators intend to highlight. The number of cruise ships calling at La Palma has thus increased in recent months, as has the number of direct flights from mainland Spain and Europe. Low-cost airline Ryanair opened a base on the island in March.

The Excursiones Jesus group, which offers day trips by ferry from tenerifethe most visited island of the Canaries, now offers three weekly outings compared to only one before the eruption. “People want to get as close as possible to where the eruption happened”underlines the founder of the company, Jesus Molino.

Travel vouchers distributed

Among the tourists flocking to the island are regulars, like Rita Ley, a 59-year-old German retiree who came to see what La Palma looked like a year later. “It’s hard because everything has been destroyed”the lava flows having engulfed more than 1,000 houses, “but it’s interesting to see that the Earth is alive”she says.

For the government, which has distributed 20,000 travel vouchers of 250 euros to Spaniards that can be used in hotels and restaurants, tourism is seen as a way to revive the island’s economy. To boost its appeal, a giant zip line has even been inaugurated in the north of La Palma, as well as a visitor center at the astronomical observatory of Roque de los Muchachos.

The authorities are also helping to rebuild tourist infrastructure. 3,000 of the 8,000 tourist beds on La Palma have been destroyed by lava or are located in areas that are off-limits, due to the persistence of dangerous volcanic gases. But will these efforts allow a lasting presence of tourists on the island? These last years, Hawaii and iceland have also seen the number of visitors soar after eruptions, but the phenomenon has run out of steam.

A situation that the sector fears in La Palma. The volcanic eruption “won’t be as fresh in people’s memory” next year and the island will no doubt be ‘not as popular’predicts Jonas Perez, founder of Isla Bonita Tours.

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