If your idea of a perfect day in port includes ambling along winding cobbled streets, browsing offbeat craft shops and watching the world go by from a street cafe, Santa Cruz de la Palma is an ideal destination.
The city is the capital of La Palma, the most northwesterly of the Canary Islands. On the island, the town is sometimes referred to -- confusingly -- as just La Palma. To further complicate the name game, the island itself owns many titles, too: Its full name is San Miguel de la Palma, but it's also known as La Isla Bonita y Verde, "the beautiful green island."
Whatever you call La Palma, often found on transatlantic itineraries, you'll find fine Spanish colonial houses with elaborate balconies and bougainvillea-draped white frontages -- and one of the world's largest volcanic craters. The Caldera de Taburiente measures nearly 17.5 miles across and nearly half a mile deep, and because it is home to rare animal and plant life, it has also been designated a national park.
La Palma is a volcanic island, just like the rest of the Canary Islands, and some of La Palma's dramatic volcanoes are still active. The island was claimed by the Spanish in 1493, and both human remains and ancient utensils indicate that the island has been inhabited since pre-historic times.
You'll disembark at the port of Santa Cruz, located on the eastern part of the island.
The port is unpretentious and uncommercialized, which is a nice way of saying there's no reason to hang around. It offers a cafe and a car rental office. The marina has a few bars, a cafe, an ATM and free Wi-Fi.
Traffic is busy as you walk into Santa Cruz from the port gates; you need to cross several junctions. Although there are crossings, traffic seems to come from all directions, so be cautious and alert.
On Foot: Most ships offer free shuttle buses from the small cruise terminal to the main port gates; from there, it is a five-minute stroll into town.
By Bus: Buses operate around the island from Avenida de Bajamar. For a couple of euros, you can buy a return ticket to the nearest beach, Playa de los Cancajos, which lies about three miles to the south.
By Taxi: Taxis are a good way to travel on the island, though most are pricey. A taxi from the port (just outside the terminal) to the beach costs around 20 euros one way -- this is more reliable than buses if you're on a tight schedule. For an island tour, budget around 35 euros for an hour or so, depending on your negotiation skills (establish the fare in advance).
By Car: If your ship is in port for a long time, you could consider hiring a car at Autos la Palma on Avenida Maritima. It's not recommended on a short cruise call because the roads are winding, mountainous and slow to negotiate.
The currency is the euro. See www.oanda.com or www.xe.com for conversion rates.
Spanish is spoken, and many residents speak at least a smattering of English, but it could be worth investing in a phrase book if you're heading off on your own.
If you prefer a lazy lunch as a break from your exploring, you'll find good restaurants near the waterfront on Avenida Maritima and Alvarez de Abreu. Fresh sardines, shellfish and fried goats' cheese are typical. The latter is usually served with a mojo sauce, which may be green or orange depending on ingredients (red or green pepper, oil, vinegar, thyme and coriander). Wherever you eat -- and whatever diet you're on -- order pudding, as La Palma residents are rightly proud of their desserts. Bienmesabe (a kind of almondy eggy custard) is particularly good.
La Fontana: At La Fontana -- right on the seafront at Playa de Cancajos -- you can try fresh seafood in coriander or herb sauce (mojo verde), or sample Canarian specialities like rancho canaria (a rich meat and vegetable stew) and cabrito al homo (roast baby goat). (922 43 47 29; open 12:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Saturday)
La Bodeguita del Medio: Located about 350 yards from the port gates, this is a good spot close to your ship. (Alvarez de Abreu 58; 922 41 59 12; open 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday to Saturday)
Hotel Maritimo: Want lunch with a sea view? Head to the restaurant at the Hotel Maritimo. (Avenida Maritima)
La Lonja: At La Lonja, the chef concocts creative dishes from simple ingredients, and prices are reasonable. (Avenida Maritima 55; 922 41 52 66; open 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday)
Glass-blowing is popular in La Palma. Opt for a glass La Palma frog, which represents the island's indigenous tree-dweller, or take your pick from the well-stocked antique shops along O'Daly Street, where you can buy a lovely, reasonably priced Tiffany-style lamp or a pretty cut-glass decanter.