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

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

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

When this volcano – now called Tajogaite and not Cumbre Vieja as it was when it erupted – woke up last year, the 54-year-old nurse rushed to the small island of La Palma to see the lava burning itself 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”explained the 50-year-old, who hails 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 sights. And the interest in La Palma, until then one of the less visited islands of the Canary archipelago, has increased since then.

Growing interest in the island

According to the hotel organization Ashotel, the average occupancy rate of establishments on the island reached 90.9% in August. A number that exceeded expectations. “Before the explosion, we had a hard time making ourselves known”explained Carlos Garcia Sicilia, the vice-president of Ashotel. “Actually, the volcano was a huge disaster, an explosion of the island’s economy. But I think half the planet has heard about La Palma now..

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

“In fact, the volcano was a huge disaster, an explosion of the island’s economy. But I think half the planet has heard about La Palma now”

Carlos Garcia Sicilia, Vice President of Ashotel

Choice assets that tour operators want to promote. 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 Tenerife, the most visited island in the Canary Islands, now offers three weekly trips compared to just one before the eruption. “People want to get as close as possible to where the explosion happened”lined up the founder of the company, Jesus Molino.

Travel vouchers are 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 ago. “It’s hard because everything is broken”the lava flow engulfed more than 1,000 houses, “but it’s interesting to see that the Earth is alive”he said.

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 increase its appeal, a giant zip line was inaugurated in the north of La Palma, as well as a visitor center at the Roque de los Muchachos astronomical observatory.

The authorities are also helping to rebuild tourist infrastructure. 3,000 of the 8,000 tourist beds in La Palma have been destroyed by lava or are located in off-limits areas, due to the persistence of dangerous volcanic gases. But will these efforts allow a sustainable presence of tourists on the island? In recent years, Hawaii and Iceland have also seen visitor numbers surge after the eruptions, but the phenomenon has run out of steam.

A situation feared in the sector of La Palma. The eruption of the volcano “not as fresh as people remember” next year and no doubt the island ‘not as popular’predicted Jonas Perez, the founder of Isla Bonita Tours.

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