“Like a new planet”: La Palma volcano attracts tourists

"Like a new planet": La Palma volcano attracts tourists

Teodoro Gonzalez advances through the jungle on the ground covered in ash by La Palma volcano. “It’s like walking on a new planet,” breathes this mountaineer, a year after the eruption devastated the Spanish island.

When the volcano – now known as Tajokite, but not Cambrai Vija when it erupted – erupted on September 19, 2021, the 54-year-old nurse was already rushing to the small island in the Canary Islands to see hot lava pouring from her. own eyes.

A year later, he returned, this time admiring the extinct volcano. “Seeing a recently erupted volcano is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said the 50-year-old from the neighboring island of Tenerife.

Tourists have flocked to discover these lunar landscapes since the start of the eruption, which ended on December 25 after 85 days. La Palma – one of the least visited islands in the archipelago – is growing in interest.

According to hotel organization ASHOTEL, the average occupancy rate among establishments on the island reached 90.9% in August. A number exceeds expectations.

“Before the explosion, we had trouble getting to know each other,” ASHOTEL vice president Carlos Garcia Cecilia told AFP. “Of course, the volcano is a great misfortune, a blow to the economy of the island. But I think half the planet has heard of La Palma by now.

– “Stay as close as possible” –

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

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

The Excursions Jesus group, which offers day trips by ferry from Tenerife, the most visited island in the Canary Islands, now offers three-week trips, compared to one before the eruption.

“People want to be as close as possible to where the irritation happened,” company founder Jesus Molino told AFP.

Among the tourists visiting the island is Rita Ley, a 59-year-old German retiree who came to see what La Palma was like a year later.

“It’s difficult because everything is destroyed,” he says, adding that the lava has engulfed more than 1,000 homes, “but it’s interesting to see the Earth alive.”

– Travel Vouchers –

Tourism is seen as a way to revitalize the island’s economy, with the government distributing 20,000 travel vouchers worth 250 euros to Spaniards that can be used at hotels and restaurants.

To add to its appeal, a giant zipline opened north of La Palma, as well as a visitor center at the Astronomical Observatory of Roque de los Muchachos.

Officials are helping rebuild tourism infrastructure as 3,000 of La Palma’s 8,000 tourist beds have been destroyed by lava or are located in areas where access is restricted due to the persistence of dangerous volcanic gases.

But will these efforts allow for a sustained tourist presence on the island? In recent years, viewership has soared after eruptions in Hawaii and Iceland, but the phenomenon has run out of steam.

A situation that the sector fears in La Palma. Jonas Perez, founder of Isla Bonita Tours, predicted that the eruption “will not be fresh in people’s minds” next year and the island “will not be popular anymore.”

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