History of La Palma: Dive into the rich tapestry of events and unique cultural diversity that define La Palma Island. Long before the colonizers arrived, the ancient inhabitants known as Benahoaritas or Awaras, graced the island. Historical documents from the 14th and 15th centuries reveal that at the time of conquest, La Palma was organized into twelve cantons, had a population of around 4,000 people, and was called Benahoare, meaning ‘my land‘.

history la palma

History of La Palma, Canary Islands: A journey from the Benahoaritas to today’s flourishing tourism

The Benahoaritas resided in caves and sustained themselves by rearing goats, sheep, and pigs, and by gathering fruits and roots. They produced “gofio”, a kind of flour made from fern and amagante roots, which they toasted and ground.

It’s believed that these aboriginals arrived from Northwest Africa, though it’s unknown if they came voluntarily or were driven out by invaders like the Phoenicians or Romans. In fact, Phoenician sailors were familiar with the Canary Islands. Genoese sailor Lancelotto Malocello arrived at La Palma with the first Europeans in the 13th century, yet the island remained unconquered until 1493.

The conquest began with the Castilians landing in Tazacorte on September 29, 1492. It appears conquerors used agreements with the island’s aboriginals, which explains the little resistance they faced.

In 1493, Spanish conqueror Alfonso Fernández de Lugo arrived and named the entire territory “San Miguel de La Palma”.

From the 16th century, San Miguel de La Palma drew settlers from various backgrounds, such as Spanish, Portuguese, Genoese, French, and Flemish. They integrated with the indigenous survivors post-conquest. The island’s economy revolved around agriculture, mainly cultivating and trading export crops like sugarcane, and later wine.

The Benahoarita Museum in Los Llanos de Aridane is a must-visit for history enthusiasts, offering deep insights into La Palma’s pre-Hispanic culture and life.

naval museum santa cruz de la palma

All museums and visitor centers

Discover museums and visitor centers on La Palma to experience the rich history and traditions of the island that have significantly shaped life here.

History of La Palma Island: Commercial peak with America and challenges during 16th-century piracy

In the 16th century, La Palma was granted the privilege to trade with America, turning its port, Santa Cruz de La Palma, into one of the Spanish Empire’s most crucial. This prosperity attracted pirates like François Le Clerc, who looted and burned the city in 1553. The island rebuilt and fortified itself, repelling an attack from Francis Drake in 1585.

Life on La Palma remained peaceful post the pirate threat. The economy rebounded after each crisis due to its fertile lands, transitioning from sugarcane and vineyards to producing La Palma honey, tobacco, and silk. In 1830, cochineal cultivation was introduced but declined with the advent of synthetic dyes in 1880. Subsequently, banana cultivation was introduced.

handmade cigars of la palma
sugar cane
wine tea la palma

While the Civil War did not reach the Canary Islands, La Palma still felt the economic consequences of the conflict. During the post-war period, the Palmeros were forced to base their diet on bananas.

La Palma: Evolution and prosperity in the era of tourism and economic diversification

Banana exports thus revitalized, leading to the construction of infrastructure like roads and channels to transport water from streams to cultivation areas. The most notable project from this period was the building of the summit road. This road still connects Santa Cruz de La Palma and Los Llanos de Aridane today through a tunnel that crosses the island’s mountains, thus reducing travel time.

With the advent of democracy and the construction of the new La Palma airport in Mazo, La Palma’s economy, previously heavily reliant on the banana agricultural sector, began to diversify towards other sectors, especially tourism. Today, tourism is the main economic driver in the Canary Islands, fueling the region’s growth and prosperity.


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