Apparently, La Palma is the place to go for sky. Night time sky I mean, if you’re an astronomer it’s La Palma (or Hawaii or Chile). The permanent low clouds around the mountain mean that the lights from the cities below are blocked out, and industry on the island is restricted.
On top of the mountain near the Roque de Los Muchachos there are a number of giant telescopes such as Gran Telescopio de Canarias, William Herschel Telescope, Telescopio Nazionale Galileo. Since the observatories were the main reason we went to La Palma (and to get some sun) we booked a tour of the observatory before we left the UK. It costs 9 euros each, and last for about 70-90mins.
We were staying in Santa Cruz and had to book a taxi to get to the meeting point as there is no bus. Once at the meeting point we gave our names, and went to the toilets as there are no other ones you can use. Then we drove further up the mountain to a helipad where our tour guide gave an overview of Astro Camp La Palma in English and Spanish. Our taxi drive happened to work for Astro La Palma as well and luckily he knew the drill so he happily drove us on to the next stage of the tour- the company doesn’t provide any transport.
After a 30ish min intro we moved on to the Observatory, you only a tour of one and you can’t pick it but luckily we were shown around the big one: Gran Telescopio de Canarias. It’s the largest optical-infrared telescope in the world- apparently. It has a 10.4m mirror inside. They don’t look like nice pirate spy glasses, and you can’t ‘look’ through the telescope.
It was cool to see the inside of the Observatory but you don’t get much time in there, and the talk is giving in Spanish and English which mean you only get half the time (or the same thing twice). It would have been nice as well to stand on the upper level to get a better view, and see some more examples of their results (but this telescope really gets data not pretty pictures). I recommend going if you are in the area as it was interesting but this is an intro to tourists rather than an in depth astronomical exploration for scientists.