Which Palma? How to tell the difference between the places in Spain called Palma

Volcanic eruptions on the Canary island of La Palma have put the spotlight on a place which often gets confused with several other important locations in Spain with the word “Palma” in their names. Here’s how to avoid mixing them up.

Which Palma? How to tell the difference between the places in Spain called Palma
From left to right: Palma de Mallorca, the island of La Palma where the volcanic eruption have been happening and the city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Photos: Thomas H/Pixabay, Desiree Martín/AFP, Alejandro Perdomo/Pixabay. Satellite images: NASA

The world’s eyes are currently on the small island of La Palma in the Atlantic archipelago of the Canaries after a week of volcanic eruptions which have seen hundreds of homes destroyed and thousands evacuated. 

Most people around the world had never heard of La Palma before, but even in Spain many couldn’t point it out exactly on the map, with some Spanish mainland-based news sources mislabelling the eruption as being in the neighbouring island of Gran Canaria. 

Overseas, the mix-up has been even worse, as several online commentators suggested a volcano had erupted 2,621 kilometres away in Mallorca. 

While some may forgive the mistakes being made abroad, for some islanders from Spain’s two archipelagos – The Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands – it’s not good enough for journalists in Madrid and Barcelona to get it wrong. 

Why is this happening? Well, there are several places in Spain that have the word Palma (“palm” in Spanish) in them. 

Whether for disambiguation purposes or to make sure you don’t book a flight to the wrong part of Spain one day, here’s how to tell apart the main “Palma” places. 

Las Palmas (de Gran Canaria)

This is the capital of the Canary island of Gran Canaria and the most populated city in the archipelago with 381,000 inhabitants. Its name is very similar to La Palma but it’s different in that it’s plural, hence the “s” at the end of each word. 

Many Canary islanders just refer to it as just Las Palmas (located in the map below in the northeastern tip sticking out).

It’s also worth noting that Las Palmas de Canaria is also the name of the province which encompasses four of the eight Canary Islands: Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and tiny La Graciosa…but coincidently not La Palma, which is part of the province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife.  

The locals from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria are officially referred to as palmenses, although on other islands people usually call them canariones as is the same for all inhabitants of the island of Gran Canaria.

Palma (de Mallorca)

The name of Majorca’s capital is different from La Palma and Las Palmas in that it doesn’t include the definite article (la, female version of “the”) and it is singular (no “s” at the end of article or noun). 

For clarity’s sake, Palma is nowhere near La Palma or Las Palmas, as it’s in the Balearics islands to the east of Spain, and the Canaries are all the way down near the coast of northwest Africa.

City and island officials cannot make their mind up whether to refer to the Balearic capital as Palma de Mallorca or just Palma on everything from street signs to regional websites.

Different governments have changed the nomenclature back and forth three times over the past 12 years.

Some say that the full name confuses tourists who can’t tell the difference between Mallorca the island and Palma the city, with tour operators arguing that foreigners don’t associate the name Palma on its own to Mallorca, thus seeing a drop in holiday packages sold.

Historians and nationalists on the other hand believe the name Palma by itself is more accurate to the city’s Latin origins. 

People from Palma de Mallorca are referred to as palmesanos

La Palma (island)

La Palma is the name for the northwestern Canary island which has been hit by a wave of volcanic eruptions over the past week. 

Its name is different from Las Palmas (de Gran Canaria) in that the article and noun are singular, and distinguishable from the Majorcan capital in that it has “la” in front of Palma. 

There is a longer official name which can be used for disambiguation – San Miguel de La Palma – but nobody really uses it.  

You can also say la isla de La Palma (the island of La Palma) in conversation and when searching for flights (preferably when the eruptions are over). The airport code is SPC, whereas Las Palmas de Gran Canaria’s is LPA and Palma de Mallorca’s is PMI. 

La Palma is known to Canary islanders as La Isla Bonita (The Beautiful Island), which is saying something given the natural wonders found across the archipelago. 

Its attractive villages and cities, superb hiking routes (it’s the greenest of all the islands) and of course its actively volcanic nature make it a memorable destination for many who want more peace and quiet than in neighbouring Tenerife and Gran Canaria. 

It’s well worth a visit once the eruptions have ended, palmeros (as the islanders are known) and the local economy will need it to rebuild homes and restore livelihoods.

In normal times, there are direct flights from London, Amsterdam and a number of German cities, but it’s also possible to fly to nearby Tenerife and catch a short flight over or a ferry which takes 2 to 3 hours. 

Just remember – when you do your search for flights to La Palma, don’t get your palmas in a twist!

Apart from the ones named above, there’s La Palma de Cervelló and La Palma d’Ebre in Catalonia, La Palma del Condado in southern Huelva province and many more.

READ ALSO: Madrileños to gaditanos – What to call the locals from different parts of Spain

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¡Me cago en! Seven things Spaniards verbally defecate on 

Barça’s Gerard Piqué stained his farewell match by getting sent off after telling the ref “I crap on your b*tch mother”. As harsh as it may sound, this kind of swearing is far from uncommon in Spain. Here’s what else Spaniards verbally defecate on.

¡Me cago en! Seven things Spaniards verbally defecate on 

Profanities are both routine and widely accepted in most social situations in Spain.  

Whether it’s mierda (shit), coño (c**t) or puta (bitch), pretty much anything goes.

Swear words tend not to carry as much clout as they do in English, so much so that calling someone a clown (payaso) or an imbecile (imbécil) can often cause more offence.

Not everyone in Spain has a potty mouth though, so don’t feel obliged to start hurling palabrotas (swear words) to sound like a local. It also depends on how the obscenity is delivered. 

READ ALSO: How to ‘swear’ politely in Spanish

One of the most colourful habits Spaniards have when it comes to swearing is the expression me cago en… (I shit/crap on…). They use it to express frustration or anger about something, or if it is followed by the possessive adjective tu (your), it’s more likely to be an insult directed at someone.

Although what you choose to verbally defecate on is completely up to you, there are some particularly evocative expressions that Spaniards use very often. 

I crap in the milk – Me cago en la leche

As weird and off-putting as this may sound, Spaniards ‘crap in milk’ a lot. It’s a bit like saying ‘shit’ or ‘damn’ to express disappointment about something.

I crap on the Virgin – Me cago en la Virgen

As you will see in this list, blasphemy and defecation go hand in hand, and as the Virgin Mary is important to Catholic Spain, she often gets brought up. Spaniards also ‘crap’ on the Almighty when saying me cago en Dios.

I crap on the sacramental bread – Me cago en la hostia 

Shouting ¡hostia! (communion wafer!), as in the host that Catholics eat during mass, is part and parcel of the daily lingo in Spain when something surprises or angers you. With that in mind, it’s logical that Spaniards also express their intent to crap on sacramental bread when they get frustrated.  

I crap on your dead relatives – Me cago en tus muertos

Here’s where things start to get personal. Verbally defecating on someone’s ancestors is a way to let them know that you’re very disappointed with them. Again, it all depends on the context, but more often than not it won’t cause too much offence, especially if they deserve it. 

I crap on your molars – Me cago en tus muelas

If you don’t want to mention the person’s deceased family members, you can avoid this by instead crapping on their molar teeth. It’s a euphemism given that muelas (molars) and muertos (dead people) start with the same syllable.

I crap in the salty sea – Me cago en la mar salada

We know what you’re thinking, as if the sea needed any more toxic waste dropping into it. This poetic expression is another euphemism, this time to avoid expressing what Gerard Piqué said about someone’s madre (mother), which could well be considered the worst insult in Spain. 

READ MORE: What’s the worst possible insult in the Spanish language?

I crap on your bitch mother – Me cago en tu puta madre

It’s not a mental image anyone of us wants but bizarrely this is a widely used insult in Spain. People also replace the madre (mother) with padre (father), although they usually drop the puta for that. Remember that this is an offensive expression in most people’s eyes and it could involve an unpleasant reaction. Saying me cago en la puta (I crap on the bitch) is different as it’s not aimed at someone’s mother. 

READ ALSO: ¡Joder! An expert guide to correctly using the F-word in Spanish