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.
Ay dios 🤦♂️
— Nacho Alcántara (@nachoalcantarap) September 19, 2021
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.
MENSAJE URGENTE en nombre de los ciudadanos mallorquines y de las Islas Canarias.
Un fuerte abrazo y mucho ánimo a los habitantes de La Palma. pic.twitter.com/yBXyL6OCPq
— Àngel Aguiló Palou, President (@AngelAguiloP) September 20, 2021
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.