The Canary Islands are full of unexpected treasures. Incredibly, a 40-minute ferry ride can transport you from Tenerife’s crass commercialism to a world of pure and unspoiled beauty.
Stay in south Tenerife, and you’ll be 100% in a package holiday world, surrounded by rows and rows of holiday apartments, theme hotels, hard rock cafes, and aquaparks. Expat FM constantly advertises quiz nights and pork chop specials at some tacky restaurant or details British supermarkets where the husband can watch football while the wife goes shopping. (Yes, really!)
But not to worry.
All it takes is a quick hop over to the opposing island of La Gomera, where you will find yourself in a blissfully unspoiled territory. A few Canarians told me that going to La Gomera is ‘like entering Jurassic Park’, and they were right.
This gorgeous volcanic island is defined by the ancient volcanic peak of Alto de Garajonay (1.487 m.) at its centre. The mountains trap clouds from the Atlantic trade winds, giving rise to mysterious cloud forests around the island’s core, brimming with ferns, lianas and moss-draped laurel trees.
Over thousands of years, powerful rivers carved deep ravines into this mountainous island, creating dramatic landscapes fanning from the central peak. A handful of charming villages dot the valleys among banana farms and vineyards, with plucks of palm trees forming eye-catching silhouettes in the setting sun.
My girlfriend summed it up when she said, “Now, this is an island.”
If you are looking to escape to somewhere quiet or looking for a hiking paradise, then La Gomera is just the place for you.
Exploring La Gomera
With just over 20,000 residents and roughly 24km by 24km in size, La Gomera is a lovely bite-size island.
Arriving at night was an adventure in itself, winding through the mountains on twisty roads. Upon reaching the north coast, I could see the waves crashing in the moonlight while the narrow road followed the rocky shoreline without a guardrail in sight.
I stayed in a tiny hamlet near Hermigua in a lush green valley dotted with small-scale banana farms. It’s a fantastic base on La Gomera, home to many cute restaurants and two small museums. My accommodation was in a rustic B&B, Villa Delfines, one of several managed by a family business focused on sustainable tourism.
To learn about La Gomera’s history, including the aborigine culture that existed on the island before the Spanish conquest, you may want to pop by the ethnographic park and the separate ethnographic museum in Hermigua.
Since La Gomera lacks easily accessible fertile lands, it never became as developed as the other islands. The small-scale development helped preserve various traditions, such as the whistling language, with which villagers communicate; it was once a dying language, though it is now a compulsory subject in primary school.
The entire island of La Gomera has been declared a Biosphere Reserve, including the coasts. It’s absolutely essential to hike through the cloud forests in the centre. Here, moisture from the ocean winds is trapped, giving life to lush fairytale-like forests that are totally covered with moss. The viewing points reveal an unbroken carpet of trees, as the park has been fully protected from human activity. Besides the Garajonay National Park, home to the cloud forests, La Gomera has numerous other hiking trails.
Another must-see is the Mirador de Los Roques. At this volcanic peak, lava once spewed in layer upon layer, creating a rocky mountain like a pile of thick lasagna ribbons. It’s one of La Gomera’s iconic elements. However, seeing pictures did not prepare me for the magnitude of this imposing natural structure. I highly recommend driving to the viewpoints close to the end of the day to see it in its best light.
Besides the hiking paths and viewpoints, the island has its share of small rocky beaches. Two lovely beaches are close to Vallehermoso and Valle Gran Rey. Even in February, I found the water warm enough for a swim on a sunny day. In Valle Gran Rey, I noticed the island’s popularity with German tourists, who have taken a real liking to the island. This includes, so I’m told, a certain well-known Chancellor who visits La Gomera every year. I’d say she has good taste!
Speaking of taste, there are some interesting dishes to sample on La Gomera. One is almogrote, a paste made from aged cheese, peppers, olive oil, garlic, and a few other ingredients. I tried a plate of batata con almogrote (almogrote with sweet potatoes) at Tasca Telémaco in Hermigua.
Besides this, you can sample local wines and palm honey, which is made from the sap of the Canary Island Date palm. La Gomera is the Canary Island with the most palm trees, which you will quickly notice when exploring the lower sections of the island.
La Gomera is a great base for whale and dolphin watching, with tours departing from Playa de Santiago and Valle Gran Rey. Scuba diving is also a popular activity, with several dive shops in various locations.
Hiking on La Gomera
La Gomera is perfect for hikers; with so many trails, it becomes difficult to choose. When making your selection, I believe it’s worth experiencing the four different topographies La Gomera has to offer.
Given that these are the most unique and detailed environments on La Gomera, you should, at the very least, see the cloud forests in Garajonay National Park.
Walking through the misty forests with cool mountain air and lush vegetation is a true delight. The ancient cloud forest exemplifies a type of subtropical forest that was once common on the Mediterranean mainland.
The easiest way to get a taste of these cloud forests is to drive to the hamlet of El Cedro, where the final kilometres go via a mossy stone road. From there, you can find several paths. A beautiful 2-hour walk will take you to the Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes and back.
If you look at a map of La Gomera from above, you can imagine it looking like a giant fruit juicer, with the jaggy peaks creating the wet and cloudy centre. From there, the juice runs out through numerous barrancos, or small canyons, to all the corners of the island.
Hiking through a barranco offers an opportunity to enjoy the riparian ecology. I was informed that the south’s barrancos were particularly worth hiking, with trails running between small towns such as Taco, Guarimiar, and Imada.
I parked in Taco and hiked north to Lo del Gato and back. This trail is delightfully varied with many palm trees, a few small farms, a rusty abandoned hydroelectric dam, a creek filled with red dragon-flies and some great vistas with Roque de Agando looming in the background.
La Gomera’s coast gives you a very different topography, with rocky cliffs and more open terrain. Because I stayed near Hermigua, I walked the trail from there to Playa de la Caleta, a wild beach in a cove where bananas were once taken on donkeys to be shipped out to the mainland.
There are plenty of other coastal hikes to consider, such as those starting in the western town of Taguluche, giving you many opportunities to take a splash in the sea along the way.
The coastal hikes take you through some wonderful craggy landscapes dotted with dragon trees and various types of cacti (among them many cardón, an endemic species that grows in tight medusa-like bunches).
Finally, along the central mountain rim, you will find rocky paths through pine forests with epic views of the whole island. The vegetation is a bit less diverse than in the barrancos or cloud forests, so I only did a short hike around La Laguna Grande.
Perhaps the best way to experience the mountain peaks is by trekking across the island, which is possible by following the GR131 trail named “Cumbres de La Gomera”. The main segment of this takes three days from the capital town of San Sebastian and ending in Vallehermoso. It is also possible to hike the GR132 route, named “Costas de La Gomera”, for a whopping 5 days, which follows a circle around the entire island. Another blog has this detailed description of these hikes.
Where to stay on La Gomera
La Gomera is a bite-size island, so wherever you decide to stay, you are never more than a 30 to 60-minute drive from the key sights.
Everywhere on this island is nice to stay, including the tiny capital of San Sebastián, but three areas stood out to me as being best for a base:
Agulo & Hermigua
I stayed in this valley and can wholeheartedly recommend it. It’s situated on the north side, so it is more exposed to the Atlantic, hence a lot greener and more fertile, and strewn with small-scale banana farms. It’s not always 100% pure sunshine, as this valley tends to trap some of the clouds coming in from the ocean. This, I thought, creates some beautiful and dramatic ‘Jurassic Park’-like sights.
There isn’t a usable beach (the waters are a bit too wild), though the sunrises over the Teide volcano are jaw-dropping. The town of Hermigua has several cute restaurants that go beyond your standard tapas, including La Casa Creativa and the highly recommended Tasca Telémaco. The valley is home in particular to many B&Bs and casas rurales, plus a boutique hotel or two. Although this valley lacks a calm beach, there is a natural pool in the ocean where several stone walls protect you from the waves.
This northwestern town’s name literally means “beautiful valley”, definitely not false advertising. This quaint town is surrounded by small terraced vineyards where Forastera Blanca white wines are produced. If you’re a backpacker, it’s good to know that Vallehermoso has the island’s only real hostel, named the Telegraph Hostel (it’s housed in what was once the post and telegraph office). Vallehermoso is a good base for hiking, and a 10-minute drive takes you to a small wild beach.
Valle Gran Rey
This valley on the southwest side is reached via a series of tunnels. Due to its location, it’s a bit less green and less cloudy and more guaranteed to give you continuous sunshine. Much like in Hermigua, there are B&Bs scattered all over the valley, though here you’ll also find some hotels and holiday apartment units along the coast.
Valle Gran Rey is the closest thing La Gomera has to a resort, though a wonderfully restrained and tasteful one. There are great hiking trails nearby, while two small rocky beaches with calm waters allow you to take a refreshing dip in the ocean. Valle Gran Rey is a convenient base for families and for anyone looking for both beach and nature.
How to get to La Gomera
While La Gomera may feel remote, getting there is incredibly easy.
The airport of Tenerife South has budget flights connecting to countless points all over Europe. Fly there, then take a 20-minute taxi ride to Puerto Los Cristianos before taking a direct ferry to La Gomera. There are two ferry operators on the Canaries: Armas and Fred Olsen.
Alternatively, you could fly into Tenerife North or Gran Canaria before taking an island-hopping flight to the tiny La Gomera airport with the local carrier Binter.
Getting around La Gomera
La Gomera is a small island, but it’s still best to have your own car giving you the freedom to move around easily. The local company Cicar offers car rentals at the docks and airport. If you arrive by boat but leave by plane, you can drop off your car at the other location without additional charge. You can also have a look and compare car rentals for La Gomera on DiscoverCars.com, which is what I used to book.
The roads on La Gomera are good but watch very carefully for loose rocks, as rockfalls are common and not all cliffs are fitted with nets. Our car rental made it obligatory to pay for insurance covering any tyre damage, and I’m guessing this is why.
Several bus lines run a few times a day, but quite sparingly. This is not as easy as using a rental car, but definitely cheaper, and it’s good enough for getting to your village if you’re patient with the limited schedule. Local taxi companies have minivan services for hikers that can take you to or from various trailheads.
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