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The second smallest of the seven main Canary Islands, La Gomera is also one of the most untouched and least commercial. So do away with the package holiday resort and pre-mixed piña coladas, and embrace the Canaries’ more wild side with this guide to the best things to see and do on this tiny-but-beautiful volcanic isle.
La Gomera is an undisputed hiker’s paradise. From deep ravines to scraggy hilltops and breathtaking views, there is no shortage of trails to conquer on your trip. The volcanic landscape of dark rocks and black sand beaches give it an otherworldly feel – you half expect to see a dinosaur peering out from over the hilltop! Nowhere is very far away, so all you need to do is start. Places to visit include Los Rocos, Garajonay National Park (see below) and the highest peak of the island Alto de Garajonay, at 1,487 metres high.
Due to the volcanic soil, the beaches on La Gomera have black sand and some are quite pebbly. There can be strong currents and irregular waves you need to be aware of on the island’s beaches. Head to Playa Santiago in the south for fantastic sunsets, and Valle Gran Rey in the west for a totally unspoiled setting. Hermigua Beach is another worth visiting, though the currents can be rough, it’s known for its particularly temperate climate, lovely seawater pool and beautiful backdrop.
Rich volcanic soil and abundant sunshine means conditions on the Canary Islands are very suited to winemaking. La Gomera produces mostly white wines, with 80% of the total number of vines being white Foraster or Forastera Gomera which is exclusive to the island. The Canaries avoided the fateful plague phylloxera that killed off the vines in mainland Europe in the early 19th century, so the wines you’ll taste are developed from 500-year-old vines rather than 150-year-old vines like in Europe.
If you are heading in the direction of Hermigua by car, you should make a detour to the Mirador de Abrante. Perched on the northern cliff of the island, the mirador has a boxed-in glass walkway that juts out seven metres into thin air. The view is fantastic and on a clear day you can see the houses and terraces in the village of Agulo, 400 metres below, and beyond out to sea you can even make out Tenerife. Those with a fear of heights, though, should probably wait in the car.
In the wild waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and in particular to the south of the island in Valle Gran Rey, it is common to see dolphins. Whales also live in the waters around La Gomera with pilot whales, sperm whales and rorquals being the most frequently seen. There are private operators who run three or four-hour boat excursions which are inclusive of lunch, drinks and a swim in one of the island’s bays.
Due to the complicated and challenging landscape of the island, with deep valleys and few roads, innovative islanders developed their own form of communication. Long before mobile signal and telephone wires, they would instead whistle down the valley, to inhabitants up to five kilometres away. Called Silbo Gomero, it’s unique whistled form of Castilian Spanish and used mainly to share public messages such as events or public information. It went into decline in the 1980s but has since had a revival and in 2009 was declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
In the capital of San Sebastian you will find many streets, houses, shops and restaurants dedicated to the explorer Christopher Colombus who stopped over here before he went West in search of India and ended up landing in the Americas. La Gomera’s second name is La Isla Columbiana because of this history, and locals recite the story that the great land of America was consecrated with the water from the wells of San Sebastian. And you can still visit Casa Condal, the customs house in which there is a well that Colombus was believed to have taken water from.
For budding botanists a visit to the laurel forest of Garajonay National Park in the centre of the island is a must. It is home to numerous plant species that are largely under threat of extinction. The forest is shrouded mostly in mist and cloud, and an example of an ancient type of rainforest that thrives in warm temperatures and used to exist in Europe and North Africa; now (due to climate evolution) they are only found in the Azores, Madeira and the Canaries.
If you see a group of men and women, most likely up a scraggy mountain, carrying long wooden sticks (astias) they are likely practising the sport of the shepherd’s leap. The Salto del Pastor or Brinco Canario is common on a number of Canary Islands. It was a means for shepherds to keep up with their nimble flock or herd as they roamed the mountains and ravines. You plant the wooden stick and with a push, hurl yourself forward, hopefully to your next landing spot.
La Gomera is a geologists paradise, and one of the island’s most impressive landmarks is Los Organos. Located in the north of the island, it stands 200 metres tall and 80 metres wide, although its true height is 800 metres with most of it hidden underwater. The structure of the rock was formed by the slow cooling of basalt magma which formed the pipe-like rocks. The result is that the rock is the shape of musical pipes, lined side by side like an enormous church organ. As they are on a cliff face, on the northern rocky shore, you can only see them from the sea. Two-hour tours head out from Valle Gran Rey.