Canary Islands Guide - La Gomera Island
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La Gomera
By Lucy Corne

Little La Gomera sits in the shadow of its nearby neighbour Tenerife and most of its visitors are on day trips from the larger island. Roughly circular, La Gomera is dissected at regular intervals by dramatic ravines, which make for stunning views but tiresome drives.

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If you are only visiting for a day, driving the many miradores dotted around is a perfect way to get a feel for the island, but if you can spare a couple of nights there is a lot more to see. Well, if it’s good enough for Christopher Columbus, it’s good enough for me: he stopped here three times on his way across the Atlantic.

Your journey will either begin in the seaside town of Playa de Santiago or the island’s capital San Sebastián (the airport is in the former, boats arrive at the latter). The capital is a very attractive town and the perfect place to base yourself while you’re in the island. Wherever you stay you can guarantee a lot of tiring driving so you might as well stick to the capital. There aren’t any spectacular attractions in San Sebastián, but the roads are quiet, the buildings are pretty and there is a good selection of restaurants serving typical Canarian food. There are two museums worth visiting, the first based in a house where Columbus is thought to have stayed while passing through on his way to the New World (rumour has it he had a lover in La Gomera). The building is a delight though the contents are a little disappointing. More interesting is the Torre del Conde, a 16th century tower housing some fascinating old maps of the islands.

Heading west, the next stop is Playa de Santiago, a nice, quiet seaside town offering boat trips to the emblematic Los Órganos cliffs in the north of the island. Viewed from the sea, the cliffs resemble a giant church organ and are one of La Gomera’s top sights. To continue around the island you have to again head to the centre - the ravines mean that you can’t drive around the edge of the island. Instead you have to keep returning to the centre before taking the next road to the coast: think of it as a bike wheel, where you can only drive along the spokes and not around the tyre!

Dominating the centre of the island is the Garajonay National Park, indisputably the finest spot on La Gomera and an absolute must-see.

For energetic types, the park harbours one of the finest hikes in the whole of the Canary Islands, taking you from the island’s highest point down through laurel forest, past a 175m-high waterfall and ending in a charming village. The clouds that typically descend on the forest keep things cool, but it’s an all-day hike that can be tough on the knees since it’s almost entirely downhill. Those who don’t fancy donning their hiking boots should still take the 15-minute path from the parking area to the Alto de Garajonay, the island’s highest peak at 1500m. The views from here are truly astounding and on a clear day include peeks of El Hierro, Tenerife and La Palma.

Other than natural beauty, the thing that La Gomera excels at is preserving its culture. Here perhaps more than on any other island you can really get a feel for Canarian traditions, some pre-dating the Spanish conquest. For lunch choose between the all organic, home grown fare at Las Hayas or the busier Las Rosas in the north. Food at Las Hayas is better and Las Rosas is a bit of a tourist trap, firmly on the day trippers’ circuit, but Las Rosas has something that you will find nowhere else in the Canaries, or indeed the world. Residents of La Gomera have managed to preserve one unique tradition that preceded the Spanish invasion – a bizarre whistling language known as el silbo. Presumably invented in order to communicate over great distances in this rugged landscape, the language is truly awe-inspiring. Demonstrations in the restaurant show how pretty much anything can be said simply by whistling and it really has to be seen to be believed.

Something to keep in mind in La Gomera is that when the mountain roads become tedious, this is the only island with a passenger boat service. It’s a delightful way to travel and you can easily and quickly get between the capital, Playa de Santiago and Valle Gran Rey on the west coast. The latter is the closest thing La Gomera has to a tourist resort, with its black sand beaches and laid back backpacker feel.

Next: El Hierro Island



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Canary Island photographs provided by Lucy Corne.
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