La Gomera_ The Undiscovered Canary IslandWhen deciding where to escape the cold, grey English winter, we quickly realised that we wouldn’t be able to afford to fly to the Caribbean, South or Central America or back to New Zealand. We needed somewhere closer that was hot, where we could bask in the sun after a few dreary grey months, but the question was – Where in Europe was hot at that time of the year?

The Canary Islands.

The Canaries are an archipelago of volcanic islands located 100km off the coast of Morocco and Western Sahara. Despite their proximity to Africa, they are in fact part of Spain and the islanders primarily speak Spanish. The islands are subtropical so with warm temperatures all year round, a large amount of sunshine hours and reasonably cheap flights from London, it was our most viable option for our much needed sunshine break.

It’s just that the Canary Islands for me conjured up images of drunken sunburnt Brits, package holidays and pseudo Spanish culture.

To say that this is not my scene is a massive understatement.

The more we searched for another alternative that was as cheap as the Canaries, the less luck we had. The main requirement for our winter break was sunshine so I started looking into the Canary Islands online.

What I found surprised me.

I read about La Gomera, one of the smallest islands in the archipelago. While Tenerife, Grand Canaria and Lanzarote are awash with generic package hotels and Irish bars, La Gomera sounded like a more relaxed and authentic experience and the more I read, the more excited I was to visit. I was sold on this idyllic island paradise still untouched by the commercial tourism that steered me away from the larger islands.

We booked our tickets to fly into the southern airport on Tenerife as it was a lot cheaper than flying to La Gomera. After walking past tacky souvenir shops and wandering mobs of tourists in Los Cristianos de Tenerife, we caught the fast ferry to sleepy La Gomera.

P1000071It was only forty minutes away but it felt like another world.

La Gomera is in part a lush, green island and is home to one of the largest laurel cloud forests in the world, but it is also arid and dry around the coastline, with cacti and banana palms a regular sight. It is a small island with a lot of wild landscapes. At only 24km long, La Gomera rises out of the sea like a fortress, with impenetrable steep cliffs, deep valleys and crop terraces dropping steeply down to the ocean.

P1000163P1000221P1000193The main reason that La Gomera has escaped the slippery grasp of ruthless developers is because it doesn’t have miles of coastline or white sand beaches, and it doesn’t have any direct flights from mainland Europe. This is all to its advantage and it has come away with its culture intact. La Gomera still relies on tourism but it is a different type of tourist who makes it over to this traditional island. Hikers, lovers of culture and solitude seekers are attracted to the rugged beauty of La Gomera.

San Sebastian de la Gomera is the capital of the Island and where we based ourselves during our visit. It is a quiet town with shaded plazas and indian laurel lined footpaths. Squat, white houses climb the arid hillsides surrounding the town. The town is also the main port for the island and boasts two black sand beaches.

P1000254 P1000107It is said that Christopher Columbus passed through here on his way to discover the new world which is why La Gomera is known as ‘Isla Colombina’. The San Sebastian coat of arms bears the sentence ’From here, Columbus set out’ and Islanders believe that America was consecrated with water from La Gomera.

We splurged a bit for our stay on La Gomera. I found a great low season deal for boutique Parador de la Gomera, a luxury four-star hotel. This heavenly hotel is perched on a cliff edge, overlooking the town and the neighbouring island of Tenerife. It was immaculate, with gorgeous antique furniture, grassy courtyards, a lush tropical garden and an amazing pool with a view. There was nothing generic about it.

P1000083 P1000087 P1000093 P1000094After watching the sunset over the ocean from our cliff-top vantage point, we walked down a steep path into town for dinner.

A Spanish friend in London told me about a couple of dishes that are synonymous to the Canaries that I had to try. Papas arrugadas are small wrinkly potatoes that are boiled in salt with their skins on then finished off in the oven. They are served with mojo pepper sauce, either Mojo Picon (red) or Mojo Verde (green) made with fresh peppers, garlic and spices. Mojo sauce is EVERYWHERE. Instead of bottles of tomato sauce on restaurant tables, there were little dishes of Mojo. You can add it to almost anything and it is popular to eat with bread as a starter. We loved it!

P1000296Another dish we tried while on La Gomera was a dish combining local palm honey made from the sap of Canary Island palm trees and fried sheep’s milk cheese. We also added mojo sauce to it and although it sounds like these three elements wouldn’t work well together, let me assure you: they were delicious. We also ate a lot of freshly caught seafood and zesty salads during our stay on La Gomera, and overall I was very impressed by the food.

A very unique part of the culture in La Gomera is “el silbo”, the ancient whistled language used to communicate across the ravines and narrow valleys of the island. It is an articulate language, not defined to a few short phrases, but whole conversations with unlimited content. There are still people that ‘speak’ this language and it is taught in school to keep the tradition alive for future generations. Unfortunately we didn’t get to hear it during our stay.

As we wanted to see more of the island than just San Sebastian, we hired a car. Although everything was within a short distance from our base, driving between towns on the island would take ages because of the windy roads and switchbacks. We spent a day driving to different spots around the island, firstly over to Valle Gran Rey on the western side of La Gomera, then up and around the north coast and back to San Sebastian.

P1000152 P1000198To cross from the eastern side of the island over to the west, we first had to rapidly ascend up a windy road to the elevated centre of the island. We stopped near the top to take pictures of the breathtaking view of El Teide, Tenerife’s 12000ft volcano, peeking out from its halo of clouds in the distance. We drove through the cloud forest of Garajonay National Park then descended the many switchbacks down to Valle Gran Rey on the other side.

P1000171 P1000181Valle Gran Rey is a beautiful spot with a pebbly black sand beach fringed with date palms and popular with German tourists. The tiny town centre is right by the beach and is comprised of attractive white buildings facing onto a cobbled seaside boardwalk.

P1000182 P1000173After a leisurely lunch and some time at the beach in Valle Gran Rey, we continued our island exploration by heading to Alojera, a tiny hamlet on La Gomera’s North West Coast.

To get to Alojera, we first had to negotiate the steep road that we had driven in on before dropping back down the coast further north. Driving along dusty roads, past steep terraces of banana palms and a few ramshackle houses, there were no other people around. Alojera was pretty much deserted. A cluster of the standard Canarian white washed buildings stood to one side of the steep sided harbour, a small black sand beach curved away from the buildings, leading to a long wharf jutting out into the tumultuous waves. It was very quiet. We enjoyed the feeling of solitude and calm.

P1000203 P1000206

Back on the road we drove to the north of the island to Playa de Vallehermoso. Another beautiful, and deserted, black sand beach with a craggy castle built into the rocks. Palm frond umbrellas were placed along the sand but there was no one there to enjoy their shade.

P1000210 P1000219P1000215Agulo was the last stop on our island road trip. A small mountain village, surrounded by banana plantations, it is considered one of La Gomera’s most beautiful places. The best way to explore is to wander around aimlessly, well that’s what we did and it worked for us. We walked the windy cobblestone roads, past dilapidated houses crisscrossed with vines and tidy, well maintained colonial buildings. Overgrown gardens were filled with fragrant and colourful flowers and roosters crowed despite the sunrise being hours in the past. The views over the surrounding valley and down to the deep blue of the ocean were stunning.

P1000224 P1000225 P1000231One of the main reasons we wanted to visit La Gomera was for the hiking so we set out on our second day to Garajonay National Park, in the lofty centre of the island.

The Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site as it harbours one of the largest continuous areas of laurel forest in the world. Laurel Forests are characterised by broadleaf, evergreen trees and survive in damp conditions. They were once common in Europe during the Tertiary Period but they have now almost disappeared completely from Europe and Northern Africa due to climatic changes.

P1000271There are numerous options for hiking in the park and we decided to do a 12km loop trail. The laurel forest was damp and dark with only a small amount of light seeping through the dense vegetation. There were a lot of large ferns covering the forest floor and green moss hung from the trees.

It was really cold in the forest, partly because of the altitude (1000-1400 metres above sea level) as well as the lack of sunlight. There was a viewpoint that allowed us to see the sun again, briefly, and afforded us a view over the surrounding forest.

We came to a clearing with a small catholic church then shortly after we emerged in the small village of El Cedro, where we had lunch in a cosy restaurant overlooking the northern coastline of the island, far below.

P1000284Instead of taking the loop path back to our car, we decided to carry on to Hermigua, a town below us, further north in a deep valley. After admiring the highest waterfall on the island, El Chorro del Cedro, we tackled the never ending vertical stairs that would take us to Hermigua. It was a lot tougher than we thought it would be, the continuous stairs made our legs shaky.

P1000305P1000318It was a spectacular hike with sea views as we passed banana plantations, a small reservoir and rocky outcrops. We emerged in a small village, El Estanquillo, another quiet mountain town with a few modest dwellings, some free roaming chickens and surrounded by unique pointed rock peaks.

P1000321 P1000327We were pretty exhausted by this point so when we saw a taxi driving up the road towards us, we took it as a sign. Speeding up narrow mountain roads back to our car in Garajonay National Park, we were a bit nervous as our driver was being quite reckless. Only when we got out and paid him, we noticed the unmistakable stench of alcohol on his breath.

We were lucky that we got back to our rental car in one piece.

There were a couple of hours left before our ferry to La Palma, another quiet Canary where we would be spending four nights, so we visited the small beach by the Port and watched the sun set.

P1000342 P1000334P1000338La Gomera is a unique paradise. It may not have the stunning beaches that most would look for in an island holiday but we loved its wild nature, friendly people and the serene calm.

We got the sunshine we were craving, and so much more.

Have you been to the Canary Islands? Would you choose La Gomera?

43 Comments on La Gomera: The Undiscovered Canary Island

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    August 18, 2014 at 12:25 pm (2 years ago)

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    Reply
  3. Brian Peters
    August 4, 2014 at 10:30 pm (2 years ago)

    Clearly the “binge drinking” tourist comment is from someone who knows very little about all of these wonderful islands. Sure, you can find that if you wish, as you can in most resorts across the world, but most tourists want much more. Each of the Canary Islands offer something far more unique. For more accurate information, have a look at http://www.thecanaryislander.com

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      August 4, 2014 at 11:59 pm (2 years ago)

      You are right Brian, I just visited La Gomera and La Palma so I only know about my own experiences. I don’t pretend that I am an expert. I am sure there are great places on the other islands too but I think the difference is that there isn’t ANY mass tourism on La Gomera when you can’t deny that it is definitely present on Tenerife, Lanzarote and Grand Canaria. I have actually spent some time in Northern Tenerife and I really enjoyed it. Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  4. Leo Lyons
    July 31, 2014 at 9:51 am (2 years ago)

    You should be careful though – La Gomera is very addictive. We first went there, much like you knowing nothing about it – over 25 years ago. We have been back practically every year since and never tire of it. We have hiked hundreds of miles there but still find new paths. The people are lovely and so is the food and the scenery magnificent. Sometimes I think we should keep it to ourselves though – I love the feeling of walking in the mountains with no-one else around for miles. Rather worryingly they are currently planning to extend the runway so they can bring in direct flights from London. I know they have to make a living so you cannot blame them but I do hope they do not spoil the treasure they have by trying to cater to a different sort of tourist.
    Then again Gomerans are very proud of their island so I do think they would allow things to change too much.

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      July 31, 2014 at 11:01 am (2 years ago)

      I don’t blame you for going back again and again, it is an incredible island. That is worrying about the runway but you are right, Gomerans are proud of their island and culture so hopefully it won’t end up another version of Tenerife’s South. I loved the lack of tourists too – the tourists I did see were outdoorsy types like me.

      Reply
      • leolyons
        July 31, 2014 at 11:23 am (2 years ago)

        Well one of the other things I like about the island and the people is that they go at a slow pace so any changes to the runway are not likely to happen anytime soon. In the 25 or so years I have known the island some things have changed – less bananas and more tourists for instance, and a proper road over the island instead of a dirt track – but many things have not changed. I guess it is different if you are a holiday maker looking to relax and potter about a bit but if you are local and young the pace of change is probably frustrating. I think that is one of the reasons that historically so many young people have left the island (often for Cuba and Venzuela as well as the peninsular). At least the influx of tourists has allowed some young people to stay there and still be able to afford to bring up a family and enjoy some of the benefits available to their visitors.
        And you are correct, thankfully most of the tourists are of the type that appreciate the beauty of the island and its wildness, the flora and fauna and some proper down-time.
        Interesting that you had a somewhat inebriated driver as that is one of the things that has changed – a somewhat lax attitude towards drink-driving laws (by some) has been replaced by a more sensible mindset and more attention from the Guardia Civil. With those roads it is only self preservation!

      • theworldonmynecklace
        July 31, 2014 at 11:31 am (2 years ago)

        Haha you are definitely right about the slow pace – another thing I loved but I understand how it could be frustrating if you lived there. If done right then tourism can definitely be a good thing, especially if it keeps more islanders on the island with more job opportunities.

  5. Chris Boothman
    May 29, 2014 at 1:58 pm (3 years ago)

    Great choice with the Canaries and I certainly don’t blame you from wanting to get away from the dreary UK weather in the winter! I think La Gomera is a perfect spot because it seems to be away from the main tourist stream which to me would be rather off-putting. I don’t mind masses of people but when getting away for a relaxing vacation, there is nothing better than being in a spot where it is quiet and you can just relax!

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      May 29, 2014 at 11:40 pm (3 years ago)

      I totally agree Chis, for a relaxing holiday you don’t want to be completely surrounded by other people! I don’t like crowds so La Gomera was perfect for me 🙂

      Reply
  6. shere @shereypaul
    May 28, 2014 at 2:45 pm (3 years ago)

    the canary isands are great to escape out of the winter. We also spent there a week last March. The Netherlands in winter is like London: grey and rain. We wanted to visit La Gomera o La Palma as those are less touristy, but we didn’t manage it in a week.

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      May 29, 2014 at 1:16 am (3 years ago)

      I’m pleased to hear you made it to the beautiful undiscovered Canaries 🙂

      Reply
  7. IntrovertlyBubbly
    May 26, 2014 at 1:26 pm (3 years ago)

    I have never heard of La Gomera…looks like a suitable destination option. It’s amazing that those with sun look for winter breaks and then others look for sunny breaks…Your vacation sounded awsome I’m sure you enjoyed this break as it had all the elements you mentioned you were looking for

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      May 26, 2014 at 10:35 pm (3 years ago)

      Haha that is so true, now that I live in sun drenched Sydney I am excited more about winter breaks. La Go era definitely lived up to my expectations and more

      Reply
  8. Matilda
    May 23, 2014 at 9:19 pm (3 years ago)

    I don’t think I’d miss the white-sand beaches with everything La Gomera has to offer. And although I’ve never tried Mojo sauce, I’m intrigued enough to try that recipe you linked 🙂

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      May 24, 2014 at 12:40 am (3 years ago)

      Thanks Matilda, let me know how it goes if you do make it

      Reply
  9. Tam @ Travelling Book Junkie
    May 22, 2014 at 4:09 pm (3 years ago)

    Like yourselves we have always associated the Canaries we a certain type of English holidaymaker and whilst I had heard of La Gomera I hadn’t really paid much attention thinking it would probably either be deserted or the same as the others. Having seen your pictures however, and being fans of a bit of hiking, maybe I need to revisit those thoughts and reconsider a break here next time the British weather starts to get us down!

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      May 22, 2014 at 11:31 pm (3 years ago)

      Yay I am pleased you are reconsidering a visit now! La Palma is another great untouched Canary Island and I have heard El Hierro is too although I haven’t been there 🙂

      Reply
  10. Margherita @The Crowded Planet
    May 21, 2014 at 11:20 pm (3 years ago)

    Wow! I’ve never given much thought to the Canary, thinking it was synonymous of all inclusive resorts… thanks for showing it’s not the case. Would love to visit La Gomera, and that mojo pepper sauce sounds delicious!

    Reply
  11. Brianna
    May 20, 2014 at 1:37 pm (3 years ago)

    La Gomera looks like the perfect escape in the Canary islands away from the tourist hoards.

    Reply
  12. Lisa Goodmurphy
    May 20, 2014 at 1:22 pm (3 years ago)

    I’m glad I read this as I have always wanted to go to the Canaries but had no idea that it was a binge-drinking tourist destination! We all get rather bored with lay around on the beach holidays so an island such as this would be perfect for us.

    Reply
  13. Jen Seligmann
    May 20, 2014 at 7:56 am (3 years ago)

    I’ve heard of the Canaries but never La Gomera before. It looks beautiful yet wild and rugged all at the same time. The perfect place to relax and enjoy some of the outdoors.

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      May 20, 2014 at 8:49 am (3 years ago)

      Hi Jen, yes that is the perfect way to describe it. We did a bit of relaxing as well as outdoor activities.

      Reply
  14. Gabor Kovacs
    May 20, 2014 at 7:16 am (3 years ago)

    You brought me back so wonderful memories! On our first holidays with my fiancée, we went to Gomera Island and absolutely loved it. It’s beautiful, both the beaches and the national park, and it’s not exploited at all. Thanks for this post, you made my day with it!

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      May 20, 2014 at 7:28 am (3 years ago)

      Thanks Gabor, I am really happy that you enjoyed it! La Gomera is such a fantastic destination 🙂

      Reply
  15. countryhoppingcouple
    May 19, 2014 at 10:11 pm (3 years ago)

    Looks like there’s so much places unexplored in Canary Islands. All I’ve heard and read about is beach, and this is quite unusual to even believe that such a touristy island holds so much of beauty beyond beaches. I am adding La Gomera to my must-see list in Spain. The pictures are incredible!

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      May 20, 2014 at 12:06 am (3 years ago)

      I know I didn’t associate the Canary Islands with a hikers paradise either, I was very pleasantly surprised. I’m happy you have added it to your must-see list in Spain, you will love it 🙂

      Reply
  16. 2ticketstoWonderland
    May 19, 2014 at 6:54 pm (3 years ago)

    We’ve been to Tenerife and Gran Canaria, but never on la Gomera. It looks peaceful and tranquil, totally different than the islands we visited. Guess we have to return to Canary islands to explore some more 🙂

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      May 20, 2014 at 12:07 am (3 years ago)

      Yes make sure you get back there! La Palma is another beautiful island that hasn’t been massively developed, we caught the ferry there from La Gomera.

      Reply
  17. tammyonthemoveTheMove
    May 19, 2014 at 5:02 pm (3 years ago)

    I always associate the Canary Islands with binge-drinking package tourists, but this looks really stunning!

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      May 20, 2014 at 12:07 am (3 years ago)

      Thansk Tammy! I also associated the Canaries with that type of tourism but I discovered there is so much more to them 🙂

      Reply
  18. foreignsanctuary
    May 19, 2014 at 4:16 am (3 years ago)

    Wow! The place looks absolutely stunning. It seems to have a lot to offer a traveler – beautiful coastal views as well as captivating mountain scenery. I would love to visit La Gomera because it looks like my kind of place to explore!

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      May 19, 2014 at 4:30 am (3 years ago)

      You definitely won’t regret it! It was exactly the sort of place I love to visit – great hiking, friendly people and , delicious food and stunning scenery. I hope you make it there one day 🙂

      Reply
  19. Samantha
    May 19, 2014 at 1:10 am (3 years ago)

    I’ve never heard of La Gomera but it looks amazing! I love places like this that aren’t as well known and it feels like you have it to yourself. I’ve never been to Canary Islands but if I ever go I’m definitely going to try to come here. Looks beautiful!

    Reply
    • theworldonmynecklace
      May 19, 2014 at 1:28 am (3 years ago)

      I hadn’t heard of it either but I am so pleased I went! You should definitely check it out if you are heading that way and make sure you try the papas arrugadas with the mojo sauce mmmm 🙂

      Reply

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