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If you are looking for an offbeat and warm place to go on winter vacation in Europe, then you should take a La Gomera holiday this winter. Find out what La Gomera is like and why you should visit…
When deciding where to escape the cold, grey English winter, I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be able to afford to fly to the Caribbean, South or Central America, or back to New Zealand.
I needed somewhere closer that was hot, where I 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?
About 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 number of sunshine hours and reasonably cheap flights from London, it was my most viable option for a 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 I searched for another alternative that was as cheap as the Canaries, the less luck I had. The main requirement for my winter break was sunshine so I started looking into the Canary Islands online.
What I found surprised me.
Why I Chose La Gomera
I read about La Gomera, one of the smallest islands in the archipelago. While Tenerife, Grand Canaria and Lanzarote have areas that are awash with generic package hotels and Irish bars – although even Tenerife has a lot of beauty away from the touristy stuff if you know where to look – 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.
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.
The main reason that La Gomera has escaped the slippery grasp of ruthless developers is that 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, and it is one of the best hidden gems of Spain.
Things To Do in La Gomera
Explore San Sebastian de la Gomera
I arrived at San Sebastian de la Gomera, the capital of the Island and where I was based during my 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.
It 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.
The town center is very walkable and there is a beach you can swim at right by town. Make sure to visit the Torre del Conde, a 15th-century military building that is the only building still standing from the Conquest of the Canary Islands.
Try the Unique La Gomera Cuisine
A Spanish friend in London told me about a couple of dishes that are synonymous with the Canaries that I had to try. Papas arrugadas are small wrinkly potatoes that are boiled in salt with their skins on and 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 it with bread as a starter. I loved it!
Another dish I 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. I 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.
I also ate a lot of freshly caught seafood and zesty salads during my stay in La Gomera, and overall I was very impressed by the food.
Discover a Unique Language
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 by a few short phrases, but by 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, I didn’t get to hear it during my stay.
Hit the Beach
Although La Gomera is not known for its beaches and there are no white-sand beaches, that doesn’t mean there aren’t beautiful beaches on the island.
My favorite beaches were the black pebbled beach of Valle Gran Rey on the western side of La Gomera, the black sand cove beach surrounded by cliffs at Alojera, and Playa de Vallehermoso – a rugged black sand beach in the north of the island.
San Sebastian de la Gomera also has a nice beach right in town.
Do a Day Trip to Explore the Island
As I wanted to see more of the island than just San Sebastian, I hired a car. Although everything was within a short distance from my base, driving between towns on the island would take ages because of the windy roads and switchbacks.
I 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.
To cross from the eastern side of the island over to the west, I first had to rapidly ascend up a windy road to the elevated center of the island. I 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.
I drove through the cloud forest of Garajonay National Park and then descended the many switchbacks down to Valle Gran Rey on the other side.
Valle Gran Rey is a beautiful spot with a pebbly black sand beach fringed with date palms and popular with German tourists. The tiny town center is right by the beach and is comprised of attractive white buildings facing a cobbled seaside boardwalk.
After a leisurely lunch and some time at the beach in Valle Gran Rey, I continued our island exploration by heading to Alojera, a tiny hamlet on La Gomera’s North West Coast.
To get to Alojera, I first had to negotiate the steep road that I had driven 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 whitewashed buildings stood to one side of the steep-sided harbor, 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. I enjoyed the feeling of solitude and calm.
Back on the road, I 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.
Agulo was the last stop on my 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 I did and it worked for me.
I walked the windy cobblestone roads, past dilapidated houses crisscrossed with vines and tidy, well-maintained colonial buildings. Overgrown gardens were filled with fragrant and colorful 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.
Hike in Garajonay National Park
One of the main reasons I wanted to visit La Gomera was for the hiking so I set out on my second day to Garajonay National Park, in the lofty center of the island.
The Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site as it harbors one of the largest continuous areas of laurel forest in the world. Laurel Forests are characterized 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.
There are numerous options for hiking in the park and I decided to do a 12km/7.5 mile 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 me to see the sun again, briefly, and afforded me a view over the surrounding forest.
I came to a clearing with a small catholic church then shortly after I emerged in the small village of El Cedro, where I had lunch in a cozy restaurant overlooking the northern coastline of the island, far below.
Instead of taking the loop path back to the car, I decided to carry on to Hermigua, a town below, further north in a deep valley.
After admiring the highest waterfall on the island, El Chorro del Cedro, I tackled the never-ending vertical stairs that would take me to Hermigua. It was a lot tougher than I thought it would be, the continuous stairs made my legs shaky.
It was a spectacular hike with sea views as I passed banana plantations, a small reservoir, and rocky outcrops. I 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.
I was pretty exhausted by this point so when I saw a taxi driving up the road towards us, I took it as a sign and caught it back to my car in the park.
La Gomera is a unique paradise. It may not have the stunning beaches that most would look for in an island holiday but I loved its wild nature, friendly people, and serene calm.
I got the sunshine I was craving, and so much more.
Have you been to the Canary Islands? Would you go on a La Gomera holiday?
Plan Your La Gomera Holiday
Getting to La Gomera
You can either fly to La Gomera, or to Tenerife South Airport and take a ferry to La Gomera. If you fly to La Gomera, the flights are usually more expensive and the airport is located 34 miles south of San Sebastian de la Gomera. You can rent a car from the airport or take a taxi to the city.
I flew to Tenerife South Airport from London because it was a lot cheaper. I then took a 15-minute taxi ride to the ferry port where I caught a 50-minute ferry to San Sebastian de la Gomera.
There are approximately four ferries per day to La Gomera from Los Cristianos in Tenerife and the best place to find ferries is on Ferry Hopper.
The Best Places To Stay on Your La Gomera Holiday
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 neighboring 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.
Other highly-rated hotel options for your La Gomera holiday include Hotel Torre Del Conde in the heart of San Sebastian de la Gomera, Hotel Jardin Concha in Valle Gran Rey, Casa Conchi Apartments in Alojera, and Hotel Gran Rey in Valle Gran Rey
If you are traveling on a budget, the highly-rated Telegraph Hostel in Vallehermoso offers dorm and private accommodations.
There are a number of vacation rentals in La Gomera as well, here are my top picks:
- Las Casas Del Chorro Country House in Agulo
- Yacht Brego in San Sebastian de la Gomera
- Parkview Two Bedroom Apartments in San Sebastian de la Gomera
- Casa Verano Holiday Villa With a Private Pool
- Apartment in Complex With Pool in Valle Gran Rey
- Two Bedroom Apartment With Views Over San Sebastian de la Gomera
The Best Insurance for Your La Gomera Holiday
Make sure you get travel and health insurance before your trip. Safety Wing is my go-to and they are cheap and easy to claim with – it auto-renews every month unless you turn it off so you don’t have to think about it for longer trips
Safety Wing also allows you to sign up when you are already traveling, unlike a lot of other travel insurance providers.
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