In Europe there is one little gem of an island that provides amazing hiking all year round – La Gomera.
Compared to its more famous neighbours, Tenerife and Gran Canaria, La Gomera is a fairly unknown quantity for most tourists. A volcanic island the shape of an orange juicer, the highlands of La Gomera are perpetually shrouded in mist, lending the island a mysterious quality. It is the second smallest of the seven main islands that constitute The Canaries but in spite of its small size (22 km / 14 mi in diameter), the island manages to pack in a stellar variety of terrain from the black volcanic beaches and the banana plantations of the lower slopes to the laurel rainforest that carpets the mountains.
HIKING IN THE CLOUD FORESTS OF LA GOMERA
Having binged on travel literature about La Gomera and its superb hiking trails, we decided to skip the beach-side temptations of Valle Gran Rey and opted for the non-touristy Hermigua instead. We booked a room at the Los Telares apartment hotel, which turned out to be the perfect refuge from long days of hiking.
La Gomera has long been revered for its walking trails that criss-cross the island, ranging from easy afternoon strolls to demanding all-day hikes. For the best of these you need to skedaddle to the Garajonay National Park where the mountains catch the passing trade winds, forming a lush subtropical rainforest. It is no wonder the area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.
Our first hike was a fairly easy c. 8 km trail from the village of El Cedro into the laurisilva forest (a mix of trails #11, #8 and #2). The paths were well trodden and easy to follow. And although we came across a few other hikers, for the most part we had the trail to ourselves. On the way we passed a small mountain brook, a hermitage and a curious tree spouting water for the thirsty hiker.
Back in El Cedro we stopped for bocadillos (Spanish sandwiches) at La Vista restaurant, a friendly family-run operation. For those keen to rest their weary bones overnight, the restaurant also has a very basic campsite — but you will be roughing it on concrete. The scenery, however, is nothing to sniff at. The restaurant’s outdoor seating provides a pretty vista view of the steep valley below while the trees above provide a welcome shelter from sun.
Post-bocadillo, we trekked down a narrow path towards the gorge, which provides a better snapshot of the views. There is also a waterfall, which on our visit resembled more of a water dribble. But a little imagination thrown into the mix and the waterfall was gushing down the mountainside once more.
Sky-high Peaks and Petrol heads
For our second day of hiking we decided to cover several short hikes, starting with Alto de Garajonay (trail #7), the highest peak on the island at 1487 meters. It provides a wonderful vantage point to see, not only La Gomera itself, but also the nearby islands of Tenerife, La Palma and El Hierro. In a bitter twist of fate (arson, some say) in August 2012 a forest fire scorched 18% of the national park and the swathes of black skeletal forest are nowhere more apparent than from here. On a positive note, recovery is already on its way with green shoots beginning to emerge from the charcoal.
Next stop was an easy stroll through the laurisilva (trail #5). On arrival to the trailhead, we came across a 30-strong tour group who had sat down for lunch. We were admittedly a bit anxious about being wedged between cackling tour groups on the walk but as soon as we hoofed it into the forest, the crowds thinned out till we were surrounded by mere birdsong.
Off the Beaten Path
En-route back to Hermigua we made a stop at a roadside pullout and ventured into the cloud forest. What started on a whim, turned into the most mesmerising walk of the three.
We followed a narrow, and in parts steep, path up the ridge through the laurisilva. For a brief moment as we scaled up with the aid of a liana, I felt my inner Indiana Jones somersault out of joy. A moment later, as a sporty German hiker couple in their 70s crossed our path with a friendly hello (before scaling down the same ridge with ease), my inner Indie had his feet firmly back on the ground.
We soon reached the top of the ridge where thick drooping moss covered the trees. Tiny water droplets made the spider webs shimmer as waves of cloud kept rolling up the hill. Wanting to soak up the atmosphere, we took a break by the edge of the forest, perching on a cliff-side boulder. At this point we were enveloped in thick cloud and could barely see beyond our resting place. However, a simple empirical test of throwing a small stone into the white abyss confirmed that we were, in fact, sitting beside a very steep drop.
Whirlpools and Infinity Views
We finished the day off with a swim in the saltwater pool of Santa Catalina. Fed by the ocean waves and with its own tiny resident fish population, the pool was both rustic and wonderful. Beside it lies a natural whirlpool, which turned out to be no less amazing. The currents in the whirlpool can be pretty strong, however, making it suitable only for strong swimmers.
In many ways, La Gomera’s mountainous shape and lack of golden beaches have been its blessing. While some areas do cater for the masses, much of La Gomera still feels relatively pristine. It is an easy ferry ride away from both Tenerife and Gran Canaria and a must-see for both hikers and nature lovers alike.
- For more information on La Gomera and its hiking trails, visit the Official Tourism Site.