In early 2015 I was looking for somewhere a bit different to go on holiday, but was travelling with a restricted budget. I was in need of some peace and quiet, exploration, sunshine and the Canarian island of La Gomera was my answer. At the beginning of June my best friend and previous travelling companion, Ben, and I headed off for a week in the sun. We had been warned it was a trek to reach this magical island in the Atlantic, but was well worth the trouble. There are no international flights into La Gomera, which meant flying into Tenerife and then travelling to La Gomera via ferry. There are internal flights to La Gomera from Tenerife, but these are very infrequent, and the ferry is much cheaper.
After leaving home at 3am, we were at Gatwick for our 5:30am check-in and quickly onboard our 7:30am flight. Despite a 45 minute delay whilst the airline lost their passengers requiring mobility assistance (nice going EasyJet!) the four and a half hour flight to Tenerife went by quickly. Landing was more eventful…. Did you know that EasyJet let their passengers get really drunk during flights? Did you also know that when drunk passengers get up and walk around when the plane is 100 feet off the ground coming into land, planes aren’t able to land for safety reasons? Did you know this involves a terrifying procedure pulling the plane back up into the air at quite a rapid rate? Did you know you then have to circle the airport for another 15 minutes until you are then able to land again? Neither did I…. I do now.
However despite our delays we were quickly out of the airport, jumping in a cab and heading to the ferry port. We arrived at the port with seconds to spare before the ferry was due to depart, ran up the car ramp and within minutes we were heading out of Los Cristianos and onwards to La Gomera, with the shadow of Mount Teide shrinking into the horizon. The ferry crossing took around 50 minutes and was mostly spent discussing EasyJet’s lack of responsible drinking policy! Arriving in San Sebastien, La Gomera, the sun was shining and I immediately felt relaxation drifting over me. We were met by our transfer to the hotel and then proceeded to spend the next half an hour gazing out the window at spectacular vistas, whilst we negotiated the twisty mountain roads which led us to the Hotel Jardin Tecina, which would be our home for the next 7 nights.
The 4* Hotel Jardin Tecina is on top of the cliff face, overlooking the bay and village of Playa Santiago, it has white washed walls, terracotta roofs and excellent facilities. We walked into the village most days; wandered along the surprisingly modern waterfront and perused the little shops. Whilst clearly there are many “touristy” aspects to this village, it is by and large a local fishing village, with marina and a strong community feel. There is technically a “blue flag beach” in Playa Santiago, but it is mostly large rocks and volcanic black sand, so not one for beach lovers. A strange custom of stacking stones has become prevalent here, apparently started by the toursists. The strange little towers of precariously balanced stones litter the beach like miniature tributes to Stonehenge. There are boat trips out of the marina, including whale/dolphin watching trips on Thursdays in a glass bottomed boat. Unfortunately this trip was fully booked the week we were there so we missed out. There were plenty of little cafes and bars in the village and the town square was active with a stage for musicians, and a market on the Sunday we were there, to raise money for the local school. We were told the education system in La Gomera is very good, with younger children attending local village schools, and then older children staying at boarding school in San Sebastien.
Whilst we spent some of our time lazing in the sun by the pool we did get out and about to explore the island too. We visited the pottery village of El Cercado, a little village perched high in the mountains which spends most of it’s time in the clouds. To this day, the potters who reside in El Cercado make their pottery using traditional methods, handed down from generation to generation. Whilst these ceramics are definitely more ornamental rather than functional, it is still a wonderful place to visit. The scenery here is spectacular, despite the damp and misty air, flowers and shrubs are abundant, there are prickly pears and aloe veras plants as big as my car clinging on to the side of the mountains. We also saw wild peaches, blackberries and many others fruits just growing at the roadside.
Cuisine here is heavily fish, rabbit and chicken based, with gofio, a Canarian flour featuring heavily in many dishes. Fresh fruit, particuarly bananas are in abundance, with banana plantations dotted around what little amount of flat land there is on the Island.
Another day I went for a trek through mountains and gorges in the center of the island. Trekking down the side of the mountain on makeshift paths, hopping between boulders and little streams was quite an experience… they certainly don’t go in for the over zealous health and safety laws we have in the UK. In fact I found I was spending so much time worrying about where my feet were going, so as not to slip down the mountain, that I often forgot to look up and take in the view. Fortunately we stopped often to rest and take photos. The scenery was truly spectacular, as the clouds flowed into the gorges from the top of the mountains like waterfalls, and we gazed down to the valleys below, where the sun streamed in across the landscape. At one point we climbed so high I could feel my chest starting to tighten as the air thinned in the altitude.
The offical language in La Gomera today is obviously Spanish, however they do still teach the ancient La Gomeran whistling language of El Silbo in schools. This lanuage is communicated using ear piercing whistling, which the islands inhabitants used to communicate across the deep gorges in ancient times. It is a fascinating language to learn about… However, I think I’ll stick to practicing my Spanish moving forward…. I’m rubbish at whistling and there aren’t many hills, let alone mountain gorges in East Anglia!
Another hike took place in the “Forest of Fables”, the oldest part of the Garajonay National Park. This area is known as “The Enchanted Forest” and it is easy to see why. A cool mist hangs in the air, bushy lichen grows on the trees, enabled by the pure atmosphere in the forest. The scent of eucalyptus lingers in the stillness and the silence is almost deafening. One thing I particuarly noticed was, with the exception of the odd bird, there was no wildlife to be found. I made the mistake of asking our hike leader about this, and she said there were very few indigenous species of mammals on the island other than birds. Most of the wildlife revolves around lizards, insects and most commonly spiders! The lizards I can cope with, but I spent an awful lot of the rest of my trip keeping my hands firmly to myself, in fear of getting mugged by, what my head was telling me, were giant man eating spiders lurking in the shadows. I think I watch too much Lord of the Rings!
Following one hike we stopped off in the town of Valle Gran Rey, the next bay around the islands from Playa Santiago. This is a larger tourist town, with a bit more of a night life and plenty of bars and restaurants. It still feels like it maintains it’s traditional and relaxing atmosphere though. I enjoyed a peaceful hour here sitting outside a cafe, sipping on a Diet Coke and watching the world go by.
La Gomera was a wonderful place to spend a quiet relaxing week. This is definitely one of the quieter Canary Islands and is not the party island that is Tenerife Lanzarote or Gran Canaria. Come here if you want peace, quiet, hiking trails, a more traditional experience and lots of sunshine. Don’t come here if you are after a beach holiday or have mobility issues…. there are steps and hills everywhere!
Some other perks of La Gomera are long hours of sunshine and the fact it lies in the timezone as the UK, so no jet lag!
There were plenty of hiking trails available on the island. The main Garajonay National Park is popular with hikers and has a reputedly, very good visitors centre.
If you plan to go hiking you will need to have the right kit. Make sure you have good shoes, sandals will not cut it. I survived in trainers, but hiking boots would have been preferable. A waterproof jacket is highly recommended…. walking about in the clouds is wet work, even if it isn’t raining. If you are slightly less steady on your feet walking poles would be a good idea too. Also make sure you have plenty of water and snacks to keep your hydration and energy levels up.
Book your excursions early to avoid disappointment…. spaces are limited!
Sun screen is vital… You are further south here than you may think considering you are still paying with Euros. This means the sun goes higher, the rays are stronger and you burn more easily…. as my travel companion “Mr-I-never-burn” found out at his peril!
Learn some basic Spanish. It is easy (and extremely arrogant) to expect everyone to speak English everywhere you go. English is not widely spoken in rural La Gomera, and it will come in handy to learn a few basic phrases if you choose to venture out on your own.