Hiking report from La Gomera, Canary Islands, Winter 2006/2007

See where it is on Google maps.

Go here if you just want to see a slideshow from La Gomera.

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La Gomera is a small, unexploited island in the Canaries, protected from mass tourism by its crappy beaches, and thus ideal for hikers looking for a quiet but civilised holiday. It is much lusher than its more famous neighbours, and is renowned for its verdant laurel forests. We got a lot of inspiration from other people's trip reports on the web, and hopefully this short report will also provide some tips for what to do on the island.

Busy with work and travel in the run-up to Christmas, we wanted a holiday that was quick and simple to plan, and easy to get to, so we chose a package tour with Fritidsresor. Perhaps the planning was a bit too easy, as we somehow failed to notice that the connections and stopovers added up to a 16 hour journey after a 3:30 am wake-up, so we were a little the worse for wear when we arrived at our appartment in Valley Gran Rey, on the west side of the island. But the town is peaceful and quiet, and seems to be low crime too, considering all the unlocked bikes we saw parked.

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No data for file : Still wobbling from the journey, we took it easy the next day and after a breakfast of the yummiest avocados I've ever tasted, we headed up to the waterfall "Santa de Aqua". Starting in town, you can either walk along the side of the big road, with sparse but fast traffic, or take the parallel dirt road that is ugly and full of rusting debris, but no traffic. Either way, you walk 30 mins to Casa de la Ceda, where you find a hand-written sign pointing left to "Wasserfall", a reminder that most of the visitors here are German. From there you climb steeply through some houses and then disappear into a canyon following a small stream that is punctuated by cute little waterfalls. After another hour or so you come to the real waterfall. This is at least 20m high, but not terribly pretty, as it falls over dull grey rock. The journey is more interesting than the destination. The 4 hour round trip was plenty for my first day, so I went and listened to the hippies drumming in the sunset on the beach, while Lotta went running.

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No data for file : By day 2 we were ready for a real hike, although for my part not against gravity, so we took a 20 Euro taxi up to the start in Las Hayas, elevation 1000m asl. From there it was a very pleasant and easy hike down through terraced hillsides and stands of heath trees to Arure, where we stopped for coffee at the only Bodega in town. As you leave town, there is a 300m detour to Ermita de Santo that you shouldn't miss. The path takes you through an arch to the other side of the mountain, from which you get your first great vista, across a steep valley to Taguluche and out to sea. Back on the path you hike upwards through dry, goat-populated hills until you regain the sea view and find yourself on the wide open plain that is the top of La Merida, the mountain that looms over the north end of the town. From there the final descent is long, winding and rough for those of us more used to a 2-hour stroll on level ground.

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No data for file : I was very glad that I'd swapped to hiking boots after going up to the waterfall in street shoes. I'd also picked up a piece of giant reed, a bamboo-like plant that grew along the stream. This was a couple of centimeters thick, and almost two meters long, which made it a perfect walking staff. It was strong, but flexible enough to absorb some shock, and easy to slide my hand along so it was always giving support at the right height, even when stepping down steep, loose drops. This saved my old knees much trauma, and was far more useful than a traditional walking stick that has to be held at the top whether you are going up or down. The whole trip took around 6 hours, with plenty of stops in the beautiful weather, and when we got back we took our only swim in the freezing-cold pool.

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No data for file : The next morning even my ATG (All-Terrain-Girlfriend) didn't feel like another heavy day, so we took a 3-hour boat trip on the Tina, which cost 30 Euros each. The weather was mostly dull, but we got to see plenty of dolphins, and the improbably remote villages that are perched at the bottom of steep cliffs around the island. It was a very pleasant rest day.

For day 4 we rented a car for 30 Euros because we were unsure where the best laurel forests were, and wanted flexibility. The roads on La Gomera are excellent. Huge amounts of EU development money has spawned perfectly-surfaced roads with motorway-style barriers, but there is as yet no traffic to fill them. So driving is a dream compared to the nightmare of rural roads on the mainland.

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No data for file : We left the desert-like coast in 20°C sunshine, but soon came up into 10° C mist and forests. Our first stop was Contadero, an organised park that has an information centre and paths through the famous laurels that make up the Laurisilva of Garajonay National Park. They looked eeriely beautiful through the mist. After this, we drove a very small, rough road down to El Cedro and took a circular walk from there, passing through lots more forests of varying types. On the way back we also took a loop through laurels north of Las Hayas. After returning the car, Lotta took another run, and I had a beer with the hippies, who this time were accompanied by a very talented fire dancer.

Buses on the island are infrequent, and so day five was supposed to involve an early start to catch a bus to just past Las Hayas, but after our alarm failed it became another taxi journey, which ended with our driver getting into trouble with the police for being so helpful as to drop us in a no stopping zone.

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No data for file : It was very cold in the damp fog, despite being well dressed, and we hiked briskly through more laurels towards Vallehermosa, "the most beautiful valley". This 5km path was potentially the prettiest of the trip, but even when we got below the mist, it was hazy and dull, and it was clear that our surroundings were not being done justice by the weather. The town of Vallehermosa had a different atmosphere from del Rey, and I got the impression that the inhabitants were less enthusiastic about tourists.

From the town we took a bus up to Chipuda, with plans to hike back to del Rey. The guidebook said that the path was no longer passable due to rock slide, but a transplanted Brit that we had talked to assured us that it was now fixed. He was wrong. So after an hour's hike down towards home we were confronted by 100m of 60° scree, and so headed back up to the road, but veering off to neighbouring El Cercado for a change. Here we learned about the airport bus, which soon deposited us back home.

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No data for file : By our last day, I was finally ready for some uphill hiking, so we set off with plans to summit Las Pilas, the 800m mountain that flanks the south side of town. But due to another late start we soon realised that we would have to make do with Adiviro, which being on the way and 50m higher had a much better view, with a panorama streching from far up the valley to the town and sea. It was a good last day, and I was rather proud of my fitness, until we were passed by a Spanish family coming down whose 5-year-old was still going strong, with a just a little help with stability from his parents, who were also carrying a young baby.

Conclusion :
At the moment, tourism in La Gomera is exactly as it should be, with good service, no crowding, no exploitation of either the island or visitors, and not enough competition to force vedors to cut prices and thus corners. This will no doubt change soon, but I think the cooler climate and the subtlety of the attractions there will mean that La Gomera will retain a lot of its attraction in the future.

Links :
The most useful link I found on the web was Jørgen Aabech's Gomera.

© Mark Harris 2007

(MRH homepage)