An Anticlimatic Start
It takes more than a case of lumbar hernia and a piece of falling toenail to put us off this hike!
Still, after diligent preparations to hike in La Gomera, after preparations going back months in advance, ferry tickets paid and guide booked, and of course building expectations, whoever would have imagined that would be on our menu instead…
Life always has its own little ways of screwing with you – remember those travel expectations? – so we could only play along with the cards we were dealt. We went ahead with the plan.
We’ll be hiking in la Gomera, and see just where it takes us.
But first, let me tell you why we went all the way to Tenerife, just to take a hike on a different island instead.
*Photo Credit Rolls at the end*
La Gomera – The Land that Time Forgot
La Gomera. This second smallest island of the Canaries, painted with surprising vegetation, deep ravines, steep landscapes and an authentic calm and silence you rarely find anymore..
Like a finely crafted greek mask, La Gomera is a beautiful whole made out of two very different sides: One arid, the other lush. One daunting, the other inviting. One hot, the other humid.
Both equally breathtaking sceneries worth exploring – even if for one day – you’ll be mentally preparing your trip back before leaving the island.
Called by the Telegraph The Quiet Canary, its nickname couldn’t be more accurate.
A mere 20000 people live on the island, numbers paling in front of Tenerife’s whopping 900.000 – and no surprise why Tenerifians choose La Gomera to escape from the summer crowds invading their island.
Boasting an impressive 650 km of trails, La Gomera is also a true paradise for hikers, and our reason for the quick visit.
The two faces of the Gomerian mask had names: Guarimiar and Garajonay.
We met them both.
Barranco de Santiago O Guarimiar
Our first stop after leaving the harbor was Guairimar, on the south of the island.
Excellent roads built back the 1970s broke away from, and back into the mountain, connecting the long and deep ravines with the mysterious cloud forests beyond.. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Looking out the window, you could see arid cliffs, sprinkled with scarce vegetation, specially adapted to withstand the inhospitable rocks and fierce sun. Yellow tree-shaped flowers towered above the agave plants trying to cheer up the brown-reddish landscape.
Audrey, our guide, tells me the scenery is much more inviting in winter, when plants thrive and flowers bloom. I guess I’ll have to come back and see it for myself.
The Canarian palm tree soon started to claim its iconic place in the landscape. We learned that this palm variety is among the most beautiful – praised because of its straight trunk and beautiful foliage.
They are also, like many plants in La Gomera, protected by law.
Have a private piece of land with a palm tree on it? You’re now allowed to cut it down; build around it, sure, but never cut down the palm tree.
This seemed a bit drastic, but then Audrey asked us to venture a guess on the age of the palm trees we were seeing. I wasn’t even in the ballpark.
Some of these palm trees here are over 200 years old!
The taller the tree and thinner the trunk, the older they are.
People in La Gomera harvest the palm tree sap once every 5-6 years and make “palm honey”, which you can try out on their typical desserts, such as leche asada.
When it rains here – which isn’t that often – the downpour is usually quick and abundant, giving birth to flash waterfalls that scatter the face of the cliffs.
But if it doesn’t rain, and there aren’t that many rivers, where does Gomera supply all of its drinking water? The answer: groundwater sources constantly fueled by the magnificent cloud forests of Garajonay. Yet another reason to love and protect the island’s unique ecosystem.
Hiking in Guairimar
Parking the car at the bottom of the ravine (el barranco) we started our trek, which soon became steep and shadowless.
There are no venomous threats to look out for, although you’ll see plenty of lizards sprinting from the cracks in the rocks and scurrying onto the next hideaway.
My foot was fine and didn’t complain all that much, but my poor choice of footwear meant I had to stop before the last push, or else I was going to leave with more than a frail toenail. This is where I had to call it quits.
I had my excuse, but you make sure you wear proper shoes, people!
La Gomera’s Whistling Language: Silbo Gomero
On the way down, Audrey demonstrated her beginner skills at speaking Gomerian: the whistling language.
Silbo gomero or the whistling language was previously the main way of communicating at great distances across ravines and scarce roads, but came close to extinction when highways were built, that suddenly eliminating the difficulty of moving around the island. When phones arrived, it was even worse.
In 1999, authorities decided to introduce the language in the school curriculum, and it made a great comeback.
Two hours out in the adamant sun, and we were ready for a Dorada or two; so we headed for lunch, while Audrey warned me It may get a bit chilly on the other side.
I soon knew what she meant. Surprisingly cold winds were sweeping the cloud-ridden crest that drew the boundary between brown and green, possibly dropping the temperature by 10 degrees. And I had no jacket.
Luckily, the forest was good to me.
Garajonay National Park
This tucked away island is home to Europe’s last laurel forest. A living, breathing testimony of Europe’s ancient rainforests still exists in the UNESCO heritage Garajonay National Park
The Park protects the island’s ancient woodlands, and more than half of the forest in Garajonay is considered to be virgin territory, kept out of the public eyes.
A “living fossil” of the once vast tropical forests covering the south of Europe and northern Africa, biodiversity here is amazing: 4182 species living in only 370 square km – and these are only the ones we know of.
While you can also trek in Garajonay alone, it’s more enjoyable to get yourself a guide and learn about the surroundings, even if you’re planning to stick around for more than one day.
Hiking in Garajonay was a lot easier than our first date with the island in Guairimar.
We started off on a small trail, where we exchanged greetings with the two only other hikers we saw that day – an Austrian couple – Garajonay revealed its breathtaking scenery: a wave of fast-moving clouds engulfing the Los Roques cliff, clearing the sky just in time for a Kodak moment with Teide.
Horizontal Rain & Falling Leaves
It was time to finally head into the laurisilva forests, where I got to experience the infamous horizontal rain.
Water vapor carried by trade winds meets vegetation and condenses on the trees’ leaves, then to the ground. This phenomenon is what ensures the renewal of the island’s water reserves – and the survival of the beautiful cloud forest.
Patches of red were covering the walkways. Here, laurel trees lose some of their leaves in summer, an adaptation to the hotter days and resource preservation.
La Gomera: A Case of Gigantism
Many of the plants living in Garajonay’s laurisilva forest have flourished in the inviting ecosystem, and outgrown their continental brothers and sisters.
You have giant palm trees, giant laurel trees, giant ferns and giant holly trees – to name a few. With barely any competition from the limited fauna, the only thing plants could do is expand vertically, towards their beloved clouds.
And then, you’ve got one of the planet’s most endangered reptiles.
Not even 20 years ago, the giant lizard of Gomera was thought to be all but extinct, mostly because of human settlers ( a shocker!) and their adjacent cast and rats.
Since the lizard didn’t have human predators, and because its movements were slow, it was easy for feral cats to decimate the lizard population. We were in no such luck to see one, but I hope the island’s huge ravines is a better home to them now..
When to Visit
Any month is a good month for visiting La Gomera. The climate at sea level is a comfortable, year-round 20-27oC, making it perfect for both people in search for some winter sunshine, and those running away from stifling summer heat.
The coldest month is January, when the average temperature is 18°C. Temperatures will, of course, drop as you leave the comfortable beaches in the south and head inland or up north.
How To Get There
Daily ferry service runs from Tenerife South’s Los Cristianos harbor every hour. There are several options, with the two most popular from Fred Olsen and Naviera Armas. Tickets cost around 34€ one way.
TIP: ask your guide or tour operator to buy them, as they may have special discounts. Audrey bought our tickets at 24€, so we saved 40€ a couple.
Photo Credit Rolls