There is a place 300 km off the coast of the Sahara Desert where the land is so fertile that it supplied Columbus’ journey to the New World. It is a place where whistles are swapped for words, where half-meter long lizards defied their own extinction and where smokey honey streams from the palm trees.
On this nearly perfectly round island, the sharp peaks of a volcanic terrain pierce the Atlantic clouds and a tropical paradise so lush that UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site lies hidden below its mountainous crown.
This is La Gomera, the second-smallest and arguably most enchanting of the seven main Canary Islands. It was both the island I was most excited to visit and the place I (tragically) spent the least amount of time during my week of Canary Island hopping.
Here is how I frolicked as happily as humanly possible during an oh-too-short 7.5 hour day trip to La Gomera.
This is the second installment in a three-part series on exploring the Canary Islands. Check out part 1 on how to avoid the tourist traps of Tenerife here.
One night in Costa Adeje was more than enough to convince me to flee the island the following day. Barely visible from the Tenerife shoreline are the hazy peaks of La Gomera. Only a tiny trickle of tourists make it over to this wild island, whose jagged mountainous terrain rises straight up from the port into saw-blade-like peaks. La Gomera is so mountainous that the indigenous language here is spoken through whistles which sound almost like bird chirps floating through the ravines.
There are only two ferry companies that run from Tenerife to La Gomera: Naviera Armas and Fred Olsen. After missing my pre-booked Naviera Armas ferry (who knew you had to arrive 30 minutes before the ferry leaves or they prohibit you from entering the still docked and unmoving ferry), slightly panicking at the thought of missing the one island I most desperately wanted to see and being saved by the highly logical and helpful folks at Fred Olsen, I arrived on La Gomera around 10 a.m. I had just 7 and a half hours until the last ferry at 5:30 p.m.
Beelining for the tourist office in San Sebastian (La Gomera’s capital and largest town, population: 9,000), I loaded up on hiking advice and maps, jogged to the bus station and by 11:15 was overlooking one of the most extreme, most awe-inspiring and most tempting landscapes I’ve ever seen.
For the next four and half hours I wound my way down to San Sebastian from the peak of Degollada de Peraza, where, curiously enough, the second Spanish colonial ruler of La Gomera was murdered by an indigenous tribe for seducing one of its women.
The first hour or so of the hike was along dirt and stone paths carefully woven along the mountainside. Intertwined on both sides of the rocky path was a curious combination of gnarly cactus, lush grass, delicate flowers and squat palm trees. It was as if the island couldn’t quite decide if it wanted to be tropical or desert. It’s apparent indecision made it that much more intriguing.
As the path turned onto pavement and the incline leveled out, the wildness of the terrain also smoothed into the neat rows of human-controlled agriculture. Everything from avocados and bananas and nisperos (a sweet apricot-like fruit; “loquat” in English) to a herd of goats (whose milk was used to make cheese) were tucked or terraced into the tight ravines between the steep hills.
My biggest regret of my entire Canary Island trip was not spending more time in La Gomera. While there are only a handful of places to stay on the island, a world of tantalizing hiking trails through the mountainous exterior and the tropical forest interior are just begging to be explored.
I arrived back in San Sebastian around 4 pm and positively famished. Seeing as it was a Monday, most of the towns non-tourist-centered restaurants were closed. Heeding the recommendations of a shop owner, her just-stopped-in-to-chat friend and the owner of a fantastic-looking bar that wasn’t opening for another four hours, I swallowed my skepticism and flopped down at one of La Sirenita’s tables overlooking the ocean.
Despite the Coca-Cola-sponsored plaque of plastic-looking sandwich “specials” displayed outside this restaurant (and thousands of others across the country), the Little Mermaid’s menu was quite tempting. I opted for what the waiter called Pan Pano fish, a name I’ve decided exists only in La Gomera as I can’t find anything about it on the internet or from fellow Spanish food lovers.
Regardless, it came slathered in parsley, garlic and olive oil with a delectable pile of wrinkled potatoes and a downright heavenly little bowl of extra-seasoned mojo. Now that’s what I call a post-hiking meal.
Logistics: I took the 9 am Fred Olsen ferry from Los Cristianos to San Sebastian de La Gomera roundtrip for 54€. From San Sebastian I hopped on bus 3 (although lines 1 and 7 also work) up to Degollada de Peraza for 2€. From there I marveled at the views and then hiked down to La Laja and then back to San Sebastian. I grabbed some snacks for the ferry at the Mercado Municipal next to the bus stop. I highly recommend the dates and the nisperos.