La Gomera was the fourth and last Canary island that I visited this time around. It is completely different to any of the others and I loved the way each island has a distinct personality all its own. I arrived by ship from La Palma which docked in the port of San Sebastián de La Gomera, the capital. We arrived at 6.40 am as it was still getting light. It was to be an eventful day full of things not going to plan…..at all!
As I had changed my plans at the last minute, my hire car was booked at the airport. It wasn’t until I arrived that I realised that the airport is nowhere near the port/capital and is built on the south side of the island on one of the only parts of the island that is flat enough to host a runway and it’s quite a drive from the capital! I found the (deserted) bus station only to discover that the bus service to the airport co-incides with the arrival and departures of planes…..and there are only 3 a day! As I had to wait until 8.45 am for the first bus, I explored San Sebastián which didn’t take very long – it’s tiny!
The most interesting part is the old part of town near the port and the harbour. Tiny little houses and shops are arranged in a small grid of cobbled streets, all festooned with bunting from last week’s carnival celebrations. Enormous ancient trees in squares provide shade for cafe tables and strategically placed benches. The colours are more faded than La Palma and the town looks less well-tended and less prosperous. Sandwiched between the main port and the old town is the harbour for yachts and pleasure craft. The weather condition ‘calima’ – which blows dust over from the African continent – was in full swing making a lot of the photos seem grainy and unclear – sorry!
La Gomera is the second smallest of the seven main Canary Islands (the smallest is El Hierro). It is approximately 22 kms in diameter and fairly round in shape. It is volcanic in origin and its highest point, Alto de Garajonay, – situated roughly in the middle – is 1,487 ms high. The island is divided into segments by deep ravines called barrancos which means it is fairly time-consuming to get around! La Gomera’s Garajonay (pronounced Garra-ho-nigh) National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986 and is very well organised for hikers with a network of well-looked after and well-signposted trails of varying levels (none of which are flat – be warned!!)
Because of the island’s size and height, there is a very steep gradient and variation in different climates and vegetation which varies from jungle-like at the top and descends down through pine forest and palm groves to more moorland shrubs like heather and gorse with carpets of wild flowers at the lower levels, particularly in Spring. La Gomera is a paradise for walkers and lovers of flora and fauna and is attracting increasing numbers of tourists who usually fly to Tenerife South and come over by ferry. The roads are good but driving requires concentration as the usual bends and steep drops down the mountain apply (Sorry Dad!). I had a fairly sluggish Hyundai this time but it was the only car available and I was getting quite used to the driving by now so I made the most of it!
The road from San Sebastiàn to the airport snakes its way up the mountainside, across the barranco and back down again in a nauseating series of twists and turns but with stunning views down to the sea. I was glad I wasn’t driving! I finally arrived at the airport (45 mins by bus from the capital) to find that my car hire company had neither office nor representative there and I had no phone number! Rather than be stranded at the airport all day (next flight is in the afternoon) I returned with the bus driver who very helpfully dropped me right outside the town office of the car hire company (I had failed to notice earlier!). They had no record of my booking and no available car until I showed them the confirmation e-mail they’d sent me upon which they set about finding me one (and did!) I finally drove away at midday….
Whale and dolphin watching is one of the main tourist attractions here and chances of sightings are high between March and June. Eager to see whales for the first time, I had decided to make that the focus of my visit to La Gomera. I threw away my originally booked flights and bought new ones so I could stay later and catch the afternoon whale-watching trip. No sooner had I set off than the phone rang. I pulled over to receive a message that, due to high winds, my whale watching trip had been cancelled. Disappointed, I decided to make the most of the day and go down to Valle Gran Rey anyway especially as the company offered to refund my €40 if I collected it in person.
I stayed in a tiny roadside B+B in Las Hayas, in the hills above Valle Gran Rey. It was nothing to write home about but it was clean, had decent parking and hot water and was cheap! (Casa Amparo Las Hayas booking.com €30) Unfortunately the bar and restaurant that should have been open wasn’t. The day gets better!
The drive down from the top road to Valle Gran Rey is a spectacular drive and well worth a visit from anywhere in La Gomera. Huge palm trees and terraces cover the hillsides and the road snakes its way down through little villages of red-roofed houses towards the sea. Helpfully, lots of little view points have been built by the side of the road so you can stop and take a photo without falling off the edge!
I arrived at the bottom of the valley, and turned left towards the little harbour of Vueltas – where I should have been boarding a boat. It was very windy! Vueltas is a quaint little place with imposing rocky cliffs rising out of the sea and towering over the bay; lots of colourful fishing boats bobbing around in the sheltered bay and lying around on the harbourside; and a black sand beach sprinkled with bodies enjoying the sunshine, sheltered from the wind by the rocky cliffs.
There are several little bars and restaurants, one of which was located right on the harbourside. It appeared lively and full and it’s name ‘Cofradia de los Pescadores’ (roughly translates to Brotherhood of Fishermen) evoked promises of delicious fish so I thought I’d treat myself to a nice lunch. I didn’t have much cash and the place didn’t take cards so I set off on the (long and hot) trek to the town’s only bank machine on the other side of town. Sadly, lunch wasn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be – the ‘fresh fish’ didn’t seem to be as fresh as it could have been and the service was awful but a jolly German woman called Monica (who was on holiday camping on the beach) asked to join me at my table and we had a glass of wine and a funny chat (in Spanish)!
La Gomera is very popular with Germans and Vueltas in particular seems to have more than its fair share of not-so-young, German ‘hippies’, hanging out on beach and in the local bars! The place has a chilled and friendly atmosphere. I left Monica in the restaurant and headed to the black sand for a siesta. A Spanish woman from Asturias on a walking holiday chatted to me about the joys of travelling alone (she wasn’t) and I had a lovely sleep in spite of the wind.
The whale watching company (www.oceano-gomera.com/en/) were lovely and apologetic about the cancelled trip (although it was not their fault) and gave me a full refund. A big thanks to the fantastic guys there who very kindly sent me these photos from one of their trips to use in this blog (as I was not able to take any of my own) – please note the copyright for these pics is theirs. They are running respectful whale watching tours – definitely look them up if you are in La Gomera – their office is in the centre of Vueltas.
I bought supplies and a postcard of the whale I hadn’t seen and headed back up through the valley stopping to visit the beach of Playa de la Calera with its crashing waves and black rocks on the way. The drive back up was just as stunning as the drive down and, as it is impossible to go fast because of all the bends in the road, the best thing to do is relax and enjoy the view.
It had been a long and slightly irritating day so I decided to have an early night. There being no restaurant nearby, dinner was a can of beer and some (delicious) dried figs I bought earlier! The next morning it was so windy I feared I was going to be stranded on La Gomera. I drove down through stunning countryside and the almost deserted town of Alajeró, stopping to take photos of the flowers and the amazing views. Fortunately, the plane arrived onto the empty runway on time and we took off for Tenerife without a problem. There is something slightly unnerving about being at an airport with only one plane! In Tenerife North I got off the plane walked through the airport and got back onto exactly the same plane heading for Gran Canaria to spend the last night with my friends there.
Although I had a fairly irritating time here, the island did start to grow on me towards the end of my (very short) stay. It’s a fabulous place for serious walkers and nature lovers. The people are very friendly and helpful with a great sense of humour and the island has a beauty all its own. Would I go back? Probably…..but there are plenty of other islands to see first! Adios La Gomera. Adios Islas Canarias.
Next Island: For my next group of islands I will be fulfilling a long-held ambition to visit the Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily, starting with the capital, Lipari.