This island is often called “Isla Columbiana“. There is a reason, revealed below. The place is also popular as “The magic island” or “The island of the eternal spring“. It depends on the perception of the visitor. What I am certain of – there are at least 8 unbeatable reasons you must visit the island. I am speaking about the one in the Atlantic ocean, part of the Canary insular group, officially named La Gomera.
You already know I am a huge admirer of islands, but this one literally took my breath away. There is nothing else like La Gomera. This tiny, only 25 km in diameter, piece of land near the Moroccan coast of Africa, has so many unique features, that is much ahead in comparison with the other six Canary islands. One of the smallest (El Hierro is the behind), La Gomera is probably the most interesting and thrilling of the Spanish archipelago.
Mostly mountainous volcanic island, only 30 km away from Tenerife (the most popular of the Canaries). There is no international airport on La Gomera. Landing is at Tenerife, then the best way to reach La Gomera’s capital San Sebastian is by ferry. It takes about 50 minutes. The ferry is safe, comfortable and offers stunning sceneries, while getting away from Tenerife.
It won’t take much to convince you La Gomera is your lifetime trip and you should definitely add it to your bucket travel list. I’d prioritise those 8 unbeatable reasons for visiting the island in order the level of impression they made to me, also the unforgettable memories already stuck in my mind.
Whistle language – Silbo
No doubt the most unique and unforgettable feature of La Gomera. I have never heard something like this before, even with my large variety of trips. Silbo language, spoken only on this particular Canary island, is something you must experience. I can’t find the logic of the sounds, but it works well. By my opinion could be a great spyware method of communication. The only weakness – too loud.
Silbo has been figured out thousands of years ago for helping the farmers on La Gomera to communicate remotely and to exchange news. As I already mentioned, the island is extremely mountainous. Even with its only 25 km diameter, not easy to cross it. There are high summits, sharp cliffs and narrow valleys. The legend tells, each village picked a guard, “working” in shifts over the mountain’s ridges. These guards were something like heralds or spokesmen of their village. If news must be spread, the herald whistles it to his “colleague”, who is located over the nearby hill. The second one transfers it to the third one and this way the news is easily “broadcasted” over the whole island, whistled from a man to a man.
It was the quickest and the safest line to circulate the information, mostly about a funeral, wedding, war, sickness or any upcoming threat. You can imagine how crafty and gifted the heralds must have been, for interpreting the correct sounds and not making any mistake. At the end of this communication line, the message could arrive misinterpreted, which is quite risky.
Nowadays the language is still alive, being an important and attractive subject in La Gomera schools’ programme. The locals are trying to keep and preserve it, as part of the insular heritage. It’s also promoted as attraction to the tourists, who remain completely amazed by this virtuous local creativity.
You can’t find black sands everywhere, right? The arrival at La Gomera assures it by its large beaches, covered by only black sand. The reason is hidden in the volcanic origin of the island. The black rocks, surrounded the beaches, are slowly eroding and blending with the seashells. The sand is not thin and smooth at all. On the contrary, it’s scrubbing your barefoot experience and glueing over the feet.
La Gomera is not the only Canary island with black sands. In the North, same sand could be found on Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. But on La Gomera the sand looks very natural, as the island is not thickly covered by hotels and most of the beaches seem abandoned and very primordial. The usual seashore of La Gomera is sharp cliffs and incline rocks, so having those black beaches is like a blessing.
A widely spread among the tourists action is to take a “pinch”of the black sand like a memory gift. I did the same and now my little bottle keeps that insular rare sand and reminds me about the uniqueness of the beach. That beach is way no warm, as the Atlantic ocean water never goes warmer than 21 degrees C. Pretty cold for my Tropical preferences, but still doesn’t bother the joyful experience with La Gomera’s black sand. 🙂
Mirador de Abrante
Another breathtaking attraction. Mirador de Abrante could be found in the area of the island, called Agulo. It’s a real viewpoint and a skywalk. Built as a restaurant, the facility offers a stunning bird view to the valley and to the ocean. In sunny days the neighbour island of Tenerife could be clearly seen, along with its famous feature – sleeping volcano Teide (3 719m). Actually the best view to Tenerife’s miraculous mountain is from La Gomera.
The scenery, revealed from Mirador de Abrante, is unspeakable. Three villages could be seen down in the valley. Despite them, a large ocean-horizon in 180 degree view. And as mentioned, pick Teide in clear days. I could compare it with only two similar ones – The London Eye, gigantic Ferris wheel on the South bank of Thames river and then, Burj Al Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai. Exactly the same thrill. You feel like stepping in the air, with a dangerous gap under feet. I needed to deal with the smashing fear how small I actually looked on that colossal background.
I was told Mirador de Abrante was open in the beginning of 2013, 620 m above the sea level. It’s about to turn to the new modern symbol of La Gomera. The view is absolutely worth it and I highly recommend it to be visited.
For whale watching you should visit the area of the island, called Valle Gran Rey (Great King’s Valley), preferably harbour of Vueltas. I love the tour called “Respectful watching”. You make no harm to the whales by your curiosity, simply following the instructions. The scenery of the floating, playing and gazing whales is so unspeakable, that you would hardly be able to move, breathe, react. Your chin could fall down, seeing the scene for first time.
I would recommend the afternoon tour, as you have the chance to observe the sense on the way back. Just be aware of the seasonal character of the whale watching. I was advised the best time of visiting and watching the whales is from March to May. The rest of the year is OK too, just seeing whales is unpredictable and random.
There are lots of regulations in here, after numbers of whales and dolphins were hurt by speed boats years ago. I would advise to carefully listen to the instructions, what’s allowed and what’s not during the tour. It’s worth it, be patient and do not miss it out.
Maybe you don’t know a fact, related to the whales in La Gomera. The famous Ron Haward’s movie “In the Heart of the Sea” was partially filmed in La Gomera. The movie is another viewpoint to the incredible story, told by Herman Melville in immortal “Mobi-Dick”. The gigantic whale, crippling a ship and leaving the mariners hopeless in the middle of the ocean. The survivors spread a legend of boldness and fear. The sharp coast, cliffs, rough ocean and great insular sceneries were considered as the best possible background for filming the movie.
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In Valle Gran Rey exists another curious fact – a well working hippie community. Started in the USA in the mid of the 60s, it was spread over other countries. The first hippies in La Gomera arrived in the 70s, finding a quiet, hidden place to develop their society.
Nowadays this divergent space changed a lot. The habitants are still free spirited and not much willing to follow the authorities. But the reputation of cannabis growing and smoking youth with a questionable hygiene was completely gone. At the moment the community is open for self-searchers, who have lost their way and need a life break to find it again. The curious visitors are welcome just to the doorstep of the hippie property. The potential members should pass something like an interview and to reveal their true intentions of need. Because of this selective approach to the strangers, the locals are spreading rumours about this closed community – from a cult followers, through failed artists to humble farmers.
About the farmers definition, it’s obvious as the hippie community grows most of their vegetables and fruits by themselves. They grow also plenty of herbs and spices for preparing special cosmetic and health remedies. At the moment La Gomera hippie spot has reputation of mostly odd, but tranquil and healthy community.
Christopher Columbus trace
Christopher Columbus or Cristobal Colon (in the Spanish speaking world) has been three times at La Gomera. In fact the conquest of the New World has begun from La Gomera. It’s the last European station for Columbus three ships in 1492, before crossing the Atlantic in the name of the Spanish Crown. There are evidences on the island the fleet stopped here to restock with food and water. Some of the stories claim, it was a forced stop, because of a leaking ship. The planned layover has been just four days, but Columbus has spent almost a month at the island.
There is a legend Columbus has prolonged unnecessarily the stay, because of a beautiful, but known to be cruel, widow, who ruled La Gomera as a governor. Those rumours about Columbus love affair could be just a myth. This island is literally built on the ground of legends, so I won’t be surprised. There is a house, called nowadays Casa De Colon, where the famous conquistador used to stay. At the back yard of the house the locals proudly show a well, which supplied the explorer’s ships by fresh water. There is a memory note next to the well, confirming the Columbus source of water for conquering the New World. Near the house is the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, where Columbus prayed just before his departure to the West Indies.
It’s proven Columbus was back to the island to restock for the next missions in 1493 and in 1498. In La Gomera’s capital San Sebastian Casa de Colon is open for tourists. Columbus has been accommodated there during his stay. That’s why the island is called “Isla Columbiana” (Columbus’ island), named after the sailor, pointed to be officially America’s discoverer.
Torre del Conde
Thats’ another insular legendary story. In the middle of the beautiful green park of the capital San Sebastian de La Gomera there is a tower, called Torre del Conde. It is a relic from the mid of the 15th century, just Columbus time. This stunning and very well preserved tower is named the place where Columbus has secretly met the widow-governor of the island – Beatriz (mentioned above). It’s unlikely to be true, as the tower is tiny and extremely simple in its interior.
What is clear and proven – the same Beatriz locked herself and her children inside the tower, during the rebellion of the aboriginal Guanches. In the chronicles, the aborigines of La Gomera were known of being non-aggressive, but humble and quiet people. Seems like the drop to fill the glass, forcing them to rebel, was the seduction of their princess by Beatriz’ husband. The Guanches attacked and killed him. As response, his widow Beatriz ordered the death of lots of aboriginal insular men.
Locked in the tower with her kids and some Spanish habitants, Beatriz was rescued with support, coming from another island – Gran Canaria. Torre del Conde has reputation of hiding lots of secrets, covering some cruel death stories, but remaining stable and unbreakable for centuries. Torre del Conde is a very beautiful building, with Gothic features, very attractive with its machicolations, arches, portholes and gussets. The tower has very solid walls, attractive design, interconnected by a ladder attached to the wall.
What if I tell you there is a thick jungle in the heart of the island ? The National park Garajonay is a Paradise for the mountain hikers. Not sure if the required equipment could be hired on site, but I have seen the terrain. It looks like an untraceable, very green, dangerous, but exciting…jungle. Every potential hiker must be equipped by proper hiking shoes, warm clothes and a raincoat, as the humidity is very high. The chance of showers in the heart of the mountain is pretty high as well.
On the way to Garajonay the sceneries were just stunning. The narrow roads, snaking the mountain, left me breathless. It was not only me, having the scary feeling the vehicle was balancing at the edge of the road, risking to drop in the abyss. And this lasted during the whole way. Green, green, green. That’s everywhere’s colour. A crazy vegetation, because of the humidity. The eternal spring temperatures make the National park look like an endless green carpet, thrown over the cliffs.
And here comes the next legendary story, related to the park’s name. Garajonay is named after the doomed aboriginal couple Gara and Jonay, the local Romeo and Juliet. Gara, a princess of La Gomera, has attended the traditional festival for single girls. There was a ritual those girls to gaze at their reflection in the water of Chorros de Epina (natural spring water). If the water was clear, they would find a husband. If it was cloudy, some misfortune would befall them.
When Gara looked at the water, she saw her reflection clearly, but she gazed for too long and then sun reflection blinded her temporarily. A wise man told her she needs to avoid all fire ever since, or otherwise it would consume her. Jonay, the son of the king of Tenerife, arrived at La Gomera to celebrate the same festival. Gara was attracted by him and the two fell in love. When the engagement was announced, the volcano Teide, visible from La Gomera, began to erupt as if in disapproval. This was interpreted as a bad sign, that’s why their parents broke the engagement. Jonas was forced to go back to Tenerife. One night, he swam across the channel that split the islands and rejoined his beloved one. Their fathers ordered the two to be found and soon the lovers were trapped in the mountain, where they decided to take their own lives.
La Gomera is all built, covered and soaked by legends and myths. Even the name La Gomera sounds mysterious. My first impression was the time has stopped here centuries ago. It looks so natural and not touched by the modern life, that I expected the ancient habitants of the island (Guanches), to suddenly pop up, armed by bows and arrows.
By my opinion the most beautiful area of the island is Valle Gran Rey, but most liveable is the capital San Sebastian with its beautiful yacht marina and all the historical spots around. Local people, speaking English on La Gomera, is hard to find. They speak mostly (only) Spanish. There is a big chance to meet German speakers, as many Germans moved to La Gomera permanently. If you don’t speak Spanish or Silbo (whistle language), could face some difficulties ,while wandering the island. The local currency is Euro. Traffic is on the right side of the road. Amazing spring weather all year round, with average annual temperatures 20+ degree C. I should come back. If you read this article, now you know, there are much more than 8 unbeatable reasons to visit La Gomera. 🙂