La Gomera is the second smallest island of the Canary Islands.
La Gomera is divided in several municipalities or regions which might seem to have little logic but whose division was inherited from the former aborigins' tribal kingdoms. Nowadays these are: San Sebastian (where the main seaport and island's capital are located), Hermigua, Agulo, Vallehermoso, Valle Gran Rey and Alajeró.
Undeveloped, unspoilt, beautiful island just 35-60 minutes by ferry (it depends which ferry you take) from Tenerife. Ideal for walkers. Contrast between lush forests around the summit and in the National Park with dry vegetation on the flanks of the island. Of real interest to botanists for its variety of plant life and number of endemic species. Good climate all year round, especially in the south. La Gomera is still one of two Canary Islands without direct tourist flights from mainland Europe, the other being El Hierro.
Spanish is the main language. English is widely understood in Valle Gran Rey, where German is easily the second language after Spanish. Most menus are printed in three languages.
Famous for El Silbo - whistling language which was used to communicate across the deep valleys. The local council are trying to revive El Silbo; it is now a compulsory (and popular) subject in schools on the island.
The airport near Playa Santiago is served only by local planes from Tenerife Nord Airport. Most people fly to Tenerife South, then get a ferry from nearby Los Cristianos.
By ferry from Los Cristianos in Tenerife to San Sebastian de la Gomera
Since the smaller company Garajonay Express was forced out, Fred Olsen Fares have rocketed. During the boat-war, fares on both were around €25 return from Los Cristianos. Now, even an advance day return costs around €80 for the short 40-minute crossing. Although residents of the Canary Islands have a discount of 50%, many on La Gomera consider these fares to be destroying visitor numbers and their small economy.
Two ferry companies are providing service:
Please notice, La Gomera is situated in the Atlantic. This means that even in moderate windy weather the waves may become pretty big and crossings can be rough. In that case the catamaran may even not be able to sail.
Both ferries sail onwards at least once a day (except on Sundays) to La Palma, leaving in the evening on most days. Be warned, some of the return journeys depart La Palma in the early hours of morning.
There are plenty of companies offering day trips. The prices started at 49 Euros and went up to 64 Euros. The day trips include pick-up and drop-off wherever you're staying, transport to and from the ferry dock in Los Cristianos, a 5 hour or so coach tour of La Gomera with a guide, and lunch with wine.
Public transport has improved in recent years with regular bus services (4 or 5 per day Mon - Sat; fewer on Sundays) to the main centres (Valle Gran Rey, Vallehermoso, Santiago) from the capital San Sebastian. Note that departures don't usually coincide with the ferry arrival times.
Journey time to Valle Gran Rey is around one and three quarter hours. These buses are popular and it isn't always possible to get on especially at the port when boats come in. Buses returning to the tourist centres late in the afternoon tend to get full of walkers and likewise the ones heading into the mountains early in the mornings. Fares are very reasonable. Drivers do not like to pick up or set down between stops for tourists even though you may see them do it for elderly locals. The public buses are a blue/turquoise colour and are run by Servicio Regular Gomera S.L. Tickets are purchased from the driver. There are many other private coaches darting about the island which will not stop for you. The timetables do change and tourist offices will have up-to-date versions. Plenty of websites reproduce these but they may not be up-to-date.
Reputable car hire companies include CICAR or gomerarentacar.com. One of the companies that accept debit cards is Pluscar. Most companies have their office right next to the San Sebastian ferry terminal. Since the amount of cars at the pier is limited (compared to e.g. TFS airport), it's probably best to book upfront.
Petrol is relatively cheap - about 1/10 less than in mainland Spain. However, bear in mind that the roads are very winding indeed, so driving is slow - don't expect to go faster than 50km/h most of the time. For example, air distance is only about 22km across the island from San Sebastian to Valle Gran Rey, but the distance by road is over twice that, and it will take you an hour and a half to drive it. Many people combine walking with hitchhiking. Taxis are not prohibitively expensive especially if there are several of you sharing.
Most visitors come for the top class walking. There are many paths all over the island, from gentle strolls through the rainforest to all day treks. Signage has improved dramatically over recent years, making self-guided walks much simpler.
Normal precautions regarding walking on your own apply on La Gomera, too. Always make sure that somebody knows where you are headed and when you can be expected to return. Pack rain and windproof warm clothing in your daypack even it it's nice and sunny when you leave. Also, don't forget to take a cellphone and a torch with you, drinking water and something to eat. However, there are also many shorter walks (such as up one side of Valle Gran Rey and down the other) that need no more than sandals.
Walking in heavy rain might be dangerous (as well as unpleasant) due to rockfalls and landslides.
Several firms offer guided walks, which can be useful if you don't have transport or want to do a point to point walk. One of these companies is Timah. They offer guided walks at around 30 EUR each (including the transportation to the starting point of the walk as well as the trip back) with English and German speaking guides.
Visit the tourist office in Valle Gran Rey (Calle Lepanto, s/n. La Playa) or the various travel agencies in Valle Gran Rey for information about other providers of walks. Agencies can usually make the booking for you, but at least Timah has an office in Valle Gran Rey (La Puntilla) and you can book your walk there as well.
Guided walks can be recommended not only because they include transportation and free you from the infrequent bus service, but the guides will tell you all sorts of interesting tidbits about the island.
A good map will come handy, recommended ones are by - DWG, Kompass and Freydag & Berndt. Each shows slightly different information, so consider buying two different ones. Maps and guide books are readily available in San Sebastian and Valle Gran Rey.
Electronic sources include:
Several books offer detailed descriptions of available routes such as The Landscapes of Southern Tenerife and La Gomera by Sunflower Books and Walk! La Gomera by DWG.
La Gomera is a good biking destination as it offers mountaineous paved roads as well as single trails and dirt roads for the mountain bikers. In Valle Gran Rey there are three mountain bike tour operators and bike rentals available in the villages of La Playa, La Puntilla and Vueltas.
Be careful when riding down as the roads are steep and have tight bends. There are also two tunnels when coming down to Valle Gran Rey. The second and longer one can be circumvented by using the old road instead which goes by the mountain side. It starts on the right hand side of the tunnel entrance. However, extreme care is required as the railings on the old road are not in good condition (or missing altogether in places) and there are also big rocks and other debris on the road. When you drive in the tunnels make sure you have a headlight and a backlight (or at least a red reflector) so that cars can see you well ahead. Never ride without a well-fitting helmet.
The slow pace of life is contagious, the perfect antidote to stress. If you lack transport to Garojonay, walking in Valle Gran Rey (playa Del Ingles to bevond Vueltas) is easy and relaxing.
There are beaches at the end of most valleys, of varying quality. Valle Gran Rey has safe sandy beaches at Vueltas and El Charco (literally 'The Puddle'). Swimming can be challenging and even dangerous on the open beaches around the island. Playa la Caleta, near Hermigua, has a bar/restaurant on the beach. There is a semi-nude beach (clothing is optional) called Playa del Ingles behind La Playa in Valle Gran Rey. However, it's rocky and very dangerous for swimming especially when the sea is rough. There is a warning sign on the beach saying that the latest (fatal?) accident happened in the end of 2005, so keep this in mind if you think about taking a dip there.
San Sebastian has two good beaches, Playa Santiago (as the name suggests) also has a beach. There is a public pool at Playa de Vallehermoso (near El Castillo) and there is a swimming tank-thing by the remains of the embarcadero in Hermigua.
If you don't mind the long, steep, winding drive, there is a lovely little beach at Alojera.
Fascinating sub-tropical vegetation abounds with the unique Laurisilva rainforest in the national park, Garajonay, which is situated on the highest part of La Gomera. Laurisilva has a very special property in that it makes clouds into rain: Due to the pressing upwards of the trade winds, there are often clouds on the top of La Gomera; but the leaves of the trees of Laurisilva have pores that catches the small drops from the clouds. The surplus water absorbed is secreted so that the trees are raining, which increases precipitation from 50-100%. Of the remaining Laurisilva is 50% growing on La Gomera, which makes Garajonay unique from a nature conservation point of view. Laurisilva has in earlier periods covered large areas surrounding the Middle Sea, but disappeared due to climate changes. The National Visitor Centre at Juego de Bolas, above Las Rosas, has a selection of native and endemic plants, as well as various artesanal artefacts. There are plenty fine walking paths in Garajonay and the surrounding landscape.
There is also a Botanic Garden of sorts near Vallehermoso. This could be excellent if better maintained, but has the air of somewhere abandoned.
La Gomera is so beautiful that photo opportunities are everywhere. Most main roads have clearly signed viewpoints, including parking for a short stop.
Excellent freshly prepared fruit juices and milkshakes are widely available. If you are feeling brave, try parra, the local firewater (similar to Italian grappa) or a Gomeron, which is parra mixed with palm honey.
Local wine has recently been awarded DOC status. Try Garajonay white wine.
Great coffee, but remember that many locals take it with condensed milk (leche condensado). Try a 'leche y leche' - an expresso with a squirt of condensed milk and a splash of hot milk - much better than it sounds!
Most tourists head for Valle Gran Rey, with its stunning terraces and selection of bars and restaurants. These give a good balance between facilities and getting away from the stresses of western life. But the upper parts of this valley and all the beautiful rest of La Gomera remain unspoilt. There is also a push for more rural tourism, if you want to get completely away from things. However, it's worth remembering that the higher villages can be much cooler than the coast. Vallehermoso has some Airbnb's springing up, and is an ideal base from which to hike.
There are several hotels in San Sebastian, including the Parador. Playa Santiago has the Jardin Tecina complex, run by Fred Olsen - expensive, but worth a visit to see the impressive flora and the 'James Bond' lift down to the beach! While Valle Gran Rey has the Hotel Gran Rey on the seafront and the Hotel Playa Calera in La Playa. The three villages, of which " Valle Gran rey" is comprised , offer man private rooms to rent. Walk around !