La Gomera is the second smallest island of the Canary Islands.
Undeveloped, unspoilt, beautiful island just 40 minutes by fast ferry 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. Relatively little English is spoken, although menus, etc are usually 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 and Gran Canaria airports. Most people fly to Tenerife South, then get a ferry from nearby Los Cristianos.
By ferry from Los Cristianos in Tenerife to San Sebastian, though there is also now a passenger ferry direct to Valle Gran Rey, the Garajonay Express.
A massive new trimaran has just been introduced on the Fred Olsen route. These ferries are very fast, completing the journey in 45 mins. Most expensive option.
Other ferries are with Garajonay Express - small hydrofoil which also serves Playa Santiago and Valle Gran Rey. For foot passengers only. May be cancelled at short notice in rough seas. Cheapest option.
Naviera Armas Large, fast ferry taking around an hour to San Sebastian. Very nice ship with a big terrace on the upper deck.
Public transport has improved in recent years with regular bus services (4 or 5 per day Mon - Sat less on Sundays) to the main centres (Valle Gran Rey, Vallehermoso, Santiago) from the capital San Sebastian.
Journey time to Valle Gran Rey is around one and a half 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/turqouise 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.
It is possible to travel between San Sebastian, Playa Santiago and Valle Gran Rey by hydrofoil but they are cancelled if the sea is rough. To experience the best of the island you need a car or strong legs or both.
Reputable car hire companies include CICAR or gomerarentacar.com. If you book beforehand, the car hire companies can meet you with a car at the San Sebastien ferry terminal when you arrive. Petrol is very cheap - about half the price of mainland Europe. However, bear in mind that the roads are very winding indeed, so driving is slow. For example, as the crow flies, it is only about 22km across the island from San Sebastien 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.
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.
Another company offering walks is Viajes Temocoda. Temocoda's walks are a little bit more expensive but lunch is included in the price.
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 is vital, 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.
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 .
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.
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.
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 Laurisilva forest well worth a visit. There is also a Botanic Garden of sorts near Vallehermoso. This could be excellent if better maintained, but has the air of somewhere abandoned. The Visitor Centre at Juego de Bolas, above Las Rosas, has a selection of native and endemic plants, as well as various artesanal artefacts
La Gomera is so beautiful that photo opportunities are everywhere.
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.
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.