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La Gomera
Flag of La Gomera.svg
Flag of La Gomera
Geography
GO Canarias.png
Location Atlantic Ocean
Coordinates 28°06′N 17°08′W / 28.1°N 17.133°W / 28.1; -17.133
Archipelago Canary Islands
Area 369.76 km²
Highest point Garajonay (1,487 m)
Country
Spain
Autonomous Community Canary Islands
Province Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Largest city San Sebastián de la Gomera (pop. 8451)
Demographics
Population 21,952 (as of 2006)
Mountains in the center of La Gomera
Laurisilva of Garajonay, in La Gomera.
Los Organos, La Gomera.
Map of La Gomera.jpg

La Gomera is one of Spain's Canary Islands, located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa. In area, it is the second-smallest of the seven main islands of this group. It is located at 28°06′N 17°08′W / 28.1°N 17.133°W / 28.1; -17.133.

Contents

Political organization

La Gomera is part of the province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. It is divided into six municipalities:

The island government (cabildo insular) is located in the capital, San Sebastián.

Ecology

The island is of volcanic origin and roughly circular; it is about 22 km (15 miles) in diameter and rises to 1487 m (nearly 5000 feet) at the island's highest peak, Garajonay. Its shape is rather like an orange that has been cut in half and then split into segments, which has left deep ravines or barrancos between them. These barrancos, in turn, are covered by the laurisilva - or laurel rain forest.

The upper reaches of this densely wooded region are almost permanently shrouded in clouds and mist, and as a result are covered in lush and diverse vegetation: they form the protected environment of Spain's Garajonay National Park, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. The slopes are criss-crossed by paths that present varying levels of difficulty to visitors, and stunning views to seasoned hikers.

The central mountains catch the moisture from the trade wind clouds and yield a dense jungle climate in the cooler air, which contrasts with the warmer, sun-baked cliffs near sea level.

Between these extremes one finds a fascinating gamut of microclimates; for centuries, the inhabitants of La Gomera have farmed the lower levels by channelling runoff water to irrigate their vineyards, orchards and banana groves.

Culture

In 2003, some 19,580 people lived on La Gomera.

The local wine is distinctive, and is often accompanied with a tapa (snack) of local cheese, roasted pork or goat meat. Other culinary specialities include almogrote, a cheese spread, and miel de palma, a syrup extracted from palm trees.

The inhabitants of La Gomera have a unique way of communicating across deep ravines by means of an amazing whistled speech called Silbo Gomero. This whistled language is indigenous to the island, and its existence has been documented since Roman times. Invented by the original inhabitants of the island, the Guanches, Silbo Gomero was adopted by the Spanish settlers in the 16th century and survived after the Guanches died out. When this unique means of communication was threatened with extinction at the dawn of the 21st century, the local government required all children to learn it in school.

In the mountains of La Gomera, its original inhabitants worshipped their god, whom they called Orahan; the summit and centre of the island served as their grand sanctuary. Indeed, many of the natives took refuge in this sacred territory in 1489, as they faced imminent defeat at the hands of the Spaniards, and it was here that the conquest of La Gomera was drawn to a close. Modern-day archaeologists have found several ceremonial stone constructions here, which appear to represent sacrificial altar stones, slate hollows or cavities. It was here that the Guanches built pyres upon which to make offerings of goats and sheep to their god. This same god, Orahan, was known on La Palma as Abora and on Tenerife and Gran Canaria as Arocan. The Guanches also interred their dead in caves, which still dot the landscape.

Christopher Columbus made La Gomera his last port of call before crossing the Atlantic in 1492. He stopped here to replenish his crew's wine and water, intending to stay only four days. However, he became romantically involved with Beatriz de Bobadilla y Ossorio, the governor of La Gomera, and he ended up staying one month. When he finally sailed she gave him cuttings of sugarcane, which became the first to reach the New World. The house in San Sebastián in which he stayed is now a tourist attraction.

Notable natives and residents

  • Antonio José Ruiz de Padrón (1757-1823), Franciscan priest and politician.
  • José Aguiar (1895-1975), painter.
  • Manuel Mora Morales (b. 1952), writer, filmmaker and editor.
  • Pedro García Cabrera (1905-1981), writer and poet.
  • Tim Hart (1948-2009), English folk musician.
  • Oliver Weber (born 1970), German photographer.

External links

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Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

This article or section does not match our manual of style or needs other editing. Please plunge forward, give it your attention and help it improve!

La Gomera is the second smallest island of the Canary Islands.

  • San Sebastian de la Gomera - Capital and main port. Columbus set sail from here.
  • Valle Gran Rey - Main tourist resort, thanks to its stunning terraces and walking trails. Formerly a hippie hangout retaining an alternative feel in places.
  • Playa de Santiago - Small tourist resort dominated by large hotel complex owned by Fred Olsen, the ferry company. The island's only golf course sits incongruously here.
  • Hermigua - The centre of La Gomera's banana industry. The town is stretched out down the valley road. Signs boast that it has the best climate in the world.
  • Agulo - Compact town in two parts. Some charming old streets.
  • Vallehermoso - Much improved small town.
  • La Garajonay National Park - world heritage site. Includes Laurisilva forest.

Understand

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.

Talk

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 lnaguages.

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.

Get in

By plane

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 boat

By ferry from Los Cristianos in Tenerife to San Sebastian de la Gomera or directly to Playa Santiago or Valle Gran Rey.

A massive new trimaran has just been introduced on the Fred Olsen route. These ferries are very fast, completing the journey in 35 mins. Crossings can be rough in high seas. Most expensive option but runs up to four times a day. Bus connection to Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

The new Fred Olsen ferry named Benchi Express is a catamaran of 40 meters in length and can carry more than 300 people with a speed of greater than 30 knots. The Benchi Express route is between Los Cristianos in Tenerife and San Sebastian de la Gomera, Playa Santiago to Valle Gran Rey.

Naviera Armas Large, fast ferry taking around an hour to San Sebastian. Very nice ship with a big terrace on the upper deck and a lot of bars and salons inside.

Please notice, La Gomera is situated in the Atlantic. This means that even in moderate windy weather the waves may become pretty big. In that case the catamarans may not sail. Check the weather forecasts to find out if the catamarans go or you have to take the ferry instead.

Get around

By bus

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. 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.

By car

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 Sebastian 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 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.

  • Garajonay National Park - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - extensive forested area on the top of the island. Trees are irrigated by the mist which sometimes covers the top of the island, especially in winter. The trees are covered in mosses and lichens. The forest has an amazing atmosphere in the mist. Highlights include:
  • Alto de Garajonay - The summit of the island, at 1487 meters above sea level. Visit when the mist clears. Good views across to Mount Teide (Tenerife) and to El Hierro and La Palma.
  • 'El Cedro Forest - Despite the name, these are not cedar woods (the name refers to a long gone lone cedar tree). But the forest here is densest with tall trees and a beautiful calm. There are many walking routes around the forest here. Don't miss the water tunnel through the mountain (take a torch and mind your head! And boots as the water can be six inches deep or more).
  • The waterfall on the path between El Cedro and Hermigua.
  • Laurisilva Forest, between Las Hayas and Las Creces. Very eerie in the mist if the trees are creaking. Beautiful carpets of pink flowers in spring.
  • La Fortaleza - An outcrop of rock looking like a fort, or a bit like table mountain.
  • El Magro (the lion) and El Sombrero - two rocks resembling a lion and a sombrero.
  • Los Roques - five or six volcanic plugs at the center of the island.
  • Benchijigua, the valley to the south of Los Roques. Amazing changes of vegetation as you drop into the valley.
  • Valle Gran Rey - Stunning terraces in the upper valley. Lower valley still showing some influence (in places) of the time when this was a hippie hangout, but creature comforts widely available.
  • El Castillo del Mar,at Playa de Vallehermoso. Former loading station (mostly for bananas), restored and turned into a venue by long time resident German photographer. Has intimate atmospheric concerts, with the sound of the waves in the background.
  • Los Organos - striking basalt columns, similar to the Giant's Causeway, but only visible from the sea. Trips leave from Valle Gran Rey.
  • Mirador Cesar Manrique - on the road between Arure and Valle Gran Rey, marked by a metal, kinetic sculpture, is a restaurant and bar cut into the mountainside by the Canaries most famous artist. Stunning views into the valley through the huge windows in this strangely formal establishment. Very hard to spot this place from the road below except at night when the lit windows float eerily in the darkened mountains

Do

Walking

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 [1], 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 [2].

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.

Mountain biking

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.

Relaxing

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.

Flora

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

Photography

La Gomera is so beautiful that photo opportunities are everywhere.

Diving

There are a couple of diving schools on La Gomera, one in Valle Gran Rey [3] and one in Playa Santiago [4].

Whale watching

Boat trips run from Valle Gran Rey with Excursiones Tina or Oceano Gomera.

  • Watercress soup with gofio (maize flour)
  • Palm honey (Miel de Palma), palm tree syrup is boiled up to produce this delicious liquid that features in many Gomeran dishes, especially deserts.
  • Mojo sauce comes in red or green - red is for meat and can be quite spicy, green for fish, based on garlic and coriander. Mojo in restaurants is usually home-made and quite variable, but always interesting. No burger chain uniformity here and all the better for it!
  • Papas arrugadas (literally wrinkly potatoes). Exquisite if done well with small, black potatoes, but price rises often mean that now cheaper potatoes are used. Eat with red or green mojo.

Drink

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!

Sleep

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. The three villages, of which " Valle Gran rey" is comprised , offer man private rooms to rent. Walk around !

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  • Los Telares (Apartments and Rural Houses), Carretera General 10, Hermigua, 0034 922880781, [5]. checkin: 13:00; checkout: 12:00. These Canarian-style apartments allow you to enjoy a tranquil break, relaxing by the swimming pool, and enjoying the fresh air. Set in the valley of Hermigua, Aparthotel los Telares is found near the ancient convent of Santo Domingo in the village centre. From here you can enjoy spectacular views of the island. Enjoy strolling around the aparthotel's gardens in the evening, and admire the sunsets. After sunset, you can dine in the on-site restaurant, before going for a drink, or unwinding in the TV room. These studio-style apartments can accommodate between 2 and 4 guests. 42.  edit

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