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Walking Holidays on La Gomera – Canary Islands

La Gomera landscape collage

La Gomera is the second smallest of the Canary Islands. It’s almost perfectly round and ruggedly beautiful, tumbling from cloud, shrouded rain forest, down steep volcanic slopes into deep ravines and verdant valleys.  Where there is water, plants grow abundantly and everywhere you look there are breath-taking views.  Until relatively recently the only way to get around this challenging terrain was on foot – roads and vehicle tracks appearing a mere 30 years ago.  Trails, that were used by Gomerans going about their daily lives since before the Spanish Conquest in the early 15th century still criss-cross the island leaving a ready made network of paths for today’s hikers to enjoy.

La Gomera: Andy & Paddy  - Footpath Signpost - Footpath

Andy & Paddy – Footpath Signpost – Stony footpath winding down hillside

Andy and Paddy  arrived in a sailing boat over 10 years ago,  stepped ashore, and fell under the spell of  this unspoilt island. It reminds them, Andy says, of county Donegal in Ireland where they hail from – but with a lot more sunshine.  In 2010,  having set up home for 8 months of the year in Playa de Santiago a few years before, they launched Gomera Walking offering week long trips with walks guided by themselves.  I asked Andy if they had always been walkers, Paddy yes, he wrote back, adding she’d climbed Kilimanjaro a few years ago.  Himself, he’d only started walking seriously when they came to La Gomera, the weather back in Ireland plus suffering from arthritis putting him off before.

Walking in the rain forest on La Gomera, Canary Islands

Walking in the rain forest on La Gomera, Canary Islands

I can’t remember when I first read about walking on La Gomera but I know when Ian and I came to plan our all too brief trip, packing the walking boots in hope of treading a stony trail or two was a priority.  A search online brought up Andy and Paddy’s offering emanating a feeling of organization and suggesting from the friendly style that a hike with them would be an easy-going, companionable experience. As things worked out we missed being on the island at the same time but Andy organized our stay in the apartments in San Sebastian, recommended a number of restaurants nearby and arranged to leave a map and walking guide with Daniela, the receptionist, so that we could get a feel for walking on the island.  Well, we too were captivated by this island with its strange rock formations and magical cloud forest. We took a walk in the Garajonay National Park in a fairytale-like world of twisted tree roots, lichen covered branches and primeval-looking ferns and felt as though we’d entered a secret place.   Regretfully there wasn’t time to follow other paths that beckoned as they snaked away down the hillsides and we had to content ourselves tracing their routes across the landscape from the map.  After this tantalizing taster it has been interesting to hear views of the some of Andy & Paddy’s guests, warming too, as all confirmed what we sensed already; that they give a great time and value for money.

Ferries from Los Cristanos, Tenerife to San Sebastian, La Gomera

The channel between Tenerife and La Gomera is a noted place for whale and dolphin watching

Getting There
There are no direct international flights to La Gomera but plenty of reasonably priced options to Tenerife South just 20- 30 minutes away by car from the port of  Los Cristianos in the soutwest corner of Tenerife, from where two ferry sevices operate throughout the day to San Sebastian.  It’s not a difficult journey but the extra hassel of lugging bags and dealing with tickets is completely taken care of, Andy meeting  guests with a mini bus at the airport arranging the ferry crossing and delivery to accommodation on La Gomera.  Retiree Peter who with his wife has been on two walking holidays with Andy and Paddy in the last year had this praise:

” We have found that the (planning and preparation) has been excellent. From suggested flights to and from Tenerife, the personal meet and greet and road and ferry transport to accommodation in San Sebastian and supplementary accommodation to facilitate flight connections, all has been provided, notified in advance and accomplished effortlessly.”

Mike pointed out another bonus of the trip across the water.
“Andy told us to look out for whales and dolphins,” he said.

“Yeah,” I thought  …,”and then …”

Walking on La Gomera

The Walking

“They guided us along a variety of trails for the daily walks, covering coastal paths, the rainforest and the highest point of the island, as well as routes through spectacular valleys filled with cactus and many plants, traditional terracing with bananas and cabbages, almonds, figs, avocados growing along beside us.”

wrote Eileen, drawing a wonderful image of Andy and Paddy leading their flock through La Gomera’s rich scenery

Five guided walks are included in the 7 night package – one day being put aside for guests to explore on their own.   The reality is  more akin to a week’s walking with old friends who’ve taken care of everything.  Groups are small, usually around 7 or 8 people, and each day’s route choosen to take account of the abilities of the guests and the weather.  Paddy and Andy go out of their way to be accommodating – John spoke of how they arranged for his wife Linda, who suffers from angina to join them for half days, which allowed her to keep walking and enjoy the whole week, while for Eileen and Brian they rose to the challenge of finding ‘gluten-free vegetarian’ food.

The routine is to meet for coffee then drive to the start of the walk which range between 3 – 5 hours in length. As we discovered most walks are linear and this is where having someone to ferry you and arrange the logistics is a great advantage – we found the buses fine to travel on, but given the routes and limited timetable difficult to fit with one-way walks.

Andy outlined a couple of the walks they normally do.  One involves a 450 meter climb up to the Casetas Ridge with the reward of stunning views of El Teide on Tenerife to the east,  San Sebastian to the south and Roque Agando & Degollada de Perazza across the valley to the west, then follows the ridge before dropping down to wind back to San Sebastian.

The other from Parajito to Alto de Garajonay takes palce in the Garajonay National Park.  Here’s Andy’s description -

“The highest point on the Island is the Alto at 1500 meters and is surrounded by Mediterranean Rain Forest (one of the few surviving in the world and protected as a Unesco World Heritage site). We drive to Parajito and climb the remaining 200 meters to the peak from which on a clear day we can see Tenerife, Gran Canaria, La Palma and El Hierro. We then take the path to El Contadero and begin the descent through the forest to the picturesque village of El Cedro where we break our journey with a visit to Restaurante Las Vistas for a beer and bowl of  local delicacy,  watercress soup before beginning the ascent to La Roques. These are a group of 4 extinct volcano cores formed millions of years ago and exposed by wind and water erosion to create the spectacular edifices which we see today. This walk takes about 4 hours.”

Perhaps keen walkers might look for longer days, and some of the walks can be extended, but on the whole it seems the mix and pace that’s struck is a good one, well suited to the rhythms of the island.

Hotel Jardin Tecina, La Gomera

Hotel Jardin Tecina

Après Walk
Guests have a choice between Pamper and Popular Packages with different accommodation and we were fortunate in being able to try  both, starting with a night in the superbly situated 4 star Hotel Tecina Jardin on the south coast.  The hotel occupies the cliff top above the village of Playa Santiago with charming terraces of rooms in Canarian style set amongst beautifully kept gardens. This is the sort of hotel where you can relax with everything to hand, take a dip in the pools, enjoy live music in the bars, some pampering in the spa … or get lost in a good read on your balcony.  Breakfast and dinner are buffet style affairs with lots of choice -having  pancakes for breakfast was my indulgence.

Apartment and town San Sebastian, La Gomera

Apartment and town San Sebastian

* Staying in the apartments in San Sebastian, offers a different sort of experience.  Those signing up to the Popular package, not only walk together during the day but eat together in the evening too – meals and drinks are included in the package.  Notably everyone who went for this option mentioned how much they had enjoyed eating at different restaurants, talking of how they all had their own specialities and how it was nice to have guidance when choosing from the menu is often pot luck.  Socially this option seems a hit too – many of the guests are couples and Mike travelling on his own said he’d wondered how the dynamics might work but it was fine, very inclusive.

The apartment, in a modern block, had a lounge, kitchen area, separate bedroom with twin beds and bathroom; was comfortable and impressively clean.  There’s a supermarket around the corner with a small delicatessen counter selling cheeses and meats, fresh bread, fruit & vegetables and all you need for light catering.  We were very taken with San Sebastian, it lacks the commercialism of towns like Los Cristianos on Tenerife while having a cosmopolitan air and being able to walk out the door and take a stroll was very pleasant.

My happy conclusion is that La Gomera is an island made for walking and Paddy and Andy the perfect hosts.

With thanks to: Peter & Tanya McWilliams, John & Linda Goodwin, Mike Quinlan & Eileen Coates for their comments.

Diane Dalgleish

La Gomera flora

Premium Pamper Package includes: 7 nights B&B accommodation  at Hotel Jardin Tecina plus transfer by road &  ferry from Tenerife South Airport Cost 850 per person sharing. Single occupancy premium normally €105 but see special offers since several  tours offer zero premium

Popular Package includes: 7 nights accommodation in self catering apartment in Playa de Santiago plus  transfer by road &  ferry from Tenerife South Airport Cost 599 per person sharing. Single Occupancy premium €150.

*Since I wrote this piece the Popular Package is now based in Playa de Santiago on the south coast of La Gomera.  The apartments with south facing terraces are a 5 minute walk from the low key sea front promenade.  On a stroll from the Hotel Jardin Tecina up on the cliff we paused at one of the cafe restaurants  here for refreshment  and  very pleasant it was.  Meals are not now included in the package but I can vouch the restaurants nearby have a choice of tempting reasonably priced dishes.

For dates of walking tours and to send an enquiry to Andy McCarter please click here

In addition to these guided walking holidays Andy and Paddy now organize holidays including accommodation, transfers, ferries and hire car for non-walkers or independent walkers, so do get in touch with them if you are thinking of taking a break in sunny La Gomera.

One Comment
  1. editor permalink

    Update after the forest fires…

    Andy and Paddy report that thankfully, after the terrible forest fires of the summer huge areas of the Garajonay National park still “remain pristine and totally unaffected”. Some of their favourite places like the Benchijigua Valley and Alta de Garajonay have suffered but even here there are already signs of new growth.

    So don’t be put off; from our brief exploration of the island I’d say you’ll be missing out if you don’t go.

    If you live on La Gomera or have visited recently, do let us know how things are, we would welcome your news.

    Diane

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