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Wanderlust: La Gomera

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Though perhaps lacking in the golden beaches and wild nightlife that give the canaries their reputation, the beauty and tranquil peace of the second smallest island sets it apart. A mountainous terrain prevents much modern development and possibly accounts for the unspoilt scenery that makes the island so beautiful. Most notable, however, is the contrast between the northern and southern regions. Despite its small diameter of approximately 15 miles, La Gomera is home to two distinct microclimates. The north is lush, green, and relatively cool in temperature, with strong winds and often a rolling layer of fog. The south is much warmer, and drier, making it a much browner region, dotted with palm trees and tourists.                             

Nothing can do justice the wide assortment of landscapes and localities which make up the island. Charming villages nestle into mountainsides, some enveloped by plush greenery, others surrounded by acres of brown, dusty earth. On the coast, volcanic black beaches iced by white sea foam give the illusion of a monochrome world. Rare plants and animals can be found in abundance, including the world’s oldest dragon tree, hosts of laurel pigeons, a giant lizard species that has ‘come back from extinction’, and rats which get drunk on tree sap before falling to the ground in a stupor. The island even has its own national park, home to the world’s largest and best-preserved Laurel Forest; a living fossil serving as a reminder of what Europe was like five million years ago. The park’s name, Garajonay, derives from the legend of the beautiful princess, Gara, and the peasant, Jonay. This unlikely pair fell in love, and Jonay came to spend every day floating on a small raft towards La Gomera from the neighbouring island of Tenerife.

Nowadays, it is tourists who arrive from Tenerife, though no princess awaits them on the shore. Nonetheless, they are sure to be charmed by an irresistible array of food. The Gomeran diet consists of rustic meat dishes and locally caught fish, nearly always served with delicious ‘papas arrugadas’, or wrinkled potatoes. These potatoes are boiled in seawater and, as the water evaporates, the salt sticks to their skins, forming a wrinkly crust. They are usually served with two small bowls of mojo sauce, one red and one green, both made with spicy peppers and chillies. Several speciality desserts are served for pudding, often incorporating flavours like vanilla, caramel, and almond. Yet, the ultimate sweet treat is Gomeran palm honey; a thick, dark, and delectable substance, produced from the island’s own palm trees.

Tourists may also be fortunate enough to experience one of the island’s many annual fiestas. Celebrating Christian and pagan festivals, these fiestas usually feature a religious procession, followed by a grand party. In the ‘Playa Santiago’, a lively fishing port, the village square is filled with colourful decorations, whilst a stage is erected for Gomeran bands to play from. During the evening, traditional Latin-American dancing gradually morphs into a modern disco, which begins in the early hours of the morning. Everyone, from toddlers to octogenarians, stays up all night. Perhaps it is this joie de vivre which captivates visitors so deeply, transporting them to a less complicated world, filled with stunning scenery and living history.