So you think you know the Canaries?

The Canary islands and Tenerife, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura in particular are amongst the most popular destinations for Irish travelers given their year-round climate. Located just 100 kilometres at their most easterly point off the west coast of Morocco, this autonomous region of Spain is the most southerly extent of Europe. What some people may not know though is that the archipelago compromises three further islands — La Palma, El Hierro and La Gomera — the latter being the subject of this week’s blog.

In a well-known song made famous by Dinah Washington, is the line ‘what a difference a day makes’. Well, in the case of La Gomera, the timescale has been shrunken down to just an hour. Located just an hour’s ferry ride away from the port of Los Cristianos, a port town located in the southwest of Tenerife and literally a few minutes drive from some of the oldest and most popular resorts of that island, Playa de las Americas and the newer, more upmarket Coste Adeje. In somewhat of a coincidence, the song was originally written in Spanish by the Mexican songwriter Maria Grevar in 1934  ‘Cuando vuelva a tu lado’ (‘When I Return to Your Side’).

When you step off the Fred Olsen ferry in San Sebastian, the small, sleepy capital of La Gomera, you do literally go back in time, although perhaps not to 1934 as the small island (the 2nd smallest in the island group) has been the beneficiary of European funding over the course of the past 20 years and now enjoys an enviable road network around its impossibly ravined topography. What is particularly amazing about the island (area 370 square kilometres) is that climatically in such a small area, it effectively divides into two, very distinct regions — the sunny, arid south of the island and the green, often mist-bound region of the north. The transition between the two zones happens almost instantly as you drive through the last of the long road tunnels that take you through the heavily ravined mountains that separate the north of the island which gets all the northerly trade winds (and with them the rain) and the sub-tropical south which is almost completely protected from those winds by that impenetrable mountain barrier.

Indeed, the verdant north of the island is so blessed between its rich volcanic soil, moderate, year-round temperatures and abundance of water that practically anything grows there although bananas continue to be the main cash crop. You can easily get around the island in a day and see all the main sights including the particularly impressive geological remnants of its volcanic past, the huge plugs (rocky outcrops) that dominate the landscape for miles around and which can be seen within the Garajonay national park. You can of course hire a car and do the tour yourself but driving on the island is not for the faint-hearted as some of the roads meander their way along vertiginous routes through, by and over the various mountains that cover the entirety of the island. It is probably the most mountainous island I’ve ever visited and that’s saying something!

La Gomera is famous for something that is unique in world culture and anthropology and that is the local phenomenon that is called Silbo. Silbo is an entire language based on whistling that was developed by the early inhabitants of La Gomera to enable them to communicate with each other across the deep ravines and canyons that dominate the topography of the island. To hear one of the locals showcase their skill and fluency is something to behold and worth the price of admission alone.

The irony here of course is that all this uniqueness and stunning beauty is located just an hour away from probably one of the most visited tourist resorts in the world and yet remains a world away for most of the tourists who flock each year to Tenerife and yet never make the effort to explore a bit more of what is almost literally on their doorstep.

The next time you’re heading south for the sun, make a point of adding an excursion to La Gomera as part of your travel plans and you’ll quickly see what a difference a day makes!

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