View to thrill The island of La Gomera is the secret paradise of the Canaries, filled with luscious landscapes and steeped in history
Two pilot whales suddenly appear and within minutes our boat is surrounded by dozens of the beautiful mammals.
We are sailing off the coast of La Gomera, one of the lesser known Canary Islands, and this turns out to be a major highlight of our trip.
The magnificent creatures are everywhere - family pods complete with babies sticking close to their mothers – and are totally unperturbed by our boat which now has its engine switched off.
Pilot whales are not really whales at all but part of the dolphin family, albeit the second largest variety behind the orca, or killer whale. Males can grow up to 6m (20ft) and weight three tons while the smaller female often reach 5m (over 16ft) and weigh 1.5 tons.
I’ve been on disappointing whale-watching trips before and saw nothing so this is a gold star day. Our cameras are on overdrive.
We spend several hours on the boat called the Pura Vida with an extremely laidback crew handing out drinks and snacks and all for just €43.
We even have a swim, jumping in the sea in a secluded bay at the foot of a sheer cliff. The Pura Vida carries a maximum of ten passengers so we feel like wealthy playboys on our own yacht.
The nearby island of La Palma is still recovering from the volcano eruption of September 19 which destroyed hundreds of homes and led to the evacuation of thousands of locals but La Gomera and the rest of the Canaries are very much open for business as usual.
After the difficulties of the Covid pandemic, which saw visitor numbers decimated, the local tourism industry is promoting La Gomera as a fabulous destination for active holidaymakers.
If you love the great outdoors, this spectacular island which measures just 22 by 25km has a stunning range of landscapes, from mountains and rain forest to sun-baked beaches and historic towns. And being small the whole island is easily accessible. We started our trip flying from Dublin to Tenerife where we spent one night at the plush H10 Conquistador Hotel in Playa De Las América before taking the 40 minute ferry to La Gomera the following morning from the Los Cristianos harbour.
The boat arrives in the island’s capital, San Sebastian, where we had a tour of its lovely narrow cobbled streets.
Christopher Columbus stopped here for a month before heading off to cross the Atlantic on September 6, 1492, discovering America. He was to visit the island two more times before successive expeditions to the New World and the house where he stayed is now a museum.
Another attraction is the Torre del Conde, a defensive tower built in the late 1440s to consolidate Spanish power over the local people known as Guanches. It’s the only fortress remaining from the conquest of the Canary Islands.
That period of bloody history came to an end on La Gomera in 1488 when four tribes united in rebellion but were defeated. A “hanging rock” can still be seen where some of the aborigine rebels met their end.
Fortunately, visitors today get a much warmer reception which we discovered when we visited the Archaeological Museum and the Church of the Assumption.
Out on a rocky peninsula we also visited a monument commemorating where the Olympic flame for the 1968 Games in Mexico came by as it passed through La Gomera on its way to the Americas.
Over the next few days we were to discover some of the beautiful natural sights dotted around this island of spectacular mountains and deep ravines.
One of the first was Los Roques Natural Monument, a viewing area for an impressive array of giant rock formations which have been cut out of the volcanic earth by erosion.
Right in the middle of the island and part of the Garajonay National Park the eerie outcrop is surrounded by laurel rain forest usually covered in mist because of the altitude, adding to the other-worldliness.
Over half the island’s drinking water comes from condensation from these fogs which falls from the waxy leaves and is collected in water channels to feed the vineyards, orchards and banana fields at lower levels.
Most visitors who come to La Gomera come for the walking and the 600km of trails and so the Garajonay National Park is the top attraction.
It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 and the 40sq km park attracts nearly half a million visitors a year.
We hiked through the El Cedro forest in the park, which thrives because of the high humidity.
Garajonat is named after a massive rock of the same name, the highest point on the island at 1,487 metres (4,879 ft), and boasts 18 different trails with terrific views.
Another stunning vantage point not to be missed is a glass floor walkway called the Mirador de Abrante which sticks out from the top of a 620m cliff above Agulo in the north east of the island.
The view beneath your feet is at once terrifying and exhilarating although it might not be for everyone.
We enjoyed a hearty lunch in the adjoining restaurant terrace which has spectacular views of the Mount Teide volcano on neighbouring Tenerife just across the water.
We were also treated to a lesson in La Gomera’s unique whistle language called “Silbo Gomero” which dates back to Roman times and which allowed locals to communicate across deep ravines.
Children now learn this way of communication, which only exists in La Gomera, at school to ensure it is preserved for posterity.
As we drove around the island we marvelled at the stone terracing on almost vertical slopes which enabled locals to grow their crops for centuries. Sadly, much of it has now been abandoned because of drought but remains protected.
La Gomera is worlds apart from its sister islands where the emphasis is often on mass tourisms and beach holidays.
It attracts just one per cent of visitors to the Canaries making it a secret paradise for those who love nature and authentic vacations in a perfect climate ranging from 18C in winter to 24C in summer.
Our base was the beautiful Jardin Tecina Hotel which sits atop a cliff with a lift down to the sea below. Views from the balcony terrace where we had our meals were to die for and the staff in this low-rise garden of Eden were extremely friendly.
LOCATION: La Gomera, Canary Islands, Spain
■ INFORMATION from lagomera.travel
■ Ryanair fly to Tenerife: ryanair.com
■ Fred Olsen Ferry to island: fredolsen.es
■ Hotel: jardin-tecina.com
■ Pura Vida boat: lagomerapuravida.com
■ Lovely towns to visit include Agulo, Vallehermoso, Imada and Chipude, and we did a great hike from El Rumbazo to Targa.
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