I was probably driving a little too fast when the traffic lights turned red. It was the first tarmac straight that I had seen for a while, having spent the last forty-five minutes carefully navigating a series of nervous hairpin turns that would suit the Monaco Grand Prix perfectly.
After stopping three more times, it finally turns out that these lights scattered around La Gomera, the second smallest island in the Canaries, aren’t there to handle traffic, and neither are they in use. to let people cross the road. They are there to remind you to slow down.
Welcome to one of the most remote islands of the Canary Islands
Like the other islands of this archipelago, La Gomera is a beautiful result of ancient volcanic activity. However, it stays far from its bustling neighbor of Tenerife – an island of one million people renowned for its nightlife and sprawling seaside resorts – mainly due to its modern and chaotic deep ravines (known locally as ” barrancos “) and its valleys which were suitable for agricultural purposes. Only 20,000 people call this island – which measures about 22 km in diameter – their home.
The topography of La Gomera is so difficult to navigate that the locals have even developed their own whistling language: Silbo Gomero. The idea was that the inhabitants (especially the farmers) could have communicated important messages to each other, even if they were several kilometers apart. The whistles reverberated through the deep gorges of the island and went far beyond the screams.
In the 1950s, modern technological advancements, such as cell phones, pushed Silbo Gomero to the brink of extinction. It is rarely used in everyday life, but remains protected by UNESCO and since 1999 has been a compulsory subject taught in schools.
Insensitive to the modern world
As you can see, this island has always had a penchant for the unconventional. To this day, there remains a piece of land in the Atlantic largely untouched by the modern world: there are no McDonald’s, no Starbucks, and you also won’t find other global companies advertising on road signs. There are no nightclubs, boat parties or huge hotel complexes; instead, there are walking trails, natural rock formations, and a subtropical rainforest.
Unlike the festive atmosphere of Tenerife, in La Gomera there are continuous reminders to slow down at every turn. Lookouts (“watchtowers”) provide a brief respite from winding roads like those between the island capital of San Sebastián and the hippie seaside town of Valle Gran Rey (of which the latter, by the way, is one of the best). European sunset viewing sites).
What to do in La Gomera
On La Gomera you will also find more than 600 km of hiking trails for all levels: the whole island is a biosphere reserve. Its main attraction is its rainforest, Garajonay National Park, a rare southern European example of laurel forest with the El Cedro forest at its heart. Due to climate change, this type of lush vegetation has practically disappeared in Europe, with the exception of some islands in Macaronesia.
Garajonay offers the ideal climate for walking; Canopies of hundred-year-old trees shield you from the thundering Canarian sun, while the constant runoff of cloud precipitation keeps you cool. Now firmly a tourist attraction, these hiking trails are very popular as they were once used by the locals who lived in the park – walk through the forest of El Cedro and you might come across the picturesque Ermita de Lourdes white chapel, where , believe it or not, some people still get married.
Those looking to cool off even more should head to the famous black sand beaches of the island. La Gomera has three Blue Flag beaches (Alajeró in Santiago; La Cueva and San Sebastián in San Sebastián) where it is possible to swim in the sea all year round. Some beaches, especially those in the north of the island, are generally not safe for swimming as the Atlantic is too wild – although there is an outdoor pool in Hermigua.
Surprisingly, only 1% of all visitors to the Canary Islands make it to La Gomera. This wild and natural island continues to be sheltered from mass tourism and therefore is the perfect place to detach from the real world, relax and slow down… even if you need the traffic lights to remind you.