9. La Gomera (7 – 18 Mar 2014)

On our way from Santa Cruz in Tenerife to La Gomera we stopped off in Las Galletas marina. While this harbour was fairly full of local and charter boats, we had no problem getting a berth although we are told that it would be significantly more difficult in high season (June to November).
           Route from Tenerife to La Gomera and back     

We stopped in order to watch the penultimate weekend of the Six Nations Rugby.  Subsequently we had to sail back to Tenerife from La Gomera to watch the finals since the Spanish bars in La Gomera do not show rugby matches. (Football yes, rugby no!)  However, Taylors’ Sports Bar in Los Cristianos, Tenerife, caters for the Brit Abroad with nineteen TV screens showing all sports and serving British food!  

Taylors Sports Bar in Los Cristianos 
    where we watched the Six Nations Rugby        

Until relatively recently an overcrowded fishing harbour and anchorage with little room for yachts, Las Galletas on the southeast corner of Tenerife has been transformed into a medium-sized, privately owned marina which caters for local fishing, charter and pleasure boats and, to a much lesser extent, visiting yachts. The adjacent town is a predominantly Spanish resort and retains a pleasant local atmosphere.  

Las Galletas harbour    

Spanish resort of Las Galletas seafront and beach

On our return from La Gomera to Tenerife (to watch the rugby), we stopped at Los Gigantes.  We went there in the hope that, after the rugby, the prevailing northeast winds would continue and we’d get a better angle to the wind on our way to the island of La Palma – our next port of call.  

Route La Gomera to La Palma

The highlight of our passages from Santa Cruz de Tenerife to Los Gigantes was being surrounded by a large pod of dolphins that played around the bow for half an hour. 

Video footage of dolphins playing 
around Island Drifter’s bow

Los Gigantes marina was constructed as part of a major tourist development. As a consequence it is mostly full of pleasure craft (jet skis, ‘pirate’ ships, whale and dolphin watching, etc.) together with local motorboats.  The marina is situated at the southern end of the Teno Mountains and is towered over by the enormous cliffs from which the town gets its name.   

Los Gigantes town and marina viewed from road above

Unfortunately the cliffs reflect swell, making entry and exit from the marina difficult in bad weather – particularly since the entrance sill silts up and gives a depth at low water springs of less than 2 metres. It’s also a bit of a slalom course with an inner breakwater.

Exit from Los Gigantes marina

The town itself is purpose built for tourism.  The hotels and apartment blocks are landscaped into the hillside and most have balconies facing the sun.  The small grey sand and pebble beaches are limited so there are swimming complexes throughout the town. 

Los Gigantes town built into the hillside above the marina

In La Gomera we berthed at the private marina at the end of San Sebastián harbour, the only commercial, ferry and cruise liner port on the island.   It is in a bay protected by steep headlands at either end and is said to be the finest natural harbour in the Canaries.  Being on the southeast corner it avoids the year-round buffeting by rain-filled north-easterly trade winds that the north coast receives.

San Sebastián in La Gomera: town and harbour, 
viewed from hills above

We’d been to La Gomera before. The first time was in 1998 when we delivered a brand-new Jeanneau from La Rochelle on the Atlantic southwest coast of France to a Sailing School/Charter company on the island.  (From there Mike picked up another – 4-month long! – delivery of a Brewer yacht from La Gomera across the Pond, through the Panama Canal, up the Pacific coast of Mexico to San Diego). On the second occasion, in 1999/2000, we spent Christmas and the Millennium New Year in the marina, where we based ourselves prior to our first Atlantic Circuit in Island Drifter.  On both occasions Mike ended up in the local hospital – the first time with a dirty fishhook through his upper arm and the second time with a nasty case of boom rash!

Closer view of Marina San Sebastián

The marina is situated right on the edge of the pleasant town of San Sebastián, where there is some interesting architecture, particularly Spanish baroque- and Moorish-style pantiled houses with shaded courtyards. The main square, where we’d celebrated the Millennium, is spacious and a meeting point for the town’s inhabitants.  Enormous ficus trees shade the central area.

The Atlantic Rowing Challenge leaves from La Gomera each year.   One of the bars on the edge of the main square has been appointed the unofficial social headquarters for the competitors.   

Atlantic rowers leaving La Gomera

Near to the island’s capital of San Sebastián, there is a vast forest, the Bosque del Cerdo, where mastic gum trees (from which the island gets its name), pines and lichen-encrusted laurisilva abound.  

                            Bosque [forest] del Cerdo 
                    in mountains above San Sebastián

San Sebastián’s (and indeed La Gomera’s) principal claim to international fame is that it was Christopher Columbus’s final port of call before his historic crossing of the Atlantic in 1492.   He called in with his three boats for final provisioning and to fill up with the island’s excellent natural water. Even today the island is self sufficient for water and has no need for a desalination plant.  

Church of the Assumption in San Sebastián which Columbus attended with his crew prior to their historic Atlantic crossing in 1492

Columbus returned to San Sebastián to provision for his following two expeditions to the New World. While the availability of good drinking water was clearly a major reason for his visit, the presence on the island of an old flame, Beatrix de Bobadilla, is generally considered to have been another consideration. At the time she was holed up in the Torre del Conde (now the oldest remaining building in the Canaries, constructed in 1447) following the murder of her husband by the native Guanches.

 Remains of Torre del Conde, 
oldest remaining building in the Canaries

The island’s other connection with the New World is that many of its inhabitants have emigrated to Venezuela over the last few centuries.

La Gomera's very small airport opened in 1999 for inter-island flights only. However, almost all daytrippers and longer-term visitors still reach the island by boat – these days on the 90-minute ferry or 30-minute express catamaran service from Tenerife. This isolation and the lack of good sandy beaches keeps many would-be tourists at arm’s length and has ensured that the island remains unspoilt by mass tourism.

Visitors go to La Gomera for the dramatic scenery and for the island’s tranquil, relaxed atmosphere and way of life.  Apart from the energetic hikers, the island has a laid-back air about it that even Tenerife’s most remote corners cannot match.  There are only around 24,000 permanent residents on the island.

Gomeran scenery:    

La Gomera is almost circular in shape, covers an area of 372 square kilometres (Tenerife – 2050) and stretches 26 kilometres at its longest point (Tenerife – 86). It is the second smallest of the seven major islands in the archipelago, is the wettest and greenest of them all and is still comparatively wild.

Google Earth view of La Gomera

Geologically it is an extinct volcano that has formed a high plateau and six peaks. Steep jagged ridges and enormously deep barrancos [ravines] radiate from the centre to the sea.  At the barrancos’ mouths alluvial plains have often formed and where small agricultural villages have evolved to take advantage of the water from the highlands. 
Ravines and Ridges:

The island is ringed with steep cliffs and small dark pebbled/sandy beaches at the mouths of the ravines. 

Typical black sandy beach at mouth of a barranco

Approximately half of the upper slopes of the island are covered with cloud forest.  

                          Cloud forest, La Gomera, 
with Tenerife’s Mount Teide in background

Because the rugged terrain and its inaccessibility made communications difficult, the Gomeros developed a unique form of whistling language – El Siblo – to talk over long distances.  Although the language is not needed today, a Gomero will attract a friend’s attention by whistling rather than calling his name, using a different combination of notes to indicate the name of the person.  To ensure that El Siblo does not die out, it has been introduced as a compulsory subject in schools. 

 A Gomeran whistler

One “main” road rises up from San Sebastián to ring the National Park at the island’s centre, with spur roads off to half a dozen small “major” villages – most of which are relatively close to a small black sandy beach from where their local fishing boats still operate. The rest of the rural population live in small hamlets spread across the island and farm their terraced land.

Overview of La Gomera’s roads, 
principal villages and ports    

The National Park which covers some 9850 acres was set up in 1981 and the forests of La Gomera were designated a World Heritage Site in 1989.  Its highest point is Mount Garajonay at 1487 metres.  The upper slopes are covered with cloud forest and dominated by laurisilva and erica arborea (tree heather).

Cloud forest: lichen-encrusted branches 

In addition to the harbour at San Sebastián there are two small ports and pleasant holiday resorts at Santiago to the south and Valle Gran Rey to the west. Both are full of local boats on moorings, but in each case the harbour master was happy for us to stay for a short period against the large breakwater walls protecting the ports. However, there are no facilities. In addition there are a number of anchorages in protected bays around the south of the island that could be used but only in settled weather.

Santiago port viewed from road above
Santiago beach and apartments

Valle Gran Rey town and port viewed from the mountain – just before we started to descend 
the next very steep 1000 metres!

Valle Gran Rey showing alluvial plain 
at mouth of the barranco

The hiking opportunities are fantastic.  The main settlements are located near the sea but the roads linking them have to cross the high, forested regions of the island. There is no coastal road because dozens of steep-sided rocky ravines would have to be negotiated. Walkers, on the other hand, can enjoy trekking in and out of the canyon-like barrancos and crossing the high ridges between. Official routes, which are well signposted with internationally recognised symbols, crisscross the island. The excellent local bus service provides the means for walkers to get to the start and from the finish of their walks.  Drivers will even drop one off on request between official stops.
Helen on descent to Valle Gran Rey

  A typical woodland path in La Gomera
Paddy McCarter, the sister-in-law of a childhood friend of Helen’s, and her husband Andy keep a yacht in the marina.  They own and run "Gomera Walking" for the winter six months of the year. [See:]  We were very pleased to be able to meet up with them and to discuss the island of which they have an extensive knowledge.
Andy and Paddy, ©

The GR131 crosses La Gomera, offering a coast-to-coast route.  This route also crosses each of the other six islands providing a long-distance hiking challenge for enthusiasts. As with all other islands, there is also a circular long-distance route, in this case the GR132, around the island itself.  It is said to take anything up to a week to complete.

Helen walking along the GR131

We are now in Santa Cruz in the island of La Palma, having had an excellent sail on a beam reach for the sixty miles from Los Gigantes.  We’re looking forward to exploring this island which is known as “La Isla Bonita” – the Beautiful Island.   


Video footage of a pleasant sail 
 on a beam reach towards La Palma


  1. Nice.... :) enjoy Your trip and sail safe, look forward to next blog :)

    Randi, Ulf, Siv, Jens, Eirill, Iver and Isak

    1. Hello! Good to hear from you again. Hope the children have another profitable year selling YOUR fish in Hovden. Keep in touch!

    2. WONDERFUL pictures (Gomeran scenery and Cloud forest); minicharts; especially two Videos. Not much 'foodie stuff' this time, but that's better for my waistline :-) Love to all aboard. Grahame & Monica (Bermuda)

  2. Thank you for your most informative commentary. Together with friends I'm chartering a Bavaria out of Las Galletas in May 2015 as a change from Croatia and was persuaded by your article to switch over generally to your passage plan from our original Plan A (Gran Canaria) which is now B!

  3. Glad you found our Blog of use. We write it as a communication tool for friends and also for cruisers like yourself since we have often found other people's blogs to be helpful when planning passages. Enjoy your charter next year!