Where Explorers Go: Alternative Canaries Holidays

For most of us, Spain’s Canary Islands conjure up images of crammed tourist joints and beaches. But there is an alternative side to the islands. Or in fact, three of them!

La Gomera, La Graciosa and El Hierro Islands, part of Spain’s Canaries, are the archipelago’s lesser-known destinations, mostly favoured by trekkers, artists and the occasional documentary film crew. Getting to these islands is not as straightforward as flying to a large international airport, but if you get a flight to one of the main islands or rent a car in Spain, you can reach these distant Atlantic beauty spots by ferry.

La Gomera

There are few places in the world that combine volcanic landscape, thick jungle and green farmland. La Gomera is a destination that outdoor enthusiasts can return to more than once and still find new areas of beauty. Diving, mountain biking, trekking and ravine climbing are just a few of the popular sports on the island; guided treks and climbs are available from the capital, San Sebastian.

La Gomera is an almost perfectly circular volcanic formation in the Atlantic Ocean, with the highest point right in the middle of the island reaching 4,879 ft. The top is almost always covered in mist and to get there, you must first cross thick pre Ice Age woodland that covers much of the island. If you take a walk in the forest, you can still hear people communicating in coded “whistle speech”. This is a whistled language the islanders have been using since the Roman times, to reach each other across the ravines and through thick jungle.

La Gomera also offers beautiful black pebble beaches and in San Sebastian you’ll find good restaurants and hotels, should you want to nip back to civilization…

Getting to La Gomera

  • Airport: La Gomera, reached by “island hopper” flights from Tenerife and Gran Canaria; Binternet Airlines, Tel. (+34) 902 39 13 92 and Islas Airways, Tel. (+34) 902 47 74 78
  • Ferry: High speed ferries from Tenerife, Gran Canaria and el Hierro go to San Sebastian; Fred Olsen Ferries, Tel. (+34) 902 100 107; price 53€
  • Car hire: is available at El Hierro Airport, Gran Canaria and Tenerife

La Graciosa

The island’s name, in Spanish, means “the cute one”. This refers to La Graciosa’s miniscule size. Although the island’s interior is arid, the coastline and waters are known for the naturally beautiful coves and beaches, as well as the rich marine wildlife that attract nature lovers and divers.

La Graciosa provides a perfect holiday for those wishing to see ocean species like whales or dolphins, snorkeling or just exploring numerous secluded beaches in peace and privacy.

As the island has less than one thousand inhabitants, it definitely guarantees a quiet holiday away from the madding crowd. Because La Graciosa only has dirt roads, visitors arriving in rental vehicles are recommended to hire a four-wheel drive.

Getting to La Graciosa

  • Nearest airport: On Lanzarote, served by several international airlines
  • Ferry: From Lanzarote to La Graciosa, Lineas Romero Ferries; Tel. (+34) 928 596 107, Run from Orzola, Lanzarote; about 20€ one way
  • Car hire: Available at Lanzarote Airport

El Hierro

Two thirds of El Hierro is designated nature reserve, or “Biosphere”, overseen by UNESCO. The island’s volcanic rock formations provide a desolate yet sensational backdrop to El Hierro’s protected and often unique flora and fauna.

Hiking is a highly recommended activity on the island: explore its vast areas of evergreen forests, black sand beaches and natural volcanic rock pools. Valverde, or “Green Valley”, is the name of the central plateau province where you’ll find green farmland and El Hierro’s capital, also called Valverde.

At the westernmost point stands El Hierro’s 17th century lighthouse, originally placed there to represent the ‘0’ meridian, until the line was moved to Greenwich in 1885. This is why El Hierro was often referred to as the “Meridien Island” by 17th and 18th century sea navigators.

Getting there

  • Airport: “Island hopper” flights connect Valverde with Tenerife and Gran Canaria; Binternet Airlines, Tel. (+34) 902 39 13 92 and Islas Airways, Tel. (+34) 902 47 74 78
  • Ferry: El Hierro’s ferry port is in Puerto de la Estaca; the ferry takes 2 hours from Los Cristianos in Tenerife; price 47€
  • Car hire: Available at El Hierro Airport, Tenerife and Gran Canaria
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