Garajonay National Park occupies the central-north side of La Gomera, one of the smallest of the Canary Islands. Very much loved by Germans and hippies, this island is known for its wild rustic style and peaceful forests.
Garajonay National Park has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 and it is visited by more than 400.000 tourists every year. It is also one of the few places in the Canary Islands with streams and pools of water.
The legend of Gara and Jonay
The Park is named after the Garajonay rock which is, with its 1487 metres, the highest point of the Island. And this rock takes its name from the fable of Gara and Jonay.
Gara was the princess of Agulo, a town in the North-East of the Island and Jonay was the son of a peasant from Tenerife. The two met and fell in love but a priest predicted the doom of their love in the shape of fire. As soon as their engagement was announced, the Volcano Teide, visible from La Gomera, started to erupt. The two families cancelled the wedding and Jonay was forced to go back to Tenerife leaving his lover behind.
One night he swam all the way from Tenerife to La Gomera to see Gara one more time. They fled to the forest, high up in the mountains. The families organized a search party and, as every Romeo and Juliet kind of love story, there was no happy ending. When Gara and Jonay felt trapped, they decided to die together rather than be separated again.
The 2012 fire
In the summer of 2012, a huge wildfire started burning the ancient forests of La Gomera. The fire emergency continued for weeks. Almost 20% of Garajonay National Park was seriously impacted by the damage and many houses in the north of the island were destroyed.
The rangers worked hard to clean up and restore the National Park. And during my visit 8 years after the fire, I can saw how powerful nature is. The signs of the burned areas are still clearly visible, but new trees are growing everywhere. The forest is taking back her territories ones more.
What to see and do in Garajonay National Park
Besides relaxing on the beach, hiking is the major activity in La Gomera. In the Garajonay National Park, there are dozens of paths, deep down in the thick woods or higher up, in the dry landscape. There’s an information centre in Laguna Grande, but it’s curiously closed during the weekends.
Hiking in the Forests
The forests of La Gomera are very old and rich. The most common is the Laurel Forest, a subtropical rainforest with laurel trees, typical of very humid and mild temperature all year around.
The many paths available for hiking are not always very clear and well kept. Make sure you do some research before starting your hike, or you might end up in a dead-end due to a not signalled landslide.
Between all the possibilities of hiking in La Gomera, I’d like to mention two areas I particularly liked, both within the Garajonay National Park.
Alto de Garajonay, at 1487m, is the highest point of the island. The paths are mostly dry with bushes and short trees. From the very top, there’s a beautiful view of the forest and, with some luck, it’s also possible to see Tenerife’s volcano Teide. You can also still clearly see how far the fire of 2012 reached.
Another amazing place is El Cedro Forest. It’s a very thick forest with quite a few paths to choose from. The most interesting fact about it is the presence of running water, which is a rather unique element in Canary Islands. Here, the humidity in the air moves around with the wind until it hits the slopes and the trees. The phenomenon is called horizontal rain and it’s the case of the fairytale look of this forest.
The Fortaleza de Chipute
As other rock formations in La Gomera, La Fortaleza is a eroded volcano in the north of the island. It was considered a sacred place and pilgrims’ destination by the natives. It has also been used as a safe refuge from pirates and other invaders, thanks to a single path that reaches the top. During recent excavations, remains were found of men dwelling in this area more than 1500 years ago.
Flora and fauna
For the botanic lovers, La Gomera and its Garajonay National Park are a very interesting destination. The forests are very ancient: studies say they are just like the subtropical forests that covered Africa and Europe millions of years ago. They are also unique for two more reasons: they are very diverse and they also have endemic plants.
Garajonay has endemic animals as well: birds, bats and reptiles.
Outside the national park: cities and viewpoints
At the borders of Garajonay National Park, there are plenty of small villages and panoramic viewpoints worth visiting. I loved the rural feeling of El Cercado, Las Casas and Agulo, on the north-west of La Gomera. Not far from this last one, the Mirador de Abrante, with its glass terrace, is a must-see viewpoint. Another interesting viewpoint is Mirador Del Morro de Agando which you can reach on foot from the nearby Mirador de Tajaqué. The short walk goes on a funny bridge over the main road and ends up on a 360° platform with a stunning view. Last but not least, on the north-west side of the island, stopping on the road Camino La Quintana, there are few as beautiful as windy good spots to enjoy the sunset.