Garajonay as seen from the Fortaleza ascent route
Garajonay is La Gomera's highest mountain, the highpoint to the secon smallest island of the Islas Canarias
. As a mountain it is a bit of an anticlimax, resembling a tree covered hill, rather than an impressive mountain with tall faces. But taken in the context of the whole island which steadily rises to culminate in Garajonay's summit, things look a bit different. The island is located on a large shelf west of the African coast together with its six sister islands. This shelf lies some 2000m beneath the ocean floor and out of it rise the seven islands like the very steep volcanoes, which in fact they are.
La Gomera's volcanic activity took place in some forgotten era in the past and ended 2 Million years ago. Huge clefts opened and giant amounts of volcanic material were emitted. There are The activity moved from north to south, creating a giant circular cone, mainly out of debris - cinder and scree. Then volcanic activity stopped and erosion took over, forming the fifty (odd) canyons (barrancos) which nowadays run from the centre of the island towards the sea. Most of them start close to the highpoint, Garajonay.
Garajonay is a typical cinder cone, though little betrays this origin now. A large cloud forest covers the whole area, making no exception with the island's highpoint. The underlying rock (or scree) structure can barely be seen and once you have been in this laurisilva forest you will understand that seeing is a special challenge here. The small trees are so densly woven into each other that sunlight barely makes it through the topmost layers. Add the usual trade wind cloud cover and you'll be dropped in darkness on the brightest day.
Thus Garajonay gave its name to the only national park on the island, the Parque National de Garajonay, 4000ha set aside to protect this fragile environment. 4000ha are 10% of the overall area of the island which signifies the importance of the whole region. Moreover UNESCO has declared the park World Heritage Site.
Garajonay was sacred to the pre-Hispanic inhabitants of La Gomera, the Guanches, a people which settled on all the Canarian islands coming from Africa. They placed a sanctuary on its top, the remainders of which have been reconstructed and now form two concentric stone circles. It is believed that the Guanches sacrificed animals and humans there.
As for the name, there is an old legend, saying that the children of two of the Guanche Kings fell in love with each other. Gara was the princess from La Gomera, Jonay the Prince from Tenerife. When it became evident that neither parents would approve of their connection they fled to the highest mountain of La Gomera killing each other by sword. Ever since the mountain has carried their names.
Garajonay as seen during the Fortaleza ascent
In contrast to the large Canarian Islands, La Gomera and El Hierro don't have international airports. Reaching the islands therefore means switching to a local carrier at Tenerife (or any of the other Canarian islands) or use a ferry. Since weather is known to be unstable at the La Gomeran airport near Playa de Santiago, most travel offices will offer the ferry option.
Usually you will be able to book a flight to Tenerife South together with a bus transfer to the harbour at Los Christianos and the ferry to San Sebastian de La Gomera (bus transfer to your hotel on La Gomera is also included).If you want to travel on your own you can use ferries from either La Palma or Los Christianos and Santa Cruz on Tenerife.
Garajonay can be very easily reached. A road, the Carretera del Centro (TF713) runs by close to its summit and on a fine day the parking lots will be easy to find thanks to the many cars parked beside the road. The shortest ascent takes some 20 minutes but there are better options (see routes). From San Sebastian de Tenerife, the island capital, just follow the signs to Valle Gran Rey. They will lead you onto TF713 and thus to the summit.
In my opinion the best trailhead for Garajonay is at Chipude to the south-west of the mountain. There are two routes - one through the dense Laurisiva cloud forest, one along a beautiful and panoramic traverse above the Barranco del Erque. You reach Chipude by leaving TF713 at the next possible intersection west of Garajonay. The side road leads through Igualero to Chipude.
Guanche sanctuary on the summit of Garajonay
Yes, there is red tape, though it is amazing for such a popular mountain with a radio station on its side summit and trash bins near the top. Garajonay is at the southern tip of the Parque National de Garajonay, a national park set aside for the Laurisilva region, the largest remaining cloud forest of the Canaries. It is a magical place, this Laurisilva. Very dark, very humid, trees with long beards of moss and lichen.
In this area all kinds of activities are restricted to the recreation areas (Garajonay is one) and the paths and roads. Open fire is strictly forbidden, as well as camping overnight. Refuse has to be removed and plants have to stay where they grow.
Of course you can find a lot of hotels, fincas and casas on the island which you can book from any travel office. There are no close towns or villages, the closest is Igualero to the south of the mountain. However, you won't find accommodation there. Rather head for the tourist spots in Valle Gran Rey or Playa de Santiago.
Teide seen from Garajonay through the clouds
There are few sites on the web, which deal with the weather for La Gomera. The island just is not very popular with the tourist crowd. The ones you can find are for San Sebastian, which is located half an island away to the east of the mountain. Temperatures at the coast are some 15 degrees lower than in the Laurisilva. With fog and high winds this difference can increase a lot. Be sure to always bring windproof clothes to Garajonay, its top can be very stormy.
The following table gives a rough general overview over the weather on La Gomera, at sea level.
|Avg. day temp.[°C / °F]||20 / 68||20 / 68||21 / 70||22 / 72||23 / 73||25 / 77||27 / 81||29 / 84||27 / 81||25 / 77||23 / 73||21 / 70|
|Avg. night temp.[°C / °F]||15 / 59||15 / 59||15 / 59||16 / 61||16 / 61||18 / 64||20 / 68||22 / 72||21 / 70||20 / 68||17 / 63||17 / 63|
|Water temp.[°C / °F]||19 / 66||19 / 66||19 / 66||19 / 66||20 / 68||21 / 70||22 / 72||23 / 73||23 / 73||22 / 72||22 / 72||21 / 70|
The Canarian Islands (as well as Madeira) are located in the trade wind zone. You almost always encounter northeastern winds which carry a lot of humid air. Being forced to climb to higher altitudes this moisture condenses into clouds. This in return means that most of the time the northeastern part of the islands is covered in clouds from altitudes of 1000m through 1500m.
The mountainous region in the centre of the island is of the same alltitude and thus stops the clouds. While the northern parts of the islands can be foggy and rainy the southern parts most often are sunny and hot. On La Gomera the centre of the island collects almost all moisture in a big cloud forest, the laurisilva. It is the largest consecutive cloud forest on any of the Canarian islands and has been declared world heritage site.
Maps & Books
Out of the multitude of maps and books I have been using the following. However, so far I have not
found a good hiking map of the island. The one posted here is ok but shows only a fraction of the marked hiking trails.
- La Gomera
Kompass Map WK231
- La Gomera
Klaus Wolfsperger / Annette Miehle-Wolfsperger
ISBN 3-7633-4007-6 (German)
ISBN 3-7633-4823-9 (English)