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El Hierro is the smallest island of the Canary Islands. El Hierro is a tiny planet, where you can find all the possible climates and landscapes (except the polar), from the desert around La Restinga to the most exuberant tropical in the Valverde area, without forgetting the beautiful and shocking volcanic landscapes.

Understand

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Iglesia de la Concepción in Valverde
Biosphere Reserve Isla de El Hierro

It is the most western island of the Spaniard territory, and for long time, it was considered the end of the known world, where the zero meridian went through. Longitudes for locations were given as degrees east of the Ferro meridian. It was home to about 11,700 people in 2023, and covers 278 km².

The remoteness has meant that development has arrived later to El Hierro than for instance to the other Canary Islands. The island got an electrical grid in the 1970s, still in the 1980s there were hardly any cars, and most roads were paved only in the 21st century. The shortcut between the island's two biggest villages, the 2,240 m long Los Roquillos tunnel was built in 2003. As such, visiting the island can feel like going back in time.

In 2000, El Hierro was declared a Biosphere Reserve (the status was upgraded to geopark in 2014) by UNESCO which implies that most of the fauna and flora are protected. Also the coast is included in the Reserve, all the underwater life is protected. But being a Biosphere Reserve has some inconveniences, like the prohibition of camping or collecting fruits and fish from the nature.

Talk

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The main language is Castilian Spanish, more exactly Canarian Spanish. As the Canary Islands have been a tourist destination for a long time, you can mostly get by in English.

Flora and fauna

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El Hierro's size and geography supports entirely endemic species including the critically endangered El Hierro giant lizard (Gallotia simonyi), for which there is a captive breeding programme, allowing its reintroduction.

The non-barren parts of the interior rely on relief precipitation, not much more than the average of 19 rainfall days per year, high relative humidity and geothermal springs. This non-arid parts have thermophilous (geothermal heat-liking) juniper clumps and a pine forest with other evergreens. Several species of lesser known beaked whales live around the island.

Landscape

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El Golfo, Frontera and el Campanario

Like the rest of the Canary Islands chain, El Hierro is volcanic and sharply mountainous. The highest summit is Pico de Malpaso, 1501 m ASL. One eruption has to date been recorded on the island: from the Volcan de Lomo Negro vent in 1793, lasting a month. Between 2011 and 2012 a volcano was bubbling in the ocean south of El Hierro. Except as landscaped at its harbour towns the shore is rocky and in places precipitous.

Across the island goes the Cumbre, a forested volcanic mountain range. In the northeast is another plateau, in the northwest the El Golfo valley and in the southwest the slopes of El Julán. The landscape shows great contrasts: on one hand much of the island is high above the sea and steep cliffs make up most of the coastline, though on the other hand the highland is quite even and composed of fertile farmland.

Climate

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See also: Canary Islands#Climate

Its Atlantic location makes it the first breaker of the trade winds, which is not uncommon for fog and abundant cloudiness in its northern part, especially in the capital Valverde and its surroundings.

In the west of El Hierro

Tourist information

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Towns

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  • 2 Valverde. The capital of the island, green around the year, true to its name. It's the only island capital on the Canary Islands that's not on the coast. The island's cultural events such as concerts, presentations and performances take place here. The island government buildings are here, as are the island's hospital and tourist information center. Attractions include the church and the wind power farm and hydroelectric plant providing the island with electricity. Valverde (Q1853429) on Wikidata Valverde, Santa Cruz de Tenerife on Wikipedia
  • 3 Frontera. The second most populous village, rather new, in El Golfo valley with a sizeable German community. Like in Valverde, there are a few bars and restaurants. The main sight is the bell tower that is prominently perched on a hill. From there you can enjoy great views to the Atlantic and to the banana and pineapple farms surrounding the village. Valverde (Q1853429) on Wikidata Valverde, Santa Cruz de Tenerife on Wikipedia
  • 4 Restinga. The main harbor in the south of the island, laid out like a chessboard. As of early 2023 ferries don't arrive here, but instead in Puerto de la Estaca near Valverde. It was planned to become a seaside resort, something that didn't materialize. In Restinga you can find many fish restaurants and diving shops. La Restinga (Q592233) on Wikidata La Restinga on Wikipedia
  • 5 El Pinar. Made up of the villages Las Casas and Taibique, El Pinar mostly is a starting point for trekking. Nearby is Hoya del Morcillo, the only official campsite on El Hierro. El Pinar (Q1324548) on Wikidata El Pinar del Hierro on Wikipedia

Get in

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By plane

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BinterCanarias flies to El Hierro
  • 1 El Hierro Airport (VDE  IATA), Camino Cangrejo. A very small airport and is only served by Binter Canarias as of early 2023. Binter operates one daily flight from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (flight time is 55 minutes) and four from Tenerife North Airport (flight time is 40 minutes). Coming directly from outside the Canary Islands, consider flying via Las Palmas as Tenerife North mostly has domestic flights, often requiring an extra transfer in Madrid or Barcelona or a bus or taxi trip from Tenerife South. El Hierro Airport (Q1431249) on Wikidata El Hierro Airport on Wikipedia

By boat

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Naviera Armas sails from Los Cristianos in Tenerife to Valverde (2 hours 30 minutes, one sailing a day).

Get around

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The Túnel de Los Roquillos on the HI-5 highway may only be transited by vehicles that have a license plate; not on foot, by bike, e-scooter, horseback or the like. There are manned control booths at the tunnel openings, and one of the tasks of the guards is to watch that nobody gets into the long tunnel by a slow mode of transportation. If you need to get through, hitchhike or take the bus.

By car

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A hire car is the best option for discovering the remote wilderness regions. They can be rented at the airport, in Valverde or Frontera. Reputable companies include CICAR, Cabrera Medina, PaylessCAR.

By thumb

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On this small island, it's easy to hitchhike. Locals do it all the time, regardless of age, and you won't need to wait for long for someone to offer you a ride.

By bike

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There are mountain bikes, e-bikes and normal bikes for rent. Some rental companies can bring the bike to your accommodation. The island is mountainous but the road tends to stay at the same level, if possible.

By bus

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In the Canarian fashion, buses are called guaguas. They're operated by Transhierro - check the route planner on their website to see how to get where you want to go.

By taxi

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Taxis run both day and night. Some operators include:

  • Taxi Transhierro, +34 92255-0729. The bus cooperative also offers taxi services.
  • Taxi Gustavo, Calle Tejeguate, Frontera. One taxi with room for six persions, usually a little cheaper than Transhierro.

See

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Faro de Orchilla

The island offers a rough and very varied nature. There is a lot of different vegetation and well-preserved, different volcanic-geological formations, for example huge fields with angular Aa lava and others with bread-like Pahoehoe lava (that's why the island has been a UNESCO since 2014 Geopark). Hiking is therefore highly recommended on El Hierro. Cave hikes or visits to the 50 or so El Hierros caves (often old lava tunnels) are also highly recommended.

The island's energy generation using five wind turbines south of Valverde is also interesting El Hierro 1 wind power stations and two water storage basins, 2 Upper reservoir and 3 Lower reservoir, which, in the form of a pumped storage power plant, serve as energy storage for days with little wind.

Impressive lookout points include the lookout point 4 Mirador de Bascos the viewpoint with a restaurant, 5 Mirador de la Peña, the lookout point and starting point for a beautiful hike into the valley 6 Mirador de Jinama (a good starting point for a hike into the valley), the lookout point 7 Mirador de Isora, and the highest mountain on the island, the 8 Malpaso Pico de Malpaso on Wikipedia.

  • 9 La Llanía. If you travel uphill the old road from Frontera, you will arrive to a flat area (llano means flat in Spanish) with a small parking lot and water source. From there, there are two hiking trails. One leads to a rainforest, and the other uphill to a volcanic crater and into a pine forest.
  • 10 Entrance to El Sabinar. El Sabinar is a forest of "sabina" threes - Phoenician junipers - at the western tip of the island. Nearby is the church Santuario de la Virgen de los Reyes.
  • 11 Orchilla lighthouse. At the southwestern corner of the island stands the lighthouse that once marked the point of the Ferro-meridian. Punta Orchilla Lighthouse (Q5856473) on Wikidata Punta Orchilla Lighthouse on Wikipedia
  • 12 El Julan archaeological site. Los Letreros. Here you can find traces of the Bimbaches, the first inhabitants of the island. It's in a region with few trees, accessible by foot only. There's a visitor center accessible by car, where you can learn about the people, the settlement and the rock inscriptions. The sites themselves may be accessed by tour only, which needs to be reserved at least one day ahead. Cultural Park El Julan (Q5822255) on Wikidata
  • 13 Casas Guinea and Lagartario. Two attractions near each other. The casas guineas is a museum village where you can see how people lived up until 50 years ago. The lagartatio is a home to giant lizards, looking like small dragons, that earlier were on the verge of extinction.

Do

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It is the ideal place to take a rest for a few days; relax, enjoy nature, and go on peaceful walks in a quiet environment. More active pursuits include bike or horse riding, hiking, paragliding, and scuba diving.

Hiking

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The Virgen de la Caridad chapel next to the foggy forest

You can hike a lot on Hierro. It is particularly worthwhile in winter and spring, as the island is wonderfully green and not too hot at this time.

The hikes in the Pinar forest (Canary pines), through the fairytale Brezal Fayal Fog Forest (cloud-milking tree heaths and Gagel trees) and through the famous Sabinar forest with its curved juniper trees are particularly recommended. It is also worth making a detour to Malpaso, the highest mountain on the island. You should also make a detour to 1 Mercader with its fire watchtower, which stands in the pine forest. You can also go from San Andrés to the holy, water-giving tree 2 Garoé/Arbol Santo hike. A must for every hiker is the ascent and descent of one of the old Mudanza trails from the Golfo valley to the plateau.

There are also several hiking guided tours available on-site, at the hotels, or at the Tourist Information in Valverde.

Swimming

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There are few beaches and they are small. The locals and also many tourists like to swim in the natural swimming pools, of which La Maceta is the most visited, where you almost always meet other people. The other seaside resorts are usually visited alone.

Golfo Valley (Frontera)

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  • 3 La Maceta bathing area. Walled natural swimming pool, most popular bathing resort in summer, well suited for lap swimming (fitness)
  • 4 Los Sargos bathing area. Wild natural swimming pools, made accessible by stairs and wooden walkways
  • 5 Charco Azul bathing area. Beautiful, blue (azul) seaside resort
  • 6 Cascadas del Mar swimming pool. Swimming pool integrated into nature, particularly suitable for children

Echedo

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  • 7 Charco Manso bathing area. Stony (round stones), remote, impressive rock formations.

Below El Mocanal

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  • 8 Bathing place Pozo de las Calcosas. With an old fishing village and a large solidified lava flow

Near the airport

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  • 9 La Caleta swimming pool. Sheltered bay, above with a couple of artificial, blue-tiled toddler pools
  • 10 Tamaduste bathing area. Very well protected deep bay, no waves at low tide, therefore also suitable for non-swimmers and children

Beaches

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Timijiraque Beach on the east coast - flat and popular with local surfers

East coast

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  • 11 Timijiraque - Very flat sandy beach, therefore suitable for children and surfers, the best beach for building sandcastles, ditches and walls in the sand, you can walk 50 m into the water and still stand, there is a bar nearby. Near the Puerto de la Estaca ferry terminal (drive through the tunnel)-

Quiet harbour beaches

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that are protected from waves by the harbour wall:

  • 12 La Restinga
  • 13 Puerto de la Estaca below Valverde, with several floating islands

Golfo Valley (Frontera)

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West of the Pozo de la Salud :

  • 14 Playa de Arenas Blancas, the only white beach (washed up bones and shells), looks a bit dirty due to the floating debris (wood, but also nets and plastic parts)

Far west

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In the far west, below the juniper forest (Sabinar):

  • 15 Playa Verodal remote, steep pebble beach, but with dangerous ocean currents, which is why it is only suitable for sunbathing from autumn to spring

Boat trips and diving

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There are 9 diving schools with their own boats in La Restinga in the summer 2018. Some of them also offer boat tours.

The island is advertised as a diving paradise in the travel guide because the southern part of the sea around the remote island is a statutory nature reserve in which the underwater photo competition Openfotosub takes place every year. Because of the reserve, a lot of species live there, and other ones go there to find food (whales, sharks, dolphins, turtles, etc.) You can buy your material or rent it. Each centre has its own boat to take scuba divers out to open water. The instructors, good experts of the underwater spots, will bring you to the most interesting places, passing through lava arches, visiting ballon-fish lairs, and a lot of other fascinating sensations.

  • Extra Divers, Avenida Maritima 2 (La Restinga), +34 628 849 350, . Boat trips for swimming and snorkelling on the calm Atlantic Ocean in Mar de las Calmas between La Restinga and the Faro de Orchilla lighthouse. German, English and Spanish are spoken.
  • Hierroaventura, Calle San Juan 9 (La Restinga), . In La Restinga, Fredi offers trips on his boat for a maximum of 13 passengers to the lighthouse (Faro de Orchilla) or to the Roque de Bonanza, if you are lucky, whale-watching (depending on the season) and the setting of the sun on the sea. Fredi speaks Spanish and English. €35 (2017).

Paragliding

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Almost all year round you can see paragliders (Spanish parapente) over Frontera, who plunge into the depths on the steep mountain slope from one of the four starting points at Frontera (about 1350 m above sea level) or at Sabinosa.

Tandem flight with Renán (Parapente El Hierro, Flying over El Hierro in tandem), Calle la Corredera, Frontera. Mobile: +34 630 169 253, email: elhierroparapente@yahoo.es . Renán Andrés Morales is a member of the Spanish national team of aerial acrobats. He speaks Spanish and very good English. The main landing point is on the meadow in front of the town hall in Frontera. Price: €90 (2018).

Caves

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Malpaso, the highest summit on the island

There are about 50 relatively long and branched lava tube caves on the volcanic island stretching several hundred metres — one is 6 km long — which you can explore. There are also countless living caves in which you can spend the night.

There are also guided cave walks in German, Spanish and English. Many different types of caves are offered for exploration: in some, you have to climb, in some crawl, in some, you can walk quite comfortably.

  • Cave Walks (Geological Cave Excursions El Hierro with Heidrun and Jörg), +34 661015635, . 6-7 hour excursions with interesting facts about the geology, volcanology, island formation and exploration of several caves in the languages ​​Spanish, English and German with your speleology team on El Hierro, Heidrun and Jörg. There's also a combined boat and cave tour, in cooperation with the diving school Extra Divers. €45.
  • CD Bajo Tierra El Hierro, the official cave association of El Hierro, offers visits to the island's lava tubes with its local speleologists. The participant then receives a certificate and documentation on the caves visited. Info by email in Spanish or English: bajotierraelhierro@gmail.com
  • El Hierro cave adventure (Aventuras en las Cuevas de El Hierro, guided cave hikes). Mobile: +34 666 953 587, email: buchung@hoehlenablebnis-el-hierro.com . 4-hour cave hikes and explorations including equipment. Price: €40 (2018)

Festivals

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The most important festival of El Hierro is the Bajada de la Virgen de los Reyes, held every four years, on the first Saturday of July (the 2021 event was canceled because of the COVID pandemic - the next will take place in 2025). During the festival, the Virgin of the Kings (Virgen de los Reyes, patron saint of the island of El Hierro) is taken from her sanctuary in La Dehesa (in the municipality of La Frontera) and carried to the capital of the island, Valverde, making a tour of 44 km and running through all the towns of El Hierro.

The annual festival of the Virgin is celebrated every September 24.

Buy

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The island isn't exactly a shopping destination. Most shops are geared towards the daily needs of the locals, such as supermarkets and hardware stores.

  • 2 Mi Regalo, C. Canónigo Leopoldo Morales armas (Villa de Valverde), +34 622 027884. M-F 9-19, Sa 9-13. Gift shop.

Eat

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In much of the world quesadilla refers to the Mexican tortilla with cheese, in El Hierro it's a traditional kind of cheesecake

There is fresh fish in La Restinga. The rest of the island often features goat (cabrito) and rabbit (conejo) on the menu.

A food of the local people is gofio, roasted grain flour (corn, wheat and others) that is given to all children there - stirred in milk, sometimes sweetened with cocoa powder or honey - as a high-energy breakfast. Otherwise, gofio is also eaten with vegetable soups.

A typical dish of all the Canary Islands are the papas arrugadas, potatoes boiled in salt. Mojo rojo (hot) and mojo verde are offered as sauces. You should definitely try this, for example as a topping on bread with a little queso herreño (typical El Hierro cheese made from sheep, goat and cow milk).

A local specialty on El Hierro is a cake named quesadilla based on fresh cheese. There is a quesadilla bakery in Valverde. There you can buy the small cheesecakes made from the unique queso herreño (a cheese made from cow, sheep and goat milk), flour, egg, sugar and aniseed. There is also a bakery in Frontera that sells quesadillas. The quesadillas, which are only produced on the island, can also be bought in any supermarket.

You can buy dried figs, fresh pineapples and bananas from El Hierro all year round, and fresh mangoes from El Hierro in late summer. In the agricultural cooperative near the La Maceta bathing area (near Frontera) there are inexpensive and delicious bananas all year round.

Restaurants

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The southernmost village of La Restinga
  • 2 Restaurante Casa Juan, C. Juan Gutiérrez Monteverde, 33 (La Restinga), +34922557102. Th-M 13:30-16:00 and 19:30- 21:30. Fish, seafood and traditional Canarian cuisine.
  • 8 Warapu Street Food, C. Tigaday, 14 (Frontera), +34822149550. Tu-Su 13:30-16:30, 19:30-23. Describes itself as an Asian restaurant, though there are foods from all over the world. €10-16.
  • 1 Nuevo Coffeeplus, Av. Dacio Darias, 60 (Valverde), +34676974683. M-F 8-14, 17-20, Sa 8-13. Espresso bar.
  • 14 8Aborigen, C. Jesús Nazareno, 1 (Valverde), +34922694202. Tu-F 14-20:30. Fine dining restaurant with tasting menus of many small dishes of the traditional Canarian and Spanish cuisines. menus €55 and €70.

Drink

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In addition to the restaurants, there are also bars but these too are mainly places where people go to eat. You can find a couple of discos/nightclubs in Valverde. El Hierro is definitely no Playa del Inglés or Los Cristianos but rather a place to experience the Canary Islands without noisy nightlife.

In the summer there is a discotheque (El Submarino) in Frontera, which is in the former luxury residence of an alleged drug dealer, son of the builder of the first Spanish submarine, therefore with submarine access, directly on the sea near Frontera. The lion that was kept there until a few years ago no longer lives there.

  • 3 Tienda Bar Los LLanillos (Los Llanillos), +34922555295. daily except We: 7-14, 18-23. Bar.
  • 4 La Pénultima, C. Barlovento, 31 (Mocanal), +34922551799. M, W-F 6:30-23:30, Sa 7-23, Su 8-23. Bar.
  • 5 Bar Cafetería Turpial, Av. Dacio Darias 17 (Villa de Valverde), +34922551672. M-F 7-22, Sa-Su 8-21. Bar and cafe.
  • 6 Pub La Lonja, C. San Francisco (Villa de Valverde), +34630802112. F 19-4, Sa 23-4. Pub and nightclub.
  • 7 Discoteca Tropicana, C. de la Constitución 4A (Villa de Valverde), +34 616 35 62 41. Th 10-2, F 23-6, Sa 23-6. Disco.

Sleep

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La Peña viewpoint

In addition to the hotels, there are a number of individual houses that short-term visitors can rent.

Hotels

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  • 1 Hotel Parador, Las Playas, 15 (Las Playas), +34922558036. The classiest hotel on the island is the state Parador. This hotel is around 20 minutes' drive from Valverde.
  • 2 Hotel Balneario (Sabinosa), +34922559561. Another great hotel is the Balneario at Pozo de la Salud.
  • 3 Hotel Punta Grande, Calle las Puntas (Frontera), +34611285983, . The smallest hotel on the island (and in the world) is located in the northeast of the El Golfo Valley near Punta Grande, but it is expensive and usually fully booked.
  • 4 Apartment complex El Sitio, C. la Carrera, nº 26 (Frontera), +34922559843. You can live very cheaply and nicely in Frontera in El Sitio, a small apartment complex with a German owner, who built in a vineyard and has small houses with a kitchen, bathroom and their own terrace.
  • 5 Hotel Ida Ines, C. Belgara Alta, 2 (Frontera), +34922559445. Hotel Ida Ines. In Frontera, the hotel is owned by a very open-minded gentleman.

Tent and caravan

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During the summer months, caravans can be seen all over the island, especially at the many swimming areas. In addition to the official campsite, there are, however, many opportunities to pitch your tent in a hiding place, be it in the forest, or secluded at Charco Manso (bathing area), or on one of the many abandoned, walled-in property that is heavily overgrown with hedges. It is important to the authorities that everything is left clean and not noticed.

  • 6 Hoya del Morcillo. The only official campsite with fire pits, firewood, sockets, showers and toilets is in the pine forest a little above El Pinar

Stay safe

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The greatest danger is when swimming in the sea, especially in winter when the Atlantic is often very agitated even in good weather. On the beaches (e.g. Playa del Verodal) there is a strong undercurrent away from the land, and the bathing pools created by lava barriers (e.g. Charco Azul, Pozo de las Calcosas) are repeatedly (and surprisingly!) overrun by several breakers in winter.

Changes in the weather can also endanger the hiker. Suddenly rising fog in the Passatzone makes orientation difficult. Rainfalls lead to falling rocks and often cause entire slopes to slide down, making steep stretches in particular impassable. This can also affect the roads on the island. Speaking of traffic, there's little of it and people often drive slowly. Locals sometime park in the middle of the street, blocking the traffic, when going to a shop or something so watch for this.

Crime is hardly an issue on the island. It's a rural area where "everyone knows everyone" and cars and homes are often left unlocked.

Go next

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To Tenerife or Gran Canaria by scheduled ferry or flights. If you're sailing your own ship, also other destinations would be possible.

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