Valle Gran Rey divides roughly into four areas with different characters and it's worth thinking which suits you best:
- 1 La Calera. The administrative capital, with the bijou Town Hall (Ayuntamiento). Also has a cultural center and library (biblioteca). Set on the side of the cliff, it has some lovely alleyways, as well as a few bars and shops. This is a great place to stay if you want peace and quiet, less humid than the seafront in summer. Good for walkers and strolling distance to the beach.
- 2 Vueltas. The port. Nice, safe beach in the harbour. The old fishing village has a hippy feel to it, a bit ragged in places. Plenty of bars/restaurants, more nightlife, especially around the 1 El Charco beach. A new marina is being built, but progress in completing it seems rather slow.
- 3 La Playa. Open pebbly beach area for confident swimmers. More modern than Vueltas. Has plenty of bars/restaurants and more nightlife (although nowhere on Gomera has that much). Compact, but rapidly expanding, it has a real holiday feel to it.
- 4 Upper valley. Everything above La Calera. Really get away from it all. Stunning views, terracing, walking, but you'll probably need a car as there are very few bars, restaurants and shops. It gets cooler the higher you go, meaning it can be nippy in winter.
Ferries arrive in San Sebastian, where you can pick up a hire car. (Ferries also arrive directly to Valle Gran Rey, but less frequently.) It takes about an hour to drive across Gomera, not including stops at the many miradors to look at the stunning views.
Public transport is limited, with four buses a day (two on Sunday) taking an 1¾h from San Sebastian. It is operated by guagua, which go between the three settlements and up the valley and beyond.
Distances are walkable between the three main settlements. If you're staying further up the valley, you may need a car.
In addition to the La Gomera public busses, taxis are also available.
There is so much to see in Valle Gran Rey, a stroll is never boring. Starting at the top of the valley there is the stunning terracing, sadly, not as cultivated as much as it was. There are great views of this from the 1 Mirador César Manrique. Coming down the valley, each part has its own character and is best explored on foot. It's worth getting a good map and using the paths that criss cross the valley. About half way down is the 2 Los Santos Reyes church, a great place to rest and savour the view.
- 3 Hautacuperche. The new statue of the last Guanche king of the valley
The real pleasure, though, is in the small things; looking at the different stages that bananas grow through; seeing a myriad of interesting plants, watching the cliff-face change with the light; hearing the shearwater birds making their strange sounds as they fly up the valley at night; taking a moonlit stroll on a balmy evening. And above all, just slowing down to the Gomera pace of life.
Note that it can be hotter up, than in the valley. This inversion weather situation is normal for the Canary Islands, but in summer the inversion layer often goes down so low that you suddenly find yourself in dust-dry, very hot air while climbing a few meters in altitude, even though the temperature is still pleasant in the valley.
Whether an easy stroll around the three villages, up the valley or more challenging stuff, it's all beautiful and fascinating. Organised walking tours are also available from a small range of companies in the valley:
- To the waterfall: 1-2 hours from 2 El Guro. Start is marked with yellow arrows and yellow-blue mark. Then continue in the stream bed. Course of the trail changes with water level. You may have to climb in few places.
- 3 La Merica to Arure, and from there to Las Hayas and descent back into the Valle Gran Rey. Entry in the upper Calera at the large cistern behind a house with terrace and many flowers - can't be missed.
- 4 Las Hayas, with nearby laurel forest. You can start e.g. in 5 Casa de la Seda just after the bridge on the left. There you climb over large boulders in the Baranco and soon find above the terraced fields the way to Las Hayas. Unfortunately, this way is no longer maintained. For the second climb you have to continue on the small road. After about 8 minutes you will come to a small bamboo forest in a sharp right turn. From there, walk back a few meters and you will find the signposted hiking trail to Las Hayas on the right.}}
- 6 El Cercado, from there continue via Chipude to Table Mountain La Fortaleza or descent via the pasture La Mantanza and the church path into the Valle Gran Rey. Once in the hike at the Ermita de los Reyes, there after the church square the trail continues through small villages until the signposted ascent to El Cercado.
- 7 Baranco de Argaga to Gerian - difficult hike with climbing, from there via the alp La Mantanza and the church path back to the Valle Gran Rey (arrival at the Ermita de los Reyes). Beware - due to smooth rocks, in humidity (e.g. after rain) this hike is highly dangerous. Especially the descend along Baranco de Argaga is advised against by the locals in such conditions.
In any case, hikers should provide enough water (in the summer not less than 3 liters per person, the more the better) and functional clothing. Experience has shown in the summer that a hike to Arure with 6 liters of water per person had to be stopped due to lack of water. "Refueling" of water is difficult on Gomera, as the hikes are very lonely.
You should have a good sense of orientation and look for the cairns that other hikers have set up as trail markers. With a few words of Spanish you can also ask locals, unfortunately only in the villages, on the way you rarely meet other people.
The descents are sometimes cumbersome after a long hike and require a lot of concentration because the ground is sometimes a bit hilly. This is especially true for the church path, which requires a lot of concentration. If you want to avoid this, you can take the bus back to the valley. There are stops in Chipude near the church, on the road between Chipude and El Cercado, and in El Cercado at the Bar Maria.
In Arure, the stop is on the main road opposite a large restaurant, in Las Hayas is the bus stop above the village at the turnoff to El Cercado.
You should definitely ask for the bus times, in winter, for example. there is no bus on Sundays and holidays. Bus timetables hang out in many bars, just ask the wait staff.
Look for the rare giant lizard of La Gomera, until recently thought extinct.
Biking - either on guided mountain bike tours or on your own with a rented bike. There are three bike rentals and tour operators in Valle Gran Rey, one in La Playa (www.gomera-bikes.com), one in La Puntilla (www.bike-station-gomera.com) and one in Vueltas (www.bikers-inn.eu). They offer as well taxi transfer services into the national park.
Go on a whale and dolphin watching trip. There is currently a large motor cruiser - the Tina - operating most days but the itinerary varies. Some days the boat takes tourists around the island to view the famous basalt rock formations, Los Organos, which are only visible from the sea but other shorter trips are dedicated solely to finding whales and dolphins. There is usually someone selling tickets on the quayside. The longer trips include food and drink.
Alternatively you can go out on very small motorised open boats holding six to ten people with an experienced cetacean researcher. The costs are very similar but obviously the small boats do not have any facilities. You do potentially get much closer to the whales and dolphins though and see them at eye level. Book a place on these boats at the Club de Mar in Vueltas on the street behind the harbour.
All these trips seem to be well run with respect for the welfare of the animals. Their success rate is remarkably high and the larger boats are in radio contact with fishing vessels and other boats. However there is of course no guarantee you will spot anything. Even so the trip is a good way to spend a few hours and to view the island from the sea. Take warm clothes and sunscreen and water and food if lunch is not included.
Groceries can be bought e.g. in Vueltas, and there you can also buy some souvenirs along the main street. There are small shops in El Cercado, Chipude, Arure and (seldom open) in Las Hayas.
Other than that, the only recommendable thing to buy is Miel de Palma - palm tree honey. You'll think of Gomera every time you eat it...
Gomeran cuisine is tasty, unsophisticated and based on local ingredients. Being an island, fish is popular, especially varieties of tuna.
Typical dishes include:
- Potaje de Berros - Watercress soup
- Atún en mojo - Tuna in mojo sauce
- Leche asada - 'Baked milk' A kind of solid blancmange, served with Miel de Palma - delicious palm-tree honey
- Gofio - a milled grain dating from Guanche times, is also a staple and is very popular for breakfast.
Plenty of excellent fresh juices and milk-shakes:
- Good coffee - try 'cortado leche y leche' - small coffee with both warm and condensed milk.
- Gomeran wines - Garajonay has recently obtained DOC status.
- Parra - Local firewater.
- Gomerón - Firewater mixed with Miel de Palma.
As the main tourist destination on Gomera, there is a plentiful supply of accommodation.
There are several large apartment complexes based around pools and with receptions. These seem to be used by all the tour groups. Especially if you speak a little Spanish, you can just turn up and try the places saying 'aparatmento' or 'alojamiento', often with a mobile number. However, this can be very hit and miss.
Many tourists come for the excellent walking. There are great walks all over the island, several of which start in Valle Gran Rey. You don't have to be a mountain goat, many walks are relatively flat and with little traffic, may even be on tarmac at times. Buy a good map and get out there. If you're feeling fit you can walk right up the valley to Chipude and get the bus/taxi back.