La Gomera

La Gomera (369.7 km2) is almost circular in shape and rises to 1,467 m at the peak of Garajonay. The terrain is extremely rugged and scored by a vast network of deep ravines and valleys that diverge more or less radially from the centre of the island. The most impressive are the barrancos or ravines of Vallehermoso, Hermigua, La Villa, Santiago, La Rajita and Valle Gran Rey. The coastline forms a near perfect ring of cliffs that tower above 300 m in certain sections, such as Los Órganos (Vallehermoso) and Taguluche and La Mérica (Valle Gran Rey). In sharp contrast, the coastline is much gentler in certain areas of the north (Puntallana) and west (Playa del Inglés-Playa de Vueltas, in Valle Gran Rey), giving rise to the island’s only sand deposits. The absence of historical and recent volcanic episodes has resulted in the forces of erosion prevailing over those of construction, which is patently evident in the landscape. Therefore, aside from ravines, the marks of geological antiquity are seen in the pitons or Roques de Agando, Ojila and Zarcita, La Fortaleza de Chipude (1,243 m) and Enchereda massif (1,065 m).

The climate of La Gomera is Mediterranean-like and average annual rainfall is below 250 mm in the low-lying areas of the southern, eastern and western flanks. It is, however, much higher in the north and centre of the island, where it can exceed 1,000 mm. The laurisilva laurel forests and evergreen woodland of Garajonay National Park undoubtedly influence the significant rise in rainfall by forming what is known as hidden precipitation—swirling mists. The average annual temperature is 22º C, January and February being the coolest months (14º C) and August the hottest (29º C). As in the rest of the Canary Islands, the prevailing winds blow in from the northeast bearing moisture. However, winds from the west can bring storms that are sometimes torrential in autumn and winter, a fact that is exacerbated by the rugged terrain.

According to the 2011 census, La Gomera is home to 23,076 people: 8,515 live in the capital, San Sebastián de La Gomera, 5,116 in Valle Gran Rey and 3,142 in Vallehermoso. The smaller towns of Agulo, Hermigua and Alajeró have fewer than 2,500 each, and the smallest is Agulo, with just 1,174 inhabitants.

The island economy is largely based on tourism. Valle Gran Rey, Playa Santiago and San Sebastián offer quality accommodation, although the rise of trekking and alternative tourism in recent years has led to a growth in infrastructure dedicated to rural tourism in several areas of the island, including Vallehermoso, Agulo and Hermigua. Cruise ships arriving in San Sebastián are another hugely important growth sector—more than 22,000 passengers annually in the past few years. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Garajonay National Park is one of the most visited places on the island. Despite the rise in tourism, La Gomera remains a largely rural island, where traditional activities take pride of place. Agriculture is important in the north (Vallehermoso, Agulo and Hermigua), in several valleys in the south (Playa Santiago and La Dama) and in the west (Valle Gran Rey). Banana plantations, vineyards, orchards and small-scale irrigation provide the most important crops. Row upon row of terraces clinging to sheer ravine walls create a vivid picture of the efforts made by local people to launch subsistence farming in difficult times. The large numbers of Canary Islands date palms are also harvested to extract guarapo or syrup to make the local delicacy of miel de palma or palm honey. Livestock farming chiefly involves goats, whose milk is used to produce magnificent cheeses. Sheep and cows are also kept, though to a lesser extent, but poultry farming (hens) is currently an important activity. Fishing is only based at two small harbours located in the south of the island: Playa Santiago and Valle Gran Rey. Traditionally, tuna fishing was tremendously important. In the past, local fish factories (no longer in operation) would produce Caviar gomero, a pâté made from tuna roe.

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