week all together on Madeira Island, Alex,
Jennifer, & Emily flew directly to the Canary
Islands, while Tim & Clara spent a few more days on
Madeira before heading to Zurich to start their
The Canary Islands are a very popular winter vacation destination for Europeans, and when we changed planes in Gran Canaria we wondered if we'd made a poor choice -- the large and bustling airport was chock full of British holiday-makers getting a head start on their drinking. Fortunately, they must have been headed for the more popular islands. As soon as we landed on La Palma, we were reassured by its dramatic geography and scenery, sparse population, and relatively few tourists who were almost exclusively hikers (and almost exclusively German, as it turns out). We'd rented an apartment just outside El Paso, a small town we became quite fond of in the few days that we were based there.
La Palma has two significant geological features: One is the Caldera de Taburiente, over 6000' deep and 6 miles across, occupying a good fraction of the northern half of the island. Although the island is volcanic, apparently it's been determined that the "caldera" isn't actually a volcanic crater. No matter, it made for excellent hiking along the observatory-riddled rim (photos 1-2; La Palma is famed for its night sky), up a small peak on the other side (photo 3), and throughout the interior (photo 4). The second significant geographical feature on La Palma is a series of recently active volcanoes along the spine of the southern half of the island, with a fabulous one-way hike: Ruta de los Volcanes is a "signature" all-day hike (photos 5-6) that rivaled our ridge hike on Madeira as a favorite of the trip. Although La Palma is known for its finicky weather, with dense clouds coming and going rapidly and seemingly randomly across the island, we were lucky to usually find ourselves where the clouds weren't (photo 7 notwithstanding).
Our last night on La Palma was New Year's Eve. The town square near our apartment hosted a live band and plenty of food & drink. It was a small affair, but locals of all ages turned out for the occasion and seemed to be having a great time (photo 8). We thoroughly enjoyed joining in.
From La Palma we took a ferry to La Gomera, described variously as "the most untamed of the archipelago" and "the alternative island" (due to its popularity with a certain type back in the 1960's). La Gomera is even more sparsely populated than La Palma, and has perhaps even more dramatic topography -- no straight or flat roads in sight! It has a distinct bohemian feel to it, although once again the majority of tourists were German hikers. We stayed in the picturesque town of Agulo (photo 9, with Tenerife's Pico del Teide in the background). The hiking was again excellent, mixing dense cloud-forest at the top with exciting canyons and valleys leading eventually to the ocean (photos 10-11). On La Gomera in particular we enjoyed sampling a variety of Canarian culinary items -- delicious and inexpensive cheeses, tapas, and other specialties were to be found in just about every town or village.
A final ferry took us to the island of Tenerife (photo 12) to catch our onward flights home. Tenerife was quite a contrast to La Palma and La Gomera, with bustling beach tourism at one end (where our ferry landed) and a big-city vibe at the other (where the main airport is). Aside from the brief bookends of Gran Cranaria and Tenerife, our time on the Canary Islands felt remote, a bit exotic, and thoroughly enjoyable.