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.
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. It was home to about 11,000 people in 2019, and covers 278 km².
In 2000, it was declared a Biosphere Reserve 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.
Flora and faunaEdit
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.
Like the rest of the Canary Islands chain, El Hierro is volcanic and sharply mountainous. One eruption has to date been recorded on the island: from the Volcan de Lomo Negro vent in 1793, lasting a month. Except as landscaped at its harbour towns the shore is rocky and in places precipitous.
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.
- 1 El Hierro Airport (VDE IATA), Camino Cangrejo, s/n, 38910 Villa de Valverde. A very small airport and is only served by two airlines, Binter Canarias and Canaryfly. Binter operate a daily flight from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and also a daily flight from Tenerife North Airport. The flight time from either of these destinations is between 30-45 minutes.
Fred Olsen operate a passenger ferry route from Los Cristianos in Tenerife which stops at La Gomera before continuing to a port in the south of El Hierro. The total journey time from Tenerife is advertised as being 2 hours and 35 minutes (1 hour and 30 minutes from La Gomera)
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 wind power stations and two water storage basins, Upper reservoir and 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 Mirador de Bascos, the viewpoint with a restaurant Mirador de la Peña, the lookout point and starting point for a beautiful hike into the valley Mirador de Jinama (a good starting point for a hike into the valley), the lookout point Mirador de Isora, and the highest mountain on the island, the Malpaso Malpaso.
It is the ideal place to take a rest for a few days; relax, enjoy nature, and go on peaceful walks in the quiet environment.
More active pursuits include bike or horse riding, hiking, paragliding, and scuba diving.
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 Mercader with its fire watchtower, which stands in the pine forest. You can also go from San Andrés to the holy, water-giving tree 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.
There are few and small beaches. 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):
- La Maceta bathing area. Walled natural swimming pool, most popular bathing resort in summer, well suited for lap swimming (fitness)
- Los Sargos bathing area. wild natural swimming pools, made accessible by stairs and wooden walkways
- Charco Azul bathing area. Beautiful, blue (azul) seaside resort
- Cascadas del Mar swimming pool. Swimming pool integrated into nature, particularly suitable for children
- Charco Manso bathing area. stony (round stones), remote, impressive rock formations
Below El Mocanal:
- Bathing place Pozo de las Calcosas. with an old fishing village and a large solidified lava flow
Near the airport:
- La Caleta swimming pool. sheltered bay, above with a couple of artificial, blue-tiled toddler pools
- Tamaduste bathing area. Very well protected deep bay, no waves at low tide, therefore also suitable for non-swimmers and children
Near the Puerto de la Estaca ferry terminal (drive through the tunnel):
- 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
Quiet harbour beaches that are protected from waves by the harbour wall:
- La Restinga
- Puerto de la Estaca (below Valverde), with several floating islands
in the Golfo Valley (Frontera) west of the Pozo de la Salud :
- 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)
In the far west, below the juniper forest (Sabinar):
- 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 divingEdit
There are 9 diving schools with their own boats in La Restinga in 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. 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, 38917 La Restinga. Mobile: +34 628 849 350, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
- Hierroaventure (Adventure on El Hierro), Calle San Juan 9, 38917 La Restinga. Mobile: +34 692 320 118 , email: email@example.com. 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. Price: €35 (2017)
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: firstname.lastname@example.org . 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).
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), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
- El Hierro cave adventure (Aventuras en las Cuevas de El Hierro, guided cave hikes). Mobile: +34 666 953 587, email: email@example.com . 4-hour cave hikes and explorations including equipment. Price: €40 (2018)
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 last occasion was in 2017, and the next will be in 2021). 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.
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.
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.
There are also discos in Valverde.
- Hotel Parador. The classiest hotel on the island is the state Parador. This hotel is around 20 minutes' drive from Valverde.
- Hotel Balneario. Another great hotel is the Balneario at Pozo de la Salud.
- Hotel Punta Grande. 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.
- Apartment complex El Sitio. 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.
- Hotel Ida Ines. In Frontera, the hotel is owned by a very open-minded gentleman.
Tent and caravanEdit
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.
- 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
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.