Let me start with a clear message: el Hierro is the best hidden gem you will find in the Canary Islands. Given that it is the smallest island of them all, I figured there wasn’t that much to see… boy, was I wrong! Good things come in small packages they say, and at least when it comes to el Hierro they are right. This island offers much more than any of the others in a much smaller space. In fact, it feels like someone took the best things out of the rest and condensed it all to produce this little gem.
That’s not all though. The whole island is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and 60% of the land is protected. It’s also the first island in the world to become self-sustainable. Although it can’t self-sustain itself every day of the year, the island is able to function for a significant proportion of the year solely on renewable energy. But enough of me bragging about it, let me show you the evidence! Here’s a roadtrip itinerary I’ve put together to cover the best el Hierro has to offer in a day.
Arrival at el Hierro and morning walk in Tamaduste
The island has a very small airport (as in two gates small) which only operates flights from Tenerife with the local airline, Binter. Flying is my preferred form of travel to el Hierro, but a two and a half hour ferry from Tenerife with Naviera Armas is also an option. With regards to car rental, there are a couple of options at the airport and at the nearby capital, Valverde. You can also rent a car at the ferry terminal. Wherever you choose to rent from, I’d recommend booking in advance. There aren’t that many rental cars available given the size of the island, so plan ahead if you don’t want to start your trip on the wrong foot.
Once you have sourced a car, the small coastal village of Tamaduste makes for a great first stop. It’s only a five minute drive from the airport. There’s not much going on in Tamaduste, but that’s precisely the point. Very quiet and peaceful, with a nice small promenade for a brief walk by the sea. I don’t know about you, but that’s how I like to start my days!
Breakfast in Valverde
Valverde is the capital of el Hierro and interestingly, the only capital in the Canary Islands that’s not located on the coast. There’s not much to see in Valverde, but it does have a couple of nice streets and a church. What I love about it, is that it reminds me of life in Fuerteventura and the other islands before tourism took over. It’s the sort of place where everybody knows everybody; where milk and bread are left by the doors knowing nobody is going to take them; where there is still a strong sense of community. Don’t go looking for chain shops or supermarkets because there aren’t any.
Even if you don’t care for anything I’ve just said, it is a must-stop as it’s where you will find most of supermarkets and cafes. Places to eat and buy food are not easy to find in el Hierro, so I’d strongly recommend thinking ahead and stocking up while in Valverde.
Pozo de las Calcosas through Echedo
Next up is a little exploration of the top right corner of the island. Try heading for a visit to el Pozo de las Calcosas through Echedo. The town of Echedo is north of Valverde and boasts of beautiful views over the ocean. You can admire the big country houses and if you are like me, daydream about buying one some day… I’m also told this is where you can find the best black berries in the island.
My favorite spot in this area however, is definitely the Pozo de las Calcosas. This tiny village at the bottom of a cliff is a magnificent show of traditional aboriginal arquitecture. It comes with a natural infinity pool made out of volcanic lava. I bet you there are not that many villages in the world that can boast of that! It’s hard to describe but walking through the narrow small streets feels like travelling back in time a couple of hundred years. Although a word of warning: there’s some serious amount of steps required to go down to the village. It’s not too bad going down, but it sure is no fun coming back up!
Charco de los Sargos and Charco Azul
Having left the Pozo de las Calcosas, you can start making your way to the opposite western corner of the island. There are two worthy stops you should consider on the way: Charco de los Sargos and Charco Azul. In summary, they are both natural volcanic pools. In the Charco de los Sargos, the volcanic cliffs are quite striking, and resemble those of Los Hervideros in Lanzarote. However, unlike in los Hervideros, where the ocean is in a constant rough fight with the cliffs, in los Sargos they’ve made peace. A couple of crystal clear natural pools have formed, making it hard to resist going for a dip.
Charco Azul, meaning ‘Blue Puddle’ is very similar, except it’s just one very distinctive pool as opposed to many. A volcanic pool with very bright clear blue waters, inside a beautiful cave made out of volcanic stone. And as hard as it is to believe, this is all nature’s work!
Where to eat: as I mentioned before, eating options in el Hierro are quite scarce. When it comes to restaurants for lunch/dinner your best bet is either la Frontera or la Restinga. If you can hold your hunger, there are a couple of nice restaurants serving fresh fish by the sea in la Restinga. However, if you follow this roadtrip itinerary, chances are you won’t be reaching there until late afternoon. If you’d rather eat before then, I can recommend the Bar Restaurante Lays. You can find it between Charco de los Sargos and Charco Azul, near los Mocanes. Good food and reasonably priced.
El Sabinar: the symbol of el Hierro
The Canary Islands, in a similar fashion to the Galapagos, have over 4,000 endemic animal and plant species. Each one of the seven islands has a local plant and animal as local symbols. In the case of el Hierro, the plant symbol is la Sabina. Due to its exposed location to the strong winds of the region, the sabinas in el Sabinar have acquired a very characteristic bent appearance. Similarly to el Drago Milenario in Tenerife, there is also a sabina that has been there for centuries. It’s quite amazing to think how much a single tree has beared witness to! Also, there is a beautiful tree tunnel made out of younger sabinas right before you arrive that makes a visit even more worth it. The only downside is the road isn’t paved, so if you do want to visit the sabinas, you’d better be ready to embrace a messy country road.
La Restinga through los Lajiales
Once you’ve left the sabinas behind, it’s time to head to the last corner left to visit: the south. This is where you will find the small town of la Restinga, a quiet spot with a couple of restaurants and bars by the sea. Very similar to Puerto de Tazacorte in la Palma, there is also a small black sand beach if you feel like going for a dip in the Atlantic ocean. The waters around this area are protected as they are inhabited by many different marine species. It’s no surprise to see it’s becoming a popular spot for scuba divers! If you are not going swimming or scuba diving, it’s still a pretty nice place to go for a walk or have a coffee by the sea.
Also worth noting, whether on your way in or on your way out of la Restinga, is los Lajiales. There are a couple of volcanoes in the area, and due to the environmental characteristics present at the time of their eruptions the lava dried out in very strange patterns. It nearly looks like the lava is still flowing in certain parts! There are kilometres and kilometres of such characteristic volcanic landscapes. Definitely worth stopping for a quick wander.
Back through el Pinar and San Andrés
There are no more stops left to cover, but there are two more areas worth driving through. The first one would el Pinar. It’s quite dramatic going from the drastic volcanic landscape of los Lajiales to a dense pine forest only a couple of kilometres later. Nearly as dramatic as the change in temperature! You could be going for a nice swim in the heat in la Restinga and find yourself looking for a winter coat in el Pinar some minutes later. That’s one of the things that make el Hierro such a fascinating island! If you do happen to not want to just drive through but stop, there is a nice viewing point called Las Playas. You will be able to enjoy views across the abrupt and beautiful coast of the island among tall pine trees.
One last area worth driving through is San Andrés. This is by far the most fascinating part of el Hierro for me. It’s as if someone took a piece of the Aran islands from Ireland and transplanted it there. You will be driving through extensive fields of green – at least during winter times. I have no idea whether they do still look that green during summer! They even have the exact same jigsaw-like stone walls dividing the fields that you find in the west of Ireland. Horses, sheep and cows there are also plenty. And to top things off, no matter how warm and sunny it could be in the rest of the island, the minute you enter San Andrés it’s suddenly overcast and cold. I’m telling you: someone left a piece of Ireland in el Hierro!
Authentic and beautiful small villages, crystal clear volcanic pools, ocean views, dramatic volcanic landscapes, dense forests and extensive fields of green. There is not much el Hierro doesn’t have! Even though you can go around the island in just one day with a roadtrip, be careful: you might just not want to leave!