Your vacation guide to El Hierro, Canary Islands


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With the COVID-19 vaccine rolling out, we can start — tentatively — planning some trips.

But even though the future of travel is still uncertain, and we encourage travelers to book with caution, it’s great to get some inspiration. So here’s all you need to know should a jaunt to one of the lesser-traveled Canary Islands be on your radar.

The smallest of the Canary Island archipelago, El Hierro is tiny but is chock-full of incredible natural wonders. It’s no surprise the entire island is deemed a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and runs on sustainable energy.

If you’re a dedicated eco-traveler who thrives on getting off-the-beaten-path, this is the island for you. Forget luxury cookie-cutter resorts, high-rise hotels and package tourists. Here, you’ll stay in a charming boutique hotel or unique home rental, and see what life is really like on this eco-friendly island.

For those loving nightclubs, all-inclusive hotels and general vacation debauchery, this is not the Canary Island for you. Head to Tenerife or Gran Canaria instead. But if you really want to explore, hike, or scuba dive (the island boasts 46 dive sites), or simply relax in a tranquil setting, El Hierro is the spot.

Getting there and around

You can’t fly nonstop to El Hierro. You’ll have to stop on one of the larger islands like Tenerife or Gran Canaria for a connection, before arriving at El Hierro’s capital, Valverde (VDE).

Another option is to take the ferry from Tenerife, which takes about two to three hours. Car rental is essential for getting around the island and seeing all the key sites. Check with your rental company if you’d prefer to book a car in Tenerife and take it over on the ferry with you.

There are electric car charging ports on the island, as well as electric cars for rent. If you plan on getting off-road, though, it may be best to rent a 4×4 vehicle.

Where to stay

You won’t have to choose between volcanic peaks and the glittering ocean when staying at the Parador de El Hierro. The hotel sits atop a volcanic hill overlooking the sea and a stunning black sand beach.

On the other side of the island, you can have an adults-only stay at the Hotel Puntagrande. This one-of-a-kind boutique property has stunning ocean and mountain views by day and incredible stargazing by night.

Those in the market for a relaxing spa experience should stay at the Balneario Pozo de la Salud, located on a cliff jutting out over the sea.

What to do and see

Gallery: Florida to Hawaii: Top trending US destinations for 2021 (USA TODAY)

Beaches on El Hierro are wild and unspoiled, and almost all feature dark sand and volcanic rock. One of the most spectacular on the island is El Verodal, which has reddish-brown sands. The dark, secret cove of Tacorón has both sand and rocks and is a great spot for snorkeling.

The island also features many natural swimming pools. One of the most famous is the Charco Azul (not to be confused with a waterfall with the same name on the island of Gran Canaria). La Maceta actually has three different natural pools to choose from. Charco Manso’s emblematic rock formations make for a picture-perfect natural swimming pool experience.

Divers won’t be disappointed on El Hierro. Contrary to many other destinations that are dealing with coral bleaching and loss/destruction of underwater habitats, a 2011 volcanic eruption off the coast of El Hierro actually helped regenerate the island’s seabed, which is now thriving. The island has almost 50 different dive sites, 10 of which are situated in the Restinga Marine Reserve. Dive through tunnels and caves to spot manta rays, turtle sharks, stingrays, sea eagles, turtles and if you’re lucky, a whale shark.

Hikers have plenty of paths to choose from. One of the most famous, more advanced treks is the Camino de Jinama trail, which starts at the Candelaria Church and ends at the Caridad Shrine, covering cliffs and valleys in between. Beginners or anyone wanting a more relaxing walk have options, too. La Llanía is a four-mile walk (round trip) that takes you through humid, tree-covered forests to bland sand beaches. Those wanting to explore the highest point, Pico Malpaso, should head up in the early morning for the clearest weather.

What to eat and drink

Cuisine on the island of El Hierro is simple and delicious. Expect “mom and pop” restaurants, no-frills taverns with affordable prices and the occasional modern restaurant with sea views (like the one designed by artist César Manrique at the La Peña viewpoint). The island’s sustainability extends to food, too. Regardless of the spot, you can expect locally sourced produce and fresh seafood almost everywhere you eat.

Besides the traditional seafood and wrinkled potatoes with mojo picón sauce, the island is famous for its cheese soup. A nod to the island’s former sheep-herding culture, many of the most traditional recipes include sheep (or goat or cow) cheese. One of the most delicious is the caldo de queso, a cheese soup.

Pair the island’s cheese with a glass of full-bodied white wine, the island’s specialty. After all, El Hierro’s wine culture goes back centuries — to 1526, to be exact. The island even has its very own wine certification (DO).

Bottom line

Sustainable travelers, hikers, stargazers or those simply wanting a special spot to relax in the peace and quiet will love the island of El Hierro. Far away from the busy “scene” of Tenerife or Gran Canaria, this tiny island is a natural paradise perfect for a true getaway.

If you aren’t quite sure if El Hierro is the right island for your visit, check out these guides which may help you choose another island right for you:

  • How to know which Canary Island is right for you
  • Which Canary Island is best for your socially distanced vacation?

Feature photo courtesy of Robert Schneider/EyeEm/Getty

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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