This forested gorge in the Puntallana municipality requires no introduction, having become one of the most popular hiking destinations on the entire island in recent years. No wonder: the barranco has just about everything in its favour. The trailhead is easy to find and has convenient parking spaces, circular walking routes are possible, and the upper section of the ravine harbours one of La Palma's best-preserved subtropical jungles. Furthermore, you can access the area using public transport.
An overview of the Cubo de La Galga path network
The Cubo de La Galga layout is essentially two parallel hiking paths, one running along the valley floor, and the other following its southern rim. These two routes are interconnected at three different points: the first close to the trailhead, the second halfway up the gorge, and the third at the top end. They allow circular hikes of varying lengths to be put together, the longest of which requires no more than about 4 hours to complete. The whole network is clearly signposted.
The first section of the valley
I decided to go for an early start on my recent visit, arriving before the Information Point personnel had opened their hut. I noted the freshness of the mornng air as I stepped out of my car, and donned my hiking boots to the background sound of chirruping birds, still only halfway through their morning chorus. The place is definitely at its best early in the day, especially in the warmer months.
My route began as a gentle ascent along an asphalted track, and a few minutes later, I passed the first of the three "connecting paths"linking the valley floor with the ridge above. This was the path I was planning to return along.
About 1 Km from the start, just before the tarmac came to an end, I stopped to enjoy views of the valley, its steep slopes blanketed in an impenetrable tangle of vivid greenery. Several Laurel Pigeons flew across as I quietly waited, easily identified by their copper-brown plumage and pure white tails. Cubo de La Galga is one of the best places on La Palma to see these shy birds, but you need to be patient.
Within half an hour, other path users started to arrive and overtake me, acting as unsuspecting models for my snapshots in the process. Photography apart, it's worth taking things slowly to get the most out of this unique landscape: it seems a pity just to dash along for the physical exercise.
For a short stroll, the first couple of kilometres of this track are ideal. Simply turn around when you've seen enough and head back to your car. You get a fair impression of what laurel forests are all about, without too much exertion. However, it's only in the higher section of the valley that you experience the real jungle-like part of the "Cubo".
Heading for the Somada Alta viewpoint
The dirt track narrowed as it entered the forest and passed beneath a stone bridge bearing an irrigation pipeline. Not far beyond came a waymarked junction, the second of the "connecting paths" mentioned above, leading out of the ravine. You can shorten the hike by turning left at this beacon, and heading back towards civilisation, but the best is yet to come, on the way towards the Mirador de Somada Alta viewpoint.
I continued straight ahead, hemmed in on all sides by dense vegetation, with surprisingly muddy ground underfoot. Not what you expect on the Canary Islands, perhaps. Then came various flights of stone steps before I entered a park-like glade where the path was bordered by a wooden handrail.
From the safety of this protected walkway, I could peer into the sombre depths of the ravine, by now a mere cleft in the forest. The trickle of a small stream could be heard below. This was an ideal spot for a short break, to absorb the atmosphere of this leafy world where moss covered every stone, and ferns seemed to sprout horizontally from walls and rock-faces. The branches of large trees rooted below me came within hand's reach, allowing closer inspection of their foliage. The tilo laurel (Ocotea foetens) thrives here, a demanding species requiring optimum humidity and soil conditions, easy to identify from its leaves, which have two conspicuous glands at their base.
The path later led into the bottom of the gorge, where it threaded its way among boulders and bypassed obstacles in the dry stream bed. Though technically not a true rain forest, this subtropical cloud forest comes pretty close to feeling like one, with all its chaotic exuberance.
A short, steep ascent on the left brought the streambed section to a close. Once at the top, I followed the signpost to the Somada Alta viewpoint, along the last of the three "connecting paths"between the valley bottom and its upper rim. The connector in this case is a gently-sloping woodland track which meanders out of the dank forest into a sunny clearing on the hillside. The tiered viewing platforms found there offer panoramas of the La Palma's northeast flank, with the white buildings of Los Sauces, the coastal banana plantations, and the bright blue Atlantic dominating the scene. With its low walls serving as benches, Somada Alta is the perfectspot for a bite to eat and refreshment.
Back to the trailhead
From the mirador at 790 metres above sea level, the return to the trailhead is all downhill, and there are initially two alternatives. The first is via the signposted hiking path towards La Galga, which poses no navigational issues but has a steep, somewhat slippery section. The alternative is a dirt track initially bearing south, but which loops back to the hiking path lower down. It is used by local farmers to access the woodlands in their 4WD vehicles and makes for a much easier descent. Despite its lack of signage, it goes unmistakeably downhill from Somada Alta, so you might be tempted to give it a try.
Whichever variant you choose, they both merge below, not far from where the middle one of the three "connecting paths" comes up from the valley bottom. This strategic location is marked by a large information board, and can be reached by car from the LP-1 road in La Galga, thus enabling a shorter circular hike to be done by driving there and omitting the lower part of the ravine. The turning is clearly signposted on the main road, alongside the well-known local restaurant "Casa Asterio".
Continuing downhill from the information panel, progress was via a mixture of country lanes, and sections of path. The descent took me through pleasant rural surroundings, where the bright skies were a welcome contrast to the sombre light in the ravine. I passed avocado plantations and abandoned fields, traditional, and not-so-traditional houses and cottages. Here and there, pet dogs and cats stood watch at garden gates, unsure how to react to my unexpected presence.
Well before reaching the main LP-1 road, I spotted the plain white sign over on the left indicating the Information Point (Punto de Información), and a steep descent over clayey terrain (care required in wet weather!), brought me out at the junction shown in the photograph at the top of this post.
The Cubo de La Galga ravine, with its well-designed network of paths, offers easy access to one of La Palma's most outstanding natural features, its subtropical cloud forests. No visitor to the island should miss them.