Iron Island El Hierro - unique UNESCO biosphere reserve

Marina Nefedova 03 April 2021 710 views 9 min. read

Iron Island El Hierro – the zero meridian, the island where the end of the world occurred and a biosphere reserve.

Where is El Hierro?

el hierro beach

El Hierro Canary Islands are a Spanish archipelago located in the Atlantic Ocean near Africa. This is an autonomous region, it is regulated by EU legislation, makes payments in EUR and is very popular among European (and not only) tourists, thanks to the wonderful El Hierro weather and the high level of development of the El Hierro tourism industry. In this region, El Hierro tourism is the main business of local El Hierro people, a priority industry and almost the only source of inflow of $$$. 80% of jobs are related to tourism in one way or another.

What language is spoken in El Hierro?


The official El Hierro language, of course, is Spanish, but this is a tourist area, so all the major European languages are spoken there. Prices also differ little from other areas of Spain-about + 40% to Spanish prices on the continent. It's like this everywhere on the islands. There are amazing diving, trekking, paragliding and other tourist activities, you can get a wonderful experience and find a very pleasant company. The Canary Islands are the peaks of volcanoes that rose from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean millions of years ago. Diving in those places is deep-sea. Therefore, beginners are definitely not there, first you need to practice a little. But for those who have already left the 1st level, you can get an unforgettable experience: beautiful underwater volcanic formations, basalt colonnades, arches, caves, grottos-amazing architectural compositions, where the architect was nature itself. All the islands are beautiful in their own way, but today we will talk about the Iron Island. It is the smallest, youngest and possibly the greenest of the El Hierro Canary Islands. Most of the island is covered with lush vegetation, including pine and evergreen laurel forests.

History of El Hierro

canary islands

The first settlers appeared on the island around 120 AD. These were bimbaches (bimbapes) that came to the island from Africa. They lived in caves and simple stone houses in complete harmony with nature, engaged in fishing, hunting and agriculture. This continued until the adventurer baron Jean de Bethencourt conquered this small island in the period from 1402 to 1405, i.e. at the very beginning of the 15th century. The natives were converted to Christianity, and the island's feudal period began. Until the Spaniards sailed to America, the edge of the earth was considered El Hierro. In honor of this special situation on Cape Orchilla, a Spanish monument is erected and there is a version that the end of the world occurred there. For cartographers, the island became the reference point of longitude, the "zero meridian", and was so until 1851, when the Greenwich Meridian was proposed as the zero standard (and approved by the sailors of the world in 1884). When America was discovered, the island was on its way to the New World, and even Christopher Columbus visited it in 1493 to replenish water and food for the continuation of his journey (as evidenced by the monument corresponding to the importance of the case). As on any island, the main problem since the first settlers on the island was the lack of water. The problem was completely solved only recently, in 2014, when a grand wind farm was built on the island, which gave the island full energy independence and connected to a water desalination plant. el hierro landscape The island colony has never been large and even now it is home to about 10 thousand El Hierro people. There is a local legend on the island – the islanders believe that the Garo tree is the source of water. Well. During another great drought, water dripping from the leaves of a tree saved a tribe of islanders from thirst (then still Bimbach, but according to rumors, this trick happened repeatedly with the Spaniards). The sacred tree is located in Tigulahe (now the city of San Andres), but in the 17th century during a volcanic eruption, the original tree was destroyed and a linden tree was planted instead. There, in San Andres, is now one of the attractions of the island Water Route - waterway. The island has always been an active seismic zone, there are 284 dormant volcanoes and is of great interest to seismographers from all over the world. But there is no real danger – the last eruption occurred in 1793. However, the underwater eruptions of the volcano occurred quite recently: October 11, 2011 and March 5, 2012 closer to the southwest of the island. With lava flows, high waves, and everything that happens on such an occasion. But the tremors were barely noticeable and scientists believe that there is no real danger. This island is generally interesting to scientists from all over the world for a number of reasons, so since January 20, 2002, El Hierro was taken under the protection of UNESCO and recognized as a biosphere reserve.

Biosphere Reserve


This is an amazing project, it has no analogues in the world. The purpose and purpose of the project: to create an island system that is completely independent of the mainland, 100% eco-friendly and works only on renewable, environmentally friendly energy sources. Everything worked out. It is the first self-sufficient island in the world. Everything you need for life is produced and grown directly on the island. Those who have lived on any island for a long time know how important such independence really is. The project was launched in 1996. Here are 3 facts about what these wonderful people have done.

Renewable energy

wind powers

Renewable energy is obtained from inexhaustible natural resources – the sun, wind or waterfalls. El Hierro uses a combination of hydro-wind power from the Gorona del Viento power station, which opened in 2014. It was gradually accelerated, but in July 2019, it already provided 97% of all residents and guests of the island, including the operation of the desalination plant, which completely solved the problem of fresh water shortage. Guys, there are greenhouses! Real greenhouses of the El Golfo Valley, where the world-famous pineapples grow. Can you imagine this on an island where the colony did not grow because everyone could die of thirst from time to time? It is expected that this system will provide an annual saving of 18,700 tons of CO2 emissions and 2 million euros, which is equivalent to 5,000 tons of diesel fuel that no longer needs to be purchased. fish Today, wild fish are plentiful on the island, and diving is considered the richest and most interesting in this region. But the main project, a world-famous project – is the Marine Reserve near the village of La Restinga. Oh, Reserva Marina, a real diving paradise. Crystal clear water, open ocean, stunning landscape, complete weightlessness, absolutely unique "composition of participants" - this is about fish and marine life. Residents have always been sensitive to the nature of their island – this is the local mentality. And the organization of the reserve further strengthens the serious and responsible attitude of local El Hierro people to the local underwater world. All the food on the island is locally produced. And all the products are absolutely, 100% organic food, this is a special feature of the island. The islanders decided: if it's an ecosystem, then let it be a completely clean ecosystem. And we will earn money at the expense of tourists who will come to the island to find out what natural products taste like. potatoes wrinkly Fish – only wild. Local dairy products. Iron Island sheep graze on the pristine lawns of the local alpine zone. Wine-vineyards from the slopes of extinct volcanoes. Connoisseurs know why this wine has a special taste. The greenhouses of the El Golfo Valley produce fruit and vegetables in abundance. In fact, when you think about it, it feels like reading a fantastic book, something like a modern Jules Verne. And in the meantime, just take a ticket and fly there, see how everything is there.

And what else is interesting there?

canary islands beach

Well, of course, there are all sorts of tourist attractions, it's a Spanish island. They are in the guidebooks and (to be honest) there is nothing so extra-special there. The main features of the island are not them. The main thing there is the fantastic beauty of wildlife and active sports and ecotourism.

Types of active tourism


- For lovers of hiking on the island, there are many routes of varying degrees of difficulty. The only thing that unites them is the unforgettable experience that you will get on each of them. Of course, the routes go "from place to place" - that is, they pass through the most Instagrammable views and the most interesting places. Interesting but not difficult routes: Camino de la Virgen -The Way of the Virgin Mary, El Pinar-La Dehesa, La Restinga-Pozo de la Salud, El Pinar – El Golfo. It will be interesting for experienced trekkers to pass: Tinor – Puerto de la Estaca-Tinor or Valverde – Puerto de Estaca-Valverde. All of these routes are short, and information about their complexity can be obtained at the hotel or from local guides. Here it is worth remembering that in the world usually either good service – or wild places. Iron Island is unique in that there will be a European service here in the wild. Which is nice.



Paragliders appeared on the island about 15 years ago. Yes, there are suitable places-both mountains and playgrounds on them and open spaces. But paragliding has not become an industry. It's just another type of outdoor activity that you can do there. There are no clubs, courses or centers where you can rent equipment, but there is a fairly large group of local amateurs who will share everything you need and will be happy to allow you to join them. They will tell you what they can do, show you places. Island life is a secluded life and new people are welcome here. This is a very nice community, usually they all go up together to some platform, and then "fly" from it to the beer bar, which they agreed on in advance and continue the evening in it. Such an acquaintance will be memorable and pleasant.



The island is famous for its "lunar" landscapes: thanks to volcanic activity, underwater panoramas resemble lunar reliefs. Caves, steep ledges, gorges, colonnades and grottos-and all this at a depth of 50-70 meters and around the open ocean. The coastal platform of the island is very short, so at 300 m from the coast, the depth often exceeds 200 m. The water is surprisingly clear – visibility under water reaches 50 m. Every year, the international underwater photography competition Open Fotosub is held off the coast of El Hierro – the island has the best conditions in the world for underwater photography. Sometimes even humpback whales swim into these waters! And of course there are stingrays, including manta rays, moray eels, groupers, triggerfish, viejas, mackerel, barracudas, tuna, flute fish, sea tongues, and so on. Invertebrates also delight: octopuses, squid, crabs, lobsters, starfish, shrimps and other marine life. There are hammerhead sharks off the north coast, bull sharks prowl at great depths, and local divers have a sign: a whale shark-for good luck. Yes! There are also loggerheads – Atlantic big-headed turtles.

What to see in El Hierro

view from pena observation deck

The island's landmark is the de la Pena observation deck. Instagrammable views of the west coast and the Gulf of El Golfo, but most importantly - the famous Michelin-starred restaurant de la Pena designed by Cesar Manrique with panoramic windows and a veranda. Dinner at this restaurant with a sunset Instagrammable view is a must do for those who are on the island for the first time. Lighthouse de Orchilla-apart from standing at least once where the edge of the earth was, it is a very poetic, secluded and peculiar place. It is not very convenient to go, it is better to rent a car. The laurel Forest de La Llania is a forest where fairies live. When you walk through a foggy, dense and humid rainforest, the most incredible images come to mind. This is a real miracle on such a harsh, sometimes arid volcanic island. Natural monument de Las Playas - a beach that was formed as a result of numerous landslides. Black sand + aquamarine shining water – one of their business cards of the island. There are very, very unusual landscapes and the place is perfect for fantasy style photo shoots or art photos. The pictures on Tacoron Beach will be no worse. The tiny bay is hidden in colorful rocks, and the sand there is red. And in El Charco Azul - the blue grotto-romantic shots will turn out well, this is the most famous romantic place on the island. The blue grotto is a small natural pool with water of absolutely blue, heavenly color. The water is warmed by the sun and is warm all year round, but during periods of storms it is a little uncomfortable on the shore.

El Sabinar plateau

el sabinar plateau

"Sabina" is Spanish for juniper. On the plateau, old, old juniper trees grow in abundance, which time and wind have given very strange shapes. And we will finish the parade of natural monuments ... on Mars. On the island of El Hierro, it is the town of Tamaduste. For those who are interested in the tricks of nature-architect around the city laid track trail. It goes along the ocean and there is a feeling of an unearthly surface. That's about how science fiction movies show Mars. And after the trek, you can sunbathe and swim in the local natural pool, the largest on the island. And even if there are waves in the ocean, it is completely silent, and the healing mineral water heals wounds and washes away fatigue and stress. canary island Canary Islands are a very interesting archipelago, the islands are completely different and each is unique in its own way. The islands are located quite close to the equator, near them passes the Canary current and the season is there all year round, but in winter it can be cool. But in February there are carnivals, so each period has its own advantages. The ideal combination for active travelers is to take a ride on several islands in 1 trip. But it may happen that you will like the Canaries so much that you will return there more than once. Dive to the whales and pirate ships, have dinner on the pad de la Pena, or even get under sail and circle between these paradisiacal places, going from island to island in search of adventure.