Laurisilva is a type of almost exclusive rainforest in Europe in Azores, Madeira and the western Canary Islands. Although numbered patches due to local micro-climates in areas of the UK, Ireland, Galicia and Los Alcornocales in Cádiz persist, the largest and best preserved forests are found in these islands.
While still farther north than the usual strip, they have grown due to very specific conditions:
- All these islands are in the Atlantic Ocean, in heat and high humidity conditions, which cause very dense fog banks.
- Being volcanic islands, they are very vertical (La Palma is the most vertical island in the world in relation to its size) and steep, so the fog is trapped in the multiple ridges that form the island relief. To save these mountain walls, fog can do nothing but to move up quickly to cooler altitudes, condensing as dew.
- The vegetation has developed a way to absorb water directly from the dew trapped in their leaves and stems, in addition to the water absorbed by the roots. Thus any moisture that accompanies the fog is used.
The result is a beautiful rainforest where it should not exist. In the Canary Islands it is known by the name of “monteverde”.
There are several areas where the forest exists, but the biggest is in the Anaga Rural Park. This area is not large or dense, but is just a 30-minute drive north of Santa Cruz de Tenerife (from some viewpoints you can even see the city) so if you are not visiting other islands, it is a good way to make contact with this kind of vegetation.
The largest and best preserved forest is in Garajonay National Park. With an area occupying 10% of the island, there are 18 trails of varying lengths and difficulties to appreciate the park vegetation. To hike all or most of them two days are recommended.
In the northeast is Los Tilos, a natural area of rainforest that although it is not as big as Garajonay, is the densest of the Canaries. The ridge on which it is located is very narrow, so the humidity is very high and plants grow abundantly; the density is such that more than a rainforest, sometimes resemble a real jungle. It is my favorite area.
There are small spots of rainforest, but is less dense and is very run down. Not very advisable if you have seen some of the others before.