The island was already inhabited prior to the arrival of the Europeans in the 15th Century. The inhabitants came from North Africa and their culture was clearly similar to that of the Berber peoples.
Their economy was based on livestock and on the gathering of the produce of the island and they only devoted themselves to agriculture in a residual way. They lived in caves or small cabins and used wood and stone for the manufacture of tools together with clay and ceramics. Regarding their beliefs, it is known that they worshipped the mountains, among other things. This is made clear for example at the Alto de Garajonay, the place which gives its name to the Park, where archaeological remains were found which were linked to their rituals. The island was divided into four cantons or groups: Agana, Orone, Ipalan and Mulagua, located in the four great ravines on la Gomera.
With the arrival of the Europeans in the first third of the 15th Century, La Gomera became a source of rivalry between Spain and Portugal. The Gomeran cantons allied themselves first with one then with the other, until Portugal finally gave up its claim.
At first the penetration of European culture was pacific and gradual, until the arrival of Hernán Peraza "El Joven" as the Lord of the Island. He set up the payment of taxes and serfdom causing the Gomerans to rise up, after which they were defeated. Some time later, Hernán Peraza made a pact of brotherhood with the Ipalán group, which he broke when he embarked upon sexual relations with the native Princess Iballa. This affront, after many others, led the natives to kill him. As a reprisal, there was a great massacre with those Gomerans who were captured being sold as slaves, with the island being subjected by force.
One significant episode in the history of La Gomera is the relationship of the island with the voyages of Columbus. In August 1492, during the voyage of discovery to America, the caravels, Santa María and Pinta put in at La Gomera to prepare the journey. On 4th September, they were joined by the Admiral, on board the Nina.
In 1493, Columbus returned to the island in command of seventeen ships, heading again for America. He victualled his ships with live animals and edible vegetables, which were the basis for the first agriculture and livestock keeping in America.
During the 16th Century, the island was a port of call for sailors and conquistadors. This activity then died down and La Gomera became caught up in isolation and oblivion, under a feudal regime which lasted until the 19th Century.
In the past, the woodlands which are now included in Garajonay National Park played an important role in the island subsistence economy. Wood was used to build houses and make furniture, agricultural tools, kitchen utensils and even musical instruments. Firewood and even charcoal was made. In the highlands, flocks of goats and sheep watched over by shepherds and goatherds were busy eating pasture. And from the woodlands also forage was obtained and cut branches to be used for feeding the domesticated animals and for the beds of the livestock.
During the period of the "Counts", between the end of the 15th Century and the beginning of the 19th, the ownership of the woodlands was held by the Counts of La Gomera, who established strict regulations for use so as to obtain income and prevent the degradation of the woodlands.
Subsequently, as a consequence of the Constitution of 1812, by means of which the feudal jurisdiction was suppressed, the property was transferred to the boroughs, which continued to have a policy of conservation. In 1879, the conservation was consolidated administratively when the highlands of the island were included in the National Catalogue of Countryside for Public Use. In the 1940s, the livestock were taken away from the woodlands and from the 1950s onwards, the use of firewood also decreased with the generalisation of fossil fuels.
In the 1970s, voices began to be heard asking for the protection of the Gomeran woodlands. ICONA, the organisation that was responsible at that time for the conservation of nature began the administrative steps for the creation of a National Park, a process which culminated in 1981 with the creation of the Garajonay National Park. With this, a management model began in which the conservation of nature had the highest degree of priority.
As a result of their unique history, the woodlands of La Gomera are now in a condition which is close to their natural state due to the presence of mature trees, which sets them apart from the other laurel woodlands in the Canaries. Garajonay is one of the most natural woodlands in Spain.