Things you should know before you visit Cíes Islands and Rodas beach in Galicia

Cies Islands views

Last week I packed my bag and set to a day visit to Cies Islands, the amazing islands at Ria de Vigo in the north of Spain. The visit, hosted by the local tourism board would take us to one of the most beautiful islands in Europe (according to the Guardian) and the top from the top five Spanish beaches (according to The Sunday Times).

I had been there before, as a kid, but this visit would take a different approach: we were doing a “sound tour”, a visit were the scenery was not the main thing, and it was quite impressive. The birds, the dunes, the waves beating on the rocks, the trees…

While walking around the islands I noticed some interesting facts I hadn’t noticed before, so I decided to share with you my updated list of tips and recommendations for a trip to Cíes Islands in Galicia:

Things you should take to Cíes Islands

  • Boots or walking shoes. Please don’t just bring your flip-flops, you’ll miss most of the amazing things Cies can offer. Of course, if you’re only planning to visit Rodas beach, flip-flops are fine (and boring.)
  • Food and water. There’s no fresh water source at Cies Islands for tourists and the sun is wild there, so remember to bring your own water and food. You can buy some there, but there are only 3 places where you can buy this things and they will be expensive.
  • Your own garbage bag. You’ll have to take all your garbage back with you when you leave the islands and there are no garbage bins around. Plus, this is a natural park, you could get fined.
  • Sunscreen. People get seriously sun burnt at Cies Islands (something about the ocean breeze and the position of the sun…) so be ready and remember to put some on every once in a while, even on cloudy days.
  • Swimming glasses. You need a special license for diving, but you can still swim around and see an amazing collection of species (no fishing is allowed, by the way).
  • Towel, hat, jacket and clothes. Again, nowhere to buy these and, even in a hot summer day, you’ll need a jacket for the ferry trip.
  • Your camera (or smartphone)

 

what to bring for a day at cies islands

What to do on a day at Cíes

  1. Sunbathe at Rodas, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with a hypnotic turquoise blue water (cold as ice)
  2. Go nude at the only nudist beach of the area: Playa de los Alemanes (official name is Figueiras beach).
  3. Ignore the masses and sunbathe at any of the other 7 beaches around the islands
  4. Cross from one island to the other through Rodas beach and then back through the bridge over the inner lake (O lago dos nenos)
  5. Take a look at the lake and try to name at least 4 different marine species, from gilt-head beams to moray eels.
  6. Go hiking to each of the lighthouses that run at Cies. There are 4 hiking routes at Cíes, just be ready as they can be steep.
  7. Visit one of the bird-watching spots and try to spot any of the protected species at the island (or just look at the infinite ocean at the horizon)
  8. Read a book about the natural species in the area (you can request one at the info spot, they lend them for the day)
  9. Visit the small museum located at Faro island.
  10. Go snorkeling, kayaking or take a guided tour, just book in advance with the ferry company or the camping.

 

hidden beaches at cies islands

What you won’t find at Cies Islands

  1. Resorts, hotels, disco-bars or any other than the services listed above.
  2. Waste bins. In fact, you must bring a bag to take your waste back to the mainland with you. Of course, there is a big waste-bin by the restaurant, but that’s all you’ll find.
  3. Cars, motorbikes, bikes… Only wheelchairs are allowed at the islands (and the security and maintenance vehicles from the island).
  4. Fresh water fountains. You’ll see fountains around, but the water is not safe to drink.
  5. Shops and souvenirs. There are only two places where you can shop: the supermarket at the camping (no fresh meat or fish) and the restaurants. You might find some postcards at the bar that’s near the ferry, but that’s most of you will be able to buy.
  6. Noise. In fact, it is forbidden to make noise at Cies Islands and they are specially strict at nights (from 00.00 to 8.00 am). You could get fined.

Getting there: how to visit Cíes Islands

  1. The islands belong to a national park, so the number of visitors to the islands is limited to about 2,000 visitors a day, you must request permission to visit Cies at https://autorizacionillasatlanticas.xunta.gal/ before you even buy your transport ticket
    • Authorization is available up to 45 days in advance. Some times, during low season, they open authorization requests only a few weeks in advance, as boat companies might refuse provide transport when there is bad weather.
    • You need an authorization code to go on a day trip to Cíes. If you are sleeping at the Camping, the camping company can request authorization for you.
    • Once you have requested authorization, you only have 2 hours to book with any of the official ferry companies to the island. This is so people don’t book “just in case” and the boat availability always matches the authorization availability.
    • Even if you have requested authorization and booked the trip, you can cancel your ticket to Cies Islands up to 15 days in advance of the selected date. You need to go to the authorizations website and cancel your authorization. Once you get a confirmation for this, you then need to contact the ferry company so they can cancel the ferry ticket too. Check the conditions to cancel the ferry trip to Cíes, since some companies only allow to this by email or at their offices. I just found out that Piratas de Nabia doesn’t allow cancellations of any kind (thus their “pirates” name I asume.)
  2. You can go to Cíes on a Ferry from Vigo, Baiona and Cangas, although Vigo offers more daily trips with the islands than any of the other ports. But take into account:
    • There are two main companies with tickets to Cies: Mar de Ons and Piratas de Nabia
    • These boats take you to Monteagudo and Faro islands only (they are connected by a bridge.)
    • Your booking is a two-way ticket with a time on it. You can only board at the time specified (each way.)
    • The boat won’t wait for you, if you lose a boat they’ll make you pay a new ticket.
    • They don’t announce departures at Cies Islands through a PR system or screens, you need to be there on time, on your own (sound announcements are restricted because of the Natural Park protection.)
    • It won’t carry cars or other vehicles, they are forbidden at the islands (except for police, maintenance and such.) Bikes can’t go there either.
    • It won’t carry animals (only guide dogs)
    • The trip will take about 40 minutes (sometimes more) to the islands.
  3. You can also go on your own ship (or rent one), but you must get permission to sail ant to anchor there, from the Natural Park (the boat rental can do this for you).

 

Boat to Cies Islands in Galicia

When to visit the Islands

  1. While summer (July and August) is considered peak season, there can only be around 2000 people each day, so it’s never really crowded. (Ok, they got really crowded last summer because of the transport companies that got greedy and sold counterfeit tickets, so now you need to request an authorization from the park before you book your trip, this way we’re back to 2000 people a day).
  2. The Standard Ferry service is available only during Easter, summer and on the weekends of May and June. But you can get cheaper prices in June and September.
  3. Tickets for the same days and anchor permits are hard to get on summer weekends. Any other day, you can wait until the weather conditions are best and book online.
  4. It is possible to visit the islands on your own all year-long, just need to request authorization.

Where to sleep at Cíes Islands

Cíes Islands is a natural park with no Hotels or apartments to rent. There is only a camping with limited seats. Otherwise, you can only stay for the day.

However, the Islands are a great spot to watch the stars (it is a Starlight certified destination) and a great place to retreat without wifi and noise.

If you are planning to camp there:

  1. You should book way in advance if you are planing a visit for July or August. There are only 800 seats and you can’t camp elsewhere, it’s forbidden. The stay at the camping at Cies Islands is limited to 15 days in a row.
  2. Bring food and all your equipment. You can buy or rent some of it but at a very expensive rate.
  3. Bring bags for your trash, they are very expensive at the island and you cannot leave your garbage behind. If you need an extra one, avoid buying one, buy a drink or similar and use the bag they put it in.
  4. If you don’t want to travel with your tent, you can rent one with its bedding. But if you feel like bringing a lot of things, there are carts for you to use at the door of the bar near the ferry boats.
  5. Regarding technology:
    • They do have WIFI – Internet connection at Cíes Islands Camping, but you’ll have to pay 2€ a day.
    • You can charge your phone with a solar charger, free at the reception desk.
  6. You’ll have to pay for the showers.

 Where to eat at Cíes Islands

Ok. you forgot to bring your own food (or run out of it), you can go to:

  1. The bar near the ferry. Expensive and pretty low quality for the Galicia standard.
  2. The bar at the Camping. Quite the same, but less crowded.
  3. Bar Serafín, behind the camping area. A small place most tourists ignore but with better food and fish (only opens from 13.30 to 16.00pm.)

They close during low season, so I’d recommend taking your own “bocatas”, you can buy some pretty good ones at A Laxe shopping mall (the black building next to the departure point in Vigo) or at the plenty bars at Casco Vello, Cangas and Baiona. If you feel like saving a lot more, go to a supermarket or a small bakery and get one make for you at the spot.

Final advice: beware of the birds at Cíes, seagulls here can open bags, untie knots and unzip zippers (they’ve been known for stealing GoPro cameras and tape while they fly, but they won’t return the camera). And if they like something they’ll fight for it. Plus, they breed in the summer and they will protect their chicks wildly.

Seagulls Cies Islands Galicia Spain

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And remember to check the other islands at the National Park of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia, like Ons, Sálvora and Cortegada. Major ferry companies offer trips to these locations (each of them so different from the others you’ll be amazed), and many other activities companies like Bluscus offer longer trips that connect these islands to local culture and gastronomy (yes, I mean food and wine).

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Comments (22)

Planning on a visit soon so thanks for the article and the heads up!

Thank you! 🙂
Enjoy Cies it’s a great spot and lots to explore in the region.

Thank you Leticia for your article! It’s very useful. I booked my tickets for the coming Sunday and hopefully we can go on our 09.00 o’clock ferry. It was a bit strange to read in the confirmation that it could be that the the booked date/time are not available, so we’ll cross our fingers. Garbage bags & sunscreen, jacket, hats, flip flops are already in the backpack, sneakers on our feet to hike and of course water & snacks for our 1day trip. Too bad we can’t take our cool box along as we want to hike. Anyways, I’m prepared and I’m really looking forward to it!

Hi Thi!
Don’t bet on luck, book your ferry tickets online now if you are planning to travel this Sunday. It’s peak season and you might not get on the boat you are planning to. Also, (I am updating the post for this reason) now you must book with any of the ship companies in less than two hours since you got authorization on the website.
Repeat: You only have 2 hours to book the ferry trip since you get the authorization to visit. Otherwise you will loose your authorization and have to re-apply.
Sorry for he bad news. Good news is there are free spots for authorization now (just checked) and tickets available for the 9:30 boat from piratasdenabia.com and the 9:00 boat from mardeons.es (also checked)

Hope you have a great time at Cies Islands! And beaware of the seagulls, they are breeding (and are very protective)

Hi Leticia,
Thanks for the reply! I wasn’t clear in my comment before but I did applied for the authorisation while writing the comment ?
The night before I went to the Mar booth and had my tickets printed out. As the online confirmation isn’t the ticket.
We will enjoy in a bit!

So happy to read this! I wasn’t sure you got your tickets and was a bit afraid you wouldn’t be allowed in. Read this a bit late so hope you enjoyed the islands!
Best,

Journey On Air Oanh

What a beautiful place. If I have an opportunity, I will get to Galicia for sure. Thank you a lot. I think I will get several unforgettable memories.

Happy to have inspired you to travel to Galicia!

Hey,

Great article! I’m visiting Cies in June for 4 nights……I’m beginning to think that 4 night is too long!

Do you know if you’re allowed to use disposable bbq at the camping site? Can you also bring your own beer from the mainland?

Thanks, Elliot

Hi Elliot!
Glad you liked it 🙂 4 nights could be a long time, but you can book some activities at the camping site, like snorkeling, stargazing (Cies is an starlight certified destination), diving, kayaking…(only allowed with guided visit or requesting permission at the park website). You might find extra info at the camping site.

Or take a boat to Vigo, Cangas or Baiona and back (a bit expensive and you have to pre-book it, but it could be an option too.)

Regarding beer and bbq, you can take beer and a camping gas equipment (the supermarket has camping gas cartridges and butane canisters but doesn’t rent any of the accessories; and you can’t use them inside the tent.) Barbecues and fires are also prohibited (including candles, firecrackers, sparklers, etc)

Best,
Leticia

HI, Do you know if it is possible to get authorization to visit in June. I want to visit the first Friday in noon but on the website it says that no authorization is available.

Hi Julie!
The theory says that they open dates 45 days in advance, but it is working so-so. Right now the website says April-May but it allows bookings for the first week of June too. If you are planning to visit later, wait one week or two, they’ll keep opening more dates to the booking system.

Nice travels!

Hi, do you know if there are trips Vigo – Islas Cies on May 1st this year? Mar de Ons only shows a 2017 calendar. If so, when should I buy the tickets? It’s less than 45 days already.

Hi Krysztof,
Right now, the authorities have not granted regular ships booking for that date, so I am assuming none of the transport companies will offer scheduled ships for May 1st for now.
This can change in the following weeks if the weather changes, because there is a major bank holiday happening in May 1st and 2nd in Madrid (the rest of Spain only has May 1st as bank holiday) but can’t tell you more at the moment.

Best,

Thanks for your answer. It occurred that the ship companies launch the ticket sale not 50 or 45 days prior to the bank holiday but approximately two weeks before the trip. It’s when the authorisation is available too. I already booked my tickets and my advice for the future travellers is: wait patiently 🙂

SO happy to hear that! Thanks for letting me know. Hope you enjoy the islands, let me know if I can help you with anything else 🙂

Hi, I’m planning to go there next September, and I only have one thing that worries me: were the seas rough when you went there? 40 minutes is not a long time in a boat for normal people, but Im very prone to sea sickness and that’s why Im worried. Thanks in advance for your reply! 🙂

Hi Frida!!
Cies Islands protect most of the way over from Vigo to the islands, so most of the journey is quite calmed, but it is the wild Atlantic Ocean what is behind, so it might get a bit jumpy sometimes (when it is really wild they cancel all trips and reschedule your trip or refund). You can sit down inside for an smoother trip there, there are plenty of seats available inside the ship and the room is surrounded by windows (summer or winter). Plus, most of the ships are medium – big (the ones leaving from Vigo are), not as big as a cruise or the ferry to Ellis Island, but not small vessels or similar, so they feel quite stable.

Remember to request your authorization from the national park at https://autorizacionillasatlanticas.xunta.gal/, now it is mandatory to obtain it before you book your trip to Cies Islands (not for the other Islands, though).

Enjoy your trip, the Islands are stunning! 🙂

lydiassemesterinspain

Hi! I am planning a day trip to Cíes. How much time would you recommend staying there just for the day? Thanks much!

Hi Lydia!
It really depends on what you like/want to do. If you plan to spend the day at the beach and sun bathing, it could be a morning or the whole day, but if you don’t plan to sunbathe at all, the hiking routes (going up to the lighthouse and back, for example) are about 2-3 hours long.

Take into account that there is only two bar/restaurants there: the one by the dock and the one behind the camping site. So plan your food options before you board the ship (there are sandwich and takeaway options near the dock in Vigo at ALaxe shopping center).

Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Hi there! thank you for your article, it helped me preparing for going there tomorrow 🙂

Happy to hear that! Have fun at Cíes ?

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