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 do on a day at Cíes
- Sunbathe at Rodas, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with a hypnotic turquoise blue water (cold as ice)
- Go nude at the only nudist beach of the area: Playa de los Alemanes (official name is Figueiras beach).
- Ignore the masses and sunbathe at any of the other 7 beaches around the islands
- Cross from one island to the other through Rodas beach and then back through the bridge over the inner lake (O lago dos nenos)
- Take a look at the lake and try to name at least 4 different marine species, from gilt-head beams to moray eels.
- 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.
- 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)
- Read a book about the natural species in the area (you can request one at the info spot, they lend them for the day)
- Visit the small museum located at Faro island.
- Go snorkeling, kayaking or take a guided tour, just book in advance with the ferry company or the camping.
What you won’t find at Cies Islands
- Resorts, hotels, disco-bars or any other than the services listed above.
- 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.
- Cars, motorbikes, bikes… Only wheelchairs are allowed at the islands (and the security and maintenance vehicles from the island).
- Fresh water fountains. You’ll see fountains around, but the water is not safe to drink.
- 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.
- 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
A/ 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.)
B/ 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.
When to visit the Islands
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- Bring food and all your equipment. You can buy or rent some of it but at a very expensive rate.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- The bar near the ferry. Expensive and pretty low quality for the Galicia standard.
- The bar at the Camping. Quite the same, but less crowded.
- 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.
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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).