If you want to discover some of the most beautiful beaches in Spain and the world, then you definitely should visit Islas Cies. Located in the coast of Galician Rias Baixas, Islas Cies are an idilic destination of white sand beaches, crystal clear waters and astonishing cliffs and sights.
In this post you will find information on how to arrive to Islas Cies including how to get the permit, both in high and low season. I also list the range of activities that you can do in the islands, from sunbathing to hiking or discover the fauna of the National Park, either at the land or the sea by snorkeling or scuba diving. You can also find where sleep or eat in Islas Cies.
Visit Islas Cies: introduction
The Islas Cies are an archipelago located in the Atlantic Ocean right at the coast of the city of Vigo, in Galicia (Spain). The archipelago is composed by three islands: Isla de Monteagudo, Isla do Faro and Isla da San Martiño, the first two are connected by a bridge and the sand of the Playa de Rodas (the most famous beach in Islas Cies).
Islas Cies are part of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia Maritime-Terrestrial National Park. The park also comprises Isla de Ons, Isla Sálvora and Isla Cortegada. They are one of the most visited tourist attractions in Galicia mainly for their paradisiac beaches. On several ocasions, they have been regarded as the most beautiful in Spain and even the world.
For this reason, since recent years the Government of Galicia regulates the tourism to Islas Cies. They have a maximum number of visitors allowed per day which varies from high season to low season. Therefore, if you want to visit Islas Cies you need to request this permit (it has no cost). You will need some anticipation, particularly if you visit during summer.
Sunbathing in its multiple beaches is not the only thing to do if you visit Islas Cies. There are several hikes of low difficulty that allow you to explore the cliffs, forests, lighthouses or fauna of the island and are a must. Other activities such as snorkeling or scuba diving (with a special additional permit) are also possible.
The permit to visit Islas Cies
Due to the high number of visitors and in an effort to preserve the environment, if you want to visit in high season (Easter week and from 15th of May to 15th of September), it is mandatory to request an authorisation to visit Islas Cies. This permit is expedited by the Government of Galicia through the following website: https://autorizacionillasatlanticas.xunta.gal/illasr/cambiarIdioma?lang=en. The maximum number of visitors per day is 2,000 people.
You can request your authorisation from 90 days to your visit and you can cancel until 15 days prior. The general recommendation is to plan in advance, particularly during August. Each authorisation can include a maximum of 10 people.
After processing your authorisation, you’ll need to arrange transportation to the islands. Check the section below for information and the list of available shipping lines. Please note that from 30st of June each year, you will have two hours from requesting the permit to buying the transportation ticket. Otherwise your request will automatically be invalidated.
During high season, it is also possible to stay overnight in the islands. If this is something that interests you, check the section below for information!
However, if you want to visit Islas Cies off-season (meaning from 16th of September to 14th of May, excluding Easter), it gets tricky. The official website of the National Park (https://illasatlanticas.gal/es/el-parque/autorizaciones-y-normativa/visita-las-lslas) says that the visit is only possible with an organised group, not by yourself. This applies to the visits to all National Park, which also includes Islas Ons, Sálvora and Cortegada.
As we wanted to visit off-season we did a lot of research. Let me tell you, it was not easy. We finally found that some shipping lines organise “group visits” so that they can transport tourists to Islas Cíes. This means that once there, you will be able to choose if you discover the islands with a guide and a group or by yourself.
So, fortunately, it is possible to visit Islas Cies off-season. However, the trips available are more limited and maybe only leave on weekends and holidays. We only found one company that was operating: Naviera Mar de Ons (http://www.mardeons.es/), but once there we saw that Piratas de Nabia (http://www.piratasdenabia.com/) was also available. As the number of tourists that visit Islas Cies off-season is considerably lower (I read the maximum allowed per day decreases to 450), the shipping lines request the permit on behalf of their passengers. You just need to give them the necessary information and it will be done for when you visit (we didn’t receive any document for that).
From the list of authorised operators that you will find in next section, the variety of services offered is quite wide. The list comprises all the companies with autorisation to navigate in the Atlantic Islands of Galicia Maritime-Terrestrial National Park. The reason for this authorisation might be:
- Navigation courses and practices.
- Cruises of several days across the National Park.
- One-day visits for large groups (about 50 people), they seem focused on companies and team building activities.
- Rental of whole boats (about 10 people), with or without captain.
- One-day visits for small groups.
So, depending on what type of experience you are seeking you’ll need to contact one operator or another. It will take some time to unravel the different available options.
If you arrange your visit to Islas Cies through an organised tour, they will request the permit on your behalf.
How to arrive
The Galician Government has authorised several shipping lines that can do the round trip to Islas Cies, as well as some tour companies. The schedule and offer of transport and visits in Islas Cies may vary depending on the date. There are higher options during the central months of summer. Also, the time for departure and return will be different across the season. Do check the schedules in advance and plan your trip accordingly.
The transport to Islas Cies lasts for about 40 minutes.
As of 2022, this is the list of authorised shipping lines and tour companies:
|PIRATAS DE NABIA (NAVIERA ILLA DE ONS)||http://www.piratasdenabia.com/||Transportation|
|NAVIERA MAR DE ONS, S.L.||http://www.mardeons.es/||Transportation|
|CRUCEROS RÍAS BAIXAS||http://www.crucerosriasbaixas.com/||Transportation|
|CRUCEROS DO ULLA-TURIMARES||http://www.crucerosdoulla.com/||Transportation|
|TOURS RÍAS BAIXAS||http://www.toursriasbaixas.com/||Transportation|
|NAVIERA RÍAS GALLEGAS (RG)||[email protected]||Transportation|
|CHARTER TERRA NOVA||https://charterterranova.com/||Other|
|GREEN POWER BOATS||https://www.yumping.com/deportes-acuaticos/green-power-boats--e19743460||Other|
|OCEANIC AROUSA TOURS||http://www.oceanicarousa.com/||Other|
|RUTAS RIAS BAIXAS||http://www.rutasriasbaixas.com/||Other|
|CRUCEROS PELEGRIN (MONROA S.L.)||http://www.crucerospelegrin.com/||Other|
|INTRAMAR INICIATIVAS TRADICIONALES MARÍTIMAS||http://www.intramar.org/||Other|
|MAR DE AGUIÑO||http://www.mardeaguiño.es||Other|
The updated list can be found in the following link: https://www.islas-cies.org/como-llegar-islas-cies/comprar-billete-barco-islas-cies/.
What to do
The activities to do when you visit Islas Cies are the relaxing-exploring-nature type. That doesn’t mean that your day won’t be full! From relaxing at world-famous beaches to exploring lighthouses and cliffs or observing the fauna in the sky, the land and the sea, I can assure you that your time in the islands will fly!
There are two information points that provide a map and all the recommendation you might need. They might be closed off-season.
If you have one day to visit Islas Cies, the most common recommendation is to start with the hike to Faro de Cies, then relax and eat at Playa da Rodas or Playa Nosa Señora and in the afternoon take the route to Alto do Príncipe.
- Praia da Rodas: the largest and most famous beach in Islas Cies. Playa de Rodas will recieve you when you land from the ship. It connects Isla de Monteagudo with Isla do Faro (the northern ones). It has been catalogued as the most beautiful beach in the world by The Guardian and on several ocasions.
- Praia dos Viños: a small beach right to Playa da Rodas. It might have the access limited depending on season and number of visitors. A curiosity about this beach is that it has the remains of a house. It belonged to the last inhabitant of Islas Cies until he passed in 2018. His former neighours had left the islands way earlier in the 70s.
- Praia do Nosa Señora: a small beach of 140m, it is often outshone by Playa da Rodas. It offers waters of precious blue and green, it is protected from wind and a great option for snorkeling.
- Praia das Figueiras: it is the nudist beach at the islands and is also known as ‘German’s beach’.
There are four hikes accross the Islas Cies that will allow you to have great views on the islands and the surroundings.
- Faro de Cies (in Isla do Faro): with a total of 7km and about 175m of altitude gain, you can complete it in 2-3 hours and is the most popular route of the islands. You will observe the contrast in the landscape: the beach at Playa de Rodas and the cliffs and views from the lighthouse over the Isla de Monteagudo and Isla do San Martiño. In the middle of the route you can find Pedra da Campa, a stone with a small opening that is perfect to contemplate the sunset through.
- Faro da Porta (in Isla do Faro): a route that follows the coast of the island, it is shorter and easier than the first one. It covers 5.2km and lasts for 2 hours. People often combine it with the route Faro de Cies.
- Alto do Príncipe (in Isla de Monteagudo): with 3.4km and and altitude gain of 122m, this short route of just 1.5 hours owns its name (High Prince) to a stone ressembling a chair at the top, from where you can contemplate the views over Playa de Rodas and feel like the royalty of the island. The views during the whole hike but specially at the top are magnificent.
- Faro do Peito: covering 5km and 2h of time, this route offers the furthest-reaching views among the four. If the sky is clear (it is often not, fog is common in Galicia), you could even see Isla de Ons or Costa da Vela, in the main land. Not many people chose this route so if you are seeking relax, it might be your best option.
- Star gazing if you spend the night. Thanks to the almost non-existent light pollution, the stars can be seen pretty clear. In fact, Islas Cies is a Starlight certified destination, one of fourteen in the world.
- Scuba diving sessions where besides the rich marine life of the islands you will be able to discover plenty of sunken ships, the oldest being from the 16th century. You will need to request a permit to scuba dive in Islas Cies.
- Snorkeling at the crystal clear beaches of Rodas and Nosa Señora. You do not need a special permit for it.
- Observe the fauna. You will get tired of seeing (and fighting for your food against) seagulls, as something like 22,000 live in the Islas Cies. However, there are several other species like the largest lizard in Europe (ocellated lizard) or cormorants, to name a few.
Eating in Islas Cies
The general recommendation is to bring your own food, however, there are four restaurants in Islas Cies:
- Camping Islas Cies opens from 9.30h to 00.00h. Self-service.
- Restaurante Rodas opens from 13.30h to 15.30h. Self-service, with menu adapted to families with children. It is the most crowded one of the list.
- Bar Serafín opens from 13.30h to 16h and offers a la carte dishes (specialised in fish).
- Bocatería Begoña serves sandwiches and burgers.
Although the information online states that all these restaurants are closed off-season, when we visited in early October we found the one at the camping and Restaurante Rodas to be available for lunch and drinks.
An additional note about water: there are not fountains or other sources of drinking water in the islands, so you’ll need to carry it from main land, or alternatively buy it at the restaurants.
Sleeping in Islas Cies
Staying overnight in Islas Cies is possible during high season, meaning Easter week and from 15th of May to 15th of September. The only available accomodation is Camping Islas Cies (https://www.campingislascies.com/), located in the Faro island. It is not possible to stay in Islas Cies during off-season as the camping is closed.
The camping has around 800 spots and is the only option to camp in Islas Cies, as everywhere else is forbidden.
They offer two types of accomodation:
- Pitches to install your own tent.
- Tent hire: they have two sizes of already installed tents, one for 1-2 people and another for 2-4 people. You can add children and babies in both options. These tents have beds so you won’t need to sleep on the floor. Moreover, if you don’t have your own sleeping bag you can rent it at the camping.
Showers (as well as WiFi) will be paid on top of the stay. However, as there is no electricity on the pitches or the tents, the camping reception will provide you for free with solar chargers.
The camping has a small supermarket and a bar, not available during Easter week.
If you stay at Camping Islas Cies, you will not need to request the permit to access the islands by your own, as the camping will do it on your behalf. They will later provide you with the authorisation number that you will need to buy your boat trip to arrive.
Moving around in Islas Cies
The only vehicles allowed in Islas Cies are security and maintenance. Bikes are considered vehicles and therefore are not allowed. So, the only way to move around in the islands is by foot (but they are very small and you’ll be able to arrive everywhere!). This applies to all three islands in the archipelago.
You can freely walk from Illa de Monteagudo to Illa do Faro (the northern ones), as Rodas beach and a pass connect them. However, Illa do San Martiño, located in the south, is not linked with them nor connected with regular ferry lines (either with the other islands or with main land). For this reason it receives a very low number of tourists, as it only can be accessed with private boat.
Final important information
- As Islas Cies are part of the National Park, there are no waste bins to be found and you need to bring your own bag to take your waste back to the main land.
- There are no sources of drinking water except the restaurants, so it is wise to carry enough with you.
- There is nothing to buy except at the camping supermarket, the restaurants and some postcards at the port. You’ll have to bring everything you’ll need with you.
- One of the main activities to do at the islands is hiking, so be sure to have adequate shoes.
- Due to the ocean breeze and sun inclination, it is really common to get sunburnt in Islas Cies, so pack sunscreen and apply regularly.
- Even in summer, you should have a light jacket for the ferry.
- Pets are not allowed.
- Do not expect disco-bars. Islas Cies are a touristic attraction for relaxing and exploring, not partying.
- In fact, noise is forbidden in Islas Cies, a measure particularly reinforced during night.
- In general, you need to remember that you will be at a National Park, so everything is designed and regulated to preserve the environment. That means that all harmful activities are obviously forbidden but also that most probably you’ll need a special permit for the ones that are allowed, for example scuba dive.
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