The Cíes Islands are a small archipelago located in the south of Galicia, situated at the mouth of the Ria de Vigo. Describing the beauty of Cíes can only be done with superlatives. This group of islands is a unique nature reserve, with regulated tourism and, surprisingly, no trash bins.
Where are the Cíes Islands located?
The Cíes Islands are situated in the south of Galicia. Cíes consists of three islands: Monteagudo (northern island), Do Faro, and San Martiño (southern island). These three islands are located at the entrance of the Ria de Vigo, nearby the city of Vigo.
The islands act as a shield for the Ria. Like other rias in the Rias Baixas region, the islands slow down the ocean’s force and reduce its turbulence as it flows into the estuaries, providing a natural sea barrier.
A Unique Nature Reserve with the ‘Best Beach in the World’
Since 1980, the Cíes Islands have been designated as a protected nature reserve to safeguard the unique natural environment of the islands.
The islands host various ecosystems. Naturally, there’s the ocean surrounding the islands, contributing to marine biodiversity. You’ll find impressive cliffs, a common feature of Galicia’s landscape. There are shallow waters where you can swim among fish, and on land, you’ll encounter forests and breathtaking viewpoints.
Regarding wildlife, the islands are known for their abundant birdlife, including seabirds. That’s why there are no trash bins on the islands – more on that later. The waters around the islands are full of life, from fish to the famous shellfish and octopus that make Galician gastronomy so well-known.
Notably, there are nine stunning white sand beaches, including Rodas Beach. In 2007, the British newspaper The Guardian declared Rodas Beach the best beach in the world, making it one of the most beautiful beaches in Galicia.
Praia de Rodas, considered the most beautiful beach in the world by The Guardian
No trash bins on the Cíes Islands
One peculiar aspect of the Cíes Islands is the absence of trash bins. However, this doesn’t mean you can dispose of your garbage in nature. On the contrary, the rule is to take all your waste back to the mainland. This includes organic waste, as fruit pits and seeds can lead to the spread of invasive species that disrupt the traditional ecosystem. The reason for no trash bins is due to the abundance of birds on the island. Even if everyone properly uses the bins, the birds would still be attracted to them, which is undesirable.
Visiting and Staying on the Cíes Islands
The islands are uninhabited, with only three park rangers registered as residents.
During the high season, 2.200 guests are allowed daily on the islands, and in the low season, the number is 450. The high season runs from mid-May to mid-September.
In the high season, besides a boat ticket, you need an authorization from the government. This authorization can be purchased along with your boat ticket. In the low season, a boat ticket is sufficient.
You can buy both access and boat tickets on the Isles Cíes website.
Overnight stays on the islands are possible. There’s a camping area where you can pitch your tent, and you can also rent a tent. Approximately 600 people are allowed to stay overnight on the islands. Besides the camping area, there is a basic supermarket and a restaurant.
What to Do?
As you may have gathered between the lines, there’s a lot to do on the Cíes Islands if you love natural beauty.
One of the main activities is, of course, hiking. There are four main trails on the islands that are easy to navigate. Additionally, there are more challenging paths, and beautiful hikes lead to the lighthouses on the islands. You can cross the two main islands via a bridge or by walking along the beach.
Water recreation is also a must. Go diving, snorkeling, or swimming, or take a boat trip around the islands.
And most importantly, don’t forget to simply enjoy the stunning nature in silence.
In the image below (in Spanish), you can get an overview of the sights and activities you can visit.
Overview of attractions and activities (Source: unaideaunviaje.com)
How to Reach the Cíes Islands?
The islands are only accessible by boat. Ferries depart from multiple locations in the Rias Baixas to the archipelago.
During the high season, there are daily departures from Baiona, Cangas, and Vigo. Additionally, there are regular boats from Sanxenxo / Portonovo.
In the low season, boats sail from Vigo and Baiona.
Several ferries depart daily from Cangas and Vigo to the Cies Islands. In the high season, there are also regular departures from Baiona and Sanxenxo/Portonovo.
The Cíes Islands are an absolute must-visit in Galicia. Perhaps the most beautifully preserved piece of nature!