Cies Islands: The Hidden Gem in the Spanish Atlantic Ocean

I have to admit that I'm a little biased in writing this article: these islands hold sentimental value for me because I grew up spending a large part of every summer camping in the Cies Islands.

Thankfully, Robert's first visit with me this year and the stunning pictures he took back me up when I say that this is probably one of the most magical places in the world.

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Cies Islands – Getting There, Staying Overnight, and Camping

Cies Islands is made up of 3 Islands:

  1. Monteagudo: This is the one you first arrive at, where all main boats and cruises dock
  2. Faro: This is where you’ll find the camping site and the accompanying shop/restaurants
  3. San Martiño: This is the one at the end, and is only accessible by private boat

How to Get to Cies Islands – Mar de Ons and Nabia

If you’re in Galicia, there are two boat companies that will take you to the Cies Islands from either Vigo or Cangas: Mar de Ons or Nabia.

There offer several schedules, so just pick the one that’s most convenient for you. Both of them charge 18.50 euros for a round-trip ticket (independent of whether you stay overnight or not or not).

Cies Islands Permit – Staying overnight?

Although this isn’t a complex topic, it is a necessary one.

If you’re planning on spending the night, you'll need to request a permit from the Xunta de Galicia here. It’s an instantaneous process and is likely done as a daily count to not exceed the islands' maximum capacity.

Camping at Cies Islands – Steps and Options

Ok, so you love what you’ve seen of the Cies Islands and you’ve decided you’ll be staying the night when you visit.

The first thing you have to do is to make a camping reservation. Then, buy your boat tickets on the day you wish to visit and do so with time; Cies Islands will actually reach its daily maximum of visitors and campers during the summer (mainly in July and August). As widely unknown as the islands may be, they’re very popular regionally — so just keep that in mind!

Camping officially opens up in June and ends in September, although occasionally it’ll open a few weekends before and end a few weekends after if the weather is accommodating.

As of 2018, there are two options for camping at Cies Islands:

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Budget option: Bringing your own tent

  • 9.50 euros/person and 9.50 euros/tent you bring
  • If you’re a party of two and bring along one tent, the total is to camp at Cies Islands for one night is 28.50 euros
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Fancier option: Renting a tent

  • 55 euros/tent for two people, 85 euros/ tent for four people
  • Bed mattress included

This is the option we chose and the one I recommend for infrequent campers, mostly because you don’t have to buy your own tent (obviously not the case if you already own one). Also, getting a good night’s rest on a mattress while camping makes the whole experience better.

The camping grounds have public toilets and showers, a small supermarket to buy some basic foods and necessities (bring what you think you’ll need, as things tend to be overpriced here) and a shack for charging your electronics near the entrance of the campsite.

You’ll also find free WIFI at the campsite, although we weren’t there long enough to need it/want to test it.

Cies Islands – Beaches and Restaurants

Cies Islands Beaches

There are so many eye-opening beaches at Cies Islands that you’ll have a hard time picking your favorite.

Rodas

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Rodas has been proclaimed one of the most beautiful beaches in the world by the Guardian, and it’s hard to argue with them. The white sand, crystalline water, and the accompanying scenery make you feel like you’re in paradise.

This is also probably the most visited beach because it’s the first one you spot as soon as you get off the boat, as it connects the islands of Monteagudo and Faro.

Figueiras

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Figueiras is the “nudist” beach of the island.

Although this is the designated nudist beach in Monteagudo, nowadays people don’t respect it as such, and it has mostly become a “mixed” beach. In other words, at times, most people will be clothed, which is awkward for those who plan to be nudists at this “nudist” beach.

This beach is just as gorgeous as all the others! Just be aware of this weird ambiguity before you visit.

Nuestra Señora

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From the campsite, this is the most accessible beach (similar to Rodas), and the one we’ve named the “disappearing beach.”

This beautiful rocky beach evaporates when the tide is high, and when that’s the case, rocks are the only thing that remains. Which is perfect, if you don’t mind sharing that with the hungry seagulls.

When this happens, we recommend crossing over to Rodas, which is just a few minutes away.

Calas Mixueiro, Margaridas, and Cala Catareira

These small beaches in Monteagudo island are great options for a more private experience. Calas Mixueiro is just next to the pier, and the other two are situated just after Figueiras beach.

Restaurants at Cies Islands

Rodas

Rodas is at the pier and is open the whole day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Illas Cies restaurant

Illas Cies restaurant is the most prominent restaurant at the campsite. It is open the whole day as well: for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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Restaurant Serafin

Serafin is located just a few minutes after the campsite. Of the small selection of restaurants on the island, this is the one with the best reputation. It’s a bit more expensive, but offers a menu with a nice variety of fresh fish dishes and a few other options. 

Bar Illas Cies

Bar Illas Cies is just below the campsite restaurant by the same name. This bar stays open until around 1–2 am, and serves coffee, drinks, and snacks. Aside from drinks and snacks, they also have board games and cards that you can use: the perfect combination for a night out while camping!

Cies Islands Trekking Routes and More

Faro de Cies (aka Cies Lighthouse)

The Faro de Cies route is my favorite route and the only one we did during this visit. There’s more to see along the way, it isn’t very difficult and only takes about 2–3 hours in total. At the end of it all, the Cies Lighthouse has one of the most impressive views on all three islands.

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La Campana (aka Bell Rock)

La Campana is about halfway to the Cies Lighthouse, just to the right of the main path where it forks.

The name of the site is derived from the shape of the rock, which has a hole at the top, resembling a bell tower. If you’re adventurous, you can climb into this hole at the top and witness another set of astonishing views that you’ll probably remember for years to come.

Even though it isn’t difficult to climb (especially with help), be really careful to not hurt yourself and once you’re inside the rock, hold on to wherever you can and don't get too close to the edge, especially when it gets really windy.

This is the most magical place on the island, without a doubt.

Mirador de Aves (Bird Watching Viewpoint)

This Faro de Cies route is the gift that keeps on giving. Just a few feet from the bell rock is a small wooden house designated as a bird watching viewpoint.

If you’re looking for a nice place to take a break, this is it. Have a snack, take a breather, and continue onto the lighthouse, which is only about 20–30 minutes from this spot.

Other Routes

We were only on Cies Islands for two days, one night — we could only do so much before boarding the ship and departing. These were some of the routes we didn't get to.

Faro da Porta

On the same island where you'll find Faro Cies ("Faro Island"), you'll also find Faro da Porta, which also has an easier and shorter trek leading to it. This brief walk with expansive views of the sea is perfect for someone who wants to take in the beauty of the Natural Park without much effort.

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Alto do Principe

To do this route, you have to go to the information center on Monteagudo island, which is just a few minutes away from the pier. From here, you'll take a right as if you were going to Figueriras beach.

Then, follow the signs that take you to the top of the route, until you get to "La silla de la Reina" ("The Queen's Chair"), a rocky formation that looks like a chair and grants you with amazing views of the two main islands.

Faro do Peito (or Monteagudo)

This other route is located in Monteagudo too: from the information center, you turn to the right as if you were going to Figueiras beach and follow the signs signaling till you arrive.

From this lighthouse, you'll have the views of La Vela Coast (another amazing area of Riax Baixas) and part of the Ons Islands. 

Other Activities

Starlight

For only 5 euros, you'll be guided on a 1–2 hour night tour to admire the night sky, flooded with bright starlight. Aside from this, you can always just stargaze on your own from just about any point on the island — because of its distance from city lights, you’ll the see the sky glow here like never before.

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Kayaking and Snorkeling

If you want a little more action on your visit to the islands, you’ve always got plenty of water sports to get into. You can book a kayaking or snorkeling adventure at the reception area of the campsite.

Children Playtime

Cies Islands is a family-friendly place! If you visit with kids, there is a team of people ready at the islands to play with them while you go off on your own!