Here you can find the best beach in the world. And it's not because we say so ourselves, but The Guardian newspaper. We are referring to the Rodas Beach beach located in the Cíes islands. Crystal clear water, fine golden sand, a crescent shape with a sheltering pine forest that invites you to a nice nap.

If in the past the Cíes Islands were a pirate haunt, today they are uninhabited and only open to the public in the summer. In this way they are preserved as a natural haven, without haste, without traffic. Just the sound of the waves and the wind.  But if you long for noise, climb up to the Faro lighthouse. The views are amazing and you can enjoy a unique spectacle: thousands of seagulls squawking (possibly the largest colony in Europe) around the cliffs... flying at you feet.

In addition to the Cíes Islands, the National Park includes the islands of Ons, Sálvora and Cortegada. In Ons don't miss the mysterious "furnas", granite sea caves cut by the waves, such as the mythical "Burato do Inferno", which was believed to go all the way down to hell, and on stormy nights the voices of the dead could be heard. And then, to get your strength back, there is nothing like a taste of the "pulpo á Illa" (island style octopus).

Atlantic Majesty

Navigating to the west is one of the greatest adventures on the Galician coast. There are Galician islands, and these are their names: Cíes, Ons, Sálvora and Cortegada. Archipelago with waters so turquoise and sands so white that they evoke sand Caribbean beaches... "until you put a finger in the water". This is stated as a merit by The Guardian newspaper, as it considers the Rodas beach in the Cíes the best in the world. Cold water with the best ocean properties for marine life and unique stories of sunken wrecks.

With the ship of the estuary of Vigo one reaches the outline of three islands that often look like two. They are known as the Cíes because we keep calling them by the Roman nickname for Siccas – the dry islands – although none of them is called this individually. The northern island - or Monteagudo -, and the one in the middle or the Faro - are joined by the ever-so-fine beach of Rodas and a lake that complete the picture of paradise. The southern island – or the  San Martiño -, is separated from the others by a channel called Puerta del Mar. The archipelago also reaches a series of islands that are joined underground in a massive seabottom of an enormous and fragile biodiversity, from the microscopic beauty of the prairies of algae to the grandeur of the whales, which are not unusual to spot.

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Ons and her sister Onza – or Onceta, and the small island of  As Freitosas, close off the estuary of Pontevedra, with a coastline outlined with sandy beaches. By contrast, the part that can't be seen from land is extremely rugged and suitable for the formation of sea caves ("furnas") and reefs. The underwater landscape of this ocean face is formed by vertical walls teeming with life thanks to the upwelling of nutrient-rich deep waters. The inhabitants of this island – currently  the only one inhabited in the national park – knew this well, as they were dedicated to fishing, among which the capture of octopus is of great importance.

Sálvora, on the far western edge of the Arousa estuary, with all its constellation of islands laden with seafaring tales and stories such as the small Noro, Vionta and Sagres, is the total reserve on the seabed and on the surface. Just as in the aforementioned Cíes and Ons, the passage of man has left the existence of human buildings designed for religious (chapels, altar or church), civil (lighthouses), military (forts) and industrial uses. In Sálvora, the salting factory became a manor house with two towers, and we also find  a  village with a lovely traditional look, with eight granaries and a chapel.

Cortegada and nearby Malveiras enjoy the proverbial biological wealth of the inland sea of Arousa. To observe the activity of production,  the pier and promenade of Carril offer remarkable shell fishing lessons with its areas for growing clams and cockles. Tides are the only boundary of the island that seems conquerable on foot. Sometimes guided tours are also held, and these – apart from the island's history – also show the plant treasure behind the pine forest represented by the forest  of laurel with tress reaching up to twelve metres high.

Not to be Missed

Visitors should take responsibility for the cans, containers, etc. that they take to the islands. Controlled access to the Cíes of a maximum of 2,200 people daily guarantees peace and quiet.
 
It is easy, from the Rodas jetty, to find the main paths leading to each of the three existing lighthouses. These paths are of medium difficulty, a little demanding on hot days and on some stretches of the ascent. However, the scenery makes it all worthwhile.

One of the most recommended is the zigzag ascent to Monte Faro, a distance of 7 kilometres return trip from the pier. Along this route, we will find rich bird observatories in settings such as A Camp, an actual window carved from stone, where  a large colony of yellow-legged gulls with about 22,000 breeding pairs produce a deafening noise during the mating season.

On the islands of Ons On the island of Ons, from the pier, the visitor will find the beach and the village of  O Curro, from where a long route with several possibilities leaves. Climb up to the viewpoint of the lighthouse between the constructions of the "islanders" or head north to the solitary and beautiful beach of Melide. Towards the south, via different roads, we will reach the Fedorentos viewpoint, passing through O Buraco do Inferno (Hell Hole), a sea cave ("furna") in the shape of a pit,  where you can hear the roar of the sea emanating from the bowels of the earth...

The boat tickets are issued with the return date and time specified for the number of visitors allowed on each archipelago. There is no regular transport for island-hopping,  but cruise ships can be hired to visit the whole ecosystems of the estuaries.

Outstanding Nature

The Park’s most representative natural systems are the coastal area and the Atlantic Continental Platform. All the islands have areas reserved as breeding grounds for sea birds, which the visitor should respect. The Park’s most representative natural systems are the coastal area and the Atlantic Continental Platform. Vegetable life is conditioned by the winds laden with saltpetre. The most representative flora is found on cliffs and dunes. Clumps of furze abound, but among the Park rarities are the corema album, Ons broom (Cytisus insularis) and the flowers called sand toadflax (Linaria arenaria), a small annual plant typical of stabilised dunes. Many of the land animals also depend on the sea.

Numerous colonies of birds, principally the yellow-legged seagull and the shag. In the sea, there is the possibility of sighting cetaceans like the finback whale which frequents these waters in the summer. The beds of kelp are also of importance in these waters.

Useful information

  • Location
    Off the southern coast of Galicia. They are made up of four archipelagos, Cortegada and Sálvora in the Arousa estuary, facing the Estuary of Pontevedra and the Cíes, closing the Vigo estuary.
  • Surface Area
    8,332.80 hectares (1,194.80 hectares of land and 7,138 hectares of sea). Specifically: Cíes (2,658 hectares of sea and 433 hectares of land), Ons (2,171 hectares of sea and 470 hectares of land), Sálvora (2,309 hectares of sea and 248 hectares of land) and Cortegada (43.8 hectares of land).
  • Access
    Regular passenger transport service by sea to the Cíes from the port of Vigo, Baiona and Cangas during high season. There is the same service to Ons from Portonovo, Sanxenxo, Bueu and Marín. Services of a guide to Cortegada from Carril (Vilagarcía de Arousa). Sálvora has no transport service by sea, and access to it is restricted.
  • Services
    • Accommodation: only on the Cíes and Ons.
    • Food: only the Cíes and Ons have a restaurant service.
  • More information
    National Park headquarters: c/ Oliva nº 3 (Vigo). Tel: 886 21 80 90. e-mail: iatlanticas@xunta.es
  • Facilities
    • Interpretation Centre Illas Cíes.
    • Information Point Illa de Ons. (Tel. 986 687 696).
    • Bird watching stations (Illa de Ons and Illas Cíes).
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