How to visit the Cies Islands in Spain

The Cíes Islands are one of those destinations that are so spectacular that it’s hard to believe they aren’t better known and more popular. Note, we are not saying they are unknown, but we believe they are Galicia’s greatest treasure. It is no coincidence that the Romans called them the Islands of the Gods.

That’s why we wrote this article explaining how to visit the Cíes Islands, how to stay there, and what to do – including trails, beaches, and other activities.

As the Cíes are now a National Park and entry is controlled and limited, it may seem very complicated or time-consuming, at first glance, but in practice, it is quite easy and not expensive, given that we are in a phenomenal place.

The most famous spot in the Cíes is undoubtedly Rodas Beach, due to its long stretch of fine white sand and the unrivaled, clear turquoise water. But there is much more to see and visit. Let’s explore the Cies!

How to visit the Cies Islands in Spain
The Cíes are known for their crystalline, turquoise waters

Where are the Cíes?

The Cíes Islands are a group of 3 islands located in the National Park of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia, northwest of Spain. This archipelago is located at the mouth of the Ria de Vigo, about 10 km from Vigo. The islands can be seen from different points and viewpoints along the Galician coast, beaches, and even coastal roads.

The islands are Monte Agudo, O Faro, and San Martiño. Monte Agudo and O Faro are connected by the sand tongue forming the famous Rodas beach and by a small stone pedestrian bridge.

A visit to the Cíes usually means visiting Monte Agudo and O Faro, as San Martiño has no pier, and can only be visited by private boat. So, in this article, we will focus on visiting the Cíes, O Faro and Monte Agudo.

Where are the Cies Islands
Visit Monte Agudo and Faro – Cíes

How to go to Cíes?

The only way to visit the Cíes is by sea, and the most common way is to take a ferry from the coast of Galicia, namely from Vigo, which takes around 45-50 minutes. This was the trip we took, and that’s what we’re going to focus on in this article, but in high season it’s also possible to depart from other cities like Cangas or Baiona.

Going to the Cies by private boat or renting a boat in Vigo is also possible. However, it is necessary to apply for an anchoring permit to anchor on the islands.

The journey to the Cíes is pleasant and generally calm as the sea is not very rough in summer. The boats are huge and comfortable catamarans.

Access to the Cíes is controlled and limited to 1800 people per day. That’s why it’s very important to ask for an entry permit and book the boat as far in advance as possible, especially on weekends and at the peak of the high season, in July and August.

How to go in the Cies
Ferry Port in the Cíes

How to request authorization to visit the Cies

Before buying the boat ticket, you need to ask for authorization from the Junta de Galicia, but don’t let this process discourage you from going there. In our experience, the system works very well and is almost immediate.

To request authorization, go to this website, enter your details and travel data, and you will receive an email with a code. This is the provisional authorization code you will need to book the boat.

This code is only valid for two hours, so it’s best to apply immediately before booking the boat.

How to ask permission to travel to the Cies
Lighthouse of the Cíes

How to Book the Boat to the Cíes

Once we receive the code, we must go to the website of one of the companies that do this service and book the trip with the same information we used to make the authorization request.

You must enter the temporary code you obtained earlier to book the trip. Without this code, it is not possible to advance in the marking.

After booking and paying for the trip, you will receive the tickets and the final authorization by email.

Note that on the travel day, you must exchange digital tickets for physical tickets at the ferry company’s shop in the Port of Vigo.

Four companies make the trip, and from the information we collect from the service, the quality of the boats are similar, and the prices are too. The companies and their websites are:

We ended up choosing Mar de Ons because it was the one that had the most trips and with the most convenient schedules for us. Our experience was positive, and we have nothing to point out.

How to book the ferry to the Cies
Catamaran from the company Mar de Ons

The trip to the Cíes

On the day of the trip to the Cíes, it is important to arrive at the port a little earlier than the departure time for two reasons. About 30 minutes should be enough.

First, because the port area is a bit confusing to drive by and you need to find a car park. Second, because before going to the boat, it is necessary to change the digital ticket for the physical ticket. Keep your tickets until you return to Vigo, as you will need them for your return.

After exchanging tickets, getting to the boat is quick and simple. Seats are not marked; depending on the day and time, the boat can be quite full.

The journey to the Cíes takes only about 45 minutes and is very comfortable and pleasant.

The pier at Cíes is next to Praia de Rodas and one of the restaurants on the island. When leaving, an employee of the National Park will likely be there to confirm that you have the definitive entry authorization you received by email. You can show it on your cell phone without any problem.

Trip to Cies Islands
The island of San Martiño in the Cíes

Is it possible to stay in the Cíes?

Yes. Spending the night on the Cíes Islands is possible, but accommodation is limited to the campsite. In addition, it is restricted to 600 people per night. It may seem like a relatively high amount, but it sells out quickly in high season.

At the campsite, you have two possibilities: take tour own tent or rent one of the tents in the park. As the price differences are not very high (see costs below), we believe it is not worth taking the tent. In addition, the tents in the park are spacious and have a bed with a mattress, which is very comfortable.

If you decide to rent a tent, there are two types of tent, for two or four people. The park also rents sleeping bags, which may be necessary at night as temperatures drop a bit. Of course, if you bring your own sleeping bag, you don’t need to rent.

Can you camp in the Cies islands?
Cíes campsite

Where to eat in the Cíes?

So what about eating? That is also one of our first concerns, wherever we go… But don’t worry, there are several options on the islands. In the Cíes, we have three restaurants and a café/bar.

One of the restaurants and the cafe are located on the campsite but can be used by anyone. The other restaurants are outside the park, one on Monte Agudo, right next to the pier where you leave the boat, and the other is in O Faro, after the campsite. They are all marked on google maps, so it’s easy to find them.

From the information we gathered, none of the restaurants is extraordinary, but they serve the purpose of feeding us. As you would expect, they have loads of seafood dishes, including the famous pulpo a feria (Galician-style octopus)

As we knew we wouldn’t have a gastronomic experience, we just tried the one in the park as we read that it was the cheapest and with more homemade food.

Another alternative for eating is to pack snacks and picnic food. There is no restriction on what you can take, but be aware that heat and humidity can spoil some foods.

Besides, you have to take a garbage bag to bring what you took with you. The only rubbish bins on the islands are at the campsite.

What to eat in the Cies
Fried squid and french fries from the Park’s restaurant

When to visit the Cíes Islands?

As a beach and nature destination, the Cíes are best visited in summer or on hot days. Theoretically, it is possible to visit throughout the year, but the truth is that the boats operate mainly in the high season – summer and Easter week.

During May and June, and September, there are some boats, but a lot less. That is, or only at the weekends or just a return boat in the weekdays. There are a few boats at the weekend in winter too, but it really depends on the weather. Furthermore, going to the beach at that time will be completely impossible.

Some websites say that there are no boats during most of the year, but at the time of writing, this information is no longer true (2023). You can confirm on the companies’ official websites, such as Mar de Ons.

Whether there is a boat or not, the ideal is to visit the Cíes in good weather but without being overcrowded. So we advise you to go on hot and sunny days in May, June or September. The closer to July and August, the better is to avoid the Weekends.

If you go to the Cíes at the peak of the high season, don’t forget to request the permit and book the boat as far in advance as possible. Limiting entry is great for the islands’ environment and avoids large crowds, but requires better planning. If you don’t, you run a great risk of staying on mainland.

Best time to travel to the Cies Islands
Beautiful beach in Rhodes

How much does it cost to visit the Cíes Islands?

Visiting the Cíes Islands is relatively inexpensive, especially if we consider that we are talking about a paradisiacal archipelago and a nature reserve. For many people, it will be much cheaper to visit the Cíes (or stay there for 2 or 3 days) than to go to the Algarve, the south of Spain, or the islands.

The main costs of visiting the Cíes are the boat to the islands, the overnight stay on the island (optional), food and parking in Vigo (or public transport to Vigo), and some activities organized on the islands. Any of these are surprisingly cheap.

In total, in 2023, 2 nights and three days in the Cíes costed us 266 Euros per couple or 133 per person. In this number, we only do not include the food and snacks that we took with us.

Let us then analyze more in detail.

How much does it cost to travel to the Cies
The Cíes Archipelago is a Nature Reserve

Boat

As mentioned, prices for the Cíes are very similar between all companies. In our experience, they only vary from about 50 cents to 1 Euro between companies and cost 4 to 5 Euros less in the low season.

As the island stay is completely controlled, we always have to buy a round trip. At Mar de Ons, in June 2023, it costed us 21.5 Euros per person, round trip. If it were at the peak of the high season, it would cost 25 Euros. See updated prices here.

Accommodation

The only accommodation option in the Cíes is the campsite. There are no hotels, hostels, Airbnb, or anything else. We have two options at the campsite: rent space and take your own tent or rent one of the tents set up in the park.

If you want to bring your tent, you will have to pay around 10 Euros per person for the place and then another 10 Euros per person. So, a couple will pay around 30 Euros per night. In the low season prices may be lower.

If you rent one of the tents, you have two options, a tent for two or four people. Tent for two costs 59 Euros per night, and a tent for four costs 89 Euros (a little less in the low season). Note that the tents have a bed already set up and renting a sleeping bag for 8 euros per night is also possible.

Where to stay in the Cies Islands
The interior of the Camping Park tents

Food

There are three restaurants and a cafe on the islands, so there are many more options than you would expect. The restaurants are nothing extraordinary, but you wouldn’t expect anything else in a place like this.

Naturally, they are also more expensive than in less isolated destinations, but the prices aren’t too high. We ate around 30 Euros for two people at the campsite restaurant.

Since you are going camping, it is also very common to take some pre-made or picnic food with you and thus considerably reduce costs, which is what we did.

How to go to Vigo

Although we never used it, it is possible to go to Vigo by public transport, namely by train, either from Portugal or the rest of Spain. If you do, the costs will be quite low.

If you use a car, you will have to leave your car in one of Vigo’s car parks. This is a considerable cost if you stay several nights in the Cíes. There are parks all over the city, and at very different prices.

We used Aparcadoiro Vigo, as it is very low cost compared to others we saw, and it is still relatively close to Porto to be able to walk.

Everything about the Cies Islands in Galicia
Cíes Beaches

Things to do in the Cíes

Activities in the Cíes are also relatively cheap or free. Beaches, nature, and trails are obviously free. But Snorkeling, Kayak, and Starlight are not expensive either:

  • Starlight – 8 Euros per person
  • Kayak – guided tour 20 Euros per person (as far as we understand, there is no possibility of renting the Kayaks outside the guided tours)
  • Snorkeling – 30 Euros per person, two hours

But check the park’s website for the updated price of activities.

What to do in the Cíes Islands?

Visiting the Cíes reminded us a lot of the feeling of going to Koh Tah Kiev, in Cambodia, and San Blas in Panama – both for the beaches and for the feeling of isolation and relaxation.

Beaches

The beaches are the main point of interest and the biggest reason to visit the Cíes Islands. The islands are famous above all for the fine white sand beaches and the turquoise sea that are often compared to those of the Caribbean, Mexico, or Thailand.

However, there is an obvious and striking difference… the water of the Cíes is as beautiful as cold! We are so used to this type of landscape meaning warm waters, that sometimes it becomes hard to believe how cold water is… until you put your feet up. Then you’ll think you’re in Alaska or Iceland…

And that is the only reason why the islands are not even more famous and popular. Let’s then explore the beaches of the Cíes, focusing only on the sandy beaches because, in reality, they are the ones that matter.

Rodas beach

This is the most famous and prized beach in the Cíes – you’ll only have to step off the boat to see why. It is a half-moon white sand beach over 1 km long. The water is turquoise, and the waves are virtually absent as the islands protect it.

It’s easy to see why it’s considered one of the best beaches in Spain and one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The Guardian even considered it the best beach in the world in 2007.

Note: In our experience, the northern part of this beach is more pleasant as it is more sheltered from the wind.

Best things to do in the Cies Islands
Rodas Beaches is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Cíes

Bolos Beach

This beach is next to Rodas Beach and can even be considered the same beach. However, it faces south. Access is via Rodas Beach. This is where the kayaks leave.

It’s equally beautiful, there are usually fewer people.

Best beaches in the Cies Islands
Bolos Beach in the Cíes

Nossa Senhora Beach

Fabulous beach nestled between the rocks, but with very little sand at high tide. Its geography, different from the others, gives it a special feel. It is well worth taking the detour to visit it. From here, you can also see S. Martinho Beach on the south island.

Where to go in the Cies Islands
Our Lady of the Cíes Beach

Figueiras beach

The second largest beach on this list is an excellent alternative if you want to escape Praia de Rodas.

It has a long, long stretch of sand located north of the pier. It is known for being a naturist beach, but in our experience, practically all beaches in the Cíes have people going topless, as is usual in Spain. We didn’t see anyone doing complete nudism.

Best beaches in the Cies Islands
Praia das Figueiras in the Cíes

Small beach

It is on the other side of the pier and the restaurant. The access is behind the restaurant. As the name implies, it is quite small.

Trails

Trails are another highlight of the Cíes Islands, as those who enjoy nature and hiking can explore almost all of the two islands. It is only allowed to walk on predefined trails, but these go to all the places of interest on the islands.

Officially there are four trails, they are well indicated, and it is impossible to get lost as there are few paths and the islands are small. Two trails are in O Faro and the other two in Monte Agudo. They all start at the same point, next to the information point. There’s also a map there to help you find your way around.

Traio to the Cies Lighthouse

This is the longest route but also the most beautiful. It takes us to the lighthouse of Cíes on the island of O Faro, through the forest, and with magnificent views of the island of S. Martinho, both along the route and from the lighthouse. The climb to the lighthouse is tough and under the sun, but anyone can do it.

The beginning of the trail also takes us to cross the lake and see the sand dunes of Rodas. Don’t forget to take the detour to see Pedra da Campá, the bird observatory, and enjoy the panoramic view of the island.

  • Distance: 3.5km between the Information office and Lighthouse (plus a few hundred meters for the detour to Pedra and the bird observatory
  • round trip
  • Duration: about 2 hours, with the aforementioned detour.
  • Elevation: 175 meters
Trails in the Cies Islands
Route to the Lighthouse of Cíes

Porta Lighthouse Route

Much of the route is the same as the previous one, but instead of going up to the Cies Lighthouse, we continue down by the sea. The route is beautiful, and the views pleasant, but if you have to choose the Cíes lighthouse, it is much more impressive.

  • Distance: 2.6 km between Information Office and Lighthouse
  • round trip
  • Duration: about 1 hour
  • Elevation: 55 meters
What to do and see in the Cies Islands
Porta Lighthouse Route

Trail to Alto do Príncipe

This route goes to the island of Monte Agudo and is almost always uphill but without a very high slope. Much of the route is done in the shade, which greatly helps. There are a lot of blackthorn trees and gorse scrub, the typical vegetation of the island.

Along the way, you also pass by Figueiras Beach, so you can take the opportunity to explore it. From the top of Alto do Príncipe, the view to the island of O Faro, the lake, and the beach of Rodas is fabulous.

  • Distance: 1.7 km between Information Office and Alto do Príncipe
  • Round trip
  • Duration: about 45 minutes to 1 hour
  • Elevation: 95 meters
How to travel to the Cies Islands
Route from Alto do Príncipe

Peito Lighthouse Route

This route is also a way and back route and shares a part of the Alto do Príncipe route, and therefore also allows you to go to the beach of Figueiras and Muxieiro dune.

From the route split, it takes us to the most northerly part of the island and has a small circular part that allows us to go to the lighthouse and the bird observation post without walking back and forth.

The lighthouse is not particularly interesting, but from there and from the post, we can also appreciate the cliffs of the island and the birds. In the background, we also have the Galician coast and the island of Ons.

  • Distance: 2.5 km between Information Office and Alto do Príncipe
  • Round trip, with a small circular part
  • Duration: about 1 hour
  • Level: 60 meters

Although there are four trails, in practice, you can do the two official routes on the island of Faro in one day and the other two on the island of Monte Agudo in another. If you just want to take one trail, we suggest you do the Cíes Lighthouse, with a detour to Nossa Senhora beach. It’s the most beautiful route, and the beach is a must.

Things to know before going to the Cies Islands
Peito Lighthouse Route

Camping

Camping in the Cíes is only possible at the campsite. Wild camping is prohibited on the islands. Still, it is a pleasant way to be in contact with nature and relax.

In addition to allowing us to spend the night and make the most of our time in the Cíes Islands, the park is excellent. It is in a beautiful location, overlooking the lake. It has all the amenities we need, from the bathrooms and shower to the restaurant and cafe with terraces and the only supermarket on the island.

Is it possible to camp in the Cies Islands
Tent to camp in the Cies

Starlight

Starlight is an experience that is only possible for those who spend the night in the Cíes. It is a tour offered by the campsite that consists of seeing the stars, taking advantage of the low light pollution that the islands’ isolation brings.

The tour lasts only 45-50 minutes, and we are given basic information about the stars, constellations, planets, and satellites that we can see in the Cíes sky. It’s interesting and a different activity to do. When we did, it costed only 8 Euros per person.

best things to do in the Cies Islands
The Cíes is one of the best places for stargazing

Kayak

The campsite also makes kayak tours that are accessible to everyone. With a cost of 30 Euros per person, they have two hours, and take you to see the islands from another angle.

They are the perfect activity for those who enjoy water sports and want to enjoy the beauty of the waters of the Cíes and discover the islands’ orography, fauna, and flora. There are usually two tours daily but book as far in advance as possible as they can sell out.

Snorkeling

The snorkeling tours are very similar to Kayak tours, as the park also organizes them. They allow you to see the bottom of the sea, the fish, and other animals that live there.

For those who enjoy snorkeling, the Cíes Islands are fabulous because the water has excellent visibility. However, do not forget that it is very cold water.

If you have snorkeling material, you don’t need to take the tour, and you can snorkel from the beaches, namely Praia de Nossa Senhora and Praia dos Bolos.

Birdwatching

One of the things to do in the Cíes is birdwatching, as there are some interesting species, such as the Iberian guillemots. There are two bird-watching points, one on the island of O Farol and the other on Monte Agudo. In both, you’ll see lots of seagulls and, if you’re lucky and resourceful, some other species like prey, pigeons, petrels, pelicans, doves, and woodpeckers.

Despite these two places being built for this purpose, observing different birds in all parts of the island is possible.

Birdwatching in the Cies
Bird Observatory

Where to stay in Vigo?

If you don’t want to camp, the only option is to stay on the Galician coast, and in our opinion, the best option is to stay in Vigo. Naturally, Vigo has a lot of accommodation options for all tastes.

The Hotel Bahia de Vigo is an excellent choice as it is located next to the port and offers all the comfort and facilities you need, such as an excellent breakfast and a park. Given the location and comfort, prices are very reasonable. Book here.

We recommend the AC Hotel Palacio Universal for an even more comfortable and luxurious hotel. This luxury hotel was built in a historic building from the 19th century, located very close to the port. The rooms are excellent and comfortable. See if there are still openings here.

What to take to the Cíes?

The answer to what to pack when visiting the Cíes Islands depends greatly on whether you are going camping or just for the day. If you are only going for one day, in practice, it is a trip to the beach and nature, so you only need to take:

  • Boat ticket and entry permit;
  • Water – in summer, it’s hot and humid, so you need to stay hydrated;
  • Snacks – there is a small supermarket, cafe, and restaurant, but if you want to save money and have a picnic, you can take food with you;
  • Bathing suit, hat, and sunscreen;
  • Hiking shoes if you want to explore the trails – you can wear flip-flops, but it’s not as comfortable;
  • Mobile phone or camera to take pictures;
  • Garbage bag to bring all the rubbish you make on the trip – important as there are no rubbish bins on the island;
  • Backpack to carry all this;

If you’re going camping in the Cíes, you’ll need to pack a few more things:

  • Tent and sleeping bags – if you don’t want to rent them
  • Full meals – so you don’t have to go to restaurants for every meal.
  • Jacket/windbreaker and trousers – in case it’s cold/windy at night

As always, please don’t litter. Bring everything you take with you.

things to know before traveling to the Cies Islands Galicia
The link between the islands of the Cíes

Rules and precautions in the Cíes

An integral part of the Atlantic Islands National Park, the Cíes Islands are a paradise of paradisiacal beaches and crystal clear waters, with a beautiful natural environment that needs to be preserved by everyone. They are also a unique fauna and flora observatory. So, some of the precautions to take and rules to follow are:

  • Take your rubbish back with you – there are no rubbish bins on the islands;
  • Do not pluck flowers or fruits;
  • Do not disturb or feed the animals;
  • Don’t make fireworks;
  • Camping is only allowed inside the campsite;
  • Sport fishing is not allowed;
  • Do not take shells or any other natural element with you – not even sand;
  • You can’t fly drones;
  • You cannot take any animal onto the islands except for guide dogs;
  • You can only circulate within the marked paths;
Is it worth to visit the Cies Islands Spain
Trails in the Cíes Islands

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