Galicia attractions: The best beach in the world, Playa de Rodas on Las Islas Cies

Whilst scoffing oysters on the half shell to my heart’s content, sitting at a table in the ‘Piedra’, Vigo’s famous fish market, I couldn’t help but overhear my neighbors’ conversation. A bunch of young Spanish people were discussing their next day’s trip to ‘the best beach in the world’, planning to chill out after a hike in the woods and a climb to the lighthouse.

Enjoying oysters in Vigo

I had planned to visit Bayona and the caravel ‘Pinta’ anchored in the port, but that Galicia attraction wouldn’t go away. For once we had brilliant sunshine and the weather forecast had predicted more of the same for the next days. I didn’t need to hear any more. Who could resist yet another ‘best beach in the world’? I needed to know if the hype was true and made my way to the offices of the maritime company Mar de Ons in the port of Vigo. It was just as well I hurried, because the islands, situated in the Atlantic just off the Ria de Vigo, turned out to be a one of the most popular weekend Galicia attractions. I got the last ticket for the next day, a Saturday. The return ticket for the ferry costs €18.50 and I chose the 10.00 am departure. Although I arrived early, there was already a long cue waiting to catch a seat on deck.

Two peculiarities: the watchful captain himself strictly enforced the ‘only five passengers to a bench rule’. Not a child squeezed in or even on a parent’s lap. Safety first and I liked that he was adamant, although he got into quite a few arguments with temperamental Spanish mamas.

Next rule had nothing to do with safety but everything with decency. Ladies were not allowed to sit on deck or even board with only a bikini top and guys had to put their T-shirt on too. So, if you go, be prepared.

The majority of the passengers were either locals or tourists from other parts of Spain. Hardly a foreigner in sight, but those who were there, were immediately invited to participate in food, drink and conversation. Galicia’s hospitality came to the fore and although you weren’t allowed to expose more than your face, hands and legs to the sun, eating and drinking was definitely the done thing.

The half hour crossing passed quickly and the famous beach hove into sight. Playa de Rodas is truly amazing, an over 1km long stretch of brilliant white sand, joining two of the three Islas Cies. The water is calm and shallow and ideal for children. It’s the biggest and most famous of the beaches, but there are eight more to enjoy.

Islas Cies

Disembarking, we were all handed a map and a folded garbage bag. The islands are a nature reserve and there are no bins to dispose of garbage so as not the disturb the aesthetic of nature. Fines for littering are heavy, as numerous sign posts advise.

Playa de Rodas/Islas Cies

The beach is bordered by dense wood, hills, steep cliffs and rocks. Four hiking routes of various difficulties, clearly marked, crisscross the island. You can choose from a leisurely stroll to a 3.5 km long challenging hike along the Monte Faro Route right up to the highest point of the island topped with a lighthouse.

The views across the Atlantic are ever changing at every twist and turn of the routes. Birds, butterflies, rare trees and flowers will warm the heart of every nature lover. What makes the Islas Cies so particularly attractive is the variety of things to do and see in such a small spot. I understood perfectly what my neighbors in Vigo had meant when they were talking about chilling out after a hike. The moniker “best beach of the world’ was actually bestowed to Playa de Rodas by the newspaper The Guardian” and it’s not an exaggeration. This European beach can hold its own in the company of Seven Miles Beach in the Caymans or the beach on False Bay/South Africa.

Woods on Islas Cies

For those who wish to stay overnight or a few days, there is also a camping site. You don’t even need to bring you own tent, you can hire one for about €20 a night and get everything else in the adjacent supermarket.

The island has just two cars which belong to the maintenance, cleaning and forestry crew. Luggage of campers is trundled along in handcarts which are lined up at the dock.

A very happy, relaxed and sun tanned crowd boarded the last return ferry. So if you’re planning a trip to Galicia then do get over to Playa de Rodas on the Islas Cies, one of the the best places to visit in Europe.