>>>The Islands of the Goddesses
Photo: Pedro Nuno Caetano via VisualHunt

The Islands of the Goddesses

The best kept secret in Galicia, Spain, are the Cíes Islands. White sandy beaches, turquoise waters and a secret revealed every night to a privileged few.
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ow many people fit in this paradise? Precisely 2,200. That is the number of people allowed in each day, to visit the Cíes, an archipelago made up of three islands, “of the gods”, according to the Romans. They were on the right track, but they got the sex wrong. Here, they are goddesses.

When the last boat sets sail, at 8pm, a strange phenomenon takes place. While the sun is setting, mist starts enveloping the Galician island of O Faro, located in north Spain. That is when they take over. Little by little, seagulls start occupying the white, spongy sand on the beaches of the Cíes Islands. Even on Rodas beach, which rose to fame when it was included on one of those “best beaches in the world” lists you can find online.

Gulls on the Cíes Islands
The Cíes are home to the largest colony of yellow-footed gulls in the world.

Queens of the night

The sky over Cíes has the Starlight certificate, which singles out global destinations of interest for stargazing. Participants in the Cíes Islands Starlight Photography Marathon, organised by Luz Lux, are the ones who have best managed to capture its beauty. One of their images was published by NASA.

Even that wasn’t enough to tame them. Here, the seagulls are in charge, and nature obeys. The nine beaches, almost virginal, have never hosted beach bars. They are surrounded by pine woods and eucalyptus trees, and other indigenous species, like sea thrift. In ancient times, this plant was used to make magic potions related to love and fertility. The spell the meigas (Galician for black witches) cast worked, at least on visitors, who surrender to the beauty of this mini-Caribbean in Galicia.

 

What is the difference between the two? The water temperature. It scarcely reaches 20 ºC in summer. Despite the cold, the transparency invites you to take a dip and search for octopuses, sea anemones and colourful fish. In a wetsuit, though, of course. Above the water, it is bird territory. Besides gulls, you can see European shags, peregrine falcons and goshawks, which you can spot from the different hides on the islands. They are accessible from several trails, which form part of the general hiking routes available.

Beach on the Cíes Islands
You can take your own equipment or join an excursion from the campsite to go snorkelling.

The best known is the Monte Faro path, which passes the hide and zigzags up a rocky hill to end at the lighthouse, with a wonderful panoramic view of the three islands: Monte Agudo, O Faro and San Martiño. During the trip, scarcely 7.5 km there and back, hikers walk along cliff edges, across dunes and through forests. The lighthouse is windswept, and the gulls mingle with hikers, hunting for a sandwich or piece of fruit. They mill around and feign disinterest, becoming increasingly less timid, as if they know that in a few hours all this will be theirs again.

Night view of the Cíes Islands
The Cíes Islands are part of Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park.
Photo: Foto: ©F.Rey Daluz, www.luzlux.com

Just a few lucky people get to witness the island ritual that takes place at dusk. When you buy your ticket, they make you get a same-day return, unless you have a booking at the campsite. It is the only place where visitors are allowed to spend the night and, in summer, it is normally fully booked. To get there, you have to cross a stone footbridge and climb a slope. The tents are behind it. At sunset, Estrella Galicia, the local beer, starts flowing at the only open bar. A sort of silent mutual understanding arises between the campers, as if they are sharing a secret. No one goes on the beaches: the time of the gulls has arrived.

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