Cíes Islands, Galicia, Spain

The Cíes Islands are an archipelago off the coast of Pontevedra in Galicia (Spain), in the mouth of the Ría de Vigo. They belong to the parish of San Francisco de Afora, in the municipality of Vigo. They were declared a Nature Reserve in1980 and are included in the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park (Parque Nacional Marítimo-Terrestre das Illas Atlánticas de Galicia) created in 2002. In the year 2007, the British newspaper The Guardian chose the beach of Rodas, in the island of Monteagudo, as the “most beautiful beach of the world”.

The archipelago

The Cíes consist of three islands, Monteagudo (“Sharp Mount” or North Island), do Faro (“Lighthouse Island”, or Isla do Medio, “Middle Island”) and San Martiño (“Saint Martin” or South Island). Monteagudo is separated from the Morrazo peninsula by the North Canal while San Martiño is separated from the coast of Santoulo cape (mount Ferro) by the Freu da Porta Strait. The Do Faro island is linked to the North island by an accumulation of sand 1,200 m (3,937 ft) long known as Rodas beach, in the Eastern side of the island. During high tide the sea flows between the islands in the Western side and, blocked by the beach it fills the lagoon between the sandy area and the rocks. The highest peak is the Alto das Cíes (197 m) in Monteagudo. The islands formed by the end of the Tertiary, when some parts of the coast sank, creating the rías (“estuaries”). All three islands are the peaks of the coastal mountains now partially under the sea and are formed mainly of granitic rock. The land is mountainous with rough, nearly vertical cliffs of more than 100 m (328 ft) on the Western side, and numerous caves (furnas) formed by erosion from the sea and the wind. The Eastern side is less steep, covered by woods andbushes and protected from the Atlantic winds, allowing the formation of beaches and dunes. Atlantic squalls pass over the islands, unloading as they collide with the coast. Therefore the Cíes receive more or less half of the rain the rest of the Rías Baixas coast receive.

Nature reserve

Due to the high natural value of this area and to the deterioration it was suffering by human activity, it was declared a Nature Reserve in 1980. The level of legal protection varied until November 21, 2000, when the Galician Parliamentunanimously agreed to apply for the status of National Park to the central Government. The Spanish Congress of Deputies signed a definite agreement in June 2002, creating the National Land-Marine Park of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia, formed by a number of archipelagos, islands and cays, namely the Cíes, Ons, Sálvora, Noro, Vionta, Cortegada and the Malveiras.

The marine part of the Park is measured as a 100-meter-wide strip from the shore in low tide. Since 1992 underwater fishing is forbidden in the islands. National Parks are nature areas nearly untransformed by human activity that, based on their landscape, geological or ecosystems possess aesthetic, ecologic, educative or scientific values worth of special protection. Therefore, the activities that alter or endanger the stability of the ecosystem are forbidden. Some traditional activities (like traditional fishing) are allowed as long as they are compatible with the environment and the preservation of natural resources. Since 1988 the Islands have a status of ZEPA (Zona de Especial Protección para las Aves, Spanish for Special Protection Area for Birds), and they are included in the Natura 2000 network, which develops European Union Directives in relation to habitats and birds. It contains one of the main colonies of the Yellow-footed Gull. The ZEPAs are protected mainly to avoid pollution and general deterioration of the places used by birds permanently or during their migrations.


The Rodas Beach (praia das Rodas, “Wheels Beach” in Galician) was declared by The Guardian the top beach in the world. There is another nudist beach. In summer, boats link Monteagudo with the ports of Vigo, Baionaand Cangas. There is a camping area but permissions have to be reserved at the Vigo port. A supermarket, a visitor center and a restaurant cater to the visitors. There are no waste bins in the islands. Visitors are required to take their litter back to the mainland.


The scrubland is formed mainly of autochthonous species, like gorse, broom, asparagus, spurge flax (Thymelaea) or rockrose (Cistaceae). The woodland has suffered bigger alterations, since most autochthonous species like the common fig or the pyrenaean oak (Quercus pyrenaica) are now reduced to symbolic representation by the reforestation of nearly one fourth of the surface with pine trees and eucalyptus. On the other hand, the strong winds with a high content in salt act as barrier in the development of the trees. Some rare and representative coastal species do grow in the dunes, beaches and cliffs under very extreme climatic conditions, as the sea pink (Armeria pungens, (in galician herba de namorar or “love plant”), locally endangered, and an important number of camariñas (galician common name forCorema album), an endemic species from the Iberian Peninsula western coast. Typically marshland flora (like rushes) grow in the area of the lagoon.

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