A Balearic Islands Tour
The Balearic Islands or Islas Baleares stand among the most popular destination in Mediterranean sea for sailing cruising. The 4 main Islands (Menorca, Mallorca, Ibiza, Formentera) offer a wide variety of landscapes, activities and interesting places to discover.
When to sail to the Balearic Islands and what to expect ?
As always, it’s much better to cruise outside the high season (July and August), to get a chance to avoid the mass tourism. Let’s be clear, a big part of the fun goes away with tranquillity when it comes to experiencing a 2-week sailing cruise. In May/June and September/October, you’ll be able to experience all the pleasures the Balearic Islands can afford without the overcrowded beaches, coves, bars and restaurants.
The Islas Baleares have really suffered from holiday development that brought, during the last 4 decades, lots of ugly concrete buildings and ruined a good part of the landscape. But there is still plenty of beauty left and if you are selective enough and prepare your trip well, you’ll find in the Islas Baleares a fantastic cruising environment.
The weather conditions are perfectly adapted to cruising from the end of March to the end of October, with a low frequency of Gale around 2 percent of the time, compared to a 5%-10% frequency in the heart of Winter.
It has been observed that the Balearics can be divided into 2 main weather areas, either side of a line bisecting Mallorca from NW to SE.
In the Balearic Islands (Minorca and North Mallorca), winds are variable but winds from the North are the most common. Winds are said to be stronger on average in the Northeastern part of the Balearics, and Gale force winds are more frequent than in the Southwestern part. Skippers should regularly check the weather forecasts and the on-board barometer since Tramontaña, a strong and dry Northwest wind can appear and rise to gale force in as little as 20 minutes on a calm and sunny day.
The Southeastern part of the Islas Baleares is less exposed to Gales that usually extend from the Gulf of Lion’s.
In the summer, a sea breeze appears before noon and gets to its maximum strength (can be force 5) around 16:00. At night, it’s not rare to have a quite dynamic land breeze when the air temperature is the lowest, in the second part of the night. This kind of land breeze can be very disturbing for anchored boats in front of an undulating area. If you moor in such an area, check twice your anchorage before going to sleep.
The best guide, and the one you should absolutely have onboard is, as often, the IMRAY RCC Pilotage Foundation “Islas Baleares“, but there are a few other books, guide or charts that are worth considering to make the best of your cruise. As for the charts, the best for the area are also the Imray ones, beginning with the “M3 charts: Islas Baleares” that cover the whole archipelago.
Top Destinations on a 2 to 3 weeks journey in the Balearic Islands:
Here is a trip with 12 selected remarkable spots to sail to or to visit, from North (Menorca) to South (Formentera). This trip can be done in 15 to 20 days and will make you discover the treasures of the Baleares.
The sailing course represent a little bit more than 300 NM, with four legs of 40 NM or more.
Such a cruise is a great occasion to sail under the sun and enjoy the Balearics’ sea breeze and improve your sailing and cruising skills.
From North to South, we’ll visit Fornells, Cala Grao, Mahon, Cala de Formentor, Porto Cristo, Cala Mitjada, Palma, Porto Petro, Cala es Borri, Cala Mastella, Ibiza and Puerto de Sabina.
MAHON: 39°52’100 N; 4°18’6 E – The beginning of the journey.
If you come from France or Italy, Mahon (Menorca) is the perfect landing place to start your cruise in the Balearics. Menorca, the Northern island of the Balearic Islands is Less known and very different from the famous Mallorca or Ibiza. It is a relatively unspoilt island, loved for its charm and tranquillity. The Island is called “Blue and White” for it’s sparkling white houses and deep blue sea, and is located about 160 miles south of Barcelona and 30 miles north of Mallorca.
Mahon has the second deepest natural harbour in the world: 5 km long and up to 900 m wide. The water is deep but it remains mostly clear due to it being slightly enclosed. The entry in Mahon provides nice views. To know more about this great city, you can refer to the article we recently wrote about Mahon.
From Mahón you can head towards the north of the Menorca to the Cala Grao (a cove south west of the Isla Colom), which is in about 10 NM North of Mahon.
CALA GRAO: 39°57’4 N; 4°16,6 E
Cala Grao is a popular anchorage, opened from the east, and overlooked by the holiday village of Es Grao. Approach and enter on a westerly course keeping near the center of the cala. Approach slowly as it shoals rapidly towards the beach. You can spend your time on a beach, or go for a walk toward the Albufera freshwater lagoon and marshes. It’s the most important freshwater reserve in the area and a 21 hectares national Park. The lagoon is protected from the sea by a sand bar and hosts lots of Migrating birds on their way to continental Europe. As always in Natural and National parks, check the rules.
From Cala Grao you can keep on sailing NE to Fornells, approximatively 18 NM from Cala Grao.
FORNELLS 40°04’053 N; 004°08’042 E (this waypoint is the entrance)
Cala de Fornells is an inland area of water 2 miles long and 0.7 mile wide. There is a small harbour in Fornells, maybe 15 berths, and a large area where yachts can anchor in solitude, although holding is variable in the area. Most of the surroundings are of unspoilt natural beauty where the development is restricted. Fornells is a small picturesque village, surrounded by some nice walks. You could go for a walk towards the lighthouse at the entrance of Fornells and enjoy the view from the tower. The opposite side of the entrance, the cliffs of “La Mola” offer a good view too but the walk to go there is much longer. You’ll probably prefer to enjoy fresh drinks at the outside tables of a cafe in the main street of Fornells.
As Fornells is a fishing village, there are a variety of seafood restaurants and cafes gathered around the harbour offering local dishes including Caldareta de Langosta – a delicious local seafood casserole made with lobster. If you like Lobster, Fornells is the place to eat some. Once in Fornells, ask for advice on where to catch a good “Caldera de Langosta” and enjoy.
Like in the majority of towns in the area, there is a Fiesta held in Fornells the last Saturday of July, in which Menorcan horses, stars of the show, are cheered by the crowd in the streets with Music and attractions for families.
After Fornells lets cross the Balearic sea to Mallorca, and stop in the Cala de Formentor (about 50 NM WSW from Fornells). This sailing leg can be a good occasion to catch a bonito, or mackerels or even a dolphinfish, to cook at the anchorage.
CALA DE FORMENTOR: 39°55’360 N; 003°08’160 E
Sailing along the North Mallorcan coast with a sea breeze is a thrilling experience. Beautiful mountains, cliffs, lots of green and this crystal blue water combine to make the visual experience breathtaking. After sailing (from West to East) by the Cabo Formentor, the Northernmost point of Mallorca, sail 5 Nautical Miles SW and you’ll find a really enjoyable anchorage.
Cala de Formentor is a very popular semi-open anchorage a few meters Northwest of the tiny Isla de Formentor. Anchorage is forbidden but paying Moorings have been laid that has led to a boycott of this cala by the locals, meaning now you can find a mooring place here.
This mooring offers a great environment. An occasion to feel really small in a bay surrounded by sharp green mountains. Beaches in this area are beautiful…and quite popular so once again, the High season is not the best season to discover this amazing Cala.
In Formentor you’ll find a five star hotel, the famous Barcelo Hotel Formentor. It’s a great place to stay for a night, to have breakfast or lunch and a terrific place to have dinner.
After Puerto de Cala de Formentor let’s head South East and sail for about 50 NM till the next stop at Porto Cristo.
PORTO CRISTO 39°32’100 N; 003°20’800 E
Porto Cristo can be easily identified by the lighthouse tower with black and white vertical stripes. To approach from the north, cross the wide Baia de Arta which terminates on its south side at Punta de Amer, relatively low but prominent. Porto Cristo lies 4 miles to the southwest. The entrance channel is wide and deep.
Porto Cristo is a long and well sheltered inlet. Despite the growing popularity among tourists, the village was able to keep a good part of its charm. The town and the beach become crowded on summer and it’s kind of difficult to find a berth in July or August…
The area of Porto Cristo is famous for the caves discovered in 1896 – the spectacular Cuevas del Drach (caves of dragon) and Cuevas del Hams, south of the town. If you’re in Porto Cristo, don’t miss the caves. There is also a wildlife park offering nice walks.
Once you’ve enjoyed Porto Cristo and shopped in the local supermarket to fill your boat’s fridge, you’re ready to sail to Cala Mitjana, 14 Nautical Miles South.
CALA MITJANA 39°23’150 N; 003°15’150 E
Cala Mitjana is a really beautiful cala, with 3 different coves and 2 sandy beaches. The central cove is the less attractive. Cala Mitjana is a great place to anchor and enjoy a Mediterranean “farniente” afternoon. Those are little anchorage and just a few boats can be there, less than 10 I would say. Once again, a place to enjoy outside the high season.
You can also choose to stop at Porto Petro only in 4 NM from Cala Mitjada.
PORTO PETRO 39°21’200 N; 003°13’150 E
Porto Petro is a small and relatively attractive yacht and fishing harbor, which can berth more than 200 boats up to 15 m.
You’ll find 2 beautiful coves in the surrounding area, with turquoise blue water, pine trees and sandy beaches. A symphony of blue, white and green, which also get pretty busy on summer.
From Porto Petro you can go visit the old town of Santanyi some 5 miles inland. If you want to sleep ashore, you could go to the small, cosy and arty hotel : “S’Hotelet de Santanyí” with a concept of “everything is White or White is everything”. Since there are only 5 rooms and a private house, you’d better book in advance.
There are 2 Fiestas in Porto Petro – one on July 25th, and the second one on November 30th, with horseback processions during fiestas.
From Porto Petro you can sail to the Cala es Borri (also know as Illa des Fornoll) on Isla de Cabrera (22 NM SW from Porto Petro). It’s a great stopover but since Cabrera is a National Maritime-Terrestrial Par, you must obtain an authorization for …
CALA ES BORRI 39°08’700 N; 002°57’700 E and PUERTO DE CABRERA
Don’t Panic ! Getting a permit is not as complicated is it sounds. You can apply by fax (I know…but hey ! there are services to send fax online so you don’t have to search for your old fax machine). Fill this document no more than 20 days before you visit and no less than 3 days before. If you need more information, go to that useful website. If you are in Palma prior to visiting Cabrera, you can go directly to the National Park Office that is at Plaza España 8, 07002 PALMA. Finally, and if you speak a little spanish, you can call the +34 971 725 585.
Cala es Borri is a wide bay on the East coast of Isla de Cabrera. Last time we checked, it was the only bay where anchoring was authorized between 10:00 and 19:00, but it’s really worth the shot. When you receive your permit, you’ll get updated information and maps with details of permitted daytime anchorages and prohibited areas. Fishing is prohibited in the Cabrera Archipelago and rules exist to prevent from most pollutions.
The good news is that there will be no more than 50 sailing boats in the area and that you’ll be able to sail and spend a few days in a really great environment, without jet-skis or water-skiers. In April, May, and October, authorizations are delivered for 7 nights, 2 nights in June and September and only 1 night in July and August.
At night, you must moor in Puerto de Cabrera where there are 50 colour-coded moorings available for use.
Most walks inland must be conducted by Park Rangers, with a minimum of 4 people. There are several species of fauna, flora and especially lizards unique to the archipelago, the place is also a heaven for sea birds including some rare specimens.
After Cabrera, we suggest that you sail North West to Palma de Mallorca, approximatively 40 Nautical Miles from Cabrera. Palma is the capital of the Balearic Islands and a place to visit.
PALMA DE MALLORCA 39°33’500 N; 002°38’000 E
Puerto de Palma is a large and welcoming harbour with great facilities and services, which can be entered in all weathers. There are 2 large yacht harbours, that become terribly crowded in the high season (there are 6 other yacht harbours in the bay of Palma).
As with any major city, there are a lot of museums, churches and historical buildings in Palma, so I strongly recommend you to buy a guide before starting visiting (there is a link at the end of the article to the Lonely Planet). Among sights not to be missed, there are the Gothic cathedral on the eastern part of the town, the Almudaina Palace built by the Moors in the oldest part of the city, and the 13th century Castillo de Bellver further out of the city. As you can see, the city of Palma regroups the sites of 3 cultures, as it was founded by Romans; it flourished under the Moors, and then became the Spanish capital of the islands.
You’ll also find here in Palma a lot of shops, cafés and bars. The shopping addicts and the gourmands will both be satisfied here.
From Palma, you can easily go climbing and caving in the Mallorcan mountains.
There are a lot of different fiestas and other celebrations all around the year in Palma; you have big chances to see one.
Now if you want to make this stopover even more memorable, you could choose to land in the Purobeach Palma. “Oasis del Mar“ is a beautiful hang out location, on a mini peninsula in the middle of Palma Bay, with its own 180 degree view. You’ll find sunbeds, pool & treatments, lounge, food & drinks, etc. With DJs playing ambient music from early afternoon until late, it is a perfect place for spending your day and evening in a relaxing atmosphere. Guests arriving by boat are able to anchor directly next to Purobeach, following this hot point 39°32‘00“ 46N/2°42‘31“73E.
And now cape to Ibiza, 65 Nm South West from Palma.
Ibiza is not just a city, it’s an Island and a beautiful one.
The area from San Antonio to San Vicente (Northwestern part of the island), named Els Amunts, is filled with almond, olive and fig trees, with small woods and fertile valleys … Its coastline is very beautiful with wedges and cliffs, and its sandy beaches are wonderful. There are all kinds of beaches for any taste: small or big, sandy or creeks, with clear turquoise water everywhere.
Basically, you have a choice to make if you have a time constraint. Either you sail along the west coast and discover this area, or you want to go to Ibiza, the city, and then you should sail along the East Coast.
If the latter is your choice, you can still stop in a beautiful cove prior to sailing to Puerto de Ibiza. I recommend Cala Mastella on the Nord-East of the island.
CALA MASTELLA 39°01’400 N; 001°36’000 E
Cala Mastella is a nice anchorage, surrounded by lots of trees and with a small beach and a restaurant.
15 Nautical Miles South from Cala Mastella is Ibiza, the city and harbour.
PUERTO DE IBIZA 38°54’600 N; 001°26’700 E
Ibiza is mostly known and appreciated for its nightlife and entertainment, rather than for its monuments and natural landscapes. Nevertheless, it remains a beautiful village where there are a lot of beautiful places that must be seen. As always in the Balearic Islands, visiting the place in May or July are 2 very different experiences. It’s not my favorite destination, mostly because of the “David Guetta” spirit (if one can say that), but if you’ve never been in Ibiza, than you should go and make your own opinion.
Puerto de Ibiza (Eivissa in Catalan) offers excellent facilities for sailing yachts and is easy to enter under most conditions.
You’ve almost reach the South end of the Balearic Islands, but there is one more Island to see: Isla de Formentera.
Formentera has beautiful, wide and white sandy beaches with crystal clear water, and the island is still today much quieter in Summer time than her never-sleeping and overcrowded sister island Ibiza.
Puerto de Sabina is the only harbour on Isla de Formentera only 15 NM South from Ibiza.
PUERTO DE SABINA (or Savina) 38°44’360 N; 001°24’050 E
Puerto de Sabina is an attractive and relatively quiet harbour. I strongly advise you to leave your boat here and go by bicycle for a tour of the island, which is completely flat, except for the plateau of La Mola (192m) located in the eastern part.
Almost all of Formentera Island was declared protected area by a precautionary measure several years ago. Its vegetation consists primarily of pine trees and the beaches of Formentera are covered with Umbrella pine instead of palm trees such as Ibiza.
Formentera has 20 kilometres of extremely beautiful white sandy beaches with crystal-clear waters, which have been preserved in their natural state or have just a few buildings along them.
I hope you’ll enjoy the Balearic Islands ! Please feel free to send your comments or suggestions to improve this trip.
Thanks for reading,
Great Books and Guides for a better cruise:
- The excellent Imray Guide: “Islas Baleares“
- Imray Charts (I have no financial interest in Imray): M3, and more detailed ones
- Lonely Planet Mallorca
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