Ibiza: In Search of One Thing and Finding Another - Our guide to the best beaches and open water swimming on the island
As you probably saw from our Instagram, we’ve recently been to one of the Spanish islands, Ibiza. Whilst Ibiza is known as a party destination, there is also another side to the island. Ibiza is one of those places where it’s party scene has arguably done it a great service but also possibly removed it as a location for many tourists who otherwise would visit for a quieter, more relaxed trip. Sadly, the majority of thoughts people have when they think about the island is its wilder side and don’t realize there is so much more on offer if you are prepared to find it.
I’ll be honest, Ibiza for us has always formed more of a ‘holiday’, and last year when we visited, we took advantage of San Antonio and all that was on offer there. We also didn’t have a car for that trip so were quite limited in what we were able to do and experience. We had a great time, but when we returned this year, we were intent on a different experience. One of our friends had started to give us a few suggestions of where we could go for a more secluded experience, and managing to get a couple of taxis out to some of these locations last year really fueled our ‘this is incredible and there is a lot here to experience’ mindset.
You’ll find this article is a little different as it is going to marry together a couple of our categories. This isn’t just a travel piece, but also a mindset piece as it is going to cover some of the interesting discoveries we made in Ibiza this time around and how this has affected our adventures, our growth and our confidence. I’m primarily writing this from my perspective because it wouldn’t be possible to write this any other way, but Matt had similar experiences to me with a lot of what I’m about to cover.
It can be absolutely amazing when you visit a place and realize just how much you’ve been able to develop whilst there. Sometimes this can happen in the most unlikely of places, like Ibiza. I never expected when I was on the flight out to Ibiza that I’d be feeling the way I do afterwards. I was expecting a lot of relaxing, a lot of exploring and that to be about it. What I’ve come back with instead, is a much different attitude, a bite in my belly for something I’ve really enjoyed and a greater lust for life. I’ll explain why…
I’m guessing you’ve probably realized by now that hiking is our main thing! Hiking has formed a deep passion for both me and Matt and because of this, we predominantly plan our trips around hiking and backpacking. This is great, except what to do you do when you get somewhere that isn’t really known for its hiking and doesn’t really have that many hiking trails?
We had a vague idea of this when we visited last year. It was not possible to get an incredibly detailed map of the island when we visited, but with the one map we were able to get loaded into ViewRanger, we persisted anyway. There were numerous times where we tried to hike somewhere only to get a few miles down a road to be met by frequent ‘Private Road’ signs; a little frustrating when the map you have makes no indication of this! There were a couple of times when we headed out to the coast onto ‘paths’ that were more of a make your own trail over rocks situation. We’re normally fine with this, but we couldn’t help but crave in some circumstances a little bit more by way of a trail. We also knew that this would put a lot of people off. We found ourselves this year in the North of the island staying in the beautiful Portinatx at the Sandos El Greco Beach Hotel. We’d heard that the north was where all of the mountainous landscapes were and is also the quieter side of the island. Whilst it was absolutely a heaven of quiet and beautiful mountain views a plenty, we were faced with the same experience; no hiking trails. We managed a few short hikes, but nothing we were really able to get our teeth into. Some of those hikes were along stretches of coast where we were scrambling over rocks; fun for us but not for everyone. Others had us walking on roads. We felt quite sad in some ways that we were surrounded by this incredibly untapped potential, but that wasn’t really accessible. Maybe we completely missed a trick, but we don’t believe we did. When looking online for hiking in Ibiza, you soon find a real lack of information on this. One blog we read even suggested that you could make your own trails. The problem we have with this is the idea of walking for a few miles to an indeterminate point to be turned back due to a private road. Or to be travelling unknown on somebody’s private property. This for us is a no. We spent quite a while wondering what it was that was stopping Ibiza from having many designated hiking routes, and in speaking to one person they told us they thought it was perhaps because there wasn’t really any call for them. Based on the demographic of people we saw in the North of the island, we figure it would be a case of build it and they will come. To be clear, it is not my intention to put down Ibiza in the slightest, and as you’ll see, I believe it to be an incredible place. What I find is that my feet get itchy for getting out on the trail and I see so much potential here. I understand why hiking isn’t always at the forefront of a countries spending – it is a privilege and a luxury after all!
We’ve written an article before about how being rigid with your adventures is killing your experiences which you can read here. This trip gave us the perfect opportunity to walk our own talk. Yes, I’ll admit it can be completely disappointing sometimes when you’re expecting one thing from a trip and you get there, and it isn’t possible. You have two choices though, you can wallow in this and not enjoy the experience, or you can look at it from another perspective and reframe it. We decided to do the second, and I am so glad we did. We were in this absolutely beautiful place and we decided to start going with what felt good. Soon enough, we were discovering incredible beaches where we were maybe two of four others there. Sometimes these beaches were completely deserted, and we had our very own private paradise. We decided that we were just going to go with the flow and rather than making this solely about one new thing, it would be about whatever felt good. For a previous control freak, this felt both exciting and a little terrifying because, you know, old beliefs and all! I’ve been a huge fan of swimming for a number of years now, and I frequently swim in a chlorinated pool. Whenever we head to hotels, I am eager to get in that pool straight away. I love how the water feels on my skin and I love how I feel when I’ve thrashed out as many laps as I can and got my body all warmed up. For quite a while I’ve been pining to wild swim. I’ve had ideas tossing around in my head for swimming in the lakes of Snowdonia and the Alps but have always found a reason not to do it. There has always been a reason not to get too cold or that we don’t have time. I quickly realized this trip was going to give me the opportunity to wild swim and to open water swim to my heart’s content. We had access to incredible beaches, turquoise waters and calm currents, what more could you ask for?
The problem was, that even though my heart was telling me that I really, really wanted to do this, my brain started to have its stern word with me about the dangers involved. It wasn’t even like it was the first time I’d swam in open water either; having done quite a lot of snorkeling and swimming on the coasts of Greek Islands and North Africa. That was over ten years ago, and whilst I knew I’d done it, it was unfamiliar, and I started to worry. When I started going swimming at a pool a couple of years ago, I was scared of the deep end, I was scared of the length and I was also scared of the idea of swimming on my back, getting water in my eyes and a whole number of other things. Whilst I’d managed to work over these and get to the point where I felt incredibly comfortable, this was in the pool. This was a controlled environment where I could see the bottom. The sea was different, and if I’m honest, I think this is what had put me off about swimming in lakes too.
However, because I knew I had so much resistance to this, I knew that I had to try it. I had to see what it felt like. I could always decide that if I really, truly didn’t enjoy it, I could always stop. This is the thing you see, when we are about to try something new, we often seem to get this idea in our heads that we will have to do it for eternity. When we’re in our logical brains, we realize this isn’t really true. However, we’re not in our logical brains when were scared or apprehensive about something. I had a secret feeling though that I was actually going to really enjoy this.
With the next few days came a series of swims in other worldly, beautiful open waters. Calm, clear, full of amazin tropical fish. Yet every single time came I was about to swim came the trepidation I had felt the time before around the idea of going from standing in the water to actually splashing down into a swimming position. That moment where you push yourself from ‘safety’ to doing something uncomfortable always feels like the most drawn out, incredibly uncomfortable moment of your life. You’re wondering whether you’re going to be ok. You’re wondering what’s going to happen when you say yes to what you want and move towards it rather than shying away and retreating. In my case, each time was actually around the ten-minute mark of deciding whether or not I actually wanted to swim.
I started to ask myself what it was that I was even scared of. I quickly decided it was a couple of things. One was jellyfish. There had been quite a lot of jellyfish in the waters around the island. One of which had stung Matt on our first swim. That gave me a great reason not to want to swim. Even though I’d managed to find a great app that shows you where jellyfish had been reported on the island and wherever we were, were clear of jellyfish. The other thing was swimming into deep water; I’ve heard from many swimmers that the one thing that always has them returning frantically to the shore is realizing how deep the water is beneath them. Couple this with wearing a snorkel mask and actually being able to see how deep the water is, well…needless to say, that was certainly a reason not to set off. I think the third reason was that I felt a little squeamish about the plant life growing on the bottom of the seabed. Not sure why, but it was there so I had to work through it.
The truth is, they were all really good reasons not to want to do this. I didn’t want to get stung by a jellyfish and I didn’t want to drown. They were also fears that weren’t really based in fact, so after a while of rationalizing them, I just got on with it and flung my body into the sea.
I did this over and over again for the next few days, getting better and better at flinging myself into the water before I’d really had a chance to think about what I was doing. I realized a good while ago that it is better to just get out there and do something before you’ve had too much time to decide otherwise and I can truly say this works. Plus, we usually find that what we were scared of isn’t even a problem once we get going.
I had moments of every single swim where I was hit by panic. Panic that I was too far out, that I was going to get swept away by a freak wave that would come in or get bitten by some indeterminate sea creature, but every time I concentrated on being mindful. I went back to my breathing. I flitted, like in so many situations in my life, between completely loving and hating what I was doing. However, those moments of completely loving it began to take over the other moments and I realized just how much I was enjoying this. I was swimming with fish I had never seen before, I was swimming along with them through the beautiful pools of light that were hitting the surface of the water and I felt completely alive. The feeling of the water hitting my skin ignited my senses as I went through pockets of warmer and cooler water. The sun glistened on my back as I pushed through the shining mirror around me and I realized that I felt better than I had for a long time. When I had my mask on, out to sea and head down looking at all the fish that swam past me, I realized I was in a quiet spot where I wasn’t thinking, I wasn’t trying to do or be anything. I just was. I was content. It felt meditative.
I started to realize just how my swimming experiences were really starting to relax me and I went head first into island life. I spent all day just pining for new beaches, looking out at quiet spots and walking at about a third the pace I normally would. I had a constant smile attached to my face and I was constantly allowing myself to dive between what felt good in every second. I found myself constantly wearing my swimsuit; something that I had never had the confidence to wear outside of the water before. In the space of one week, I’d gone from being worried about swimming for five minutes, to getting back to the beach and realizing I’d been in the water for times of close to two hours. Time had no concept anymore and I felt like I was living in a bubble. But that bubble was what I needed at the time, and that bubble of being in the moment allowed me to have so many creative ideas. It also had a great impact on the time Matt and I were spending together. This trip wasn’t really about taking photographs, it was about us connecting. On the day that was our seven-year anniversary, we spent it in the water, finding fish and swimming. We’ve always believed that nothing brings you closer together than shared experiences and this just gave even more fuel to the idea that this is true. This also ignited my want to find more places to swim, and more ways I can work wild swimming into my experiences on a more regular basis. I’m not going to say I don’t feel apphrension, but I know that it is natural to feel that way.
If I had have become completely stuck in the idea that this was a hiking trip, and not what it turned out to be, I would never have allowed myself these experiences. I find it is better to go into situations with an intention of how you want to feel rather than what exactly you want to create. Because often, if it is not exactly as we thought, we don’t see the wealth of other opportunities that are around us.
The time just before you do something is when you’ll feel the most resistance. It is best to get in and just do it before your brain takes over!
Get comfortable doing new things. Rather than just getting comfortable with the concepts. It’s important to realize that you’ll probably always feel an element of apprehension before you do something new. One of my favorite phrases to say to myself is ‘I’m comfortable being uncomfortable’.
Allow yourself the ability to look at what is real and what is a story.
Don’t get stuck too much in your plans and allow yourself to be flexible.
The best beaches for wild swimming, snorkeling and diving in Ibiza
The beaches and coves we found in Ibiza were mainly based on the North of the island, and we would really recommend this oasis to base your stay around. There is a bus network on the island, but with a lot of the more remote beaches and coves, it is fairly hard to get to these by public transport. You do not need an expensive hire car here, just something that will do the job. The beauty about Ibiza is that it is a small island, and whilst it does have some steep inclines and uneven roads, it is relatively low rent to drive around. We found the majority of the time, we’d be in the car for, at the most, thirty minutes, and that would be to get to the other side of the island.
The beaches we found, especially the more secluded ones, either involved driving up to the beach and walking to the shore or walking down a path from the top off a hill. Some of them were a little more involved and include some minor scrambling over rocks or steep hill climbs down to get there. What I can promise you though, is that every single one of these beaches is completely worth the effort.
With most of these, a sense of adventure is needed, but that being said, they are all really achievable and most can be accessed from the car or via a short walk. Be aware that it gets very hot in Ibiza, and if you’re swimming in the sea, you’ll need to put on a lot of sun cream due to how to water is being reflected on you!
Portinatx - S’Arenal Gran and S’Arenal Petit
Both absolutely beautiful beaches, and both where we stayed. The waters here are clear, and you’ll be treated to really warm waters with a big array of fish. There are plenty of options for food and drink at the lively bars overhead from the beaches. Out of the beaches listed, I’d say these two were of the most popular and therefore the busiest we encountered. You won’t find yourself alone at any time of the day on either of these beaches, but the people won’t impede on your own relaxation. You also have the opportunity to swim to quite deep waters around here.
Port de ses Calletes
This was without a doubt my favorite of all the beaches, due partly to the fact that we had it to ourselves. The drive there was also beautiful as you pass through pine forests and mountain views. You need to take a winding road down to the beach, and when you get there, you’re met by the most wonderful view! This is a great place to swim and snorkel and you could quite happily spend all day relaxing at this incredible beach.
We found this large beach by accident, but we really enjoyed the swimming here. The water was clear, and the shore was pebbly, which meant lots of fish. This beach was quite busy, but we didn’t find any problem with the amount of people there.
Overlooking Es Vedra, this turquoise cove has some of the best views of the island as well as beautiful water which is sometimes a little choppy, but usually a haven for swimmers and snorkeling. There is a little hike you can also do on the cliff top which gives you great views of Es Vedra.
Close to San Antonio, this piece of quiet gives you a real sense of what traditional life is like on the island. What is even better is that if you follow the coastal path from this beach in either direction (path isn’t always obvious, but don’t let that put you off) you’ll find a wealth of beaches that you’ll potentially have to yourself.
This was one of our favorite beaches on the island due to its wonderful rocky sea bed and incredible rock formations. You’ll get a great swim here and it is a great place to head to later in the afternoon or early evening due to the way the light hits the water. This beach is quiet!
From my perspective, this beach that is close to Portinatx main beaches was my favorite. I saw the most incredible fish I’d seen on the island here. I would point out though, that when the sun goes behind the hills that form the cove, the waters do quickly get quite cold, but I think this was one of my favorite spots on the island. I loved driving down the narrow windy road through the trees too! This is also a quiet beach, and quite small. There is one restaurant but most other things you’d want to bring with you.
On the East of the island, this is a beautiful beach, but for us, didn’t hold the appeal of some of the other beaches. This could be partly due to the waves we saw when we were there and that there didn’t appear to be any visible fish. However, I’d love to go back and experience this beach again on a calmer day. This is meant to be a beach that is frequented by locals and I can see why they love it.
One of the most beautifully stunning areas on Ibiza, but you also have to work quite hard to get down to the beach. If you’re experienced and want an adventure and a quiet beach, this will be the one for you. There is not an exact route down to the beach, but you instead have to follow ropes and ladders put in place to get from the cliff top down that fishermen have installed. It probably takes an hour to get down to this beach and an hour back, but the effort is worth it!
There is about a 200m downhill to contend with when you first arrive at the car park, and then, obviously the same back, but this is well worth the effort. You’ll most likely not see many others there and it has some of the clearest waters of Ibiza. Be sure to follow the signs for Portixol from the road, and then, when the road suddenly stops, you can park on the right and follow the path/road (which is forbidden to cars) down to the beach.
I’m obsessed with late evening sun, big mountains, swimming and meditation. I’m a personal development junkie and love all things mindset. I love soy lattes, spicy food and am a sucker for a shot with lens flare.
My favourite places are currently:
Joshua Tree, California
Kodachrome Basin, Utah
The Dolomites, Italy
Berchtesgaden National Park, Germany