Ibiza may be Spain’s most notorious party island, but the ‘White Isle’ also harbours a wealth of cultural charms, secluded natural beauty spots and romantic nooks for couples and anyone in search of a more sophisticated kind of hedonism.
Because there’s so much more to this Balearic beauty than ‘beefa bants’, lads-lads-lads and day-glow hen groups wearing cocks on springs.
I went to Ibiza, or ‘Eivissa’ as it’s called in Catalan, for the first time earlier this year, which is a little odd considering I live in Barcelona, less than an hour away by plane.
This is my guide to ‘the other Ibiza’, to the romantic, tranquilo, hippy side of the island, to what I’d like to think of as ‘the real Ibiza’. Based on my ridiculously romantic experience with my girlfriend Rosana, who was armed with a gold-plated list of local tips from her friend Laura, who was born and raised on the island.
Here you’ll find advice on exploring everything from Ibiza’s best hidden beach coves with cyan seas and pine-carpeted cliffs to hippy-dippy crafts markets and the UNESCO-listed old town. And let’s not forget the all important day-trip to Formentera!
Note: Click the links to see the location of each place on Google Maps.
Immerse Yourself in Dalt Vila – Ibiza’s Hilltop Old Town
The 16th century Dalt Vila, or ‘High Town’, is encircled by herculean stone ramparts that were built to defend Ibiza from invaders.
Its higgledy-piggledy alleyways and historic whitewashed buildings are exactly what you’d hope to find, draped in blankets of bougainvillea and housing all sorts of little shops and cafes.
Overlooking the terracotta rooftops of Ibiza Town, Plaça del Sol (‘Sun Square’) is a popular spot for drinks and sun worshipping – particularly at sunset.
Just around the corner, the viewing point at Baluarte de Sant Jaume is another popular spot to hang at sunset, where locals play music, walk tiny dogs and post for selfies.
Be sure to stop by at the 13th century Catedral de Santa Maria, which offers dramatic views over the Port d’Eivissa (Port of Ibiza).
To enter Ibiza’s old town (which can be more difficult than you might imagine), simply get to the Portal de Ses Taules gateway and follow the ramps.
Castaway to Ibiza’s Secluded ‘Calas’ (Beach Coves)
For me personally, the best thing about Ibiza, and all of the Balearic Islands for that matter, is the calas (beach coves). Alive with the chirps of amorous cicadas, vivid blue waters and aromas of sunbaked pine-trees, these secret coves are like little slices of heaven.
Typically they’re hidden away from the main tourist hubs and you’ll need a car or scooter to get to them, which means they’re generally much quieter than Ibiza’s main city beaches (which I’ve listed below).
We were travelling out of season (mid-April) and were lucky enough to find ourselves completely alone at a couple of craggy coves. It probably won’t be the case if you’re travelling in peak summer, but you should still definitely make the pilgrimage.
There are countless calas in Ibiza, but these are a few of my favourites (recommended to us by Laura, Rosana’s local friend):
This was our favourite cala in Ibiza and we were fortunate to have the whole place to ourselves. Expect rickety old boat huts, pristine waters, dashing lizards and a small chiringuito (beach bar) where you can order cold beers and a few tapas. Take a towel to stretch out on and be sure to take dip!
More of a beach than a cove, this secluded stretch of sand sits on a shallow bay and is a popular nudist spot. It’s one of the easiest to get to and there’s also a great seafood restaurant on the beach, which makes it popular with locals an in-the-know travellers. Great for snorkelling too!
Though this was one of the busiest calas we found, its Mars-red rocks and fragrant pine forests made it one of my favourite natural beauty spots in Ibiza.
Take a little stroll along the headland and you’ll find yourself in the slightly more secluded Cala Saladeta, where beautiful young things soak up the rays and cool off by jumping off the cliffs into the impossibly blue waters.
Rub Shoulders with the Rich and Famous in Ibiza Town and Port
The island’s beating heart, Ibiza Town and its idyllic port combine to create a tangle of whitewashed lanes and squares.
A flaneur’s dream, here you can drift from restaurant to tapas bar and drop a few euros at the trendy boutiques that hawk flowy linen beachwear and overpriced boho-chic fashion that you’d never dare wear back in the real world.
Stroll the promenade that fringes the harbour and head in the rough direction of Passeig de Vara de Rey, stopping at any cafe terrace that takes your fancy along the way for vino, tapas and world-class people watching.
See and Be Seen at One of Ibiza’s Famous Beaches
You don’t have to go far to enjoy Ibiza’s legendary beaches – many are within strolling distance from Ibiza Town, or a quick drive away.
They aren’t as quiet a the calas mentioned above, but they do offer convenience, places to drink and eat, and that all-important Ibiza chill vibe.
Ibiza’s main beach is the longest beach on the island. It’s a party beach and can get a bit rowdy at times, but that’s kind of the whole point. Take a few drinks and watch the real-life theatre production of ‘Guys and Dolls”.
This quiet stretch of sand features an elegant promenade with beautiful wrought-iron lampposts and palm-shaded benches. A convenient spot for those times when you want to relax by the sea but can’t be bothered to drive or walk far.
Located on the southernmost tip of the island, just 10-minutes’ drive out of Ibiza Town, Ses Salines is one of Ibiza’s most exclusive beaches. It’s named after the island’s famous salt lakes and is known for being where the rich, famous and wannabe-famous go to bronze their beautiful/enhanced bodies. There’s plenty of riff-raff here, too, so don’t worry if you’re not a bonafide A-lister.
Head to the waterfront chiringuitos (beach bars) of Sa Trinxa, Malibu and/or Guaraná for over-priced beers, cocktails-cum-salads and a glimpse at how the other half lives. It’s also close to the airport – Rosana and I visited as soon as we landed and on our way back to the airport.
Located about 20-minutes away (by car) from Ibiza Town, Sant Eulalia is a gorgeous little resort (another good area to stay in if you’re more interested in relaxation than raving) with plenty of water-front dining options and good vibes – head here if the beaches of Ibiza Town are looking a little wild.
Go Barefoot at Ibiza’s Famous Hippy Markets
Ibiza’s famous hippy markets are a must for all visitors. Why? Because they capture the “wealthy beach bum” vibe that underpins this bizarre place. This is, after all, a place where everyone goes barefoot – even the billionaires. Or “pi-jippies” as Rosana calls them – “pijo” means posh in Spanish.
There are a number of famous hippy markets in Ibiza, but I can highly recommend the Punta Arabí hippy market, which dates back to 1973 and is the island’s oldest and largest hippy market. Rosana had her hair braided by a lovely lady from Senegal who’d been living in Ibiza for almost 20 years.
While I waited, I watched a jowl-grinding band with didgeridoos and bulbous hand-drums work up a ruckus beneath a canopy of sweet pines, little green lizards scuttling between the hot pink rocks.
Feast on Paella and Views Over Es Vedrá
If you’re looking for romance in Ibiza, you should stick this little tip right at the top of your to-do list.
Cala d’Hort is a gorgeous little cove that overlooks Ibiza’s emblematic Es Vedrá, a rocky islet that erupts from the sea like a volcano. It’s the source of great intrigue and the cause of many local myths and legends. Some locals believe it shelters a secret underwater UFO base – too many disco biscuits perhaps!
And the very best thing about Cala d’Hort is the thatch-roofed Restaurant el Carmen de Cala d’Hort, where we enjoyed the best meal we had in Ibiza – a perfect paella with a bottle of local wine and the must-eat ‘flaó’ for dessert, a sort of simple-but-homely cheesecake that goes down beautifully with a couple of shots of Spanish orujo… and few beers.
Wouldn’t have been surprised if I saw a UFO myself after that meal!
Tip: Don’t be a numpty like us and miss the Mirador de l’Illa d’Es Vedra (Es Vedra Ibiza viewpoint), which provides the very best views over this purple haze of an island.
Well, second best views in my opinion… surely the best view is to be enjoyed with the company of a paella and a bottle of the good stuff?
Do Your Sun Salutations at Sunset – Cala Comte
In places like Italy and France, you go for aperitifs, but in Ibiza you go to watch the sunset. It’s a big deal, something to be observed – worshipped even – on a nightly basis. Another essential and somewhat intriguing insight into the local hippy/pijippi way of life.
The best place to watch the sun set in Ibiza is at Cala Comte, a remote, craggy coastline that sits more or less on the island’s most westerly point. It’s a relatively barren stretch of dust and pine, of red-soiled cliffs, but it stages the nightly marmalade sunset in its most dramatic form.
The most famous place to watch the sunset in Ibiza is at Cala Comte’s famous Sunset Ashram, but the staff here were the rudest and least inviting we encountered on the island.
I won’t go into details, but I would highly recommend strolling a few more steps along the beach to the quieter terrace of Restaurante S’Illa Des Bosc, where the staff are warm and friendly and you can sip a beer and nibble on a few olives as the sky falls beneath a blanket of sequinned purple velvet.
Take a Day-Trip to the Neighbouring Island of Formentera
There are so many calas and playas to explore in Ibiza that it can be tempting to skip a visit to Formentera, but I strongly urge you to make the effort. See my full guide to Formentera here.
Once you get to Formentera, rent a scooter or car (there are rental stands just as you get off the ferry) and explore the island’s lighthouse and spectacularly pristine beaches.
How to get to Formentera from Ibiza: Ferries leave from the Terminal Formentera in Ibiza Port up to 30 times a day and take roughly 30 minutes. I recommend jumping on the Aquabus (tickets from €20 return).
Make it Happen
Where to Stay: The beauty of Ibiza being such a popular holiday destination is that the accommodation market is quite competitive. Check out Lastminute.com for great flight + accommodation deals, especially if you’re planning a bit of a last-minute getaway!
We stayed at the extremely affordable Apartamentos Panoramic and had a little studio with a kitchen and a gorgeous balcony overlooking the sea and the beaches of Ibiza Town. I can imagine this property gets a bit noisy in the peak summer months but it was perfect for our stay in mid-May.
Which Part of Ibiza to Stay in: We stayed in Ibiza Town, which was fantastic be because we were close to the old town and the main beaches. I’d also consider staying in the quieter resorts of San Jose and Santa Eulalia, or anywhere in the northern region of the island. Just remember not to book somewhere in San Antonio or Playa d’en Bossa as these are Ibiza’s main party hubs.
When to Go: We went in mid-May and it was absolutely perfect. It was hot (too hot for me) but there weren’t big crowds to deal with. June, July and August are obviously peak summer travel months and see the highest prices and visitor numbers. I would also suggest going in September and missing the summer rush
Rent a Car: If you want to get around Ibiza then you’ll definitely want to rent your own car. There are tons of big-name and local rental car companies on the island and you can collect your car at the airport. It’s easy to drive on the island and parking is never much of a hassle.
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