The extensive cultural, historical and culinary attractions in Mallorca, the worldwide fame of the nightlife in Ibiza, the natural paradise of Menorca and Formentera … these are some of the things that are top of the mind for travellers planning a trip to the Balearic Islands. However, the abundant popular tourist attractions should not distract visitors from considering other less well-known destinations that are just as amazing as the ones mentioned above. Such is the case of the island of Cabrera.
This small Balearic Island is about 30 minutes from Mallorca and was declared a National Park in 1991. It is one of the most unspoilt natural environments in the whole of the Mediterranean. Small coves and bathing areas with exceptionally clear water, breathtaking scenery, a variety of wild animals and an interesting history are just some of the things that await you in this natural sanctuary. Has that made you a bit curious? If so, then read on. We are about to tell you everything you need to know about this unknown little treasure in the Balearic Islands.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
The only way to get to the island of Cabrera is by boat. Together with the fact that it is a National Park and that access is strictly controlled, this is something to take into account when planning your visit.
The easiest way to reach Cabrera is through one of the companies that organise regular excursions. There are four companies to choose from: Mar Cabrera, Excursions a Cabrera, Es Caragol Charter and Click Mallorca. They charge a minimum of about 40 euros to take you around the island, and a little more if you want to disembark and explore the island (we recommend you check their different programmes to see which one suits you best). All the boats leave from Colònia de Sant Jordi, the nearest port to Cabrera, meaning the nearest JS Hotels are the ones in Porto Colom, although you can get to the port from any of our hotels within a drive of just over an hour .
An alternative is to use your own boat or a rental boat, meaning you can depart from any port in Mallorca, including the ones in Alcudia Bay where we have several hotels (JS Yate, JS Alcudi-Mar, JS Sol de Alcudia, JS Miramar, JS Horitzó, JS Can Picafort and JS Sol Can Picafort). Before you set off, however, you have to get permission from ICONA (National Institute for Nature Conservation) in Palma de Mallorca, as they are responsible for controlling the number of visitors and boats that can drop anchor in the area (a maximum of 50).
If you plan to spend the night on the island, there is a visitor centre in old renovated military facilities that has 12 double rooms. The number of nights you can spend in Cabrera varies depending on the time of the year. In July and August it is restricted to one day, in June and September two days, and for the rest of the year up to one week.
Once you have arranged how you will visit Cabrera, there are a few precautions you have to take during your visit:
- Visitors should not leave the authorised areas to avoid accidents, especially in the cliff areas where landslides may occur.
- Shade is scarce on the island, so if you plan on hiking, don’t forget to bring sunscreen, plenty of water and a hat or cap to cover your head.
- There is only one small cafeteria on the whole island, so it’s better if you take food with you along with bags for your rubbish as there are not that many bins on the island.
- Finally, leave all your fishing tackle and pets at home. Fishing and pets are both strictly prohibited.
At first sight, the island of Cabrera may seem like not much more than a desolate rock. The intense summer heat, low rainfall and cold winds that pound the island in winter have made it difficult for trees to thrive. On the other hand, the island does have a huge variety of shrubs and other types of low-growing plants (about 400 species), about 200 species of fish and about 150 species of birds that use the island as a stopover on their migratory journeys. The Balearic lizard, an indigenous species that can only be found on some of the islands and islets in the archipelago, will also accompany you wherever you go.
The Cabrera scenery has to be explored with peace and patience. The route to the Punta de n’Ensiola Lighthouse at the southern tip of the island takes around 4 to 5 hours and is ideal for discovering the rugged terrain framed by cliffs that plunge downwards into the turquoise waters. There is nowhere better than Cabrera with regard to clear water, so don’t leave without taking a dip off one of the beaches (Es Burri, Espalmador, Cas Pages or Sa Plageta, among others), where you can also snorkel (equipment for rent in the port of Cabrera).
However, when it comes to dream locations for a dip, the Cova Blava (Blue Cove) is the main attraction in Cabrera and gold standard for swimming locations. Cova Blava is a natural cave under the cliffs on the northwest coast where the afternoon light combines with the water to create a stunning display of different shades of blue which also reflect off the roof of the cave to create an almost surreal natural environment. All of the organised tours include a swim in the Cova Blava area, so don’t forget to bring your goggles so you don’t miss this spectacular colourful experience and all the numerous fish in the cave.
Due to its location, Cabrera has always been a strategic island. It is home to the remains of various civilisations including the Romans, Carthaginians, Arabs, and Christians, especially under its waters. If you are interested in the history of the island, we recommend you visit the Es Celler Museum of Cabrera about 3km from the port. The Museum also helps you discover numerous details about the island’s flora and fauna.
When you arrive in Cabrera, one of the first things you could do is visit the castle, 30 minutes from the port and home to the most important remains left by human inhabitants. The castle was built in the fourteenth century to prevent North African pirates from settling there and using it as a base to raid the coast of Mallorca. Apart from its historical interest, it also provides really beautiful views.
BETWEEN HISTORY AND LEGEND
Near the castle there is a small enclosure with a cross at its entrance. This is the cemetery of Cabrera, where there are only two graves and which has been the origin of one of the most interesting legends of the island.
During World War II, a plane piloted by German soldier Joannes Böckler was shot down near Cabrera while taking part in a mission off the Algerian coast. The locals recovered the body and buried it next to a local peasant’s grave (the soldier’s inscription can still be seen today). Legend has it that his spirit tormented the few inhabitants of the island, always asking that he be buried in his homeland. In 1982, the German authorities exhumed the pilot’s remains and transferred them to the German cemetery in Cuacos de Yuste (Cáceres), but it is said that the soldier continues to make his appearances on the island, probably due to the fact that the body they moved was that of the Mallorcan peasant.
This is not the only lurid story to be found in Cabrera. Near the castle there is also a monument in memory of the French soldiers involved in one of the most dramatic chapters of the War of Independence. After the battle of Bailén in 1808, the island was turned into a prison camp for captured French soldiers. The number of soldiers sent to the island varies depending on the source, but is somewhere between 13,000 and 18,000, of which, by the end of the war in 1814, only around 3,000 or 4,000 survived. The other soldiers died due to hunger, disease, violence or suicide.
If you walk to the Punta de n’Ensiola Lighthouse, you will also see the Pla de les Figueres, the site of the third mystery in the history of the island. Following a letter Pope Gregory the Great sent in 603 AD to an official, we know that the island was once home to a monastery of Byzantine monks. In the letter, Gregory asked the official to visit the monastery on Cabrera on his way to Malaga to supervise the work of the monks as he was sure that they were leading a “dissolute life” and “engaged in various crimes». Some evidence of a human presence has been found from that period, such as a necropolis, a column from the monastery and the remains of utensils, but to date the church that the monastery would have had has not been found, much less any information on what was going on in the monastery which so much worried even the Pope.
Despite the fact that it is so small, the island of Cabrera has enviable natural and historical attractions, and even though its history never makes it to the major history books, it is still of interest to both history lovers and other visitors. If you want to enjoy an unforgettable day, note down the name of this little corner of the Mediterranean as part of your list of things to do on your holidays in Mallorca. You’ll never regret it!