Majestic coastlines, paradise beaches and hidden coves; this is what awaits the many yacht owners who choose to anchor in the Balearic Islands. For those travelling the Mediterranean by sail boat or yacht, the Balearics are a prime stop, and the setting for several famous regattas. The harbours of the four islands are continually fully booked.
The oldest way to reach an island is by sea, and thus sea ways are integral to Balearic traditions. Kings, warriors and salesmen arrived by boat, influencing the history of the islands. Thanks to a strategic geographical location and the fertility of the land, the ports of Mallorca, Ibiza, Menorca and, to a lesser degree Formentera, became an important trafficking point in the Mediterranean.
In the 13th century, King Jaume I started to reconstruct Palma’s harbour and mentions of the still existing Muelle Viejo (the old dock) began appearing in books dating from circa 1270. The Balearics remain a destination for kings, with former Spanish monarch Juan Carlos opting to moor his yacht in the marina of Porto Pi and the royal children learning to sail in Calanova many years ago.
Today they participate in quite a few regattas in the Balearics, the most important of which bear royal name: the Copa del Rey (the king’s cup) and the SAR Princesa Sofía, one of the world’s ten most important regattas. When royal family King Felipe, Queen Letizia, Princess Sofia and Princess Leonor spends summer holidays on Mallorca, social life on Balearic waters reaches its peak.
Today’s yacht scene
For hundreds of years Palma used to be the only harbour in the Balearics. The first visitors arrived on trading boats, enjoying a spell of a couple of weeks discovering the island. Today, the trading boats hardly have any passengers on board. Large yet unimposing, they unload their goods in Palma and Alcúdia while private motor boats, sailing boats, yachts and superyachts far surpass their social importance.
Today the Balearics count more than 40 marinas and those arriving at Palma by boat do not see the Cathedral as the first landmark but a charming, forest-like scenario of white sailing masts. Most people arrive by air, however, and the private nautical scene profits from the flying means of mass transport.
Many boat owners enjoy the comfortable journey by plane and once on the island they have their yacht waiting for them in one of the easy-to- reach harbours. Palma airport’s private jet terminal makes the process all the more smoother for the super wealthy.
The last few years have seen a boom in the charter sector thanks to the scrapping of the controversial matriculation tax, which has brought back some of the world’s biggest yachts for hire. Demand for charter boats has surged, and according to Palma brokers, the total number of charter yachts has increased fourfold since 2013 from 31 to 125 in 2016 (Source: Yachts International).
Course towards the Balearics
The Mediterranean offers many interesting ports but fortune favours the Balearics. Waiting lists for the fully booked marinas are accepted as a usual state of play by those planning to anchor here. The climate is sunny and mild and the Islands offer fantastic variety within a relatively small area.
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Even yacht fans who don’t have a lot of time to indulge in their favourite activity have the choice of cruising from one island to the other or to explore the manifold coast from bay to bay. If you have more time, you’ll find the Balearics the ideal starting point for longer journeys to the Spanish mainland, to France or to the Eastern Mediterranean passing Italy and onto Greece.
Sea and ports are politically safe and stable; each captain, however, needs to face the challenges of frequent large Mediterranean waves and the sometimes stormy moods of the weather gods. Nevertheless, in the event of an emergency, a well-organised infrastructure can be counted on in the Balearic Islands.
The cosmopolitan city of Palma has two marinas, Club de Mar and Real Club Náutico de Palma. Both in the heart of Palma Bay, they are considered amongst the top locations in the Mediterranean for facilities, service and socialising, accommodating all vessels from the smallest boat to the multi-million superyacht.
Elsewhere, especially spectacular is the steep west coast of Mallorca, where the Tramuntana mountain range rises directly out of the deep blue sea. The small sheltered bays and the sunsets you can behold from a boat are just magnificent. Marina Tramontana in Port de Sóller is the characterful nautical hub, offering a good range of services.
Beaches are easier to access in Mallorca’s north and wide sandy beaches and dunes can be found in Sa Canove, Cala Mesquida and Cala Agulla. To the east of the island, don’t miss the popular beach of Es Trenc, complete with Caribbean-esque turquoise water. The luxurious Yacht Club Cala d’Or services the east coast.
The southwest is where you’ll find Mallorca’s best-known marinas, the exclusive Puerto Portals and Port Adriano situated between Palma and Andratx, which cater for owners and crews of yachts up to 60m and both with an abundance of restaurants and facilities. Blessed with picturesque bays, even in high season yachties can discover lonely beaches along this stretch of coast, if they have the clear advantage of coming from the sea side.
Down in Andratx on the island’s south west tip, Andratx Marina is ready to provide service for owners and crew 24/7, and has a fully-equipped workshop, pool, bar, restaurant and watersports club.
Menorca is quieter and touristically less developed. The second largest island of the Balearics remains a natural paradise, which is well worthwhile discovering. The north of the island is steep and stony and if you’re lucky, you’ll discover the scenic beauty of one of the few small bays where mountain streams flow into the sea. Son Bou and Cala Mitjaneta are famous for wide sandy beaches and more mountain streams feature in the nature protected resort of Es Grau.
Yachtsmen will enjoy mooring in the small tranquil coves of the south, with their azure waters and fine sandy beaches, while in total contrast the marina at Mahón is one of the largest natural harbours in the world and a popular stop for cruise ships.
The harbour of Ciutadella is relatively large, but more than charming with the busy harbour life and the welcoming little bars.
Ibiza is less known for culture and nature as for vibrant night-and-beach life. Ibiza is a nice spot for a daytrip from Mallorca or to anchor a couple of days close to the capital or San Antonio on the opposite side of the island. In addition to the three main ports in Ibiza town, San Antonio and Santa Eulalia, there are hidden coves inviting anchorage right around the entire coast.
Don’t miss a visit to the small, unspoiled islands between Ibiza and Formentera with amazing flora and fauna. More sandy beaches can be found in the nature reserve Ses Salines and a great tip is to head to the small island of Vedrà in the south east, opposite Cala d’Hort.
Only a few sea miles from Ibiza is the smallest Balearic island Formentera with its white beaches and crystal clear water. The main port of Savona has all the services a yacht crew may require. Insiders anchor at Espalmador, a small stunningly beautiful island, which is separated from Formentera by El Paso, a shallow water passage.
Cabrera – one of Spain’s 12 National Parks
Cabrera is about fifty sea miles away from Mallorca. The archipelago is a small paradise; one inhabited by dolphins, turtles and rare seabirds thanks to its well-preserved ecosystem. Its history has not been quite as harmonious during past centuries, when the island was abused by pirates and the military. During the 19th century thousands of French war prisoners were starved to death here. But these are stories from the past and today visitors can enjoy an incomparable nature experience.
It is not permitted to anchor here and if you want to berth at one of the buoys in the small harbour you need to obtain prior permission, which you can apply for in the National Park Office located in Plaza de Espana in Palma (Phone +34 971 725 010 / balearsculturaltour.net).
Nautic tourism in the Balearics in numbers
Moorings in the sports marinas on the Balearics: around 12.000, 70 % of them on Mallorca
Number of nautic tourists per year: more than: 250.000
Average duration of a visit: 2 weeks
What is the typical nautic tourist? Aged between 31 and 60, above-average income and of Spanish, English or German nationality.
For information on port offices in the Balearic Islands in English and Spanish, see www.portsdebalears.com.