Ibiza, Mallorca or Menorca: How to choose the right Balearic Island for your vacation
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British travelers have a deep affinity for Spain's Balearic Islands, but that doesn't mean U.S. travelers shouldn't consider this incredible destination as well when planning your next vacation, whether that's a vacation to Mallorca with your family, or a trip with friends to Ibiza. The Balearics include the popular aforementioned Mallorca, party child Ibiza, serene Menorca, boho-chic Formentera and nature paradise Cabrera. And these islands see more than 300 days of sunshine per year.
But what you may not know is that each of these islands has a very distinct personality -- and different spots within each destination that can offer different vacation experiences. And, certain islands (or spots on the island) shut down in low season, so it's worth understanding where and when is the best time to visit each place in order to truly enjoy and maximize your vacation.
Think about your vacation style and what you'd like to get out of your Balearic Island trip -- is this a honeymoon? Girls trip? Family bonding experience? A vacation with small children? Solo trip? Do you plan to socially distance and explore rural spots or enjoy a lively dining/night life scene? Do you prefer a bustling beach with all the amenities or a hidden cove only reachable by hike? Once you decide, read the below guide to pick the best island for your vacation.
Best for: Budget, midrange and luxury travelers, fans of all-inclusive and those who love the beach but also love exploring villages and attractions.
When to go: Mallorca is the only Balearic Island that you really want to visit year-round. The best times to visit are the shoulder seasons, like April to May and September to October. Summer is crowded, but ideal for sunshine seekers. While late autumn, winter and early spring may not have guaranteed sun and warm temperatures, many spots around the island, especially Palma, still have plenty to do and see -- and you might get lucky with the weather, too. Easter week has amazing processions, and there's Carnival in February. Palma is home to a number of museums, and the island has more than 70 wineries.
Vibe: The joy of Mallorca is that it has something for everyone. Those who get bored at the beach can visit one of Europe's rare circular castles, the gothic 14th-century Bellver Castle. Varying cave systems such as the Drach Caves allow visitors to escape the hot sun in exchange for underground stalagmites and lakes. With a number of beautiful villages, such as Pollença, featuring a stone Roman bridge, the seaside village Santanyí, Valldemosa, one of Mallorca's highest villages and Fornalutx, nestled in the Serra de Tramuntana mountains, there's plenty of exploring to be had.
Hiking trails and viewpoints are scattered throughout the island — the Torrent de Pareis gorge involves scaling a few boulders. Beginners may prefer the two-hour trek to the castle on the top of Puig d'Alaro mountain from Alaro town. Cap Formentor, known as the "meeting point of the winds" is a peninsula with a cliff top lighthouse with dramatic, panoramic views.
Let's not discount the beach scene, though. Although there are plenty of beachfront hotels where you can enjoy sand and sun just outside Palma, some of the best beaches and hidden coves are dotted around the island. Formentor Beach is part of the Cap Formentor peninsula and the tiny cove of Tuent is pebbly but exceptionally gorgeous. Moro Cove's fine white sand and clear waters can get busy in the summer but are still worth a visit.
Mallorca's accommodation ranges from budget home rentals, backpacker hostels, high-end luxury hotels (we love the St. Regis Mardavall Mallorca), all-inclusive resorts and everything in between. Those wanting to escape the crowds should rent a car and find serene spots around the island, while travelers wanting access to more dining and cultural options should stay in or around Palma.
Best for: Luxury travelers, groups, friend trips, young couples, those who want a trendy cocktail scene, foodies and health and fitness buffs.
When to go: Those wanting to experience Ibiza's epic party scene should consider the very important May and September dates. This is when the opening and closing parties are held, marking the start and end of the club season. Keep in mind, though, that this island's appeal will be very different from before. Thanks to coronavirus, Ibiza's night life scene will be greatly reduced.
Nightclubs won't be permitted to fully open in 2020, but some seated concerts and outdoor parties with limited capacities will go ahead as planned in a socially distanced manner. However, visitors wanting to take advantage of Ibiza's beaches and restaurant scene can still do so between April and October. Winter trips are possible, but many of the best hotels and restaurants close seasonally.
Vibe: Younger groups should plan to be in San Antonio, where there are plenty of bars, beach clubs and sunset spots to offer a socially distanced party scene when the time comes to travel. Although many of the larger clubs will remain closed, the Eivissa area is where the biggest parties are held. Partying isn't entirely over -- spots like O Beach and Ibiza Rocks, which feature outdoor pool parties, have opened since July 1.
But Ibiza has evolved past clubbing in recent years. It's still known for house/techno music but it's expanded to include R&B artists like Craig David or reggaeton singers like Nicky Jam. The island is full of new sustainable restaurants featuring farm-to-table cuisine, fresh fruit juices and vegan breakfasts. Yoga and meditation retreats are often held throughout the island, and the island's spa scene is slowly growing in popularity. Ibiza is no longer just for party animals, it's also for healthy travelers. And it's not surprising that a new generation of cool kids that want to party by night and eat healthy by day are taking advantage of Ibiza's self-reinvention. The best hangover cure really is a vitamin C smoothie and a yoga class (at least in Ibiza).
For a dose of culture and history, Ibiza's white-roofed Old Town is fun to explore when the heat of the sun settles. Wander the winding streets and check out the artisan street markets. And just like the other Balearic destinations, stunning beaches coves can be found all around the island. TPG favorites include Sa Caleta, backed by reddish cliffs, Xuclar's tranquil pebbled sands and Aguas Blancas, ensconced in pine-covered cliffs.
Luxury travelers should look into renting boats to enjoy some of the island's best coves. You can also escape by boat visit to Es Vedrà, a tiny, nearby uninhabited island.
Related: These are the best beaches in Spain
Best for: Families, honeymooners, foodies, travelers wanting to get off the beaten path or practice social distancing.
When to go: It's best to visit between April and October. Menorca is already the "island less traveled," so visiting during the low season (November to March) could mean hotels, restaurants and attractions are closed -- and you may face inclement weather that limits beach or hiking options.
Vibe: If you're looking for a beach vacation that's not in the Caribbean, consider Menorca instead -- an island often forgotten about in lieu of chic Ibiza and busy Mallorca. Outside of the island's two largest towns, Mahón and Ciutadella, the island is relatively quiet.
Snorkel and dive enthusiasts will love that the entire island is considered a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Some of the best dives (keep an eye out for hammerhead sharks) are in the waters of the Northern Marine Reserve. And you'll almost feel like you're having a staycation when you spot the Torre d’en Galmés -- this is Menorca's very own Stonehenge megalithic site. Hikers and walkers should plan to do part (or all -- but it's 114 miles long, so be ready) of the famous Camí de Cavalls. This beautiful coastal path touches almost every part of the island. Plan to meander past towering cliffs, verdant hills, breathtaking seaside viewpoints and more.
Menorca is the island for those willing to hike to get to the perfect idyllic beach cove. Although some beaches are more popular than others, the likelihood of finding a quieter spot, especially in the shoulder season, is high. With almost 75 beaches on the island, there's plenty of sand and sun to be had by all. Some of the best are Es Talaier, which requires a 15- to 20-minute hike to get there, the reddish rocks and sands of Cala El Pilar, a 30-minute trek, or Cala Escorxada, which takes about an hour to reach on foot.
Renting a car is essential in Menorca. Book your rental car with a credit card that offers rental insurance such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which offers theft, damage and liability insurance. However, read all the fine print before booking to make sure you fully understand the rules and any exclusions in regards to the coverage.
Best for: Hippy or boho-chic travelers, beach bums, luxury travelers and small groups.
When to go: It's essential to visit during shoulder or high season, otherwise all attractions will be closed. Plus, if the weather isn't ideal for beach visits, there isn't a whole lot more to do.
Vibe: Formentera has some of the best beaches in the world, including the famed Ses Illetes and the rocky sand mix at Calo Des Mort. The crystalline sand is Caribbean-style fine and the turquoise-hued water is some of the clearest in Europe.
However, a trip to Formentera isn't cheap. Because the island is so tiny, accommodation (both rental and hotel) options are limited and fill up quickly. So while Formentera does attract a laid-back type of traveler, make sure to be an organized laid-back traveler and book early on to get the best options and pricing. You can save on car rentals, though, by renting a bike and cycling to the beaches (if you can stand the midday sun).
Besides beach visits, boat rental and water sports, there isn't a ton to do on this island but simply chill out. The island is best for lazy travelers in the mood for relaxing beach days, breaking only to cycle to lunch for a plate full of fresh prawns, try their luck at stand up paddling or visit a lighthouse or two.
If you want to check out Formentera's beach scene but need a more lively vacation, day trips are possible. Ferries run on the hour or half-hour from Ibiza and the trip is only 35 minutes, meaning you can go there and back in the same day and you won't have to worry about scoring coveted accommodation.
Best for: Nature lovers, a rural escape, bird watchers, a day trip.
When to go: It's best to visit when the weather is nicer, so stick to late spring, summer and early autumn. There is one lodging option on the island with 12 rooms -- but you can only stay there for one night in the high season or two nights in the low season. Most visitors just come for the day.
Vibe: Cabrera's vibe is pure nature and relaxation. Entrance to this tiny, natural paradise made up of several small islets is regulated. Therefore, the best way to visit is an excursion from Mallorca (Colonia Sant Jordi). Once you arrive at the main island, you can hike, birdwatch, explore the island and its castle or swim and snorkel. The main reason to come to this island is to get away from it all -- don't expect much to do besides discovering the joy of being outdoors.
It is possible to rent your own boat, but you will have to pay for a permit to enter Cabrera's waters and anchor your boat there.
Whether it's Formentera's beaches, Mallorca's activities, Ibiza's sunset bars or Menorca's walking trails, the Balearic Islands are ideal for any type of vacation. Although you're limited to visiting in the shoulder or summer seasons on most of the islands, it's still nice to have gorgeous beaches, sustainable cuisine and a laid-back island vibe. And if you're really itching for that winter sun escape when it's chilly in the Balearics, you could always consider Spain's Canary Islands instead.