Stand anywhere on the golden beaches along Benidorm’s shoreline and you can’t miss el Islote de Benidorm, a wedge-shaped rock rearing up out of the sea, 3.5 kilometres offshore.
Legend has it that the island was hacked out of the Puig Campana mountain overlooking Benidorm by a giant with his sword. It rolled down the mountain and splashed into the bay – you can see the gap left behind in the mountain peak (read more about Puig Campana’s myths here)
You can jump on a tourist boat in Benidorm’s little port and get there in a little over 15 minutes. So what’s to see when you get there?
Most impressive is actually the sight of Benidorm’s phalanx of high-rise blocks with the spectacular mountains behind. Benidorm is a phenomenon, there’s nowhere else quite like it in Spain – and seeing all those glass towers from the sea really does give you a different perspective.
You can glimpse some of the underwater life around the island – the catamaran has viewing panels in its double hulls and you get a few minutes to gaze at the fish in crystal clear waters. In summer, there’s also a mini-submarine (yes, it really is a yellow submarine!) where you can take a longer look.
Once ashore, the main thing to do is to head for the top, a stony, zig-zag path that takes you up past the mini-lighthouse to the peak 200 feet (73m) up for impressive cliff-top views. If truth be told, you can see pretty much everything there is to see in an hour – the place is only 400 metres long, so as islands go, it’s a bit of a tiddler.
The island is officially part of the Parc Natural de la Serra Gelada (the Serra Gelada is the line of cliffs to the right of Benidorm as you look at it from the island) and there’s plenty of birdlife, mainly seagulls and cormorants resting on the rocks between fishing trips.
The island has been many things – a base for pirates, a refuge from a cholera epidemic in the 19th century and it was once known as La Isla de los Pavos Reales – Peacock Island – because there was a population of wild peacocks living there. No longer. More bizarrely, it was also christened La Isla de los Periodistas (Journalists’ Island) – which intrigued me, not least because I’m a journalist myself.
It got its name back in 1970 for reasons which aren’t entirely clear, though I bet there were a fair few people in Franco’s Spain who wouldn’t have minded seeing pesky journalists marooned on a barren rock.
One version I came across was that el Islote was threatened with tourist development back then. So local politicians did a deal with the journalists’ organisation, the Federación Nacional de Asociaciones de la Prensa. The island would be christened “Isla de los Periodistas” if the journalists agreed to defend the publicly owned status of the island. If that’s true, it worked (kind of), because there’s still only one building on the island.
And that solitary building is a bar-restaurant right next to where the boats dock, a handy place to sink a nice cold beer while you wait for the return trip. But there’s a bit of political punch-up going on behind the scenes. The family firm that runs it has been accused of operating the place without a licence for more than 50 years. For good measure, the bar has also been accused of polluting the waters around the island. The company denies everything and is involved in a seemingly endless court battle with the local council. Not surprisingly – the combined restaurant and boat trip business is a little gold mine well worth hanging on to, especially at €15 a time for the return journey, and no competition.
There’s talk from the local council of turning the restaurant building into a centro de interpretación to explain more about the island and its environment. But don’t hold your breath; the arguments have been dragging on for years and they’ll probably keep going for a few more yet.
I’d avoid going in peak season, as the island isn’t really crowd friendly – it’s small and the paths are narrow and uneven. The underwater viewing galleries on the boats could also get pretty cramped and not very Covid safe. There’s also not much shade on the island, apart from the bar, so it’s probably not great in the fierce heat of summer.
How to get to Benidorm port
Ferries go from el Puerto de Benidorm, exactly half way along the beach front where the Playas de Poniente and Levante meet.
If you’re driving in from outside Benidorm, parking nearby is difficult. Best bet is to use the Mercadona supermarket multistorey car park on Carrer del Mercat, a few minutes stroll from the port. Buy some stuff in Mercadona on your return and you’ll get a discount on your parking ticket (ask at the checkout).
Or come by tram, which runs along the coast from Alicante to just beyond Calpe – the port is about a 20 minute walk down the hill from the station.
Check whether boats are landing or not – if the sea is rough, they won’t be able to dock and you get offered a trip around the island instead, which certainly isn’t worth €15. Call 96 585 00 52 to check.
You can buy tickets from the ticket office at the port or book online here
Check out these posts for more walks and places to visit around Benidorm
- The beautiful walk to Torre de Les Caletes
- How sinful Benidorm got its giant Cross
- The walk to the lighthouse of L’Albir
And if you fancy visiting another Costa Blanca island, try Tabarca, the smallest inhabited island in Spain. Check out my post here
© Guy Pelham