Lay of the Land: The Balearics are a Spanish archipelago consisting of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, Formentera, and the uninhabited nature reserve of Cabrera (just off the south coast of Mallorca). They are located more or less in the middle of the western Mediterranean and have long been admired for their enviable climate, jewel-blue waters, rolling hills, pine forests, and pearly white-sand beaches.
WHEN TO GO
Tourism is by far the major industry on all the Balearic Islands, so it stands to reason that summertime is the hot—in every sense—season (average temperatures hit 77° F). Avoid Ibiza in July or August if clubbing isn't your thing. Mallorca and Menorca are also overrun in high summer, though more with package tourists from Britain, Germany, Italy, and mainland Spain. From late January through early March, Mallorca's 40 million almond trees burst into bloom, and it's a particularly lovely time to visit. It's also cool enough (average temperature is 54° F) at that time to make walking holidays attractive, though occasional sunny days mean you can still have lunch outside. All the islands are lovely in spring (average temperature is 61° F) and fall (average temperature is 73° F), when you'll find that the majority of the crowds have gone home. Note, however, that many of the islands' hotels, restaurants, and bars, particularly on Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera, close up for the winter. If you want to visit during winter months (average temperature is 54.5° F), Mallorca is your best bet, with much of Palma still open for business and enough facilities and entertainments to keep you amused in case of bad weather.
HOW TO GET THERE
There are airports just outside Ibiza Town on Ibiza, Palma on Mallorca, and Maó on Menorca. All are well served from mainland cities such as Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, and Malaga by Spanish national airlines Iberia (800-772-4642; www.iberia.com), Spanair (34-902-131-415; www.spanair.com), Air Europa (34-902-401-501; www.aireuropa.com), and Spain's budget airline, Vueling (34-902-333-933; www.vueling.com). With advance booking, one-way flights can be as little as $34. However, the later you book, and especially in high season, prices can rise to as much as $337 to $403 for a one-way ticket.
Flights from the U.S. connect through Madrid or Barcelona, though it's worth investigating cheap London-Balearic round-trip flights and connecting through the English capital (try www.easyjet.com; 44-870-600-0000; or www.ryanair.com; 353-1-249-7791).
Formentera is reached by ferry from Ibiza, which takes about 30 minutes. It's an easy day trip if you're based on Ibiza, and it's worth heading out early in the morning to catch the sun lighting up the smaller island's rock formations. Inter-island ferry routes are operated by Trasmediterránea (34-902-454-645; www.trasmediterranea.es), Baleária (34-966-428-700; www.balearia.com), Cape Balear (34-902-100-444; www.capebalear.es), and Iscomar (34-971-437-500; www.iscomar.com). With the exception of Cape Balear, which connects Cala Ratjada on Mallorca with Ciutadella on Menorca and makes a good day-trip option (one hour, about $81 one-way), all the companies offer both passenger and vehicle ferries. Booking well in advance in high season is essential, as leaving it until the last minute could get you stranded on the island. Prices also rise significantly. Baleária offers both standard and high-speed ferry services from Barcelona and Valencia to Ciutadella on Menorca (three hours, 45 minutes) and on to Alcúdia on Mallorca (five hours, 30 minutes). The cost is around $100 one-way on the high-speed ferry, though like the airline prices, this can fluctuate somewhat. Transmediterránea is a better bet if you're heading for Palma from Barcelona, with a high-speed hovercraft making the trip in three hours, 45 minutes. The ferry between Palma and Ibiza takes two hours.
Iberia and Air Europa also offer inter-island flights, but these can be pricey in high season and get booked up far in advance for summer.
Once on the islands, with the exception of Formentera, all have reasonable public transport systems. If you're planning to base yourself in Palma for a long weekend, for example, getting around on foot and by taxi is easy. However, if you want to get off the beaten path and explore, car rental is by far your best option. Ditto for Menorca and Ibiza. While island buses do connect the main towns and villages, you could find yourself waiting around far longer than you want to. Formentera is only 11 miles long, so renting a bicycle or a moped is the most practical way to get around. Note that many of the roads are unpaved, and most don't have names or numbers. Many of the road signs are simply handwritten.
All of the airports have car-rental agencies, including Avis (800-331-1084; www.avis.es), Europcar (800-227-3876; www.europcar.com), Hertz (800-654-3001; www.hertz.com) and National-Atesa (34-902-100-515; www.atesa.es). You can also often get good deals by booking your car through EasyJet or Ryan Air if you're flying from England. A jeep from La Sabina harbor in Formentera will cost you about $740 for the week (www.amigoautos.co.uk; 34-902-443-399).
Mallorca Tourist Office
2 Plaça de la Reina
Palma de Mallorca
Tel: 34 971 712 216
Fax: 34 971 720 251
Closed Saturdays after 2 p.m. and on Sundays.
Menorca Tourist Office
Consell Insular de Menorca
2 Moll de Llevant
Tel: 34 971 929 015
Tel: 34 971 355 952
Fax: 34 971 352 674
Closed Tuesdays and during the winter (usually from October to May).
Ibiza Tourist Office
Ajuntament de Sant Antoni
Passeig de Ses Fonts s/n
Sant Antoni de Portmany
Tel: 34 971 343 363
Fax: 34 971 344 175
Closed weekend afternoons during summer. Closed every afternoon and Sundays in winter.
Formentera Tourist Office
C/ de Calpe s/n
Tel: 34 971 322 057
Fax: 34 971 322 825
Closed Sundays.View Spain Factsheet