The salt flats that are next to one of the best beaches in the world

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ABC Travel

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In Formentera there are beaches that look like the Caribbean. One of them, Ses Illetes, usually appears in the first positions of any world top sand beach. There are luxury hotels, gastronomic novelties (Fandango Formentera has just opened its doors in the heart of Es Pujols promenade), handicraft markets (that La Mola artisan market) … and also many Italian tourists (at least in the prepandemic era). For tourists who come to this small island there is always the feeling of a special place, an almost virgin paradise.

However, in any conversation with occasional vacationers, another destination on the island is usually less relevant: its salt flats, in the Natural Park of Ses Salines in Ibiza and Formentera.

A fascinating natural mirror that reflects the chromatic changes of each moment of the day surprises those who throw themselves into enjoying the beaches in the north of Formentera, among them the mythical Ses Illetes. It is an area of ​​ponds where the salt crystallizes until it reaches its magical pink hue. Perhaps it is the most photogenic area of ​​a Natural Park that, in the smallest of the Pitiusas, also includes its two lagoons –Estany Pudent and Estany des Peix– in addition to three defensive towers and a megalithic tomb, Ca na Costa.

Aerial view of the salt flats and nearby beaches

The salt flats of Formentera already existed since ancient times, although it was not until the thirteenth century when documentary evidence of its exploitation was left. In 1873 they were acquired by the Mallorcan Antoni Marroig and later by Salinera Española SA, who exploited them until 1984. It was a labyrinthine canalization system that took advantage of the waters of the Estany Pudent -the largest of the two lagoons in Formentera-, pumping them towards the ponds where the salt crystallized until its extraction.

Salina was the only industry on the island prior to the tourism boom, which is why they were declared Asset of Cultural Interest (in the typology of historical place), in 2004. And to put it in value, a virtual reconstruction project has been elaborated –in charge of the Imageen group– of the megalithic monument of Ca na Costa and the salt tower, located in port of La Savina.

At the end of 2020, the Balearic Commission for the Environment gave the green light to the recovery of Ses Salines de Formentera. The project consists of reintroducing sea water in s’Estany Pudent and in the progressive recovery of the entire salt area for its exploitation with a calculation per harvest of between 200 to 500 tons, as published at the time by the Diario de Ibiza.

Posidonia meadows

But the Ses Salines Natural Park has other areas of interest. Like the maritime one, which occupies 85% of it and houses the Posidonia oceanica meadows, a refuge for numerous marine species and responsible for the purity that characterizes the crystalline and paradisiac waters of Formentera. The terrestrial part is home to most of the island’s plant species (178 in total), among which the Mediterranean pine forests and coastal junipers stand out, as well as the vegetation that surrounds ponds, dune systems and coastal cliffs.

Another of the hallmarks of the Natural Park are its two lagoons. The largest, Estany Pudent (so called because of the bad smell of yesteryear due to its stagnant waters), has 3.5 km2 and draws attention for hosting aquatic species such as flamingos and common stilts, in addition to one of the largest concentrations of black-necked grebes of Europe. The smallest, Estany des Peix, has a narrow opening to the sea that allows the entry of small boats, for anchoring, and the practice and learning of water sports, such as windsurfing, kayaking or sailing. It also draws attention to a rocky area with boathouses-dry dock: Caló de s’Oli.

Tower of Sa Gavina
Tower of Sa Gavina

Defense towers

Regarding the historical and cultural heritage, the Natural Park also houses three defense towers: Sa Gavina, which guarded the accesses to the port of La Savina; Punta Prima, next to the town of Es Pujols; and Sa Guardiola, on the island of s’Espalmador.

Routes on foot or by bike

Ses Salines can be explored on foot or by bicycle through five of the 32 Green Routes of Formentera. Route 1 (La Savina-Ses Illetes) passes through the path of Sa Guia, Molí de Sal and Cavall d’en Borràs beach until reaching Ses Illetes. Route 2 (La Savina-Es Pujols), partly runs along the Camí des Brolls (which also houses a signposted Ornithological Route), which borders the Estany Pudent. Route 4 (Sant Francesc-Can Marroig) borders a part of the Estany des Peix. Route 5 (Can Marroig-Punta Gavina) starts from the Can Marroig Interpretation Center and alternates the initial wooded area with the later lunar landscape, with stones of capricious shapes, which formerly was a quarry where marés, a calcareous stone used in the constructions of the island. And Route 19 (Es Pujols-Ses Illetes), which passes through Sa Roqueta and along the northeast coast of Ses Salines. In addition, together with routes 1 + 2 they form a Running Route of almost 14 km, which is signposted.

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