That was pretty much the reaction I got from everyone when I announced I was going to the ultimate summer destination…in the winter. While I explained that I had found a 30 Euro round trip flight (my first Ryanair flight – went off without a hitch!) and was visiting a friend who I had met during my adventures on one of the lesser known Balearic Islands, Menorca, people were still pretty confused.
Short geography break:
Ibiza (or Eivissa in Catalan) is located in the Balearic Islands, an autonomous region in Spain that consists of more than 50 islands, although most are uninhabited; the main four are Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera, in size order. There are two official languages in the Balearic Islands, Spanish and Catalan (of which Ibizans speak a dialect, Eivissenc), but because of the huge tourism industry, many signs will be in four languages: Catalan, Spanish, English, and German.
Ibiza is now known as the party capital of the world, with legen….wait for it…dary clubs pumping out electronic music from sunset to sunrise. The typical summer holiday in Ibiza would consist of laying on the beach during the day, heading to clubs at midnight, and greeting the morning sun on your way home. Numerous references to the destination can be heard in pop songs, from the Vengaboys “We’re Going to Ibiza” (which was incidentally stuck in my head the entire weekend I was there) to Jennifer Lopez’s more recent “On the Floor” where she references the island in her list of places: “Brazil, Morocco, London to Ibiza” (apologies if this song gets stuck in your head now. I’m not a fan either).
None of these songs mirrored my experience in Ibiza in the least.
My first day I explored D’alt Vila (Old Town), which is built on top of a hill overlooking the port. The old town is part of a mixed UNESCO site entitled Ibiza, Biodiversity and Culture. When I first read the name, I thought, “Seriously? What the heck does that even mean?” Apparently it means that the site includes important ancient settlements such as the D’alt Vila as well as various areas recognized to have significant biodiversity (being an island there are a lot). And I had the whole place to myself, whoot! Seriously, I think I saw three people the whole time I was wandering around D’alt Vila, and one was the woman in the tourist information building. Here, the absence of people was great, as I got to roam the streets alone and appreciate the little alleys and adorable houses (all while being buffeted around by the aggressive November winds).
It may be a little known fact to all the party goers, but Ibiza Town is actually one of the oldest cities in Europe – founded in 654 B.C. by the Carthaginians, the town saw a lot of action long before the arrival of the mega clubs. There is a huge burial ground called Puig de Molins just outside the towering walls of D’alt Vila, so of course I had to check it out, especially after feeling defeated upon discovering that the archaeology museum was closed (so is the one in Madrid – growl!! Spain is seriously hating on archaeology). But my anger dissipated upon arriving at the necropolis, as it had a great museum that contained a plethora of objects from the entire occupation of the necropolis, not just by the Carthaginians, but later the Romans and later Arabic conquerors who buried their dead there as well. Necropolis reuse is something I get especially excited about, since I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the subject, so I was seriously nerding out archaeology style, and it felt great!
But the most impressive part of Ibiza is its natural beauty, mountainous and green, with gorgeous aquamarine water, not to mention beautiful sunsets every night no matter what side of the island you are on. An impromptu walk on the beach led to the discovery of one of Ibiza’s many old military towers which still dot the jagged coasts of the island. It wasn’t hot, but it was definitely warmer than Madrid, especially once we got walking!
Sounds great right, what’s not to love? Let’s all go to Ibiza in the winter – beat the crowds and get great prices on flights and hotels! Unfortunately, it doesn’t exactly work like that. While I enjoyed exploring the old town and coasts unhindered by the masses, there were quite a few large downsides to visiting a summer destination in the off-season, starting with those masses that I was so happy to avoid in some places. Ibiza has been so hyped up for its free-spirited hedonism and creative music scene that being there in the off-season was just overwhelmingly strange. The majority of the shops were closed – not just those associated with the clubs, but pretty much everything that offered any good or service from clothing stores to car rental agencies. The town was shuttered up like they were preparing for a hurricane, and the whole time we found ourselves wondering what the atmosphere was like when people were actually there.
And that’s how we ended up driving around at midnight on a Saturday night looking for one of the most famous night clubs in the world, Pacha, in an attempt to find that famous Ibiza vibe. It’s always the most ridiculous travel experiences that you remember, and this was definitely one I’ll laugh about for some time, as we drove up and down and around in a one mile radius for an hour, peering at the only building on the street with people outside. We refused to believe that it was the famous Pacha, the club that started it all, as there wasn’t a sign or a trademark cherry anywhere to be seen. We had been envisioning a street lined with all of the mega clubs nestled next to each other, but we later came to find that they are spread across the island and club-goers must choose who they will be loyal to for the night.
Finally we had to accept that the unlabeled building with no people outside was indeed Pacha, as we knew it was the only club open in off-season. Upon entering, we experienced another perk to coming in off-season: free entrance (no small perk either, as entrance can be upwards of 30 euros during the summer)! The weirdness didn’t end inside though; while the music was great, the crowd was a little peculiar. There were three groups of people: groups of girls more interested in taking photos than in enjoying themselves, groups of definitely underage boys, and solitary older men that either lingered on the outside of the dancing area or attempted to get on stage with the paid dancers. Add two nerdy archaeologists of the ‘When in Ibiza’ mentality that had somehow found themselves there on a Saturday night in November, one of them less than 5 hours away from a flight back to Madrid, and we probably ended up contributing to the weirdness. Oh well!
Still, it was fun, especially from an anthropological standpoint, as we both found ourselves watching the crowds with amusement. This little taste left me intensely curious about Ibiza when it is pulsating with music, warm and alive. Plus, PLUS, the one place I was really looking forward to seeing was Café del Mar, an Ibizan institution founded in 1980 that is known for its ‘life-changing’ sunsets and accompanying soundtrack on the beach on the western side of the island. Earlier that day we bee-lined over to catch the sunset, me jumping up and down in the car with excitement, a sentiment that quickly vanished and dissipated into frustration once again when we found this:
CLOSED!!!! Which is why I cannot recommend going to Ibiza in November; better on either ends of the tourist season when things are open and it’s warm enough to actually get in the beautiful water, but before the hoards descend in July and August. The closures were just frustrating, and Ibiza really is a place meant to be enjoyed when it is a bit warmer,with people! Do I regret going? Of course not! I still had a great time, but I do hope to go back in May or September so I can experience Ibiza in it’s full glory!
Have you ever been somewhere in its off-season? How did it work out? Would you recommend it?