The seawater in Mallorca was, like the guidebook pictures promised, clear, turquoise, and sparkling. We could see the water of Cala Santanyi from our hotel room balcony, intensely blue through the leaves of the cliffside trees. As we drove around the island on perilous mountain roads, we could often see the water far below us, beckoning, deeply blue. The water was not, however, always perfect for swimming. Mid-June, the water was still chilly. At Cala Santanyi and the even more isolated beach at Parc Natural de Mondrago—which required a short hike through a forest to reach—the water at the shoreline was thick with bark-colored seaweed. Beyond this, the water was clear; but reaching it meant high-stepping through the knee-deep porridge, with seaweed strands wrapping themselves stubbornly around ankle and calf.
There was no seaweed at Cala Torta, a stunningly beautiful, pleasingly hard to reach cove on the northeastern part of the island. Getting there meant driving down a narrow, unpaved, pothole-strewn road and praying no cars would come the other direction. But the sparkling water, white sand, and the dramatic, rocky cliffs that sheltered it made the lurching drive worthwhile. The beach wasn’t deserted, but it was quiet, with just a few couples and families—and, at one end of the beach, several naturists. The water was clear, blue, and enticing. No one, however, was swimming. A few people dipped their toes in the water, but they’d stop short of actually submerging themselves, pointing things out to one another in the shallow water by the shore. Pebbles made up the seabed for the first ten feet, and I assumed they were pointing at those.
A bit later, as Andrew and I stood looking at the water, we understood why no one was swimming: there were tiny, purple, moon-shaped jellyfish—and a few not-so-tiny ones—drifting everywhere. Still determined to swim, we walked to a far end of the beach and clambered over some rocks until we were well away from the shore. We didn’t see any jellyfish. Andrew decided to swim back, certain the movement of his arms would ward off any jellyfish in his path. I opted to return the way I came, by rock; my love of the sea is tempered by a low, low threshold of bravery when it comes to actual sea life. Sadly, Andrew was stung twice on his swim, once on each arm. But the jellyfish were small, and the ugly red splotches faded after an hour or so.
We did find a perfect swimming cove on our last day, during our long drive around the island. We drove north to Alcudia, disappointed to find that the beachfront part of town was overrun by large resort hotels, overstuffed souvenir shops, and fast-food restaurants. We drove on, unsure exactly where we were headed, and soon saw a small cove below us. A sign identified it as Sant Joan; it was absent from our maps and books. We stopped, walked down to the beach, and spent an hour swimming there. No seaweed, no jellyfish—just clear blue water surrounded by rocks and cliffs, with an unobstructed view out to sea.