I’ve decided to post some info I send to friends or people who email me about Cabo de Gata. I love this nature reserve and there is just so much to say about it and so much I haven’t even explored yet. In this post I’m listing some beaches I like(in no particular order) but of course there is so much more to say about all these spots. If you have more questions or want me to help with directions just email me. I hope that if people do visit these beautiful stretches of mostly undeveloped coastal Spain , to of course be respectful, take in and out garbage, try not to disturb the dunes or wildlife, hydrate, follow the flag warnings, be cautious and aware, and drive responsibly.
1. Playa de los Muertos: [Near Carboneras] Summer roadside paid parking is 2-10 euros. I’m not sure if there is a bus stop; it’s a small hike down to the beach (bring sneakers). Rocky beach but the rocks are sooo smooth and tiny that it feels like sand but you stay clean! Best to walk all the way down the beach toward the rocks and the turquoise water.
Tip: If you continue past the first parking lot you will eventually see a gravel road on the right that leads to another beach parking by the cement plant. Although this side beach is near the cement plant it is still great for snorkeling and an even better beach for little kids as it has mini wading pools near the shore.
2. El Playazo: [Near Rodalquilar] An easily missed small sign indicates the turn off to this beach, no bus. It’s a sandy beach and has shallow calm waters that are great for snorkeling and get deeper the farther you go out. If you walk towards the fortress “San Ramon” (where some of Lawrence of Arabia was filmed) you will end up at a little cove beach (the more nudey part) where there are beautiful rocks formed from lava ash and fossils, super cool. And a guy in a little boat serves margaritas in the shallow areas (during the summer occasionally). There are trails you can pick up here that lead to other coves.
3. Monsul Beach: [Near San Jose ] Black sand beach where lava meets the ocean. Some of Indiana Jones was filmed here. Fairly calm waters and great for bouldering practice. Parking is 5-10 euros but covers both beaches in that area. Los Genoveses Beach is the first you will come to and it is another chill beach, more goats than people, also in Lawrence of Arabia. It can get super windy at Monsul. The bus does stop here.
4. Cala de Enmedio: [Near Cala de Polmo]
When you get there you will be following trails off the beaten path. The entrance to the trails that lead to this beach are right before you reach Cala de Polmo and there are usually cars lined up nearby the entrance. When you find the trail it is marked blue and white but there is one point where it kind of forks and you break from the path and follow an unmarked trail veering right, this path widens and it is only a minute til you arrive at the breathtaking beach. This link also gives some info about the beach: http://www.cabogataspain.com/Gata-Nature-Reserve/beach/Enmedio-Cala-Cove-Spain.html
These are just some spots we love. If you go to Cabo de Gata then go off the beaten path and explore. Stop at all the lookouts, visit all the villages, talk to people you cross paths with- (coming from NY) this part of the world is super friendly. Rent a car; there is no need for all terrain vehicles; all the roads are pretty much paved. There are hidden coves and much more to explore. No matter where you stay in Cabo de Gata you will love it.
In the comments below please share any advice or places you love within Cabo de Gata and the surrounding areas.
It pays to know how to drive a manual car because in Europe it is much cheaper to rent one than an automatic. We don’t have our own vehicle in Madrid so we rent from Europcar. Zipcar hasn’t added Madrid to the map yet but they are in Barcelona. If you only want to rent a car for a couple hours every now and then in Madrid then you should check out Bluemove Carsharing. I haven’t tried it myself but I know a few friends who really like it.
There are a lot of car rental agencies out there with tempting cheap prices online but we always stick to Europcar. For a while there was a glitch in their websites between their US and Europe sites where you could rent a car with unlimited miles from the US site much cheaper than the Spain site but unfortunately they figured it out and corrected the glitch. Tip: always shop around. Also, renting from the airport and train stations usually adds on an additional cost.
When we rent we always use an American Express card. They have an auto insurance plan that costs $25 per use and covers more than the “packaged Europcar insurance”. Once we even had an accident where the frame was damaged, it would have cost us a lot without insurance (I can’t remember but it was over $400). But American Express covered it all, it just took a long time and some communication on our part to connect the 2 companies to settle the issue.
If you do rent a car, it doesn’t hurt to get your international driver’s license from AAA; It only cost $15. I’ve rented cars without one but you can never be too sure what to expect if you get pulled over.
Driving in European cities can be really annoying, there are a lot of roundabouts but don’t be intimidated. The roads and highways are fairly easy to navigate and it is worth the cost because you have more freedom to travel and can explore all the hidden places off the beaten path that Spain has to offer.
The first time we visited Segovia we passed over the Cathedral. This trip we went in and weren’t disappointed. It cost about 3 euros per adult. Photos were not permitted in many areas of the cathedral but you could sneak a few. The outside is gorgeous enough but the inside has an incredible courtyard that makes you feel like you are in some old-time movie. And there are some incredible chapels. If you have the time, it is a nice side tour.
Not far from Cartagena nor La Manga in Murcia you will find the Parque Regional de Calblanque. There are a couple of beaches in this area but we took the path to the left which led us to a sandy calm beach that would be great for kids but also nice for bathing. There are short hikes you can do around the rocky parts but avoid the dunes as they are protected. The water was fairly warm, tranquil and beautiful aquamarine in some areas. Whichever path you take you probably won’t be disappointed. Bolnuevo
Once you arrive in this former fishing village, now British invasion of fish and chip shops and dime stores that carry shortbread bikkies, canned herring, Vienna sausages, and marmite, (not complaining) go past the main beach and continue up the hill. To your left you will see a drop to a nice somewhat secluded cove; the lack of parking makes this spot all the more enjoyable. Walk down the super steep hill toward the ocean. You will find yourself in paradise; this cove is calm, warm and wonderful with few people mostly whom arrived by boat. After a good swim we headed back into town for some damn good fish and chips (for the parents) and a good vegetarian pasta for ourselves at a wonderful restaurant called Elenas. If I am in the area again I will definitely stop in for the good food and great service.
We didn’t have much planned for the city of Cartagena but we knew we wanted to check out the Roman Theatre. While looking for the entrance we took a detour up a side stairwell. There was an opened door to the left that looked like it was part of a church; we walked in and were inside the ruins of a church that overlooked the theater. A man appeared from the ruins and told us that no one was allowed in this part; he had just been changing a light bulb for the theater. He ended up being super friendly and told us a little history about the place. It turns out we were exploring the ruins of the Cathedral de Santa Maria Vieja which had been bombed during the Spanish Civil War and has since been abandoned. The cathedral is actually built over the top of the theatre even built with the same material, we were lucky to chance upon that open door. Never hesitate to explore the unknown.
After, we climbed the stairs we came upon a lovely park with incredible views of the theater and the whole city, we explored the walls around the Amphitheater, we purchased entrance into the Castillo de la Concepcion and the museum associated with this entrance for 3 euros per adult. The museum is really interesting and the entrance takes you to the top of a great lookout and at the end you can take the sky elevator down to where you parked. You can purchase a bulk entrance fee to more museums and monuments but we just didn’t have the time. Instead we headed to the ARQUA the Museo Nacional de Arquelogia Subacuatica to see the controversial gold recovered from a Spanish shipwreck. The museum was amazing and if I was a teacher in Cartagena I would definitely bring my students here. They had a large collection of artifacts from shipwrecks and a detailed history of trade that was quite fascinating; the exhibits are interactive, really interesting and the atmosphere is ethereal. Definitely worth the few pennies it cost to get in.
We ended our trip to Cartagena with a tour boat ride! Yes you read it correctly, a tour boat that stops at the Christmas Fort and explains the history and details of how the city was protected. I’m a sucker for a good tour but this was a great addition to our plans and I’d recommend it to anyone who has the extra time during their visit.
I am super upset because I forgot to bring my camera charger on this semana santa trip. Things have been crazy between planning this trip, tying ends up at work, helping the visiting parents, applying and interviewing for grad school; it has been a few crazy weeks. But I’ll never regret more not capturing the most epic Easter procession in Almeria on the night of Palm Sunday or Holy Monday. I was left dumbstruck, hypnotized by the power of the music. I couldn’t reach for any form of technology I was motionless. It wasn’t until my suegra hit me that I realized oh my god I haven’t been recording this beautiful moment, and maybe it is better that way but deep down I wish all the world could have experienced this incredibly moving night. Here is a clip after the most emotional cornet solo ended, the solo that left me weak in the knees and the soloist who disappeared in the wink of an eye. If anyone knows the name of this group or can link to an updated clip of this night and the solo, it would make my night.
Last year we went to Granada twice but it is such a wonderful city we went back this April and will probably go again during the summer months. This time we had a chance to see the Alhambra gardens.
You can purchase general entrance to the Alhambra and the Generalife gardens for only 8.40 euros per adult. This ticket covers in and out entrance into the fortress plus the tower, gardens, garden palace, but minus the Palacios Nazaries. This is a great purchase if you are just showing friends around but make sure your friends have entrance tickets to the Palacios Nazaries (if they’ve never been) because they are incredible. Last year we were at the Alhambra in December and didn’t have extra time so we skipped the gardens. But this year we took our time and it was beautiful. If you have never visited the Alhambra and are trying to cram a visit in during the spring or summer months then I would definitely recommend booking 2 separate days to view the place, especially if you are older. There is just so much to take in and you could and should spend hours here, it is like a whole other world.
This year we visited during the height of Semana Santa. We had a bit of drama booking a hostel but in the end Hostal Costa Azul hooked it up.
Whenever I’m in Granada I try to find a great spot to watch the sunset. The Mirador de San Nicolas is one of the most touristy spots for a view of the Alhambra as the sun sets, but not really the best spot (head to Sacramonte). But this year we went up the San Nicolas bell tower for 2 euros for some great views. And below us was the Asociación Artesanos de San Nicolás selling all kinds of wonderful jewelry and crafts. After the sun went down we headed back down through the Albaicín and flamenco dancing into the darkness and came out upon the lights of a triumphant Easter procession. A great end to our wonderful day in Granada.
La Pedriza is an incredible place. I was lucky enough to go their twice with my school on a class trip. It is located on the Guadarrama mountains in Parque Regional de la Cuenca Alta del Manzanares and is one of the coolest granitic ranges I’ve seen so close to Madrid. There are a bunch of hiking trails and rock climbing routes within the park and if you get hot on the trail there are some wading pools to cool off in.
It was a wonderful trip for the first group, the weather was gorgeous and we hiked more trails than we should have because by the end the kids were exhausted but we had a great time. I even enjoyed my Spanish lesson listening to all the stories that go along with different rocks or areas in the park, like La Cueva de La Mora, a Romeo and Juliet-like ghost story of love and loss. The second group didn’t have as much luck with the weather and it was a downpour but the foggy mist surrounding the huge rock formations was other worldly and we hung tough and survived the rain and mud.
A continuation of our end of the season northern beach tour; if we had more time our beach list would be endless.
Zarautz where the city meets the sea. We would have loved to rent surfboards if we had time because this was the perfect beach for beginner wave ragers.
Either way we had a great time on the beach. During low tide and high tide it was just as swimmable and the water temperature was so warm for the northern Atlantic during the end of September (we were amazed!). We ended up spending most of the day here because we fell in love.
Next stop was San Sebastian because I heard too many good things about this city. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear that it is almost impossible to venture into with a car. If only I had known it was a bike centric city I would have planned our trip better. I wouldn’t recommend visiting this city with a car unless you travel during the low traffic hours; Bike and bus seem to be the way to go. But we found our way into a parking garage that wasn’t too expensive near the coral beach. We pintxo-ed our way around the city seeking out only the vegetarian pintxos (a vegan would not survive this city) and then found ourselves at the end of the night wading in the ocean towards the island that seems so reachable yet so far away. The water was so warm and refreshing, really the best end to a hot night in the city. Explore the city by night, it’s enchanting.
A rough draft of our end of the season northern beach tour.
Playa Del Silencio
This beach is accessible by bus or car but either way it is a bit of a walk from both stops. At this time of year it was almost deserted except for a couple snorkelers and local couples and others on El Camino. Explore the beach because further away from the stairway is an amazing mescla of rock formations; slate, marble, limestone etc. It is absolutely beautiful and like nothing I have ever seen before.
The water temperature was still swimmable if you’re not sensitive. It was like a crisp dip in a cool spring, healing and refreshing.
Playa Cuevas Del Mar
An incredible beach. We arrived with almost 2 hours til high tide and the waters were tranquil and low. It was one of the warmer beaches at this time of year and so beautiful. If you need to work your way up to a dip in the cool ocean then take a 30 min-1hr walk above the beach and along the cliffs towards the hermitage. Follow the cow paths to the right of the water archway. There seems to be no entrance but search and you will find a path. Some hotels provide a map but you can follow any trail around there and have a great time. The best path to take is to follow the path leading toward the hermitage (you can see a church-like building in the distance but not from the beach) it is on a hill. Sneak past the bull and his entourage of ladies and their clanging/chiming alpine cow bells. Make your way along the rocky cliffs above the ocean drop and look for a path leading to another hidden nude beach toward your right. This beach is more secluded and maybe less accessible during high tide but worth the investigation. Then head back toward cuevas del mar for a cool dip after the sunny hike, you may really need it if you get lost and have to hike down from a no path zone. I suggest heading back in the same general direction but there are other ways.
Playa de Gulpiyuri
Unfortunately, it was our biggest disappointment. From all the areal pictures it looks like a beautiful cove to bathe in but it is impossible to swim in unless you want to be knocked out by boulders. The cove is filled with jagged rocks and the tide is always pulling you out toward the rocks. It is mostly just a spot where people pose for photo shoots and other sun bathe on the neighboring farmer’s lawn with the smell of fertilizer wafting along with the breeze. If you climb above the cove there are some nice views but a scary drop to the ocean below.
Playa San Antolín
Further along the coast is the Playa San Antolín where the river Bedón meets the ocean. It is a rocky beach toward the river but has a sandy side toward the left of the river. This was by far the coldest part of our ocean trip.
If you explore further on there are many more coves to explore. We stopped off at one near Barro. It was a not so claustrophobic cove, there was enough space for everyone at least during the low season. The waters were calm and not so freezing but there was limited parking available which often is the case when you are searching for secluded beaches. Every beach was beautiful and some reminded me of the Oregon Coast; I wish I had more time to explore every bit of this coast because it is absolutely incredible.