It’s so easy to get to Spain – from the UK there are loads of flights, many with the budget airlines. But we don’t all want to spend our holidays basking in the sun in the sweltering, packed, mass-touristy Costas.
Fortunately there are still regions of Spain that are not overdeveloped and spoiled – even on the coast. One such area is in and around the Cabo de Gata/Nijar Natural Park.
This unusual area near Almeria is characterized by mainland Europe’s only true desert and a rugged coastline with unspoiled villages and deserted beaches. You would never guess it was situated between the Costa Blanca and the Costa del Sol. We love its stark and lonely beauty.
Less attractive (but still interesting) is the massive horticultural industry where most of our tomatoes and many other fruit and vegetables come from. But once you get past the many square miles of greenhouses and polytunnels, you can find alluring arid landscapes, hills formed from ancient volcanoes and true solitude.
How to Get There
The nearest airport is Almeria, but it is also an easy drive from Alicante or Malaga where there are many more flights to choose from. Murcia and Granada are also possibilities – it really depends on which flights are most convenient from your local airport. To see what is available from your local airport try Skyscanner.
For car hire it is worth checking Holiday Autos – they will compare many local suppliers and offer great prices.
Where to Stay
We love Agua Amarga, a small white coastal town which is quite sleepy if you avoid the main holiday season. You can walk along the coast in both directions from here, and also into the hills and desert-like scenery behind the town.
Another great thing about staying in Agua Amarga is a row of simple restaurants actually on the beach. It is a lovely experience having dinner as the sun goes down with the sound of the waves literally a few feet away.
There are a number of good hotels in Agua Amarga. We have stayed in the elegant and luxurious Boutique Hotel El Tio Kiko and also in the simpler but great value Hotel Las Calas. We can personally recommend both of these hotels. There are several other options in the town, and some great-sounding hotels in the nearby countryside – to see what is available click booking.com.
We have also stayed in the modern Hotel Spa Calagrande Cabo de Gata at Las Negras, a little further along the coast, which is luxurious with great sea views. Again we can definitely recommend this hotel.
Other places to stay include San Jose, which is a slightly larger coastal town with more facilities, or if you wish to stay inland, Rodalquilar would make a great base. To search the whole area and compare the various options click here.
Where to Explore
We highly recommend a visit to the atmospheric little town of Rodalquilar. Here there is a lovely little botanical garden, displays about the local geology (opening times are limited out of season), and abandoned alum and gold mines to explore.
There is a great waymarked walk that passes many ruins from the gold mining industry which once existed here. The full walk takes around 3.5 hours and involves some gentle climbing, but is interesting all the way.
There are numerous beaches along the coast, often accessed by rough tracks or steep paths. Many of these are very quiet and secluded, and great for exploring interesting coastal formations as well as strolling and swimming. Note that some of the beaches are used by nudists.
Cortijo del Fraile
It is worth visiting this atmospheric old farmhouse to explore the wonderful desert landscapes around it.
The house itself is known as being the site of a 20th century crime, and also being one of the locations used for filming The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
We walked from Los Albaricoques, but you can also drive to the Cortijo along rough tracks and there is parking.
Flamingos at Las Salinas
An unusual sight is the flocks of wild migratory flamingos that visit the wetlands at Salinas. Herons, egrets, plovers and other wetland species also use the site.
Numbers are greatest in the summer, but we have seen flamingos as early as Easter. The area is a protected fenced-off reserve, but there are paths around the perimeter and some observation posts to watch the birds.
There are many other possibilities for walks in the area. For a variety of routes see Choose Almeria which has details of 16 signposted routes in the Cabo de Gata park, as well as many other walks throughout Almeira. The route directions are vague, so it is best to use them in conjunction with a map – see Cabo de Gata Nijar.
If you want to explore a quiet area of Spain, and appreciate starkly beautiful landscapes and undeveloped beaches, you may fall in love with Cabo de Gata. We did.
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