Monday, May 16, 2011

A trip to Cabo de Gata

This Easter break, we escaped Madrid for a few days and headed south to Cabo de Gata, the most south-western tip of Spain and near the city of Almería.

Cabo de Gata is a stretch of wild coastline located at Spain's most south western point, and due to the uniqueness of its flora and fauna, has been designated a National Park. It's a very arid part of the world and it receives the highest amount of sunshine in Europe. Unlike a lot of the Spanish coast, Cabo de Gata remains very unspoilt with plenty of undiscovered beaches and still very little development.  Luckily for many of the region's former fishing villages, the arrival of tourism has given the area a much needed boost after the fall of more traditional industries and the migration of many of its inhabitants. 

We stayed at Las Negras, a picturesque town, which whilst one of the main towns on the coast, still mantains a laid-back atmosphere. The town offers a couple of coved beaches, which never seem to get crowded and are perfect for swimming and sunbathing. There's also a good range of watersports such as diving on offer. Unfortunately for us, the weather at Easter was not very warm and it was too windy, so we didn't get to do much sunbathing. There is good accommodation available here, including camping and bungalows. No ATM in town, but a good number of restaurants, guesthouses and a supermarket.

Las Negras

From Las Negras it's pretty easy to get around the region, although you will need a car as the Cabo de Gata region has very few public transport links. Distances between places are not too big and the following itinery can easily be done in a day. You can take the pretty coastal road towards San José (the biggest and most developed town on Cabo de Gata), making stops at Los Escullos and La Isleta del Moro- a very small town which still is a fishing village, before ending up at San José. San José has a very good beach and an excellent choice of restaurants, and plenty serving fish. If you really want to get off the beaten track, you can take the unpaved road from San José to the beaches of Playa de Los Genoveses, Playa Monsul and Punta Negra. From Punta Negra, if you're up to it you can walk around the cliff face to the lighthouse at Vela Blanca, however in hot weather it would be very hard going, and it's not accessible by car from this side. Another must-see is the stretch of coast from the town of Cabo de Gata to the other side of the Vela Blanca lighthouse, where is is accessible to cars. You will have to head inland and back out towards the coast to get here. Here the coastal road is very dramatic with plenty of hairpin bends and in some places only one car can pass at a time, which means it can get a bit hairy driving during the main holidays! As you approach Cabo de Gata town, you will see the salinas or salt flats. These are home to a rich variety of wildlife, including flamingos. The town of Cabo de Gata, didn't look like it had much to offer and seemed partly abandoned. Past the town, the road has a couple viewpoints where you can make a stop for photos and to admire the views. One of these is on the cliffs above the Las Sirenas rocks, a dramatic outcrop where many ships became wrecked. If you've got the guts and you're not afraid of dizzying bends, take the trip up to the Vela Blanca lighthouse. Atop it's very windy, but the views are fantastic.

San José

The rocks at Las Sirenas

Although we didn't explore much of the northern part of the coast, if you are prepared to walk (quite far!), there are plenty of small coves inaccessible by car, such as Agua Amarga. The National Park, almost stretches up towards the popular resort of Mojácar, which although now a package holiday destination, is a lively beachtown.

Practicalities: the Cabo de Gata region is still quite underdeveloped and rather isolated. For example there are very few cash machines- only San José and Níjar (an unsightly town inland) have ATMs, and  lots of places don't take cards. In San José the ATMs often run out of cash and can charge you quite high commission, so come with lots of cash as it can be a bit of a nightmare. Supermarkets can be found in San José, Las Negras and the town of Cabo de Gata. As mentioned, Cabo de Gata is very arid and hot, so take care in the scorching summer months.  For more information, here's a link to the Cabo de Gata tourism page in English.

The beach at Los Muertos

Other suggestions: you could make the most of the region by combining it with a visit to Granada (city of the Alhambra). Also the spectacular white-washed Alpujarra villages, and the mountains of the Sierra Nevada are not to be missed if you have the chance. These places are no more than a couple of hours from Cabo de Gata.

Getting there: if you don't fancy the long drive down south, on public transport from Madrid you can take the train or plane to Almería and hire a car there. There is a bus but it takes 12 hours, which is pointless as you can go cheaper and quicker on the train.

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