The following is a guest post written exclusively for Spain Savvy by travel journalist Fiona Flores Watson. Photographs are by Fiona, unless otherwise credited.
Encompassing the entire width of southern Spain – from the Portuguese border in the west to Almeria on the south-eastern coast – Andalucia has a staggering 1,000 km of coastline. Along its five coastal provinces – Huelva, Cadiz, Malaga, Granada, and Almeria – you’ll find wide, flat sandy expanses, tiny rocky coves, and everything in between, catering for families, party-goers and adrenalin sports nuts. Here we suggest some great Andalucian playas, along with more things to do in the surrounding area.
On a practical note, most of the beaches listed here have facilities like car parks, showers, toilets and chiringuitos (beach bar-restaurants), unless otherwise mentioned.
Best for boho cafes, dunes and Roman ruins – Bolonia, Cádiz
Voted best beach by readers of Spanish national newspaper El Pais, this small village at the end of a no-through road has a wide sweep of pale golden, powder-soft sand, plus a spectacular 30-m tall dune backed by pine trees. Looking for an extra cultural-historic element to your beach trip? Explore the ruins of a Roman beachfront town, Baelo Claudia, where the famous garum fish paste was made to be exported to Rome.
Best for naturists – Playa de los Muertos, Almeria
Reached down a long footpath from the car park, like most Cabo de Gata beaches, this isolated stretch of sand has no facilities, so you need to take everything with you (except your bathing suit, obviously). Don’t forget the most important, especially if you’re taking young children: water. Save some for the climb back up again!
Best for Bond film fans – Playa de la Caleta, Cádiz
If this beach looks familiar, it’s because you saw Halle Berry striding out of the waves in Die Another Day, when Cadiz stood in for Havana, Cuba – both have colourful, shabby mansions. The beautiful bath house you can see, El Balneario de la Palma, was used as the hotel, while Castillos de San Sebastian fortress, reached by a causeway which was removed in the movie, became an island clinic. One huge advantage of this beach is that you’re close to plenty of tapas bars in the Barrio de la Viña.
Best for back-to-nature – Playa de los Genoveses, Almeria
A perfect arc of white sand with no bars, shops, or toilets. This whole area of the coast, part of Cabo de Gata National Park, is still (mercifully) undeveloped and untouristy, and so well worth exploring if your idea of beach heaven is simply sand and sea, with no modern-day accoutrements. To read about Spain Savvy’s recent family beach holiday in Almeria, see this blog post.
Best for kitesurfers and foodies – Valdevaqueros, Cadiz
Well known as watersports beach, especially kitesurfing and windsurfing – it regularly hosts major international competitions – this relaxed beach is close to the surfer-cool town of Tarifa. Now you get the added bonus of three-Michelin-star Dani Garcia’s just-opened BiBo Beach House restaurant and beach club, complete with chill-out terrace to match the local vibe. Not a budget option, but worth checking out the cocktail menu at least.
Best for city life – La Malagueta, Malaga
Malaga city has undergone a cultural renaissance in last 10 years. Now much more than a stopping-off point for beach holidays, it is a popular destination in its own right. This beach is easily accessible from the centre, and has a host of restaurants serving espetas of sardines – skewered onto a stick and then cooked over hot coals.
Best for watersports – La Barrosa/Sancti Petri, Cadiz
Golden sand backed by grassy dunes and pine forests, where you can try a huge variety of watersports – from sailing to wakeboarding, stand-up paddle-boarding and kayaking. A less energetic, but equally enjoyable option, is to take a boat out to the island of Sancti Petri; you can also explore the old tuna fishermen’s village, which now houses restaurants.
Best for high-end shopping – Puerto Banus, Malaga
This famous resort, close to Marbella and home to celebs and millionaires, is perfect if you want to indulge in a spot of light retail therapy after working on your tan. All the major international designers are here, and strolling around the marina while admiring the sports cars and super-yachts is part of the fun. Playa de Levante is next to the marina complex.
Best for low-key chic – Zahara de los Atunes, Cadiz
A delightful fishing village (chiefly tuna, hence the name), complete with castle, Zahara de los Atunes has a beautiful beach with clear blue water, backed by sand dunes. One of the nice things about this beach is the lack of high-rise buildings – no tall apartment blocks or hotels to make it feel built-up. In addition, you’ll find lots of chi-chi boutiques full of desirable kaftans, as well as pretty seafood-themed ceramics which will make an original and stylish addition to your dining table back home.
Best for bling – Nikki Beach Marbella, Malaga
Part of the international chain of clubs known for their parties, champagne, glamorous atmosphere, and top DJs, Nikki Beach Marbella is not for wallflowers – it’s a place to see and be seen. There’s a swimming pool, daybeds, bars, and restaurant; expect to drop some serious cash. Be aware that despite its name, the club is located 10km from the town of Marbella, next to the Hotel Don Carlos.
Best for diving – La Herradura, Granada
Pebbly beach near Almuñecar which is popular with scuba-divers, thanks to the shipwrecks of 16th-century Spanish galleons, as well as rocky headlands for snorkelling. Winter sports enthusiasts should note that you can ski in the Sierra Nevada, a short drive away, for a winning all-in-one-day snow-and-sand combo.
Best island beach – Flecha del Rompido, Huelva
From the fishing village of El Rompido, take a boat over the river Piedras estuary to the uninhabited spit of land – long and pointed, hence the name flecha, meaning arrow. No shops or restaurants, so take a picnic.