Cabo de Gata: Where desert and sea meet

Blue sea, black mountains, fishing villages and a great desert. These are some of the almost disconcerting landscapes, with thousands of subtle variations, to be seen if you make the journey to the Parque del Cabo de Gata (a natural park around the Gata cape) in the province of Almería. This park and the Tabernas Desert are quite exceptional since man’s intervention can scarcely be detected at these beautiful spots.

The way to Cabo de Gata from Granada is along the N-342 road in the direction of Guadix. After the town take the N-324 down to the city of Almería and then the N-344.

Another possible route to the park takes you straight down to the coast from the city of Granada and then along the coast road. This way has the disadvantage of being longer, but it is interesting because you can see very clearly the changes in scenery as the kilometres go by: from the rich sub-tropical plantations on the Granada coast up to the stark vegetation of the Tabernas Desert, in the province of Almería.

What to see

The park, following along the Almería coastline, is rich in panoramic views. The dunes and salt flats on the coast give way to sedimentary rocks, volcanic in origin, reaching out into the sea as rocky promontories.

It is said that the beaches in this area are the last virgin beaches in mainland Spain. Small restaurants are set up on these immense stretches of sand every summer. The most usual and very tasty dish is sardines barbecued over a spit.

This outing proper starts at the colony of pink flamingoes in the small village of Cabo de Gata. It is situated beside a beach of white sand, bathed in light, which, to the west, reaches as far as the city of Almería, and to the east, to the foothills of the mountains. Here, the fishermen’s cottages, a row down the sides of just a couple of streets, seem to be gazing in amazement at the now well-established villas and blocks of flats for summer holiday makers.

You can get as far as the lighthouse from here, along a little track that is not even on the map. Halfway along you will come to the hamlet of Salinas de Acosta, with one solitary church at the entrance, right on the water’s edge, surrounded by sand. The whole vision will transport you back to the past for a few moments.

After crossing the river bed, between dark rocks, you come to the lighthouse. It is not possible to visit it but because of its exceptional position, the views from the surroundings, both out to sea and inland, are astonishing.

Maps and leaflets of routes for walks around the area are available at the park office.

Go on to San José, not long ago a minute fishing village. Nowadays it has been transformed by tourism, but care has been taken not to spoil the environment. The mountains that end at the beach are dotted with little villas and a small marina has been incorporated into the fishing harbour. This spot is ideal for a quiet holiday in natural surroundings. It is also perfect for nautical sports, especially fishing. In these coastal waters there are good examples of grouper and squid, in addition to shellfish, especially prawns.

Then turn back along the same road and take the turning to Los Escullos, another coastal village which still retains its Arab watchtower. A few kilometres away is the beautiful Rodalquilar Cove, the largest of a whole series of similar ones, in attractive waters, packed together one after the other along this strip of coast. The village of the same name lies slightly inland. It has both maritime and mining connections.

The experience….

If you have sufficient time, once outside the park you can take a trip to the Tabernas Desert. This will add 70 kilometres to the journey but it is worth it as there is no other place quite like it in the whole of Spain. Back in the 1960s the film world discovered that this spot contained all the ideal scenery for shooting Westerns. The sun shone all year round and the country people could pass for Indians. That mini Hollywood in Tabernas consisted of eight wooden towns, with their Mexican villages, saloons, ranches and prisons. Many famous directors and stars, such as Clint Eastwood stopped off in these parts.

Westerns were not the only films to be made here. People remember that some of the Indiana Jones adventures also took place in this area.

Nowadays the sets constitute a tourist attraction. You can amble down the dusty streets and gaze at the scene of a hanging. But the dream that the film studios would return to the Tabernas Desert has evaporated.

How to get there
Buses link the main towns in the area, but the best way to go is by car.

Where to stay:

The accommodation is, in general, good, especially in holiday areas and near the beach.

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