The rugged mountains of Sierra Nevada crash into the sea in a series of beautiful coves and wide, sweeping bays on Granada's coastline …
The Costa Tropical is the coastline of the province of Granada. Situated between the better known Costa del Sol to the west and the Costa de Almería further east, it is distinguished by dramatic geography and a privileged climate thanks to the Sierra Nevada mountain range which rises up immediately behind the rugged coastline.
This mountain backdrop provides a shelter from northerlies and creates a pleasant microclimate of very mild winters and mild summers compared to the interior of Spain.
The temperature difference can be 10ºC - or more – so, on a summer's day when it's a blistering 40ºC in the city of Granada, it will be a perfect 30ºC on the Costa Tropical. Equally, in winter, it can be snowing in Granada, an agreeable 15º or 20ºC here.
The mountains also catch the winter rains and these supply the area with abundant irrigation. Frost is just about unheard of and, with 320 days of sunshine each year, it's a perfect environment for the exotic, tropical fruits and flowers which abound here.
Chirimoyo, avocado, almonds, mango, and nispola are just some of the tropical fruits for which this area is well known. Local sugar cane plantations supplied Europe's one and only rum factory.
Small scale, traditional fishing is, of course, still an important part of the local economy and culture. Don't miss out on the opportunity to stop for a relaxing lunch at one of the many chiringitos and beachside restaurants which specialise in serving the day's fresh catch.
The topography is majestic: the mountains plunge dramatically into the deep blue Mediterranean, creating a series of wonderful coves and bays surrounded by steep cliffs and promontories swathed in lush green vegetation.
The rugged nature of the coastline has protected it from excessive tourist development. The pebbly/sand - rather than golden sand - beaches also contribute to keeping the trappings of mass tourism at bay.
It's still possible to find a beautiful cove with just a little chirringito (beach bar/restaurant) to provide sustenance for the handful of people who have found their way down to the bay. All very low key and all the more precious for it.
Having said that, it's undeniable that tourism is now the mainstay of the local economy and that Spain's recent construction boom has had its effect. Resort towns have grown but thankfully still remain much less developed than their counterparts on the Costa del Sol further west.
And, as a general rule, the tourism remains much more Spanish. Warm and family-loving by nature, they bring these splendid attributes with them, giving the resort towns a friendly, laid-back and unpretentious charm. Crass commercialism hasn't quite got here yet.
Almuñécar is the biggest (and does have a MacDonald's … ). It has its share of high rise developments too but there are still plenty of nuggets of antiquity and character.
The Castillo de San Miguel, an Arab castle built on Roman fortifications, still stands, overlooking the town and the sea – a reminder of the town's long history which dates back to the Phoenicians.
The old town (Casco Antiguo) is a fascinating maze of narrow, cobblestone streets, now sprinkled with café-bars, stores, and other small businesses. Mostly pedestrianised and residential, geranium-filled balconies and small sunny plazas line the labyrinth of narrow passageways.
The town has a population of 26,000 but this swells three-fold in summer months as visitors (many from Granada) flood into town. Finding somewhere to park can be tricky.
A daily “farmers market” has stalls laden with wonderful, freshly caught fish and seafood and an amazing variety of exotic, locally grown fruit and vegetables.
Playa Puerta del Mar is Almuñécar’s principal beach, backed by the Paseo del Altillo. This palm-lined promenade stretches several kilometres and is home to many excellent restaurants and lively bars.
The Loro Sexi bird park will delight adults and children alike. More than 120 different species are on display here, including doves, peacocks, parrots, cockatoos, macaws, swans, ducks, and ostriches.
Close by, the Parque del Majuelo is a pretty botanical garden containing Europe's largest collection of subtropical plants, with more than 400 species, the majority from Brazil and Cuba. In the park you will also find the ruins of the fish salting "factory" which was founded by the Phoenicians in 4th Century BC.
Almuñécar's coastline extends for 19 kilometres and incorporates every type of beach – you can choose from a variety of rocky, sandy and secluded coves. Diving, snorkelling, waterskiing, jetskiing, sailing and swimming are enjoyed during the warm summer months, as well as paseos to take in the magnificent sunsets and, later, long moonlit after-dinner walks.
The clear waters here offer some of the best underwater scenery anywhere on Spain's Mediterranean coast.
There is also a large, salt-water Aqua park with flumes and rides, which is open from June until September. Another summer highlight is the excellent international jazz festival held in the town each July.
Seven kilometres to the east, La Herradura means "horseshoe" and gets its name from the contours of the beautiful bay it graces. All around, rugged hillsides descend to the shore.
One of the prettiest bays anywhere on the south coast of Spain, two huge natural promontories, the Punta de la Mona and Cerro Gordo, protect its 2 km long beach which is fronted by a procession of restaurants, bars, hostals and shops.
Unlike almost anywhere else along the coast, development has been restricted in height and you can still enjoy the contours of its natural setting. The village climbs up the gentle slopes leading up from the beach.
It's a cheerful, peaceful, laid back place in the best tradition of Spanish seaside towns. A relaxed, al-fresco lunch at one of the beach bars is highly recommended - even in winter if the sun is shining!
Popular with pensioners in winter because of its wonderfully mild climate, it livens up significantly in summer but, given its limited capacity, it never attracts mass-tourism on the scale of the Costa del Sol.
Activities on offer include scuba, cavern and technical diving, as well as horse riding and tennis, paragliding, climbing, and abseiling. In summer the water here is very clear, with a visibility of up to 25m (80ft), and teeming with fish. The diving school in La Herradura has a first class reputation.
To the west of La Herradura, Cantarriján naturist beach is one of the most beautiful of all. Access is down a steep windy track and from mid-June to mid-September you must leave your vehicle in the (free) car park at the side of the N-340 and take the minibus (€1 each way).
You won’t regret the hassle or the expense: the two shingle bays are protected by vertiginous cliffs and the sea is Caribbean clear.
On the first beach you can choose whether to take your togs off or not. There are sunbeds for hire, showers and two good restaurant / bars (where customers must be dressed). The second bay is wilder, stonier and nuder.
Next stop, heading west towards Málaga, 10 minutes drive on the motorway or 20 minutes by the winding old coastal road, is fashionable Nerja and the start of the Costa del Sol.
For some, the jewel of the Costa Tropical is Salobreña, a whitewashed town clinging to huge lump of rock just back from the shoreline, topped by a Moorish castle and surrounded by lush sugar cane plantations. From afar it looks like it's made out of Lego …
Just 45 minutes from Granada, and just over an hour to the Sierra Nevada, it's perfectly possible to ski during the day and return to sunbathe on Salobrena's long, clean beaches in the evening.
The flower-filled streets of the old town contain centuries of history, some of it captured in the town's spotless new museum in the former Town Hall building in the old town. The Moorish castle was built in the 10th century; its Mudejar 16th century church, Iglesia de Nuestra Senora del Rosario, is built on top of the old mosque. Roman remains turn up everywhere.
In the heat, it can be an exhausting climb to the top of the old town, but for views over surrounding orchards and expanses of sugar cane to the high sierras, it's well worth the effort.
Further east, beyond the small port of Motril, there are many other bays and small seaside resorts, each with its own low-key fascinations and pleasures. Each has its own afficionados although some are unfortunately rather spoiled by unsightly plastic farming in the immediate hinterland.
Inland, beyond the river valleys where sub-tropical fruit orchards line the valley floors and climb the terraced hillsides, the rugged mountains rise up steeply. There are gorgeous views down to and across the sea, ships passing slowly across a blue horizon, goat bells clicking joyfully in the mid distance … all very rural and tranquil.
Farmhouses and small hamlets dot the lower hillsides before wilder, mountain terrain takes over. It's excellent walking country, remote and peaceful, the hills grazed by goats and dotted with avocado plantations, olives, almonds and vineyards. The beautiful Peña Escrita Park, offers hiking and horse-riding.
The old and very beautiful road up from Almuñécar to Granada is well worth a trip out. Four kilometres from town you will pass by a Roman Aqueduct constructed during the first century AD, and still in use until a few decades ago. Beyond you will climb up (slowly) through magnificent mountain scenery which leads on to Suspiro del Moro (the Last Sigh of the Moors) before descending again to the capital city of the province.
The Costa Tropical has much to commend it: the beauty of the mountains meeting the coast, deep blue waters, sunshine and a perfect climate which never gets too hot nor too cold, proximity to fabulous nature, abundant year-round outdoor sporting activities … proximity to Granada and Malaga, the friendliness and relaxed pace of life …
Towns & Villages
Almuñécar is the biggest of the resort towns on La Costa Tropical, popular with Granadinos who pour out of the city every weekend and head for the sea. Features include its old town, Arab castle, tropical bird park, botanical gardens, aquapark and a fabulous jazz festival each summer.
The beautiful bay of La Herradura is one of the prettiest on the south coast of Spain. Two huge promontories protect the long beach front and its restaurants, bars, hostals and shops. It's small - a cheerful, peaceful, laid back place in the best tradition of Spanish seaside towns.
A cluster of whitewashed houses and quirky steep, narrow streets clinging to huge lump of rock, topped by a Moorish castle and surrounded by lush sugar cane plantations. New developments spread from the bottom of the old town along the town's five beaches.