Cabo de Gata Road Trip Part 3 - The Coast
The Cabo de Gata area is not large. That said, the coastline is dotted with many, many beaches and coves, and it would be impossible to explore them all over the course of just 1 or 2 days.
Geographically, Níjar lies between the Desierto de Tabernas and the designated Parque Natural de Cabo de Gata, so it provides the perfect base from which to explore this corner of Spain. There is not much annual rainfall here, so it has a constantly scorched appearance. Between Níjar and the coast lies a flat plain, and the claim to fame here is that this plain was amongst the first to see Almerían Greenhouses, back in the 1960s. The Province of Almería is famed (if that is the right word) for its production of fruit and vegetables that are grown in polytunnels. The region is easily identifiable from space satellite due to the huge amount of acreage given over to greenhouses. The area to the west of Almería city is covered in these greenhouses - an estimated 40,000 hectares of greenhouses on the Campo de Dalías alone, the largest such concentration anywhere in the world. “A thousand million kilos of tomatoes of different varieties are shipped each year from Almeria to the domestic and international markets and it has been one of the largest suppliers for five decades.” (FreshPlaza.com) As a result, there are some very wealthy people here; farmers and producers who have made a lot of money from these crops. We assume, therefore, that this is the wealth that creates the market for the stylish furniture and interior showrooms that are based in Níjar.
We began our first day on the coast at the cheerfully named Playa de los Muertos (Beach of the Dead). The beach received its name due to the number of people who have died when they have been caught out by the strong winds and rip tides that are very much in evidence along this stretch of coast. Almost every beach we visited had signs and warnings of what to do if you ever get caught in a rip tide. Playa de los Muertos is a beach for the strong swimmer, as there is no shallow access to the water, and the shingle makes it tricky to get in and out! That said, the beach had been suggested to us as being one of the most beautiful along this section of coast, and it is gorgeous! A long stretch edged by savage rocky outcrops and cliffs. We walked down from the carpark to appreciate the colour of the water, the sky and the cliffs from a quiet end of the bay before setting off for the village down the road.
Agua Amarga was a surprise. I can’t recall any of the guidebooks mentioning this coastal village, and none of my Spanish contacts suggested this as being a place to visit, but it is charming. In fact, it was probably our favourite village along the whole of the coast and was very reminiscent of Greece - dazzling white cubes stepping down the hillside to a beautiful sand-fringed turquoise bay. It looks very well-heeled and I image the owners of many of the very swish villas here shop in Níjar!
We had picked up a very useful hiking map from the information kiosk at Playa de los Muertos, and one of the routes started at Agua Amarga and followed the coast due south-west. It is possible to hike the whole 44km route from here to San Josê but the guidebooks suggest that this would take 3 days. Instead, we did a section of this walk from Agua Amarga to Cala del Plomo, and what a gorgeous walk it was. It was manageable on a hot day, without too steep a climb, and it passes the beautiful Cala de Enmedio, a bay with naturally curved white limestone cliffs framing the view out to sea.
As we had set quite a fast pace, we were not initially sure if the beach was Cala de Enmedio, so we pressed on along the well marked path over the hills. It took us a total of 45 minutes to reach Cala del Plomo, and we only knew the name of the beach due to the sign beside the parking area. Again, warnings of rip tides made it clear that you don’t mess with the sea hereabouts. We had hoped that there might be a chiringuito, as we were running low on water and the temperature was cranking up by the minute. Alas, no such luck, so we had little choice but to retrace our steps and get back to Agua Amarga.
Fate would have it that this was a great choice, not that we had much choice due to thirst! Mind you, when we did get back to the village, it was rather like that scene from the film “Ice Cold in Alex” but instead of a beer in a bar, we bought water and a granizados from a kiosk on the beach. Foolishly, I glugged several mouthfuls of my lemon granizados (slush puppy?) and got an attack of throat freeze that practically coursed its way down to my feet.
We had lunch in the most delightful spot, on a restaurant terrace right on the sandy beach. The food was delicious, the drinks very welcome and the atmosphere relaxed. When we return to the Cabo de Gata, we have already ear-marked a rather lovely-looking small hotel on this particular beach for our stay.
After lunch, we wanted to try and follow the coast down to San José, which is the main visitor town along this part of the coast. We had seen, too, that you could walk to one of the other beaches, San Pedro, from Las Negras. San Pedro is only accessible on foot or by boat from Las Negras, so we thought we’d take a look.
We were not keen on Las Negras, it has to be said. The town had a tatty air, and it was just slightly too far towards the hippyish for us to spend too much time here. We did take a quick walk to the beach to see where the boats left to transport people to the inaccessible spots, but any charms are thin on the ground, so we pressed on to San José.
When we initially started to plan this trip, we had found a couple of hotels in San José that sounded like perfect stop-overs - described as boutique and with their own pools and access to the beach. When we made enquiries, we found that the hotels were all fully booked here which is partly why we stayed at the Cortijo la Alberca for the duration. I have to say, this turned out to be yet another fortuitous twist, as we were not massively enamoured of San José either! It’s OK, and there were one or two little streets that looked appealing, but the area that bordered the beach had that slightly grimy look of too many tourist-focused beachside locations. Cafes advertising chips, for instance, and street vendors selling tourist tut. This makes us sound extremely fussy, but I am not sure seaside resorts need to look scruffy, particularly when the season is still relatively new. I couldn’t quite work out who visited San José - Spanish or other Europeans - but we did hear a few English voices, and assume that some travel companies do bring tourists in to Almerîa and then to this holiday centre.
We found the harbour. I love marinas, so any bar near a marina, with a view of boats is good for me, and we did enjoy a modest G&T overlooking the calm sea and the masts of yachts. We had hoped to have dinner here, but decided that we might prefer to go back to Níjar and not be disappointed. We rather forgot that this was Sunday, and when we got back to the village, almost every bar was shut! Visions of going to bed hungry entered our heads, as we trotted around the streets looking for signs of life. We did eventually find a bar and managed to eat. Both of us had inadvertently caught the sun, presumably on our hot morning walk, and despite the small set-backs of Las Negras and San José, we really did have a glorious day.