Cabo de Gata National Park is filled with wildflowers in spring….yellow, white, purple, blue, and red. In 2016 spring when we visited there, the southern Spain nature reserve was a sea of colours. The whole park was filled with endless stretches of red poppies, white asphodels, banks of wild aloes, and a brilliant blue sea curled at the edges. Swatches of sandy desert undulated between meadows and hills and agave cacti poked out amidst the flowers. An offbeat destination in Almeria in southern Spain, it was one of our best ‘unplanned’ travel moments.

Cabo de Gata in Almeria

Cabo de Gata National Park from Almeria

Tarek and I discovered the Cabo de Gata National Park by sheer chance. We were driving around Almeria city, where we were based for a week and it was a lazy empty Sunday morning. Most of the city was at church, with the other half sleeping, and all the shops were closed. The streets were empty and quiet and as Akash napped fitfully in his car seat, we just kept on driving. It was one of those days which seem to have been made for driving and the sun was bright without being too hot. We were looking for a nice beach to have some sand and sun when a wrong turn got us hopelessly lost.

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The magnificent coastline

Sea of poppies, white villages, and black beaches

Suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by a sea of poppies, stunning empty beaches, and gorgeous cacti-covered hills. Huge broken hunks of volcanic rocks made up some beach coves and caves and even though the water was icy cold, we rushed towards it for a swim. We jumped out as quickly as we ran into it and spent the rest of the day relaxing on the glistening black beach. Tucked away in the heart of nature, it was the perfect place to unwind and we returned to Almeria with some much-needed R&R. Cabo de Gata National Park is Spain‘s last unspoiled wilderness and it includes most of Almeria province’s jagged coastline. The park encompasses 340 square kilometers of dramatic coastline and empty semidesert terrain, which is scattered with remote white villages and isolated traditional old farms. It stretches from Retamar in the west up to Agua Amarga in the east and abandoned mines and bizarre rock formations add more charm to the surreal, empty landscape. 

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The badlands near Almeria, which has Europe’s only desert

Lighthouse, windmills, deserts, and valleys

Cabo de Gata National Park’s main hub is San José, a popular resort on the east coast. There are plenty of things to do in the area apart from relaxing on the beaches and the wild terrain is perfect for multi-day hikes. Choose between walking, diving, snorkeling, kayaking, sailing, cycling, horse riding, and 4WD and boat tours are all popular. Most of the coastal villages dotting the park have operators offering these activities from Easter until September, and it makes sense to get guided by a local there. The huge expanse apart from the breathtaking beauty is filled with incredible flora and fauna, Europe’s only desert, and rich human history. Many brave-heart locals have thrived and fought for this space and Cabo de Gata National Park is a delight to explore in depth. For example, only a local can tell you about the secret garden B&B called El Jardin de los suenos in the whitewashed village of Rodalquilar, the legend of Doña Pakyta who stood against developers and saved the region from getting exploited by mass tourism, and the delicious meat of the rare Celto-Iberian goats, which are found there.  And they do say deserts are a hostile environment and are best explored with another person.

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Cabo de Gata National Park has some of the loveliest beaches of Spain

Cabo de Gata has some of the loveliest beaches in Spain

Cabo de Gata National Park Travel Facts

How to Reach

The closest airports are Almeria, Malaga, and Granada. The closest train station is Almeria. Public transport is not very efficient in the area, so it’s best to rent a car.

Where to Stay

San José is the largest village and the main hub of Cabo de Gata National Park. It has a pleasant bay and can be very busy in summer. Those preferring quieter destinations can go farther north to places such as Agua Amarga and the nearly deserted beaches nearby.

Soft rolling mountains and meadows of Cabo de Gata

Places to Visit in Cabo de Gata National Park

  • Las Salinas Village is closest to Almeria City and has excellent water quality. The beach is clean, the white and pink village is pretty and there is a flamingo-filled wetland just outside Las Salinas.
  • Faro de Cabo de Gata or the Lighthouse lies further away from Las Salinas. It provides the best panorama view and you can see all along the coast and the rocks of “Arrecife de las Sirenas”, rocks sticking out of the sea. This beach is great for snorkeling.
  • Cala de Las Sirenitas is located on the left of the lighthouse of Cabo de Gata. Though difficult to access, it provides amazing snorkeling. Conservative travelers may stay away from there if nude beaches are not your cup of tea.

    This beach was featured in the movie Indiana Jones

  • Playa Monsul is the most famous beach off the San José beach road. It is a spacious beach with golden sand, clear water, and a huge dune. A huge rocky bulk on Playa Monsul has been featured in many movies like Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.  Playa de Mónsul is a fabulous sandy wedge hemmed in by sharply eroded lava rocks and a towering dune. The way to this beach is clearly indicated from San José. One has to go through a beautiful valley to reach there and this according to us, is one of the most beautiful parts of Cabo de Gata National Park. We saw thousands of poppies blooming in the valley, painting it almost red.
  • Playa Los Genoveses is located 10 min by car away from the parking of Playa Monsul. A parking fee of 5 Euros is charged here and this is an empty, gorgeous, clean beach bordered by two headlands. It owes its name to the Genoese navy, ships from which landed here in 1147 to support the Christian occupation of Almería, which at that time belonged to the Moorish king of Granada.

    Untamed nature at Cabo de Gata National Park

  • Playa El Playazo or The Great Beach is located near Rodalquilar on the north-eastern side of the natural park and is clearly trail marked. Very popular among families, nudism is also found here and there are gold mines close to the beach.
  • Las Negras is a former fishing village that has now morphed into a hippie beach resort. Though the seafront and historic center retain a vintage aura, the rest of the village is a concrete mess of squat buildings. There are many restaurants, bars, cafes, and parties in Las Negras and it is perfect for groupies or people not seeking solitude. This is also crowded due to its proximity to the much-talked-about Cala San Pedro.
  • Cala San Pedro is reachable from Las Negras village either by boat or by 1 hour of hiking. The hike is extremely easy and photogenic. Since there is no shade in the whole trail start your walk in the early morning or late afternoon. Though it is regarded as awesome by many travel guides, most locals claim it to be dirty, crowded, and filled with drop-outs.

    The hidden coves and beaches of Cabo de Gata National Park

    Molí or the traditional windmill scattered along the Cabo de Gata coast

    The sea of poppies of Almeria

    Our next destination is the province of Almeria

    Cabo de Gata national park in Almeria

For more information, check out this website.

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