Granada, Almeria, and Malaga: Civitatis Backpacker’s Guide
Are you an adventurer at heart but on a tight budget? Join us on a journey around the most important cultural and natural must-sees in the Andalusian provinces of Granada, Almeria, and Malaga, without breaking your wallet. We’ll show you where and when to go, and what activities you should do to make the most of your trip around this bucket-list region of Spain.
Andalusia: the land of Flamenco, Picasso, endless olive groves, and Tapas
No trip to Spain is complete without a visit to the sunbathed region of Andalusia. Here you’ll find some of the most beautiful cities in the world, endless miles of coastline, snowcapped mountains, red deserts, and delicious and cheap cuisine. What better place to travel to on a budget? This post will let you in on some of the region’s best-kept secrets, including unmissable plans in all three of these southern provinces. Let’s get going!
Stop number 1: Granada
Granada is without a doubt one of the most unique and genuine Spanish cities. While strolling down its narrow, cobblestone streets and alleyways, we can still appreciate the strong Arab influence. This city was once the capital of Al-Andalus, the Muslim-ruled area of the Iberian peninsula. Granada is the birthplace of countless artists, writers, and musicians. While strolling through the city, it’ll become clear to you why it has inspired so many creative minds.
The city is also surrounded by some of the most beautiful natural areas in the country. The Sierra Nevada mountain range provides amazing spaces for camping, hiking, rock climbing, or skiing. Farther south, you’ll find the Granada coast, lined with small villages and a natural park that’s perfect for scuba diving or snorkeling.
Plans in the city of Granada
The Alhambra palace serves as a breathtaking backdrop when walking through the hilly Albaicin neighborhood. If you can afford a ticket to the palace so that you can enter and walk around the grounds, we definitely recommend doing so. Otherwise, there are countless viewpoints in the city that will give you amazing views of this historic landmark free of charge. We recommend watching the sunset in one of the different squares in the Albaicin area (Plaza de San Nicolas, Mirador de San Miguel, Mirador de San Cristobal…). Meanwhile, you’ll be serenaded by the sounds of Spanish guitar and other Flamenco instruments.
Speaking of Flamenco, we recommend checking out a Flamenco show in one of the many music caves or tablaos. You’ll live a very genuine and unforgettable experience. We also suggest going on a free tour of the city or a guided tour of the Albaicin and Sacramonte. This will let you in on some of the city’s many mysteries and stories, which are fascinating.
Plans in the surrounding areas of Granada
As we mentioned before, the province of Granada has much more than just its beautiful capital city. The area is full of charming villages, mountain landscapes, countryside, and amazing beaches.
Depending on the season you travel in, you may want to either ski (or go on a snowshoeing excursion) or hike in the Sierra Nevada. We also vehemently recommend the region of the Alpujarra to visit some of the most beautiful mountain villages and for food tourism. The town of Trevelez has an amazing campsite which is very decently priced. At restaurants in this region, try out the “plato alpujarreño“, a platter of local delicacies. This hearty plate will give you plenty of energy for your escapades, and you’ll likely even have leftovers for your next meal. Eating well in Trevelez or other towns in the Alpujarra region costs about 12-15 euros per person.
We also recommend an excursion in Los Cahorros, a route through the spectacular canyon of Monachil across hanging bridges. And, as far as beaches go, check out La Herradura for some of the best water activities in the south of Spain. These include scuba diving, snorkeling, paddle boarding, kayaking sailboating, you name it. The landscapes surrounding this beach town will take your breath away.
When to go?
We recommend traveling to Granada in springtime while making sure to avoid the week of Easter. Normally, the Sierra Nevada will still have snow until around May. This means that temperatures will be pleasant in the city, but you’ll still likely be able to ski or do some snow activities well into April. The city is also usually covered in flowers during this period of the year.
Stop number 2: Almeria
The province of Almeria is located in the southeastern part of Andalusia, and its capital is the city with the same name. It has an unbeatable coastline made up of long beaches and dramatic cliffs along the Mediterranean.
Almeria is known for its striking combination of desert and sea and for having some of the most fertile farmland in Europe. Besides being a place full of history, what most stands out are the natural parks called Sierra Maria-Los Velez, with its castle, and Cabo de Gata-Nijar, with its extensive pristine beaches and cliffs. This Andalusian province is perfect if you like spending time outdoors.
Plans in the city of Almeria
To begin with, a visit to the city of Almeria is a must. It’s a small but welcoming city and offers its visitors a beautiful mix of antiquity and modernity. It’s also quite cheap both for accommodation and for eating out. The Alcazaba, the largest fortress built by the Arab dynasties in Spain, is perhaps the main attraction in the city. It’s followed by the Cathedral of the Incarnation, a spectacular Christian temple in the form of a fortress, whose construction in the sixteenth century was intended to resist the continuous pirate attacks that ravaged the coast. Also, in the Museum of Almeria, originally established as an archaeological museum in 1933, visitors can also trace the history of this ancient city, thanks to the extensive collections it holds, from the Paleolithic to the present.
We suggest going on a free tour, or if it’s very hot then an evening tour. You won’t need very much time in this little city to really get a feel for it, so one or two days should be plenty. After that, we recommend traveling around the rest of the province.
Plans in the surrounding areas of Almeria
Leaving the capital, head over to the town of Mojacar (an 8€ bus ride). This is a small town full of white houses and architecture that preserves, like few others, the authentic Andalusian style. It’s located just at the foot of the Sierra de Cabrera mountain range (where, if the weather is nice, we suggest taking a hike). The old town is located inland and dazzles everyone who visits it thanks to its narrow streets, flowery balconies, and fascinating archaeological remains. The beachfront of Mojacar is colloquially known as the “Ibiza of the South“, due to its 17 kilometers (10 miles) of crystalline beaches, and large number of hotels, pubs, and nightclubs.
Our next recommendation is the village of Nijar, a cluster of white houses nestled on the mountainside. It shines with its unique charm among the green of the numerous orchards that surround it. Here you can likewise stroll around and admire the architecture and artisan shops.
Finally, near Nijar, the natural park of Cabo de Gata is totally unmissable. This enormous reserve is located at the tip of Almeria and is so jam-packed with natural and historical beauty that it’s difficult to summarize in just a few words. Its landscape, a mix of coast and mountains, preserves innumerable small villages whose Andalusian character has remained intact. San Miguel de Cabo de Gata and San José are two good examples. Make sure to visit the lighthouse, the fortress of San Felipe, and the tower of the Vela Blanca.
Most important of all are the pristine beaches, such as Los Genoveses, Mónsul, and countless others. Scuba diving near the reef of the Sirens is also highly recommended.
When to go?
We recommend visiting Almeria in the early fall. In September or October, the high tourist season will have ended and temperatures will be a bit milder, while still plenty warm enough to fully enjoy the beaches.
Stop number 3: Malaga
Malaga is the capital of the Costa del Sol and one of the most incredible cities in Spain. It was founded by the Phoenicians in the eighth century BC and is located on the shores of the Mediterranean. Malaga has an amazing cultural and architectural heritage that visitors can easily appreciate in the historic center. It of course also has extensive beaches to relax on, as well as interesting museums, a charming atmosphere, and above all, hundreds of restaurants and bars where you can taste the most typical dishes such as sardines, fried fish, or porra antequerana, among many others.
Plans in the city of Malaga
Malaga, like other cities in Andalusia, is full of history and charm. It likewise has Arab remains and labyrinth-like narrow streets to get lost in. The added bonus is that the beaches right in the city of Malaga are some of the best in the area. Absolute must-see sites are the Alcazaba castle and the cathedral, where you’ll get spectacular views of the city and bay. We of course recommend going on a free tour of the city as well as a free tour of the Alcazaba and Roman theatre to learn more about these legendary landmarks.
Besides walking around and learning about the history of the city, a trip to the Museo Picasso Casa Natal (Museum of Picasso’s birthplace) is worth it and entry is quite cheap. You can also find very decently priced boat rides (around 12€) which will take you around the bay and give you views of the city from a unique perspective.
Malaga is a city that never sleeps and its nightlife is well-known around Spain as being some of the most lively in the country. The streets are full of locals and young expats hopping from bar to bar, drinking local Malaga dulce, and enjoying music. Here, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a friendly and laid-back crowd.
Plans in the surrounding areas of Malaga
If there’s one place you can’t miss in the province of Malaga, that’s Ronda. It’s considered by some to be one of the most beautiful villages in Spain and even possibly in the world. Strolling around this breathtaking place located in the heart of the Tajo Gorge, you’ll discover the Muslim legacy at places like the Mina, the Arab baths, and the ancient walls. Different viewpoints around the town will give you great views of the surrounding areas. Of course, you can’t miss the iconic Puente Viejo and Puente Nuevo. Theres a trail that you can follow through the gorge to get up close to the base of these impressive structures.
Another highly recommended activity in the province of Malaga is a hike along the so-called Caminito del Rey. This is a trail that traverses the Gaitanes Gorge across rope bridges and paths carved into the rocky cliffs. You’ll be absolutely blown away by the dramatic landscapes. Plus, temperatures are always must milder within this rocky canyon, so it’s a good way to escape the heat of summer.
A worthwhile coastal destination in the province of Malaga is the Alcantilados de Maro (cliffs of Maro) natural park. Here you’ll find turquoise crystal-clear waters and breathtaking landscapes. It’s located on the Eastern Coast of Malaga, in the municipality of Nerja (a town which is also totally worth a visit, by the way). This natural park features a majestic and rugged terrain in which small hidden coves alternate with dramatic cliffs and rich farmland. On clear days, when you look out from one of its viewpoints, you can even see the coast of Africa. Another sure highlight is the rich marine wildlife in this area, which makes it an ideal place to go scuba diving.
When to go?
One of the most fun times to travel to Malaga is in the sunny month of August. This is because the Feria de Malaga (Malaga fair) takes place during this time. The whole city comes alive with music, shopping stalls, and decorations. The locals dress up and celebrate this exuberant week-long street party with plenty of ‘fino’ (sherry).
However, while this event is very exciting, you may wish to travel to Malaga at other times of the year in order to avoid the crowds and the heat. In this case, spring and autumn are both lovely times of year to visit this lively Andalusian province.
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