Spain, travel

Almería: So Worth A Visit

For years, any time I heard or thought about Almería, the only things I could imagine were tomatoes and plastic greenhouses. And brown landscapes. I thought, who in their right mind would want to go there? Obviously I was wrong, and I’ve come here to tell you why.

Around a year ago, the idea came up in conversation with S, who’d never been there and really wanted to go. My immediate reaction was “really? why?” But then we decided to do a little research. During the quarantine, we watched videos each day from different places to feel like we were traveling. I decided we’d “go” to Almería for Semana Santa, so I made a little playlist. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. So we decided, once the pandemic was over and we had some decent vacation time, we’d travel there. 2020 was not the year for that to happen, but June 2021 presented the perfect opportunity. Available apartments, decent prices, and the knowledge there wouldn’t be too many people there yet were all deciding factors.

So we set about looking for accommodation and getting an idea of what we’d want to do. S emphatically requested a visit to “the place where they made Western movies so we can dress up like cowboys and Indians” and I just wanted to see some cacti and some beaches. We finally came up with a plan for the 9-day trip: Tabernas and the desert first, then Carboneras and the beaches.

Tabernas & Sorbas

I was so blown away (actually quite literally, it was very windy) by the Tabernas desert. I found it so peaceful, yet tinged with the excitement of being in such a wild landscape. I was always a little nervous I’d stumble upon a snake in the path, but it never happened. Claim to fame: apparently this is the only real desert in all of Europe! Read more here about my time in the desert.

Hey snakes, please don’t come out and bite me, ok?
Modeling my awesome new Indian (sorry, Native American) chief t-shirt

Tabernas as a town was about as normal as you can get, with a few bars and restaurants. On the way, we stopped in a small town called Sorbas, which is similar to Ronda, with houses perched on the edge of a cliff. There I was reminded of the joy of Andalucían free tapas. I got an entire hamburger as a free tapa with my drink!

sorbas-almeria
Sorbas

Leaving the desert and heading to the beaches, we swooped down to Almería city for a quick walk around. A glance at the old town, the church, and a few funky bars in the more alternative area of town, and we were on our way to Carboneras. The city does deserve a more in-depth visit, so will save that for the next trip.

Carboneras

Carboneras is a coastal town of around 8,000 inhabitants that has a port and an industrial area where cement used to be made. Driving into town, there are some nice views of the whitewashed buildings against the blue sea. The town is built partially on a hill and the Airbnb apartment just happened to be at the very, very top! Scary when driving in for the first time, but worth it when you get these views.

Good morning, Mediterranean

It’s got plenty of restaurants and beach-related shops so you know it’s definitely a tourist destination, but it’s retained its small-town feel. No high-rise apartment buildings or masses of people on the beaches or exorbitant prices. The first stop was to a restaurant on the paseo marítimo to have lunch: seafood paella! Directly from there, a little siesta on the beach was next on the agenda. A short walk around town revealed a castle and a pink town hall (why not?) as well as a cute park and a theater. Seems like a lively town even though it’s small.

Dollhouse or town hall?

We went running a couple of mornings along the paseo marítimo all the way past the port to where the industrial area starts. One edge of town to the other. Roundtrip it was almost 7 kilometers. Views of the sea, palm trees, white buildings, it was a nice change from the usual scenery back home.

Playa de los Muertos

Just a few kilometers south of Carboneras you can find the highly recommended beach Playa de los Muertos. Yes, Beach of the Dead. It’s fairly easy to access, just a short walk from the parking area. It’s got one corner that’s especially stunning, with tiny pebbles instead of sand, and pristine clear blue water. Lots of people with snorkel masks here checking out the sea creatures! We visited this beach twice – once driving there to spend the afternoon, and another time by kayak. On our last day we went kayaking and one of our stops was this beach. The perfect place to take a swim after paddling around the cliffs and a cave!

Cala de Enmedio

Another amazing beach experience was venturing out to Cala de Enmedio. Definitely the most stunning beach of this vacation, but also the hardest to access. Getting there was an adventure: turning left off the main highway following a sketchy sign for some other Cala, then following a gravel/dirt road for 6 kilometers or around 4 miles. It may not sound like a lot, but it feels eternal when you’re bumping along at the speed of a turtle! The area was completely secluded. Finally at the end the parking area appeared. There wasn’t any real signage pointing to this beach, but putting it in Google Maps more or less helped. Hiking through desert trails in the heat of midday made the trek feel endless! Recommendation: wear real shoes. I was really glad I’d brought my trail shoes. Finally, after seeing some people emerging in what looked like beach clothes, we followed where they came from and ended up at the most incredible beach. No big waves, clear blue water, soft sand, total paradise. The beach was walled off by two huge white cliffs and lots of people were snorkeling alongside them. A Wednesday afternoon in mid June meant there weren’t many people at all. You can walk around the rocks at the bottom of the cliffs and see more dazzling views! A lovely afternoon of swimming and exploring. This was one beach I didn’t ever want to leave.

Who’s carrying all the food and drinks and the beach chair? Oh yes, me.

Trail shoes: good idea.

Other Towns

On the way back to Carboneras, you can pass through Agua Amarga. I like to call it the rich hippie town because of all the upscale clothing stores in such a small town. (So much linen!) It’s a cute place, kind of Ibiza-like but on a smaller scale.

There are plenty of other interesting places to check out not too far from Carboneras. Mojácar is a kind of tourist haven. Its old town center sits atop a big hill, and at the bottom is a massive sprawl of beach apartments, restaurants and bars. I have to admit, it’s cuter than Carboneras, but definitely full of beachgoing tourists of the English and German speaking varieties, mostly. (I guess I count as one of them?) I imagine it would be overcrowded in July and August, although the official population is actually lower than in Carboneras. The old town really is charming with its whitewashed houses and colorful flowers and doors that can easily rival Córdoba’s. Super #instagrammable. Worth a visit for sure!

Níjar was the last stop after Mojácar, not really on the way to anything in particular but it deserved a visit too. It’s got a butterfly garden, which I sadly wasn’t able to see, and is home to some of Spain’s best artisan ceramic pottery. You can read more about it here!

This time around, I didn’t get to see all of the most recommended parts of the region, like San José or the actual town of Cabo de Gata. Definitely need a second trip! Almería is still quite off the beaten track. When I mentioned my upcoming trip to my students, almost none of the 20 of them had ever been there. While many people prefer heading to the beaches of Valencia, Alicante, Cantabria, Galicia, or Huelva, I think they’re missing out! With the friendly people, free tapas, almost year-round sun, the only true desert in Europe, and incredible beaches, this is one destination you should definitely put on your bucket list. Cantabria, you’ve got some competition.

Carboneras