Europe,  Spain

14 Things to Do in the Costa Tropical (That Aren’t the Beach)

I’m definitely not a beach person. Yeah, that’s weird for someone who grew up in Australia, but I had some bad experiences as a kid while swimming at the beach and sand is a complete pain in, well, everywhere.

When my friend Molly asked if I wanted to come along on a press trip to the Costa Tropical – Costa del Sol’s lesser-known sibling – last month, I did have to think about it for a bit and take a look at the itinerary first. I didn’t want to be stuck doing ‘beachy’ activities for four days and then have to come home and write about something I’m not super keen on.

Based on the fact that this post exists, you’ll know that I ended up going and you can assume from my preamble that it the itinerary didn’t just contain beach-focused activities. Phew.

In fact, you’ll be happy to know that actually there are plenty of things you can do while visiting the Costa Tropical and I’m going to share a few with you.

Where is the Costa Tropical?

The Costa Tropical is located in Andalucia, southern Spain and is part of the region of Granada. It’s about 30 minutes to 1-hour from Granada city and 1-2 hours from Malaga (depending on the mode of transport you’re using – car or bus).

The region’s unique location boasts a special micro-climate; if you stand in the centre and drive an hour one way you’ll reach the Sierra Nevada for skiing and in the other direction you have a whole coastline of beaches where you can go diving, fishing or out on a boat. That’s one way to go to the extreme ends of the temperature spectrum in a short space of time.

This climate actually makes the area perfect for growing tropical fruit (hence, Costa Tropical). So, instead of the olive groves you are likely to see while driving through other parts of Spain, here you’ll see orchards of trees laden with fruit like mango, custard apple and avocados. Most get exported, but plenty stays in the region and means you can get some really delicious fresh produce when you go out to eat.

14 ways you can experience the Costa Tropical

1. Taste fresh tropical fruit

While there are a few fruit farm (or ‘fincas‘) tours you can do, we visited Finca San Ramón where owner, Rita gave us a tour of the ‘show orchard’ (one or two of each fruit variety they have on the farm is planted there so visitors can see them all in one go), which includes fruit like guava, papaya, avocado, physalis and some I’d never seen before, like ‘milk fruit’.

Once we had seen the farm, we got to try the key products the farm sells. Can I just say that I have never in my life had a sweet avocado before and when I asked why it was so sweet they explained that it’s because the avocado was left on the tree as long as possible (as opposed to the avocados we get in the shops here which are picked as soon as possible and left to ripen off-tree).

You can visit the farm between May and September, just contact them via their Facebook page to arrange it.

2. Visit the Castillo de San Miguel

Castillo de San Miguel is located in one of the key towns of the Costa Tropical – Almuñécar. It’s right at the top of a hill, so the original builders would have had excellent strategic views of the surrounding area. For us, though, we needed no strategy to appreciate the landscape.

Interestingly, the structure has had many uses over the years, such as a Moorish stronghold and later, a Christian cemetary.

When you’re finished at the castle, you can take a five-minute walk to the small archaeology museum –Museo Arqueológico Cueva de Siete Palacios. It houses a wonderful marble Phoenician urn, which our tour guide was very proud to show us, along with some other beautiful pieces.

The Castillo de San Miguel is open Tuesday-Sunday, but opening hours vary depending on the season. Entry is €2,35 per person and includes the archaeology museum.

3. Visit an ancient Roman fish factory

You’ll be pleased to know that this particular fish factory does not smell. Located within the El Majuelo Park and Botanical Garden in Almuñécar, you’ll come across grids of stone taking up a large space. It doesn’t look like much, but if you’ve got a good imagination, you can imagine the hustle and bustle of the factory as it was in the 4th century.

The Garden itself is also worth a wander, as it’s home to a number of sculptures donated by Syrian artists, as well as small craft shops. Plus, if you’re a plant lover, you’ll appreciate the varieties there.

4. Get up close and personal with an ancient aqueduct

Costa Tropical: Parque del Acueducto Almuñécar

The Spanish aren’t the most creative when it comes to names (their words, not mine) so you won’t be surprised that Parque del Acueducto – a hidden spot in Almuñécar – is home to an aqueduct. However, if you’re a history lover like me, it might just blow your mind to learn that it’s not just any aqueduct – it’s a piece of ancient Roman infrastructure. There’s no fencing, no cost to get in, and if you’re feeling childish, you can amuse yourself on the adjacent playground for a while.

5. Take in some Flamenco

I have been to Spain so many times now (and so have the rest of the LWT team, so take a look at our past posts) and until visiting the Costa Tropical, I had never seen a Flamenco show. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but given how the usual ‘touristy’ things are generally a bit underwhelming, I had my fingers crossed.

Guess what, guys? I love, love, loved it! We went for dinner and a show at La Ventura in Almuñécar and I honestly didn’t want it to end. The food was simple but tasty and included some local avocado (of course!), but the star of the show was the literally, the show! I think the intimate format made it even better – we were so close to the stage, we could see the sweat on the performers’ brows.

I suggest booking in advance as the dining room is small and it was very busy.

6. Go hiking and absorb the views

Costa Tropical

My holidays don’t generally involve a hike, but when you’re in such gorgeous surroundings it’s worth popping one on your itinerary. The lovely Sophie at Activ8You took us from Playa de Cantarrijan for a hike along the nearby dry river bed and up the mountain for some unbeatable views (it’s also known as Cerro Gordo). It was a really warm day and my nose was blocked, but when you get a view like the above, it’s totally worth it.

Here’s a worthy plug: As the name suggests, Activ8You organises a lot of outdoor activities, including diving, kayaking, hiking and camps. They are also organising some combined events with a photography instructor so you can have an active holiday and learn photography at the same time.

7. Try chirimoya (custard apple)

Chirimoya – or in English, custard apple – is grown by the thousands (of tonnes) in the Costa Tropical, so it’s an absolute must-try when you’re in the area. Custard apples are a tricky fruit because once picked, it’s only good for a few days, which is why we don’t seem them much here in the UK.

I recommend trying the fruit on its own to start with before trying it in a dessert (just so you can see how the taste compares). The dessert I enjoyed most was a chirimoya flan at Restaurante Katena in Motril – it was a little gritty (that’s the texture of the fruit), but it tasted exactly like a custard apple.

8. Explore the coast by water

Costa Tropical: Waves

When the sun is shining, seeing the coastline from the water is quite the treat. We were picked up at Marina del Este by Nautica Elite and had an hour or so on the water. You can hire boats for the day or half day, with or without someone to chauffeur you around.

9. Have lunch in the sun

Sunahra Beach Club

At one point, our host turned off the road on to what looked like a beach. I thought that was a bit strange because no one had mentioned were going off-roading, but it all made sense when we got to our destination – Sunahra Beach Club, a modern Spanish restaurant overlooking the beach.

On walking into the restaurant you might think you’ve walked into a Bali-themed venue, but it’s definitely a modern Spanish menu. Only about 6-months old, Sunahra has a young chef who is taking Spanish classics and giving them his own spin, using local ingredients. I loved the croquetas, slow-cooked pork cheek, and the insanely delicious brownie he sent out to finish the meal.

10. Visit the Ron Montero rum distillery

Ron Montero Rum

When you think of rum, you probably don’t think of Spain. I must admit, I certainly didn’t. However, the Costa Tropical used to have fields upon fields of sugarcane, and the last sugarcane mill in Europe was located in Salobreña before closing in 2006. (Yep, managed to get a history lesson in there!)

In the 1960s, using the local sugarcane, the original owner and founder Francisco Montero – but known to his huge family as ‘Uncle Paco’– started producing rum to some very exacting standards and today, his nephew and his wife run the distillery, taking the Spanish rum around Europe.

You can visit the Ron Montero distillery for free, Tuesday-Saturday. If you’d like a guided tour in English, you must arrive in time for their 1pm session.

11. Visit the Castillo de Salobreña

I can highly recommend a trek up through the Salobreña old town (which is gorgeous) to see the sunset from the castle. This is another strategically placed fortress, sitting high on a hill and providing the original Nasrid dynasty builders with views of the sea, the surrounding land and of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada. Now we get to make the most of it.

The castle itself is a fascinating combination of Christian and Moorish architecture, so if that’s your thing it’s a must-visit.

The opening times of the castle change with the seasons, but they are open most days of the year. Entry is €4 per person.

12. Experience tranquility in a Moorish garden

It’s not often I get to visit a 16th-century Moorish garden and I’m so glad I got to on this trip. The Jardin Nazari was created in 1573 as a centre point of spirituality and meditation and to this day it instills a feeling of calmness as you wander the pathways and take in the many layers.

Each water feature and plant – whether edible or not – is believed to have a specific purpose – either spiritual, aesthetic, psychological, nutritional or scientific. I was really impressed that they grow vegetables and fruits in the garden, but donate them to local charities so they don’t go to waste.

When you’re done exploring the garden, you can explore the caves on the side of the cliff. We enjoyed finding the surprise nooks and crannies, and the view.

You can visit the garden Wednesday to Saturday, 11am-1pm & 5pm-7pm and on Sundays, 11am-1pm. Entry is €3 per person.

13. Head for the hills and try some Spanish wine

It may be a long windy road trip to the Bodega Cuatro Vientos (Four Winds) winery, but it will be worth it – especially since you’ll get three experiences in one.

Start off with a visit to the agricultural museum element of the winery. If you start with lunch and wine tasting, you might be too sleepy to appreciate it. Cuatro Vientos have collected agricultural ephemera, including machinery, tools and utensils. If you like historical pieces, you should take some time to look at everything.

Then it’s time for lunch in the restaurant. You should be aware that the portion sizes are apparently meant for the local farmers so they are huge! Make sure you order some wine to enjoy with your meal, but don’t have too much because when you’re done you’ll need to head for the cellar to try the rest of the Cuatro Vientos range (and check out their really cool wine storage areas that you can hire).

14. Experience art in a different way in Kitty Harri’s Garden

Kitty Harri (who writes under the pen name Kitty Sewell) has set up the most amazing garden, but you’re not there to look at flowers. It’s a sculpture garden – and because Kitty is a woman of many skills, you’ll see many of her own works – that you can explore at your leisure. You’ll follow pathways and come across mythical animals, take another turn and you’ll find a tribute to a Native American totem pole. It was a joy to wander the garden and discover its secrets. Not only is this art fascinating, but the view is stunning. You can sit for a while by Kitty’s pool as you take in the mountainside with a drink in hand.

Kitty’s garden was one of my favourite parts of the trip and it should definitely be on your itinerary. It is only open on the first and third Sunday of each month, 10am-4pm. Entry is €10 per person and includes a drink and nibbles.

14 ways to experience the Costa Tropical region – pin for later!

When I’m looking to go on holiday, I’m generally avoiding anywhere with a beach because it’s likely to be really touristy and expensive. It was a joy spending time in the Costa Tropical because there was so much more to it than just the beach.

Disclaimer: I was invited on a press trip by the Costa Tropical tourism board (paid for my own flights), but that doesn’t mean I’ll say something is good if it isn’t. I genuinely had a great time and would recommend it as a region to visit.

Karis is an Aussie way out of her timezone, living in Bristol. During the working week, she gets creative with marketing and events, and in her spare time she's scouring the internet for cool places to visit and great travel deals. She loves good food and history, so her travel itineraries usually reflect this. Places she loves include Vietnam, Japan, France and Spain. Places she can't wait to get to include Egypt, Greece, Turkey, Poland and Georgia.

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