It was a newspaper travel article on Tarifa that opened my eyes to the possibility of a beach holiday on Spain’s South Atlantic coast. And while I never reached Tarifa – the beach looked far too windy for sunbathing – I discovered the gorgeous sandy beaches of Cadiz.
Cadiz Province is part of Spain’s autonomous region of Andalucía (also spelled Andalusia). The province has a coast on the Mediterranean Sea (Costa del Sol, the Coast of Sun)) and a coast on the Atlantic Ocean (Costa de la Luz, the Coast of Light).
Although the sea water is a little cooler than the Mediterranean, Cadiz’s Costa de la Luz is Spain’s best kept secret.
And it was this secrecy surrounding the area that made the holiday a difficult one to plan. Where would I stay? Where could I find the best beaches in Cadiz? Was it expensive?
With little information to hand I simply scrolled along the coast on Google Satellite and took a gamble on Conil de la Frontera as a base, an excellent choice as it transpired.
BEACHES IN CADIZ
CONIL DE LA FRONTERA
Conil de la Frontera, a seaside pueblo blanco* 25-30 miles south of Cádiz city, has been a fishing port for centuries. It blends its old heritage with contemporary cosmopolitan to perfection and is hugely popular amongst Spanish holidaymakers of all ages.
The lack of international tourists meant brochures and menus were only in Spanish. Nor can I remember speaking anything other than Spanish to locals.
And as excellent the restaurants, cafes and bars may be, Conil is all about the beach. There are several beaches in and around Conil but I used Playa de los Batalas in the centre of the town. It is such a large beach it didn’t feel crowded even during high season.
El Palmar is the next urban area south of Conil de la Frontera. It’s a much smaller settlement than Conil and the beach is much larger, so guaranteed peace and quiet.
LOS CANOS DE MECA
South of El Palmar and Zahora lies Los Caños de Meca. The town has a hippy-feel but does not have as many cafes, restaurants etc as Conil de la Frontera. The stand-out feature on this stretch of the coast is Cabo de Trafalgar (Cape Trafalgar), site of the 1805 battle of the same name.
There are two beaches of note in Los Caños de Meca: Playa de Los Caños de Meca (near the town) and Playa Faro de Trafalgar (north of the lighthouse). The latter has a nudist zone.
ZAHARA DE LOS ATUNES
Zahara de los Atunes was a considered choice for a base. And while it is blessed with fine facilities and gorgeous beaches it just lacked the atmosphere that Conil de la Frontera had in abundance. Many Spanish celebrities have holiday homes in Zahara de los Atunes, apparently, which may explain its high accommodation prices.
There are three beaches of note around Zahara de los Atunes: Playa de Zahara runs parallel to the A-2231 road on the approach into town from Barbate. This beach is several miles long so bring a packed lunch if visiting the north end of it.
Playa de los Alemanes is south of the town beyond the Cabo de Plata headland. Playa Arroyo Cañuelo, south of Playa de los Alemanes beyond the Camarinal lighthouse, was another beautiful beach although it involved climbing through a pine forest and had no facilities upon arrival.
But in terms of gorgeous beaches I’ve saved the most scenic till last. Bolonia is a substantial drive from Conil de la Frontera but it was worth it. Therapeutic mud is to be found at the southern end of Bolonia but, to be honest, this view of Bolonia was therapy in itself.
WHAT ABOUT BARBATE?
The drive from Los Caños de Meca to Zahara de los Atunes goes through the pine forest of the Parque Natural de la Breña y Marismas del Barbate and has fine views of the coast from the summit. This park has excellent hiking opportunities particularly along the coastal cliffs.
However, Barbate’s fishing industry is quite industrialised and the town is more built-up than Conil de la Frontera. The beach simply didn’t look appealing.
Despite being part of the Atlantic, the beaches in Cadiz province were warmer than expected but gradually became windier the further south one ventured. The only thing I would change about my visit was the manner in which I reached Conil de la Frontera. See below.
CADIZ ATLANTIC COAST: GETTING THERE
Jerez is the nearest airport to the Cadiz Atlantic coast with Seville quite reasonably distanced also. Flying into Faro Airport in Portugal is perfect for Huelva province, north of Cadiz, which forms the Spanish border with Portugal.
I also recommend renting a car as it would give a visitor greater freedom of access than public transport.
What I wouldn’t recommend is flying into Faro to reach anywhere on Cadiz’s coast. It’s not possible to take a short-cut along the Huelva coast into Cádiz as Parc Nacional de Doñana blocks that route. The drive from Faro Airport to Conil de la Frontera took me four hours. But if I were to re-visit the Cadiz coast using Faro Airport, I would break the journey by stopping in Seville for a few days.
* A traditional Andalucía ‘white village’
Other Spain destinations and travel tips can be found on my Spain Travel Tips post.