Spain’s ‘Coast of The Light’ – la costa de la luz – is teeming with pristine, white, sandy beaches, which both Spaniards and tourists flock to in the summer months. In truth, there is perhaps no better place to be if slow-paced travelling, relentless sunbathing and sleeping under the stars is your idea of a holiday.
Thanks to development restrictions, many of la luz’s beach pueblos have avoided the multitude of hotels and high-rises that other parts of the south coast have been tarnished with. There are a number of hotels and hostels to choose from if you’d rather have a proper bed for the night but availability is often a problem, so the best option for accommodation on the costa de la luz is camping in one of its many clean and friendly campsites.
I recently spent 10 days bussing and hoofing my way along this beautiful Spanish coastline with all my camping gear on my back and a shoestring budget to live off.
It was brilliant, and, despite having only the bare essentials to help me rest, probably the most relaxing holiday of my life!
Where is the Costa de la Luz?
The coastline stretches from Huelva, in the far west of the region, to Tarifa, the surfer’s paradise of Spain and southernmost tip of the continent.
Where can you go camping on Costa de la Luz?
Although Huelva, Cádiz and several towns in between like Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María have plenty of wonderful beaches to offer weary travellers, these areas tend to be much busier and more built-up. The most idyllic spots are between Cádiz and Tarifa, where it is quieter and less populated.
Conil de la Frontera
Conil is a small, bustling beach town to the south of Cádiz, and not far from inland Vejer de la Frontera. I had to bypass it on this trip as time was short. However I’ve been before and the place is always buzzing in the evening, with a good stock of tasty tapas and cocktail bars to take advantage of.
It’s beaches are beautiful and very well-maintained, and there are various campsites to choose from, including Camping Rosaleda, Camping Eucaliptos and Camping Fuente del Gallo. All three are within walking distance of a beach and have swimming pools, bars and restaurants.
El Palmar is a tiny settlement with a handful of bars, restaurants and hostels, though these are nearly always fully booked. The beach is easily one of the best beaches in Andalucía. The sand is smooth, there are no rocks, not too many people and and you can walk out to sea for about 80m before the water passes above knee-height. It really doesn’t get much better.
El Palmar has one campsite – Camping El Palmar – which is very well-equipped (bar, restaurant, supermarket, large swimming pool, excellent bathrooms) and found about 900m away from the beach, down a long, dusty road. Signs for the campsite are easy to spot along the main thoroughfare.
If you’re in the party mood, there are several beachside cocktail bars/open air clubs that stay open until late, Buena Vida being the pick of the bunch for its comfy sofas, minty mojitos and impressive music selection.
Los Caños de Meca
Rather than hitching or waiting for the absurdly late-leaving local bus (18.00), you can just walk from El Palmar to Los Caños de Meca. This is what I did, stopping in Zahora for lunch at El Chiringuito de Juan on the way.
The beach stretches from El Palmar all the way to El Faro de Trafalgar, the lighthouse where the famous battle was fought between France-Spain and Britain on October 21st, 1805. Bizarrely locals still celebrate the passing of this date even though Spain lost; any excuse for a fiesta en España…
Walking with the wet sand between my toes along a deserted, golden beach for 3km was the highlight of the trip, despite the blazing sun and 10k of camping equipment I was carrying!
From the lighthouse it’s just another half hour on foot to the far right of Los Caños. Conveniently, Los Caños’ best campsite – Camping Camaleón – is found at this end of the village too.
There is lots of room at Camaleón, and unlike most other campsites, you may pitch your tent wherever you like. The facilities are very good, with a bar and restaurant that serves barbecued steaks and clay oven baked pizzas, modernised bathrooms and a mini supermarket. They even put on live bands at the weekends for guests to enjoy as they dine.
However, it’s the welcoming and hard-working staff that make Camaleón stand out from the pack. I was lucky enough to meet and get to know several of them during my stay. Everyone was very chatty, helpful and particularly understanding when I realised I was unable to withdraw any money (there are no ATMs in Los Caños!) Thankfully I was able to pay for everything by card at the end of each day. Cheers guys!
Los Caños de Meca is a fairly small beach but large enough to fit a couple of chiringuitos and a large bar/club going by the name of La Jaima, which makes up the second part of the Camaleón empire. Here you can relax on the Moroccan-style sofas on the third floor with a cocktail in your hand as you watch the sun set over the Atlantic. It’s the perfect end to a day of laborious sunbathing.
The next town along the Costa de la Luz is Barbate. More people dwell here, and if coming from Los Caños de Meca it can feel a bit like re-entering civilisation. For instance there are ATMs in Barbate, for which I was most grateful when I visited. Unfortunately I hadn’t the time to stay long, but there are no nearby campsites anyway, so I’d have had nowhere to sleep. However there are plenty of lovely beaches so if you have a car then it would be worthwhile visiting for the afternoon.
Zahara de los Atunes
Next is Zahara de los Atunes, another gorgeous drag of white sand complete with fabulous fish restaurants (tuna being the speciality of course) and stylish chiringuitos – lazy by day, loud by night.
There is a campsite right in the centre of town, Camping Bahía de la Plata, which is less than a five minute walk from the beach. Again, I skipped this one as there was no time but I’d definitely go and check it out. It is within walking distance of Barbate.
Tarifa is the last stop on the Costa de la Luz and the southernmost tip of the entire European continent. The jagged mountains of Morocco loom in the distance – merely the tip of another giant slab of earth!
The meeting of the poniente and levante winds make for perfect surfing conditions. Thousands of surfers, windsurfers and kitesurfers flock here as though the last day on earth is upon us, often to stay for the whole summer. It’s no surprise then that the number of surf apparel stores and kite schools in the centre is staggering. Some schools don’t even have shops or shacks; just a meeting point on the beach!
I arranged a 2-day introductory kitesurfing course with Addict Kite School, run by the multilingual and incredibly enthusiastic Romain and his girlfriend Marine. The first day went well enough; we learnt how to fly the kite and got to know some basic rules. However, due to there being absolutely no wind on the second day the course had to be cancelled (this was most upsetting), but hopefully I’ll be back to finish what I started later this this summer!
There are several campsites dotted along the section of highway between Tarifa town centre and the curve in the land about 12km to the left. The closest to Tarifa – and where I stayed – is Camping Rio Jara, which backs on to Playa de Los Lances where many kitesurfing lessons take place daily, including Addict Kite School’s. The facilities here were adequate, with clean bathrooms, showers, supermarket, a small bar and breakfast area.
Getting There & Around
The E-5 / N-340 highway links Cádiz and Vejer de la Frontera. From here you must join the tiny and often quite bumpy A-roads which lead to the coast. Both El Palmar and Los Caños are reachable by bus from Cádiz and Conil three times a day, although buses from Cádiz to Vejer de la Frontera depart more regularly and sometimes it’s necessary to go here first and wait for a connecting bus.
It would take weeks to walk the entire costa de la luz, so if without your own vehicle you will at some point have to take a bus or – like I did – hitch a ride to your next destination. Having said that, I’d recommend you walk along the coast whenever possible, since the views are too good to pass up and the distance between each settlement isn’t usually too far.
Comes runs a bus from Cádiz to Málaga, which stops in Tarifa and Algeciras, but you probably wouldn’t want to hang around in Algeciras for long. I won’t go into detail but let’s just say that even la Costa de la Luz has its dark side.
Have you ever camped under the stars and enjoyed the fine beaches on the Costa de la Luz? Where did you stay? Where else did you visit?