Costa del Sol stretches all the way from the Strait of Gibraltar to Nerja and consists of the whole of Malaga’s coastline. It is a popular resort destination and a lot of expats from northern Europe move there for the pleasant temperatures all year round. Many even spend their retirement on Costa del Sol as their retirement money lasts a lot longer.
But Costa del Sol is so much more than long beaches and cheap drinks.
So let’s have a look at the best things to do in Costa del Sol so you can explore more than just the beaches (though they’re absolutely worth it too and should not be missed!)
Best Things to do in Costa del Sol, Spain
Hiking in Sierra de Mijas
Sierra de Mijas is one of the lesser-known mountain ranges in Costa del Sol, yet it has some of the most beautiful hikes in Malaga with mesmerizing coastal views.
A lot of these hikes can be reached from the popular white village, Mijas Pueblo. The hills are steep there, so if you struggle with your knees, it is recommended to bring hiking poles or wear a knee brace for hiking, especially for the descent.
There are a lot of different hikes, though most of them are steep, you can walk anything from one-hour routes to 7-hour routes.
The highest peak is Pico de Mijas (1050m) which boasts stunning 360 views of the coast from Malaga to Gibraltar and the never-ending mountains inland. However, you can get just as beautiful views, if not even better, at Pico Puerto Malaga which is halfway there.
All of these hikes are perfect to take on in the winter months when the temperatures range between 13 and 20 degrees. But once the summer heat kicks in, you better spend your days closer to the sea, lakes, or rivers.
Snorkeling in Nerja
Nerja is without a doubt the best place in Costa del Sol for snorkeling with crystal clear water and vibrant marine life. Not to mention all the underwater caves you find in this area.
The coastline between Nerja and Maro is spectacular, and you can surely stay underwater for hours forgetting about space and time.
If you travel without your own snorkeling gear, there are several places in Nerja where you can rent and even go on boat trips and guided snorkeling tours where the guides will take you to the best snorkeling spots. There is no arguing that snorkeling in Nerja is one of the best things to do in Costa del Sol in summer.
Hike Rio Chillar
Rio Chillar is the most spectacular river walk on Costa del Sol going through slot canyons and passing swimming holes and waterfalls.
The 8 km walk takes a couple of hours but you have to return the same way, so it easily becomes a 6 to 7 hours trip with breaks and swimming.
You have to walk in the water in large parts of the trail but it is not much elevation and water usually does not get much higher than knee-deep in periods with a lot of water.
You should wear good sneakers that can get wet but still have good grip and are comfortable walking in on the rocky ground. This is one of the best Costa del Sol activities that you can have during the spring, summer, and autumn months.
This picturesque, whitewashed hillside village is one of the most popular Costa del Sol travel destinations for its astounding beauty and breathtaking coastal views.
Colorful flowers cascading from windows and flowerpots in the narrow cobblestoned streets make this a Mediterranean dream.
As the village is set on the hillside, you can expect a good round of exercise while walking up the streets peeking into cute little boutiques, or heading to a restaurant with ocean views.
There are also quite a few hiking opportunities in the village. Especially spectacular is the lesser-known Rio Higueron which ends with a waterfall at the end of the river.
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Visit Nerja Caves
One of the main Costa del Sol attractions is the spectacular caves of Nerja. Only a 10-minute drive from Nerja, you can visit the caves, which is the perfect activity if you happen to experience one of the few days of rain this part of the country sees. The underground stretch for about 5 kilometers, though not all the chambers are accessible to tourists.
Some of the things you will not be able to see in the caves are a number of well-preserved prehistoric rock paintings. Luckily, these are showcased in pictures in the museum which is highly recommended to visit.
With that said, there are enough beautiful things to see on your cave tour. Nerja Caves showcases the world’s biggest column of stalagmite towering at 32 meters and a concert hall in one of the chambers.
It is recommended to book your tickets online so that you avoid wasting time waiting when you get there. However, there is a nice restaurant with splendid views on the premises where you might want to have a drink or something to eat.
The tickets include an information video before entering the caves and an audio guide for self-guided tours. If you prefer to go with an actual guide, you have the opportunity for that too.
Explore Malaga city
No visit to Costa del Sol is complete without exploring the capital city of Malaga. There are a lot of things to do in the city and it is a great place to base yourself when exploring the rest of Costa del Sol. Malaga is the birth city of Picasso, so there is no doubt you have to visit the Picasso Museum.
You can book tickets online here or go during the last two opening hours on Sundays for free entry. Just be warned that it might be very packed during these times and they do not let anyone enter for the last 30 minutes.
But there are a lot of other highlights in Malaga not to miss! Malaga Cathedral is an architectural wonder that was started built-in 1530 and though they stopped working on it in the 17th century, it is still not completely finished.
Next, head to the Moorish palace, Gibralfaro, overlooking the city, the Alcazaba, and the Roman ruins to soak in Malaga’s ancient history. Foodies will go wild with all the tapas bars in the old town and the restaurants at the new marina are perfect for dinner or sunset drinks.
Hiking in Sierra Blanca
Sierra Blanca is another astounding hiking area in Costa del Sol. Overlooking Marbella you can get some of the most breathtaking views of the coast from Refugio de Juanar.
The best views are from Cruz de Juanar where you see the cross that legend says was put there to guide sailors in bad weather conditions. Further up, you can hike to La Concha which is a shell-shaped mountain ridge overlooking Marbella.
However, there are a lot of other hikes in Sierra Blanca and you can witness the Spanish Fir which is endemic to southern Spain and northern Morocco on some of these trails.
Explore Marbella’s old town
If you are looking for the best weekend activities in Costa del Sol, make sure you head to Marbella, the beach town that has it all.
You can find stunning beaches and great nightlife. But Marbella’s old town is really charming. Wander the narrow, cobbled streets past boutiques and tourist shops.
Old city walls, colorful pot plants, and lovely restaurants make this the perfect Mediterranean vacation spot. Highlights not to miss are the 16th-century church, Iglesia de la Encarnacion, and Ermita de Santiago – both situated by the charming Plaza de Los Naranjos.
The main square in Marbella old town for enjoying tapas and drinks with orange trees covering the square.
Visit Mijas Pueblo
With charming cobblestoned streets lined with colorful pot plants, art shops, local boutiques, and artisans, it is hard to beat an afternoon in the village.
You can often find local markets and concerts in the village and a stroll along the village park offers endless viewpoints of the coastline. It is especially spectacular at sunrise and sunset. The village also has some interesting museums, like Mijas Miniature Museum, Casa Museo, and Molino de Harina de Mijas.
Mijas Pueblo’s own Chocolate factory is also not to miss! They make amazing chocolate, and you can even get it as hot chocolate at the café. If you are a chocolate nerd, you should join a class to learn how to make your own chocolate.
For being quite a small village, there is a lot to do and if you want to go on a little adventure up the mountain but not a whole hike, there is a 15-minute walk to the hermitage you see above the village. It offers spectacular views of Mijas Pueblo and the coast below.
However, there is one thing you should avoid doing in Mijas Pueblo, and that is taking a donkey taxi. The donkeys are standing chained up all day and all night and are not able to lie down or do other natural donkeys activities like run and play. The animals are also asked to carry too much weight compared to what is healthy for them.
If you want to have a positive interaction with the donkeys, take a day trip to El Refugio del Burrito donkey sanctuary in Fuente de Piedra instead.
They rescue donkeys in poor conditions from all over the country and will teach you everything there is to know about the donkey’s well-being. Quite a few of the donkeys come from Mijas Pueblo.
Walk La Cala de Mijas boardwalk
La Cala de Mijas boardwalk is a wonderful walk taking you 6 kilometers to Cabopino where you can cross sand dunes to the beach. There are several beach bars along the walk where you can have tapas and cold drinks.
But you might also want to bring a towel and swimwear in your daypack as there are many nice places along the beaches to go for a swim, especially on a hot day.
Walking on this boardwalk is especially nice in the evening to enjoy the sunset, but if you walk back, there are parts that can get dark as there are no lights. An alternative is to have dinner at the charming little harbor in Cabopino and get a taxi back. It is only a few minutes’ drive.
Dolphin and whale watching
The Strait of Gibraltar is one of the best places to see dolphins and whales in Spain. You can observe many types of dolphins and the Pilot Whales are living there all year round. They can often approach the boat too, if you are lucky, as they are generally curious.
The season for Killer Whales is maybe the most sought after and is usually July and August but can in some cases be seen later too.
If you are very lucky, you might see Fin Whales. These are the world’s second-largest whales and can reach up to 22 meters. However, they usually swim past the straight very quickly and are not that common to see. There are boat tours throughout the year heading out from Tarifa and La Linea.
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Chill at the beach
Ok, so now we have looked at what to do and what to see in Costa del Sol Spain, but you should not miss out on a day on the beach. There are so many nice beaches along the coast.
Some of the finest are in Maro and Nerja, where the water is crystal clear unlike most of the coast. But even Malaga city is surrounded by amazing beaches. You can pretty much go to any beach and you will have a great time.
Worth mentioning are Maro beach, Burriana beach, La Cubana, and La Malagueta. But you also find some treasures in between the cities like Cabopino and Calahonda.
There are beach bars lined up with great food and drinks all along the coast and you should definitely try them out. If you are looking for late-night beach bars, head to Los Alamos in Torremolinos or Marbella.