There's really nowhere quite like Gibraltar. A little piece of England looking out from Spain to the coast of Africa, with a rock fabled in ancient mythology and the only wild monkey population in Europe. Quite a cocktail, huh?
Gibraltar was handed over to the British by Spain in the 18th century, and British - if its very own brand of hybridized, flashback British - it has remained ever since, despite Spain's best efforts to browbeat it into accepting its sovereignty.
The Rock of Gibraltar is a fabulous chunk of limestone rearing up over the city and overrun by Barbary macaques. There is a legend that if these monkeys leave the rock, so will the British leave Gibraltar. Winston Churchill obviously subscribed to this superstition - he requested that the macaque population be topped up during WWII.
The enormous prehistoric Caves of Nerja boast extensive grottoes, archaeological remains and the world’s largest column, rising upwards for 32 meters (105 feet) central column.
Entering the cave, you’ll see dramatically lit stalactites and stalagmites that look like organ pipes, and evidence of human habitation stretching back 25,000 years to the Paleolithic era. Galleries display artifacts, paintings and skeletons unearthed since the caves were discovered in 1959.
The underground cavern stretches for several kilometers and has the feeling of a lofty cathedral. The natural amphitheater is a memorable venue for the concerts and classical music performances held here over the year. If you’re visiting in July, you might be lucky enough to catch the annual flamenco festival.
Holidaymakers flock to the coastal village of Almuñécar. It, along with the neighboring town of La Herradura, makes up the hotspots of this Mediterranean, beachside swath of land called the Costa Tropical. Visitors are lured here by the town’s attractive old town, which is topped by a 16th-century castle, and of course because of the sandy shoreline – all 19 kilometers of it.
Anchored in several thousands of years of history – spanning occupation by the Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, Muslims and Christians -- Almuñécar has other attractions that make it especially appealing. Kids will love the Loro Sexi Bird Park (filled with some 1,500 birds of 120 species), and history buffs will delight in the archaeological museum as well as the remains of a Roman aqueduct. And those who like a little nature won’t want to miss a stroll through the lush flora found in the Parque del Majuelo, ensconced just below the seaside castle.
Surrounded by sugar cane fields, the coastal town of Salobreña is considered among Spain’s most attractive little villages. It is situated along the shores of the Costa Tropical, where the old part of town rises to a 10th-century Moorish-castle-topped pinnacle, from which you can spy unparalleled views of the mountains and Mediterranean Sea. This upper, older part of town is also where, amidst Salobreña’s maze of whitewashed buildings and tunneled walkways, you’ll find the 16th-century church Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario, which resides on the site of a former mosque.
The village is also home to a newer, lower part of town, which is lined by five beaches, where water-bound activities such as scuba diving and kayaking are plentiful. Beyond just the pretty village and beach, Salobreña is a prime destination for fresh local cuisine, as well as cultural festivities.
Dolphins, ice skating and the Buddha - what's not to love? Sure, Benalmádena is touristy - this is the Costa del Sol, after all - but it's a pretty nice version of touristy. And if you get away from the modern city, where over-development has killed the charm, there's still the old town to show you why all the tourists came here in the first place.
So why not have it both? Spend a morning exploring the old whitewashed houses of Benalmádena Pueblo and the afternoon at the marina, taking in dolphin shows. There's also an iceskating rink and an enlightenment stupa built by one of the world's foremost Buddhist masters. And when you're done saying Om? Back to the salsa bars!
Medieval Frigiliana is a typically Andalusian pueblo blanco (white village) perched on a ridge in the hills east of Málaga above the vacation paradise of the Costa del Sol. Guarded by the photogenic remains of the ninth-century Moorish Lízar Castle, the village straggles uphill from its cliff-side promenade, which offers far-reaching panoramas towards the Mediterranean coast.
Recently voted “the prettiest village in Spain,” the Moorish, Mudejar-style heart of Frigiliana is a maze of cobbled alleyways leading off the main street of Calle Real, and lined with gleaming, flower-festooned white cottages ornamented with wrought-iron balconies. The streets wind ever upwards in steep steps, past ancient churches and palaces, and are crammed with boutiques selling traditional ceramics decorated with Arabic designs. Tiny piazzas reveal tapas bars in which to sample local treats and a glass or two of local wine.
Bioparc Fuengirola isn’t your average zoo. That’s because it’s built around the concept of zoo-immersion, dropping visitors into the animals’ habitats instead of the other way around. With a focus on conservation, education and sustainability, the zoo is home to well-cared-for animals that live in the most optimal conditions possible.
The result isn’t just happy animals but also happy humans who feel like they’ve been whisked off to places such as Madagascar, Equatorial Africa, and Southeast Asia. Animals — ranging from crocodiles to tigers, gorillas, hippos and lemurs — all linger in native-like habitats, and are separated from park guests by natural barriers such as rivers, bridges and rocks. Visiting during summer? Come during the extended evening hours to witness some of the park’s more nocturnal residents.
Tivoli World is an amusement park and performance venue atop a hill in Benalmádena. The performances can be kind of tacky - there's a Wild West Show (yee-ha!) and can-canning soubrettes - but there's also flamenco dancing which, while it may not be anything close to authentic, can still be quite thrilling.
Aside from the performance space there are a number of rides, with a whole section for the littler kids, a water flume, a haunted house, a sky drop, and assorted roller coasters. A wristband that you buy at the gate gets you a whole day of unlimited rides, but be sure that what you want to ride is actually open before you buy.