I recently had the pleasure of visiting Cabo de Gata Níjar Natural Park in Spain and it was without a doubt one of the most memorable trips I’ve taken in a long time.
Cabo de Gata is a place that I had never heard of prior to heading here and it should without a doubt be on your itinerary if you are visiting Almería, Málaga, or Marbella and want to get away from the hotels and see something completely different.
It reminded me so much of my beloved Los Cabos in Mexico. The towns and their architecture, the landscape and desert settings, the rugged coastline, and the beaches. Cabo de Gata is a place that made me feel like I was “back home” a little bit, but it also reminded me how much I love this sort of natural beauty.
Adventure lovers should pack their bags and get themselves over to Cabo de Gata Spain asap. It is without a doubt one of the most stunning natural landscapes in Spain. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to plan the best trip to the Cabo de Gata Níjar Natural Park.
Map of Cabo de Gata Níjar Natural Park
Cabo de Gata Níjar Natural Park is a park located in southern Spain near the city of Almería.
It’s about 30 minutes from Almeria and about two and a half hours from Málaga.
Getting to Cabo de Gata Spain
If you are visiting Cabo de Gata and want to get the most out of your trip, you will need to rent a car.
The two main airports that you will fly into nearby are either Málaga Airport or Almería. Almería is closer, but it doesn’t offer many international flights.
Both airports have options for car rentals and from there you can drive into Cabo de Gata.
If you really don’t want to rent a car or driving isn’t an option for you, you can catch a bus from the Almeria bus station to San Jose inside the Natural Park.
Once you are inside the park, you can use local buses, taxis, or tour guides to work your way around the park and see a few of the more popular spots.
Cabo de Gata Towns
Despite being called Cabo de Gata Níjar Natural Park, the actual town center of Níjar is not located inside the park, but just on the edge of it. However, much of the land that you will hike, many of the beaches you will spot, and a lot of the farmland you will see, are technically all part of Níjar.
The majority of the land inside the park is part of the township of Níjar.
However, there are two other towns inside the park where you will likely want to base yourself and where you will find an abundance of restaurants, hotels, and tour companies.
Those towns are the town of Cabo de Gata and the town of San Jose.
Cabo de Gata town is where you will find several campsites as well as salt flats which are home to some of the region’s salt-making. This is where Playa del Charco is, a very long beach. Both the salt flats and the beach make it a wonderful place for bird watching as well.
San Jose is the largest of the towns inside the park and is where many of the people who live year-round in the natural park live. There is a small port in town and a place where you can rent kayaks or go with a guide which is a great way to see more of the coastline.
A few other towns that you will come across if you are driving through the natural park include Rodalquilar, Agua Amarga, and Carboneras.
Hotels in Cabo de Gata
If you aren’t renting a car and you will be exploring by bus and tour guide, then you will want to base yourself in one of the main towns like San Jose. If you have a car, you have a lot more options for some seriously great boutique hotels in Cabo de Gata.
Cabo de Gata Níjar Natural Park is also a popular place for RVs and campervans. The park has several locations where you can park for a small fee and there are even a few camping sites where you can plugin and have all of the other amenities you might need.
Hotel Doña Pakyta
Located right in the downtown area of San Jose in Cabo de Gata, Hotel Doña Pakyta is both a stunning boutique hotel and one of the best restaurants in Cabo de Gata.
The hotel has an incredible view of the sea and downtown. The staff are incredibly helpful. Rooms are simply decorated, but the restaurant, lobby, and balcony areas make up for the lack of style in the rooms.
It’s within walking distance of all of the restaurants, shops, beaches, and rental companies (kayaks, snorkels, etc) and the price is unbeatable for the quality of the place.
Rooms at Doña Paykta Hotel in Cabo de Gata Natural Park start at $100 USD per night. Book a stay at Hotel Doña Pakyta here.
Hotel Naturaleza Rodalquilar
I really enjoyed Hote Naturaleza Rodalquilar and its accompanying spa which is the perfect way to relax after a day out hiking or kayaking.
It’s located in the town of Rodalquilar and has plenty of parking available, making it a good option for people who have come to the park with a car. I wouldn’t recommend this option if you are relying on local buses because it would be quite difficult to reach.
There is an outdoor pool with lounge chairs around it. The rooms are really quiet, despite being a bit close to each other.
The breakfast is a really fantastic buffet. They also have dinner available which I highly recommend having during your stay.
The hotel is family-run and they focus heavily on local ingredients, locally made wines and beers, and ensuring that all of these things are absolutely delicious.
Rooms start at $60 USD per night. Book a stay at Hotel Naturaleza Rodalquilar here.
Finca Maltés del Fraile
Finca Maltés del Fraile has to be one of the best hotels in Cabo de Gata and is perhaps one of my favorite hotels I’ve ever stayed in.
The Finca is a popular spot for weddings and other events, but it’s also an incredible haven of relaxation and natural beauty that is perfect for those that want a true nature escape while staying in Cabo de Gata.
The hotel has a stunning outdoor pool that feels incredibly private and offers views out over the mountains. The rooms are beautifully decorated and have little private patios.
It’s a wonderful place to come with a group of friends because they have several buildings that have 4-5 rooms in each so you can all be together but have your own separate rooms.
They also have a nice breakfast which includes eggs cooked as you like plus different toast and pastry options, meats and cheeses, and plenty of coffee and tea.
Rooms start at $150 per night. Book a stay at Finca Maltés del Fraile here.
Cabo de Gata Camping
There are some great options for camping in Cabo de Gata if you are planning to camp in a tent or visit with your campervan.
Pitch Up is a great website to help you find local camping spots as well as cabins and tent spaces where you can enjoy your time in mother nature while you are based in Cabo de Gata Níjar Natural Park.
Cabo de Gata Beaches
There are tons of amazing beaches in Cabo de Gata. You will see them pinned on the above map, but if you click each of the links below, you will see their location on Google Maps.
- Playa de los Muertos – This beach was once voted the most beautiful beach in Spain. It is perfect for swimming, has some seriously stunning rock formations, and has tons of parking available. Just beware it’s about a 10-minute walk from the parking lot down to the beach. So you need to hike back up at the end of the day.
- Playa de los Genoveses – This beach is hugely long and beautiful. It’s wonderful for swimming because it’s in a bay and is so calm. There is also has plenty of space for relaxing on the sand and in the sunshine. During peak season (July and August), car access is heavily restricted and it’s actually better to head here by bus from San Jose. However, in the shoulder periods, you will likely have this Cabo de Gata beach all to yourself.
- Playa de Mónsul – This beach is famous for being the location of this scene from Indiana Jones. The beach has some stunning rock formations and tons of sand to lay on.
- Playa del Charco – Located closest to Cabo de Gata town, this is a beautiful long stretch of sand with calm water and easy access to lots of shops and restaurants.
- Playa de las Negras – Another beach right next to a town, Playa de las Negras is a Cabo de Gata beach that is close to Las Negras town which has a few small shops, a great ice cream spot, and a few nice restaurants and bars.
- Playa de las Salinas – Playa de las Salinas runs into Playa de la Fabriquilla making the longest beach in Cabo de Gata. This stretch of sand is over 2km and is a wonderful place for kite and windsurfers. It is also a popular spot for families thanks to the calm waters and easy access to bathrooms, restaurants, and parking.
Things to Do in Cabo de Gata Spain
There are some really incredible nature-focused activities to check out in Cabo de Gata.
This is the place to come if you love exploring off-the-beaten-path beaches. If you love hiking, swimming in the sea, and kayaking along volcanic cliffsides, then you will love Cabo de Gata.
Here are a few of the must-visit spots around the Natural Park and in my humble opinion, the best things to do in Cabo de Gata.
Cabo de Gata Information Center
It may seem silly to recommend an information center as a thing to do in Cabo de Gata, but this is so much more than a place to grab a map (but it is also a really great place to grab a map!).
Inside the museum, you’ll find displays and information about the native and invasive plant and animal species that live on the land and in the marine park that surround this natural park.
It was where I started my trip in Cabo de Gata and where I recommend you start yours. It’s not always open and there don’t seem to be posted opening hours, but you’ll pass it as you head into the park, so it’s well worth trying to stop in and see if you can learn a bit before starting your trip around the park.
Cabo de Gata Faro
The Faro de Cabo de Gata or the Cabo de Gata lighthouse is a must-visit for the incredible views.
The lighthouse was originally built in 1863 and is interesting to see, but most people come to this point for the incredible views. It’s worth noting that the areas around this lighthouse are at the mouth of the volcano that formed much of the land you will be standing on.
Walk over to the Vista de los Arrecifes as well as to the Vista de los Sirenes to see more of the volcanic rock formations. It’s a really beautiful place about an hour before sunset. Most tour buses have left and it’s incredibly peaceful.
Mesa de Roldán
There are three wonderful things to see at Mesa de Roldán.
The first and most prominent is the incredible view. I visited during the month of May and so many different colorful flowers were in bloom. The pinks and oranges against the bright blue Mediterranean Sea were truly one of the best views I had in Cabo de Gata.
The second thing is for all of the Game of Thrones fans out there. You’ll have seen it in this scene and battle, the Torreón de Mesa Roldán.
The lighthouse keeper we met was telling us all about what it took to film what in reality is a scene of only a few minutes. There were over 300 people including the film crew, actors, and everyone else who was required to help behind the scenes.
There has been a tower on this cliffside since 1497, with the current tower having been built in the 18th century to protect the coast from pirates.
The third thing that may not interest everyone, but really interested me, was going inside the lighthouse here. In fact, if you get the chance in the next year or two, it would be an absolute privilege.
Mario is the last lighthouse keeper that the Faro de Mesa Roldán will ever have. When he retires in a few years, the lighthouse will be fully automated and no one will be required to live there.
But for now, he lives there with his dog Pippa and is working to preserve the memory of all of the former lighthouse keepers of Mesa Roldán. He has turned much of the interior of the lighthouse building into a museum and it is quite a fascinating place.
But even more interesting is hearing Mario’s stories and seeing how passionate he is about those stories.
Kayaking Cabo de Gata
Kayaking in Cabo de Gata is the best way to see the real majesty of this natural park. From the water, you can discover caves along the cliffside. You can see the different colors that make up the rocks based on just how hot they were inside the volcano.
It is highly recommended that you go kayaking in Cabo de Gata with a guide. Not only is it safer if you don’t know the waters here, but you will also see and learn a lot more as well.
This is a great tour option that includes both snorkeling and kayaking. It’s about a three-hour trip which also includes some instruction on kayaking if you have never done it before or are a bit rusty.
The tour costs €40 (about £34 GBP / $43 USD) and includes a guide who will be able to tell you all about what fish, rock formations, and flora you’re seeing along the way.
Hiking in Cabo de Gata Spain
Cabo de Gata is an absolute haven for hikers. There are quite literally dozens of trails that lead off to other trails which bring you over to stunning beaches and up to the top of rocky hillsides for viewpoints over the sea.
I barely scratched the surface of the trails that are available in the natural park and I can’t wait to go back and explore more.
I found this article on the hiking trails to be very helpful. It lists 10 different trails of varying lengths and difficulty levels and it links to maps and detailed information for each of those trails.
Although the article is a bit old, it’s still quite helpful. This article is a good, more recently written alternative that has a few trails listed that all link up.
One of the things that stands out to me most from my trip is the people that I met and how passionate they all were about the work that they were doing. From Mario the lighthouse keeper to Carmen who runs Hotel Naturaleza Rodalquilar.
Then there was Iñaki and Gonzalo of Astronomía Cabo de Gata.
These guys have a knowledge and passion for astronomy that I wish my high school teachers had. High school would certainly have been a lot more interesting.
They will meet you at your hotel or you can meet at the beach. It all depends on how big and bright the moon will be. The stargazing experience that they run is something I won’t soon forget.
In fact, I now spend quite a lot more time looking up at the night sky, but there aren’t nearly as many stars as what you can see in the sky in Cabo de Gata.
In addition to stargazing experiences, they also do night hikes and snorkeling trips. You can check out their website here, which is currently only in Spanish. However, both Iñaki and Gonzalo speak excellent English.
You can simply reach out to them via WhatsApp +43