Swimming in Andalucia

A new guidebook to wild swim spots in southern Spain showcases the diversity of the region. ¡Vamos!

Embalse de Guadalcacin

Andalucía is well known for its long golden sandy beaches. This epic coastline, reaching from Huelva, and its border with Portugal, in the west to the ancient volcanic coast at Almeríain the east, is riddled with secret coves, windswept dunes, colossal cliffs and hidden sea caves. The coastline differs dramatically from place to place. The Costa de la Luz, running from Huelva into Cádiz provinces, offers golden sands, wild dunes and fabulous hiking routes following fishermen’s paths with detours to secret coves. At Playa de Bolonia the bleached white pillars of a Roman amphitheatre look out to golden shores, secret natural pools, and great snorkelling. Nearby at Duna de Valdevaqueros you can roll down immense sand dunes and look out to the not-so-distant African coastline.  Follow smugglers’ routes to cliffside cascades and rock pools teeming with life along the Cádiz coast or discover hidden beaches perfect for a skinny dip along Flecha de Nueva Umbría. Head to Cabo de Gata where volcanic rock scoops underwater, alive with coral reefs, bright seagrass and hundreds of shimmering fishes. 

Stripping bare and diving into a sparkling lake, forest river or a thrillingly deep clear mountain pool is one of the most immediate ways to immerse yourself in nature. Open your eyes under clear mountain streams in Sierra de Grazalema to see shimmering shoals of barbel fish at Charcola Bomba. Lie back and float like a star in the soft green lake under the watchtower at Embalse de la Torre de Águila or dry-off on sun-warmed rocks at Río Guadiato while bright pink and yellow dragonflies dip and dart over the river. Feel your pulse race as you dive into icy mountain pools in the Serraníade Ronda or feel your body melt in wild thermal pools at Granada. Swim across the Portuguese border from smugglers’ footpaths in Huelva or bravely under thundering waterfalls that pummel your shoulders in Sierra de Huétor. Water gives our bodies freedom of movement and a good number of Andalucía’s waterfalls, lakes and rivers – and many beaches where nudism is the norm – are in secluded spots, perfect for a skinny dip which only adds to this unhindered freedom.

NATURAL SWIMMING POOL: PISCINA NATURAL DE LA ESTACIÓN DE JIMERA DE LÍBAR, Serranía de Ronda

The deep green Guadiaro river runs slowly by this built-up grassy bank where there are a couple of small stone dams. It’s popular with families picnicking and dogs. On the opposite side the Sierra de Líbar rises steeply, its woodland running along the bank. Follow the path upstream for quieter dips. The 8km footpath along the Guadiaro river starts at Benaoján train station and passes by. Park in town and follow the foot tunnel under the railway. Turn right at the drinking fountain and continue to the pool.

Banos de la Hedionda

HOT SPRINGS: BAÑOS DE LA HEDIONDA, THE GENAL VALLEY

You will smell these hot springs in the River Manilva before you see them. The sulphur-rich water gives off a pungent eggy odour and hedionada literally means ‘stinking’. But this milky turquoise river has been visited for its healing properties since Roman times. Legends say the sulphur stink is the lingering breath of a demon expelled by Santiago. In the 1st century BC Julius Caesar’s troops stopped here to heal a blight of scabies. Pleased with the results, he ordered a bathhouse to be built.You can swim in the wild ruins of these ancient vaulted baths today. Wander downstream to muddy hollows in the banks to take a green clay body mask. A beautiful walk through the nearby weathered limestone ravine of Canutode la Utrera is signed from here. Access to the natural pools in the river is free but to swim at the baths, call Ayuntamiento de Casares – 952895 521. From Casares take the A-7150 to Gaucín for1km. At the junction turn left on to the A-377 in the direction of Manilva and follow for 9km. At the roundabout, take the third exit, which runs alongside the motorway, and follow for 1km.Before the flyover turn left and follow the dirt track along the river for 200m to parking on the left.

Rio de la Miel

RIVER SWIM: RÍO DE LA MIEL, Los ALCORNOCALES

Milky blue pools along the Río Miel (honey river) are bordered by woodland and a tangle of roots. Follow the footpath upstream,winding around boulders and old mill houses, to find the deepest pool for a plunge under the freezing waterfall. From Tarifa take the N-340 for 17km towards Algeciras. Turn left at the first roundabout (colourful painted trees) and follow for 2km, straight through the industrial park. Turn right then first left, and after 200m park near signs for the Sendero Río de la Miel (36.1172, -5.4769). Follow the track 2.5km to the river.

Cala del Carnaje, Cabo de Gata-Nijar

Rocky sea Swim: CALA DEL CARNAJE, CABO De GATA-níjar

This is a beautiful and quiet pebbly beach. Huge tongues of ancient lava scoop down to the right as you approach and make fantastic jumping rocks into the deep, blue sea. Colourful seaweed, shoals of fish and shimmering stones make it worthwhile bringing your snorkel and flippers. From Rodalquilar take the AL-4200 towards Las Negras. After 200m turn right at a brown sign for Cala de Carnaje and continue 1km along the road to the parking (36.8449, -2.0196). This is also an easy walk or cycle. Follow the pitted track 1km down to the beach.

Embalse de Calabazar, Huelva Coast and Donana

Reservoir swim: EMBALSE DEL CALABAZAR, Huelva Coast and Doñana

Come on a cool evening and relax under the trees sheltering this calm, green lake. On clear nights, with a moonless sky, thousands of stars are reflected in the water and tiny crayfish, cangrejo del río, creep to the clear shallows. There is also a rope swing over the deeper part of the lake to the right of a rickety pier. From Sotiel Coronada take the A-496 N for 1km and turn left onto the H-9019 for 700m, then right onto a dirt track and continue to reach the concrete area by the lake

Calas de Roche

Beach Swim: CALAS DE ROCHE, Cádiz and Costa de la Luz

Sandy tracks lead under pine trees and greenery hiding snakes, butterflies and lizards down to several small coves, including Caladel Pato and Cala Enebro. The turquoise sea contrasts with the brilliant orange of the ostioneria cliffs, a porous type of limestone made by ancient seashells. This is the millennia-old rock used to build many of the buildings in Cádiz, including the cathedral. Here you can seethe oysters crumbling out of the stone. Great rockpooling; nudist and dog friendly. Park along the road leading up to the lighthouse on Cabo Roche. Follow the wooden walkway or tracks down to the coves.

  • Wild Guide Andalucía: Hidden Places & Great Adventures in Southern Spain by Edwina Pitcher is published by Wild Things Publishing. Buy direct here.
Edwina Pitcher