The Costa Calida (or warm coast in Spanish) is the 250km of beautiful coastline that stretches along the Mediterranean within the Province of Murcia. The region is considerably less developed than the Costa Blanca to the north, and is characterised by small, picturesque, traditionally Spanish seaside holiday towns.
Although there are large tourist developments such as the La Manga strip, the Costa Calida has retained many areas of natural coastline unspoilt by tourist development. The least developed area is the Calblanque National Park which is located on the south-eastern tip of the region close to La Manga.
Much of the Costa Calida coastline is dominated by the Mar Menor (the small sea), which is the largest area of enclosed sea in Europe. The protected location of the Mar Menor results in warm water temperatures making it ideal for swimming, sailing, windsurfing and other water sports.
Cool sea breezes are prevalent in the Costa Calida, which can be a relief during the long, hot summer months. The warm year-round climate and the development of the exclusive La Manga resort keeps an influx of visitors to the Murcia region throughout the year, with golf popular in the winter months.
The Murcia region is renowned for its fishing industry, but also produces pottery, ceramics, jewellery, olives, olive oil, almonds, sweet wines, citrus fruit, peaches, nectarines, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, asparagus and lettuce. To see the best of the local produce it is recommended to visit one of the markets held in most towns in Murcia. Although the climate is warm, much of the market produce is grown in huge greenhouses allowing year-round production. Unlike in Northern Europe where greenhouses are designed to retain heat, in Murcia they are intended to retain moisture. The fertile plains all around the Murcia region give rise to the name the "orchard of Spain", although only the most drought-resistant plants grow here without irrigation.
Some of the larger coastal towns of the Costa Calida such as the historic naval port city of Cartagena are predominantly working ports and are "off the beaten track" for most tourists. There are however established holiday resorts in the region, the largest being the La Manga strip.
Below is a guide to some of the major towns and holiday resorts of the Costa Calida region:
Around half an hour's drive to the south of Mazarron the coastline of the Costa Calida is far less developed than on the shores of the Mar Menor to the north.
As you drive south from Mazarron towards the town of Aguilas along the E15/AP-7 toll road (Mazarron to Aguilas costs just over € 4), the landscape is almost lunar in places with rocky hillsides and irrigated plantations of fruit and vegetables, some of which is planted under huge greenhouses.
Although Aguilas has a historical background as a Roman port, today the town is a thriving seaside resort mainly frequented by Spanish holiday visitors.
The main attractions of Aguilas are the marina and the 2 sandy beaches (one at the marina and the other near the town centre shops), both of which are sheltered and ideal for smaller children. Sholes of tropical looking fish inhabit the shallow, crystal clear waters of Aguilas, and sea swimming can continue into November in this southerly resort. Parking in Aguilas can be difficult close to the beaches especially in summer.
The attractive gardens of Plaza Espana are worth at least a couple of hours of your time while visiting the town. Other historical attractions include the decorative Town Hall, the church of San Jose, and the medieval castle dating back to 1579.
The Aqua Vera waterpark located to the south of Aguilas is an exciting day out for families with children.
A couple of kilometres to the west of Puerto Mazarron is the picturesque resort of Bolnuevo which has some of the most idyllic beaches on the Costa Calida.
Bolnuevo is renowned for the extraordinary rock formation located across the road from the beach which looks like it has been transported from another planet.
Bolnuevo is a quiet resort except for during August when Spanish visitors flock to their coastal holiday homes. The popular seafront Apartamentos Oasis de las Palmeras has beachside apartments, 2 pools and a tennis court - perfect for families wanting to keep the children entertained. The Hotel Playasol is a 10 minute walk from the shops and bars of Bolnuevo and has a pool area surrounded by Mediterranean plants.
To the south of Mar Menor around 10 minutes by car from La Manga is the protected coastal nature reserve of Calblanque which has some of the largest undeveloped stretches of beaches in southern Spain. Although Calblanque is unspoilt by tourism, some will be put off by the lack of beach facilities. Don't expect to find bars and restaurants when you arrive at the main Playa de Calblanque, instead you will generally find a mix of Spanish families, walkers and naturists. The area is accessible by car from the Autovia de La Manga.
For walkers and hikers, check out this recommended route for walkers in Calblanque
Not renowned as a tourist location, Cartagena is a Spanish port city rich in naval history but is not a typical Spanish seaside destination. However, Cartagena is a good choice for a day trip offering a taste of Spanish city life outside the main tourist zone.
For those with a historical interest, Cartagena has some wonderfully restored Roman architecture and artefacts. The Roman Amphitheatre dating back over 2000 years is the most eye-catching. Entry is around € 6, but there are spectacular views available for free from the elevated platform at the summit of Parque Alphonso Torres which can be reached by elevator or foot.
The Cartagena yacht port in the city centre has some excellent seafood bars and restaurants some of which overlook the harbour and local fish market. Further along at the fishing you can watch the local fishermen bringing in their daily catches and repairing nets, a skill which dates back centuries.
For families with young children Parque Rafael de la Cerda waterpark will entertain the kids for a few hours. The park is located a couple of kilometres to the west of Cartagena.
Located about 25km north of Murcia, the town of Fortuna is renowned for its thermal springs. The Fortuna Spa located in Los Banos around 3 km from Fortuna is popular with tourists from around Spain attracted by the waters healing and therapeutic properties.
The town of Fortuna itself is a “no thrills” working Murcian town. The small scattering of tourists who are probably only there during a visit to the local springs. The town has a slightly unwelcoming feel to it, which is probably because it isn't really geared towards tourism. However, if you are looking for a typical Spanish experience away from the tourist zone, Fortuna is worth a visit. The main attraction is the beautifully crafted white town church, but there is a fantastic cake shop/cafe in Fortuna selling local Murcian cakes, sweets and biscuits. If you walk from the church towards the main road into Fortuna it is located around 100 metres on the left.
To the south of Fortuna near the A7 exit is a large lake in a nature reserve which is ideal to visit on hot days for walking or fishing.
La Manga is the narrow coastal strip of land which surrounds the eastern side of the Mar Menor. La Manga is probably best known for the La Manga Club which is a large holiday and sports complex catering to the luxury end of the market. The club located a few km from the strip on the road to Portman.
The La Manga strip is around 20 kilometres of developed coastal land with excellent sandy beaches framed by hotels, apartments, bars, restaurants and tourist shops. The strip isn't everyone's cup of tea and is a little soulless compared to some of the resorts on the western side of the Mar Menor. However, La Manga is very popular with the Spanish, and serves its purpose if you are looking for a no thrills beach resort. The beaches are sandy and good for families with children.
Prices on the La Manga strip are quite reasonable if you shop around due to the large number of Spanish tourists who frequent the resort.
At the southern tip of La Manga on a small peninsular lies the quiet resort of Cabo de Palos (Cape Palos). One side of the peninsula has a large sandy beach and just across the road is the Marina with a promenade which is lined with Spanish bars and restuarants. The bars and restuarants here are open year-round unlike many on La Manga.
Cabo de Palos is a good base to visit the wild and unspoilt beaches of the Calblanque National Park.
Around 40km inland from Aguilas lies the historic city of Lorca. Although not renowned as a tourist location, Lorca is one of the most attractive in land towns in Murcia. The city was badly damaged by an earthquake in 2011, and some of the buildings in the old town streets still show signs of damage.
One of the main tourist attractions in Lorca is the castle which towers over the city and is worth visiting if only to catch the stunning views. The castle is accessible by bus or car, although the castle is located a steep 5-minute walk uphill from the car park. Entry to the castle is €6 for adults (Dec 2018).
Lorca has several centrally located underground car parks, parking at Plaza de Colon is only around €1 per hour. From here the narrow streets and plazas with outside eating areas are easily walkable.
For historians, the Archaeological Museum (Museo Arquelogico) records the town’s Roman and Baroque influences.
The Town Square, Plaza Calderon de la Barca, is also busy with life and is home to the local theatre where there is always an event worth seeing. There is a weekly market which takes place on Thursdays in the Huerto de la Rueda.
In December there is a Christmas market and traditional folk groups and dancing on Calle alfonso Xel Sabio.
Located on the northern edge of the Mar Menor, Lo Pagan is a small seaside resort mainly frequented by Spanish and German visitors. There are a few tourist shops, and a large sandy beach which is good for children. The area is close to some large salt lakes and does seem to have more than its fair share of mosquitos in springtime.
The Lo Pagan area is very popular with paragliders due to the Mar Menor winds which frequently blow in from the sea.
The lively resort of Los Alcazares is one of the best Mar Menor resorts for British families and younger people. In Los Alcazares the focal point for visitors is a short walk from the beach at The Square which has Irish and cocktail bars, outdoor eating restaurants (including a Burger King) and a frozen yoghurt and ice-cream bar. The Square is also one of the liveliest nightlife areas on the Costa Calida with several nightclubs which are busy during the holiday season. Hotel 525 located in the Square has a roof-top pool meaning visitors may not even make it as far as the beach.
Los Alcazares home to the Mar Menor Nautical Club which is a centre for sailing set in Los Alcazares Marina. For this reason, Los Alcazares is popular with those with a passion for sailing, and at the weekends the club is teaming with life. There is a good bar/restaurant on site, and children are welcome.
The Mar Menor resort of Los Nietos nestles in the southerly corner of the Mar Menor a few kilometres from the entrance to the La Manga peninsula. The resort is favoured by Spanish and is very similar in "look and feel" to Los Urrutias, although Los Urrutias is chicer and would probably be more appealing to visitors from outside Spain.
For most of the year Los Nietos is quiet, although it gets very busy in August when the Spanish flock to the resort for their summer holidays.
A few kilometres to the south of Los Alcazares, surrounded by lush (irrigated) green fields growing lettuce, citrus, olives and other fruit and vegetables is the quiet resort of Los Urrutias. The small town has a mainly Spanish clientele, a wonderful sandy beach and some of the calmest waters in the Mar Menor. Not all the beach area at Los Urrutias is available for swimming however as the area includes a designated "no swim" zone to encourage local wildlife.
There are some quaint bars and restaurants set around the church in the palm-lined town square including the Rincon Denis which serves a mouth-watering range of local tapas.
The nearby hillside village of El Carmoli offers some impressive views over the Mar Menor and the French-owned Restaurante El Carmolí is a hidden gem offering excellent local cuisine and also provides play areas for children.
The capital city of the region, Murcia was originally built by the Moors, and with around 440,000 inhabitants is the 7th largest city in Spain. Murcia is not really on the tourist trail and being inland (around half an hour's drive from the coastline of the Costa Calida) is not the place to go if you want a beach resort.
If on the other hand you want a day trip, or to enjoy authentic Spain, Murcia has plenty to offer in the way of tapas, designer shopping and some stunning architecture including the impressive cathedral.
Traffic in Murcia is usually very busy, so the best time to visit is at the weekend. There is central underground parking in front of the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall). A sat nav is recommended for driving into the city centre.
The small town of Portman is a few kilometres drive to the east of Cartagena close to the La Manga Golf Resort complex. Portman is a former mining town (mining ended in 1990), and the surrounding hillsides are picturesque, but scarred by years of open cast mining operations. Many of the abandoned mine buildings are evident on the undulating road which leads to the town.
With its picturesque location, Portman should be a thriving tourist resort, but the bay area was used as a dumping ground for "safe" by-products from the mining industry until the early 1990's causing massive ecological damage. The idyllic beach looks stunning with its dark-coloured sand comprising of sediment from the mining waste, and the sea is supposedly safe to swim in (personally I wouldn't). Due to its geographical location Portman is very popular with walkers, and the surrounding hills offers some of the best views on the Costa Calida.
The local authorities are making concerted efforts regenerate the Portman Bay area, with the main focus being dredging the mining waste minerals from the sea bed with the long-term aim being to revive the natural environment and eventually bring more visitors to the town.
Portman town is set back a couple of kilometres from the beach but offers little to attract tourists other than glimpses of its mining heritage and the Casa Cegarra restaurant which provides excellent tapas and is very popular with the locals. There is a second restaurant (Mar de Canas) on the road to the beach which offers a good local menu.
The resort of Puerto Mazarron is another favoured destination of the Spanish, especially in July and August when an influx of mainly Spanish visit their holiday homes.
The town has a strong Moorish influence, and much of the population are Muslim. Puerto Mazarron has a busy marina next to the main beach, and there are plenty of mainly Spanish tapas bars and restaurants on the promenade and the marina.
Puerto Mazarron like many of the Costa Calida resorts is bereft of the traditional Irish and English bars which characterise many of the resorts of the Costa Blanca to the north, but for those looking for beaches and sun are unlikely to be disappointed. There are quieter beaches a couple of kilometres to the west of the port in Bolnuevo.
Around 20 minutes's drive to the South of Mazarron the coastline has been mainly overlooked by tourism until you reach the large town of Aguilas. The coastal land here is fertile and used for growing fruit and vegetables, some under large polytunnels.
The small town of Puntas de Calnegre is surrounded by some of the most undeveloped beaches on the Costa Calida, and is popular with Motorhome owners as there are several sites close to the beach.
Santiago de la Ribera is the closest resort to Murcia Airport (you can watch the planes flying in across the Mar Menor). The resort is also one of the most attractive on the Mar Menor, with warm, shallow waters and large sandy beaches.
Santiago de la Ribera has many tourist shops, bars and restaurants and would make a good base for a family holiday with children.
The Mar Menor often has a cooling offshore breeze which often means that the temperature here is a few degrees lower than in land areas and can be a bit chilly in winter.
There is a small beachside market at Santiago de la Ribera which takes place on Sunday mornings with vendors selling jewellery, local crafts and local food such as cheeses and olives.
For a taste of traditional Costa Calida tapas, one of the best restaurants in Santiago de la Ribera is Restaurant Centro Mar located on the main shopping street. 2 persons can eat here for under 30 Euros including a bottle of wine. Also recommended is Montesinos Escribano is a traditional Spanish pasteleria (bakery) selling a selection of handmade cakes. You can get breakfast here for just € 3 per person (coffee, orange and toast).
To the north of Santiago de la Ribera is the town of San Pedro del Pinatar which is the home to the San Pedro Las Salinas national park. This park is an important wetland ecological area and is home to many breeding birds including flamingos. The park is popular with walkers as well as bird watchers.
The Sierra Espuna National Park is situated a few kilometres outside the town of Alhama de Murcia on the E-15 motorway. The road leading out of Alhama de Murcia into the hillsides is narrow and requires careful driving. After around 10 minutes driving there are small car parks where you can stop and admire the views across the plains of Murcia.
The Sierra Espuna has a contrasting range of scenery with green pine-covered hillsides and rocky-mountains giving way to more arid scenery as you descend to the plains of Murcia. There is a large lake surrounded by almost lunar-landscape at El Berro which is popular for swimming, kayaking, canoeing and other water sports.
The elevated altitude of much of the park supports a different range of fauna and wildlife than at sea level where the temperatures are higher. Lovers of nature will find the park one of the most rewarding places to visit in the region. Birdwatching is especially popular in the park – Golden Eagles and Peregrine Falcons can often be seen circling looking for food. Other local wildlife includes Barbary sheep, wild boar, red squirrels, frogs and hares.
If you want to stay within the Sierra Espuna Park, the Mariposa Hotel is situated in idyllic surroundings and has an on-site activity centre offering walking, hiking, climbing, quad biking, kayaking, cycling and laser clay pigeon shooting.
Around half an hour's drive to the south east of Murcia is the small town of Totana. Largely undiscovered by tourists, Totana gives a flavour of "Real Spain". The main focal point in Totana is the church located in the town square. There are a few bars and restaurants in the square which are mainly used by locals.
Parking can be a bit difficult in the centre of Totana, but there is public parking alongside the river (which is usually dry) just across from the main square.
Many tourists who visit Totana do so because the town is the gateway to the forests and mountains of Murcia's Sierra Espuna Natural Park.
In general the advice for getting the best quality and value food is to eat where the locals eat. Ask at your hotel for recommendations of local restaurants. If you venture as far as Murcia city, the Plaza de las Flores has some of the best tapas bars in the region.
From personal experience, one of the best restaurants on the Costa Calida is La Rucola in Los Alcazares which specialise in pizzas and homemade pasta.
Away from the crowds, Rincon Denis in Los Urrutias serves some excellent local tapas, and for a bargain breakfast including a superb tortilla, try the rather oddly named Cafeteria Parking in Los Alcazares.
Puerto Mazarron has a large number of restaurants on the sea front, one of the best is Viggos overlooking the yacht port which serves some amazing local fish dishes. For a good paella try Friduri Michel by the public car park exit as you enter the main beach.
Cafe Colon in Bolnuevo serves an excellent breakfast or lunch with a range of pastries, cakes and tapas on the menu.
The climate of the Costa Calida is dry and sunny for most of the year, but there can be short spells of torrential rain in September and October when the air cools (known as Gota Fria). The Costa Calida region has very low annual rainfall, and most of the rivers are dry apart from when there has been heavy rainfall.
In winter the days are often pleasantly warm, reaching around 16-18 degrees maximum in the middle of the afternoon, but nights can be surprisingly cold from late November to March, especially inland. If you are considering a winter break, make sure your accommodation has adequate heating. The houses in the Costa Calida are generally concrete-based and are designed to keep the heat out. Having said that, winter is a great time to visit as most of the days are sunny, making it the ideal time for walking, climbing, bird-watching, cycling and other outdoor pursuits.
From June until mid-September (and sometimes later) temperatures can be oppressive, particularly inland. Temperatures regularly reach 30 degrees Celcius on the coast, and several degrees higher inland, where maximum temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celcius are not uncommon in July and August.
Spring and Autumn are generally characterised by warm days and relatively mild nights. Temperatures reach the mid 20's by day making it the ideal time to visit. If you are thinking of swimming in the sea, the warm Autumn water temperatures make swimming possible well into November on warm days.
Most of Costa Calida's rainfall occurs in Spring and Autumn, although rain is characterised by heavy showers rather than days of rain, and it is never long before the sun returns.
The Costa Calida is accessible from Alicante Airport to the north and Corvera Airport (Murcia International) the new airport near Murcia. There are more flights to Alicante, but Corvera is closer to the resorts.
If you are staying on the Costa Calida coast, it is worth hiring a car to drive around the unspoilt interior of the Murcia region or to discover beaches away from the main resorts. Blue Valley Car Hire can provide rental car collection at Cartagena, Lorca, Murcia (city) and Santiago de la Ribera as well as at the Alicante and Corvera airport.
The roads around the Costa Calida are very popular with cyclists as the coastal plain is flat, but more adventuress cyclists can venture inland where the terrain is more challenging. You can hire a bike at most of the resorts and can often get delivery to your accommodation.
The Costa Calida region has plenty of hotels and apartments to suit all budgets. Package holidays are available from travel agents in the larger resorts of Ata Maria (near La Manga Club), the La Manga strip, Puerto Mazarron and Torre Pacheco (golf resort near Los Alcazares).
An unusual site which you may spot in villages around Murcia are brightly coloured painted pigeons which are easily mistaken as parrots. These birds are painted by the locals and then take part in a Spanish sport known as "Columbicultura", where the winner is the bird that spends the longest amount of time in the air.
If you require a larger vehicle, Blue Valley Car Hire provide 9 seat self-drive minibus rental at airports throughout Europe.