Costa del Sol Spain (For Better or Worse), in Pictures

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Prior to my week in Italy, I spent a couple of weeks staying with friends in the south of Spain along the coast, also known as Costa del Sol. I’ve been to Spain a few times before (in Granada), in and around Madrid, and Barcelona), so I feel like I have a basic cross-section of what Spain is about.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived in Costa del Sol, and had trouble reconciling this place as even being Spain. Let me explain…in pictures.

Here's some insight into Costa del Sol, Spain and its unique culture and influences. Photo essay. #CostadelSol #Spain #SouthofSpain #Marbella #TheProfessionalHobo

This post was originally published in 2014. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

Costa del Sol, Spain

The picture above was the view from my terrace (located between Marbella and Estepona), overlooking a pool, palm trees, Spanish-styled condos, and the ocean. On a clear day you can see the rock of Gibraltar and Morocco in the distance. It was a very comfortable place to relax and enjoy the lovely summer heat.

And I’m not the only one who thinks so either.

Costa del Sol

Sunset over the Costa del Sol, Spain

Costa del Sol (which translates to “coast of the sun” is a renowned tourist destination in Spain. Since the 1970’s it has seen a rapid influx of sun-seekers and retirees, mostly from Great Britain (where the sun don’t shine so much).

Incidentally, it also goes by the informal handle “Costa del Crime”, in honour of the number of mobsters and criminals who escape to the area to fly under the radar for a while. While staying there I heard regular references to gangsters; nothing bad – just the mere observation of their presence, as in “look, he’s one of the biggest gangsters in Britain”, similar to “look, there’s a flower indigenous to this area of Spain”.

Puerto Banus

Puerto Banus, with expensive boats, cars, and pricey restaurants

Puerto Banus, in Marbella, is where the pretty people come out to play. You can smell the money dripping off the luxury shopping complex and marina, built in the 1970s by a local mogul. It’s the place to be seen; if you have an expensive car you’ll want to pay the fee to drive into the marina area and cruise very slowly along the strip of designer stores and restaurants, so people can admire your wealth.

It’s also a great place for people-watching – as you can imagine.

Marbella Spain
The other side of the marina in Puerto Banus…where the regular(ish) cars hang out


The beach at Estepona, Spain

Estepona is renowned for its beaches, with a microclimate that provides 325 days of sunshine a year. The water is cold, but it doesn’t stop sunbathers from coming out in droves.

Street in Estepona, lined with pink flower pots

Estepona’s town is also very picturesque, very walkable, and very….colour coordinated.

Estepona, with blue flower pots
Street with Red polka dot flower pots
Estepona likes their flower pots….and evidently so did I
View of Gibraltar from Estepona beach

From Estepona beach, you can see the rock of Gibraltar quite clearly, as it’s only a half hour drive away.

Sardines drying naturally

Most of Costa del Sol originated as little fishing villages. Although it’s a far cry from little fishing villages now, you can still sniff out the fish, such as these sardines hanging out on racks to dry.


Mijas, Spain

Of all the towns I visited along Costa del Sol, I could get into having a little casita in Mijas, nestled in the mountains just up from the coast.

There are actually two parts to Mijas: Mijas Pueblo in the mountains, and the more commercial/industrial Mijas Costa on the coast. (It was Mijas Pueblo that won my heart).

Mijas Spain with white buildings

Mijas is also known as “the white village” for its uniform whitewashed look, which is very charming and easy on the eyes.

Nora Dunn, The Professional Hobo, in Mijas Spain, overlooking Costa del Sol
From Mijas Pueblo you have a great view of Costa del Sol
Mijas Pueblo staircase lined with blue flower pots
More flower pots in Mijas….I like flower pots, and apparently so too do the Spanish

Habla Español?

Although I enjoyed my time in Costa del Sol (since I was staying with friends), I had trouble reconciling it as Spain. Due to the huge number of expats and tourists from Britain, it felt more like a piece of suburban UK transplanted to a sunny clime and fancied up with architecture of a Spanish flair.

You can’t really get around without a car, enabled by the ridiculously fast-moving motorways that transport you from town to town (and plaza to plaza) along Costa del Sol.

And after a few days there, I eventually gave up entirely in trying to speak Spanish. Everybody speaks English; the expat/retiree/tourist populous don’t even attempt to speak Spanish, and even when I tried to address Spaniards in local establishments in their own language, they replied to me in a tired (almost exasperated) English.

See also: How to Become Fluent in Spanish

Sadly, to me, Costa del Sol appeared to be a culturally (and linguistically) pillaged area of Spain, chosen for its sunshine and warm weather….and little else.

Would I return? I like to keep an open mind, but similar to Gibraltar, it’s not high on my hit-list of places to go back to.

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14 thoughts on “Costa del Sol Spain (For Better or Worse), in Pictures”

  1. Hi Nora,

    I can appreciate your take. The views? Stunning. But when a town loses its flavor you are less likely to visit. I see this in heavily touristed spots which aren’t nearly as pretty. If it becomes more like home I’m not going back, unless I need a taste of the West in the form of a movie, or food that I crave.

    One cool part about a few Costa Rican communities we visited was that nobody spoke English. I mean a few ex-pats did, but chatting with anybody else was a Spanish-speaking experience. I liked that because it helps me use my only other fluent language and it makes me feel farther away from home.

    Why travel if you can have a similar experience at home? I think this when I’m in certain spots that are becoming different spots, culturally, due to the influx of tourists and expats.

    Stunning shots those Nora, and it IS a beautiful place. Thanks much for sharing.

    I’ll tweet it shortly.


    • Thanks, Ryan!
      I was just chatting (via email) with a fellow traveler who had a very local and culturally enriching experience in Malaga town itself, so apparently the entire Costa del Sol isn’t abstract like some of the holiday towns I visited and was staying in.
      I would also surmise that Estepona town itself can be very local. (And with all those flower pots, I would be amiss to dismiss it right off the bat)!

      Really, even in places with tourists, it’s a matter of where exactly you’re staying and who you hang out with.
      Even here in Pisac Peru there is a disappointing lack of integration in some ways, but it’s up to each person how much (or little) they choose to explore the local culture.
      More on that here:

  2. So glad you mentioned Spain in this nice blog! My sister’s living there, and she fell in love with one of the most beautiful coastal countries of Europe 🙂 Sadly, these sunny areas lost their Spanish charming and are totally sold to the tourists…

    • Hi Lily,
      I was talking with a Spaniard the other day, who said there are other even more beautiful (and less touristic) coastal areas of Spain, so you’re right – it’s a fabulous coastal country, and such a large one with great variety. I think there’s something for everybody!

  3. Hey there,

    As always I greatly enjoy your articles as I’m really into travel and foreign cultures too. I was delighted to see that you covered the Costa del sol in your last article. I lived in Málaga for several months while studying Spanish and I’ve seen most of the Costa around it too. I cannot disagree that there are many tourists but with so many Españoles living there too I beleive it’s still easy to meet plenty of locals. In my experience they will be deligthed to talk to you when you show some genuine interest (and try to speak some Español, unlike most tourists).


    • Hi Joel,
      Thanks! Indeed – I think it may have had more to do with where I was staying specifically; I’ve been told that Malaga in particular has a very local and friendly scene…I just didn’t get to tap into it.

  4. Way back in 1971-2 when I was living in a small town in Andalusia (where the gypsy guitarists I wanted to emulate were) we had a joke about the Costa del Sol:

    “How can you tell you’re in Spain?”

    “Because all the road signs are in German, not just English.”

    That’s why Jane and I are going to live in Malaga centro Sept., Oct. and Nov.. In addition to being a great Spanish city on its own, it’s also a day trip to Sevilla, Granada, Ronda, and even Cordoba (on the fast train).


    • Hi Bob,
      And I’ll bet Malaga proper is a great choice of a place to be, as you’ll be able to get a more local feel than where I stayed. It will be interesting to see how you feel the place has changed after all these years.

  5. We’ve been in Malaga for just five days now, and it is already one of my very favorite cities on earth (admitting, of course, that there are a great many cities I’ve never been to). What’s not to love? Beaches, tropical gardens, a moorish castle, a high hill in the middle of town with terrific views, surrounded by mountains, wonderful weather, a huge cathedral, tapas bars, all very walkable, friendly people, etc. etc.


    • Hi Bob,
      That all sounds divine! Are you in an expat part of town, or a more local part? (How’s your Spanish)? 😉

  6. I don’t think there is an “expat part of town” in Malaga City, or even an expat bar I’m aware of. There is an expat facebook page, but nary a mention of any expat hangouts. I’m right downtown in the Soho area. My Spanish is not bad! Improving rapidly with use.


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