Divers test the water on La Herradura beach. / SUR

Underwater

A diver's paradise with great plans afoot for the ultimate sustainable tourism offer, the Costa Tropical also offers culture and history

JENNIE RHODES

With 19 kilometres of coastline divided into no fewer than 26 beaches, from those that line the promenades in the town centres and are home to restaurants serving up the catch of the day, to hidden coves and cliffs that fall dramatically into the sea, Almuñécar-La Herradura on Granada's Costa Tropical, is a watersports paradise.

Year on year beaches in Almuñécar are awarded the European Blue Flag and Spanish 'Q' for Quality awards and have long been popular destinations for diving, snorkelling and kayaking enthusiasts.

The Punta de la Mona and Cerro Gordo cliffs, shared with the tiny fishing village of Maro on the Costa del Sol, offer rare opportunities to see rare species of 'orange coral', which is unique and native to these shores.

The many diving schools located in the areas offer excursions to these sites, mainly from their centres on Marina del Este, the attractive harbour in La Herradura (named in Spanish after its perfectly horseshoe-shaped bay).

As well as diving and kayaking, Almuñécar-La Herradura has a lot more to offer, from the Aqua Tropic attraction park, to a journey back in time through Andalucía's Islamic period and before that the Roman and Phoenicians, all of whom have left their mark on the towns.

British writer Laurie Lee spent some time in the town in the 1930s at the end of his epic journey on foot through Spain, which he recounts in the book, As I Walked Out One Midsummer's Morning. 'Castillo' (castle) was the name he gave to Almuñécar, which he chose thanks to the Islamic fortress that towers over the town.

Music

Music fans flock to Almuñécar in July for the Jazz on the Costa festival, which attracts some of the biggest stars of its genre and the town's music scene remains lively throughout the year, with regular pop, classical, Spanish guitar and flamenco concerts. In fact one of Spain's most famous guitarists, Andrés Segovia, had a holiday home in La Herradura and an international guitar competition is held every year in his honour.

But the main attraction of Almuñécar-La Herradura is undoubtedly the endless opportunities for watersports and in particular snorkelling and diving.

Beneath the crystal-clear waters of Almuñécar-La Herradura divers will find a veritable paradise of exotic underwater flora and fauna, including the native orange coral species, unique to this area, starfish, seahorses, octopus, and if you're lucky, you might even see dolphins.

La Herradura's seabed is so special that it has won awards in national underwater photography competitions and has been declared a protected area as it is home to native species found nowhere else in Spain.

With an eye on sustainable tourism, the town hall is in the process of creating a world-class diving area: the Parque Azul de Vida Submarina.

Working in harmony between training opportunities for divers and the importance of protecting the fragile seabed, the underwater park includes three new diving areas for students to practise in and the installation of over 300 artificial reefs.

The area's history will not be forgotten either as divers will have the opportunity to learn about the famous shipwreck of the Spanish Armada in October 1562 when nearly 5,000 people died when the Armada was seeking shelter from bad weather, but a change of wind direction made the ships collide with rocks and each other.

Although the park is still in the planning phase, the opportunities for watersports in Almuñécar-La Herradura are already well-established, with multiple centres offering PADI courses with qualified instructors and a range of diving excursions.

Almuñécar-La Herradura is a diver's paradise, but it doesn't just attract watersport fans. Its year-round sunshine, beautiful beaches and cultural offer are enough to keep anyone entertained.