Vaccines. 2021 was the year of the Covid jabs. Mass vaccination centres were set up such as this one in Malaga. / ÑITO SALAS

A look back at 2021: A year of change, tragedy and hope

While inevitably marked by the coronavirus pandemic, the last 12 months has brought us good and bad news on the Costa del Sol and beyond


The last 12 months have been eventful, with the news in southern Spain and the rest of the world dominated by the unshakeable shadow of Covid-19. As forest fires, a volcano, storms and drought all highlighted the delicate nature of our environment, the UK took its final step out of the EU. Life went on, however, with new projects announced, achievements and celebrations.


Brexit - Relief at the agreement but problems with supplies

After weeks of uncertainty, Spain-based Brexit campaign groups showed their relief at the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. The transition out of the EU for the United Kingdom came to an end on 31 December 2020, and with it, the free movement of British citizens to live and work in Spain, unless they are official residents.

Although a deal was welcome, the organisation Brexpats claimed that it was not a cause for celebration.

Supply problems

Supermarkets selling British products in the province reported problems with deliveries of frozen foods and fresh produce since 1 January, the day after the Brexit deal agreed on Christmas Eve came into force. The Food Co and Overseas Supermercados, which supply British products on the Costa del Sol and elsewhere in Spain, said they had been “forced” to start using local suppliers as they did not know how long the problem would last.

Violence - Arrest after Cártama acid attack

'El Melillero' was arrested in January. / SALVADOR SALAS

On 22 January police caught up with ‘El Melillero’, accused of throwing acid over his ex-girlfriend and her friend in Cártama earlier that month. The brutal attack put both women in hospital - the accused’s ex-girlfriend with burns to half of her body.

Covid-19 - Vaccination programme is rolled out as third wave takes hold

One of the first people to be vaccinated in Malaga province. / SUR

After a much publicised start at the very end of 2020, January saw the first Covid-19 jabs being given to residents in care homes and frontline health workers. In February, the vaccine programme was extended to the over-80s living in the community. Now, at the end of the year, around 80% of the total population in Andalucía has been fully vaccinated.


Technology: First driverless bus hits the road in Malaga

The first electric-powered and autonomous bus service - that is, without the need for a driver - began a one-month trial period in Malaga on 20 February. Despite not being necessary, the vehicle -which was due to serve cruise passengers wishing to access the city centre - did have a driver at the controls for the tests. The city’s mayor, Francisco de la Torre, who was present at the unveiling of the bus, pointed out that Malaga would be the first city in Europe where an autonomous bus would operate.

Disastrous tourism figures after year of pandemic


An examination of Andalusian tourism figures after almost one year of the pandemic showed the sector needed a drastic rescue plan to survive. The worst crisis ever to hit this industry had already eradicated 12,000 small and medium-sized businesses and self-employed workers, because they were unable to carry on with so few tourists, according to the report by the Tourism Committee of the Confederation of Businesses in Andalucía (CEA). The figures showed that in 2020 the region had only received 41 per cent of the number of tourists who came in 2019. This meant that income from tourism dropped by between 75 and 80 per cent, resulting in a loss of 16 billion euros.


Covid-19: Restrictions eased as coronavirus case rates fell

The Andalusian government brought in some long-awaited tweaks to its general measures to curb the spread of coronavirus as case rates continued to fall, since the peak of the third wave at the end of January. Some non-essential businesses were allowed to stay open until 9.30pm in some districts, whereas others, with higher case rates had to stick to 6pm closing times. That month the nighttime curfew was put back an hour from 10pm to 11pm. Lower case rates also meant changes to the capacities allowed in restaurants and venues, but the restrictions on movement between provinces and out of the region by land stayed in place.

Semana Santa: Malaga breaks 270-year Easter tradition

The released prisoners. / SUR

Andalucía had to put up with another year with no Holy Week processions in the streets, however some traditions did go ahead. Two people jailed for public health offences and one for robbery with force were freed by the Jesús El Rico brotherhood on the Wednesday of Holy Week. This was the first time in the 270 years of this tradition that three prisoners were freed, instead of one, under the privilege granted to the religious brotherhood by King Carlos III in the 18th century.


Crime: Marbella DJ killed by stray bullet at illegal party

Two German nationals were arrested in connection with the death of a 41-year-old DJ at an illegal party in Marbella in April. Officers believed the suspects were preparing to flee the country when they were detained. Forensic reports suggested that the death of the victim, José María Ares, was caused by a stray bullet after an argument broke out in an adjacent room to where the DJ was. The incident drew attention to the numbers of parties held in private villas, breaking Covid restrictions in force at the time.

Spanish royals mourn death of the Duke of Edinburgh


The death of the Duke of Edinburgh saw tributes paid from across the world, with a touching message coming from Spain’s King Felipe and Queen Letizia. The Spanish King, who is related to the British monarch, invited British Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott to La Zarzuela palace in Madrid to further extend Spain’s condolences. A gun salute performed by the Royal Gibraltar Regiment in honour of the Duke of Edinburgh also took place on the Rock.

Economy: Crisis aid for holiday accommodation sector

The Junta de Andalucía approved the first package of direct coronavirus crisis aid to the holiday accommodation sector; a measure that had been demanded by businesses in the region. The vice-president of the Junta and regional minister of Tourism, Juan Marín, announced that the regional government would give financial aid of 200 euros per hotel bed with a limit of 200,000 euros per establishment.


Covid-19: Spain’s state of alarm comes to an end

Pedro Sánchez / EP

The state of alarm declared by central government in the autumn of 2020 to enable Covid restrictions came to an end on Sunday 9 May. With it went the night curfew and the right to ban travel between regions, some of the few measures imposed by Pedro Sánchez’s government for the whole of Spain. From then on, it was left to each region to decide on Covid measures although without the state of alarm, any rules affecting freedom of movement needed to be backed up by the courts.

Spain faces biggest migrant crisis as 8,000 enter Ceuta

The photo taken during the Ceuta crisis that went round the world. / AFP

From Sunday 16 to Tuesday 18 May, Spain witnessed a mass illegal entry of over 8,000 people from Morocco and sub-Saharan countries into the Spanish city of Ceuta on the North African coast. Eyewitnesses said that Moroccan border guards stood back from Sunday to Tuesday and allowed the illegal crossings, mostly by people wading or swimming through the sea around the fences into Spanish territory. The Spanish army was called in to control the situation.

Spain relaxes entry requirements to travellers

As of Monday 24 May, travellers from Britain - and some other non-EU countries - no longer had to provide a PCR test to enter Spain. The Spanish government defended relaxing rules for the British, while other countries, such as France, were getting tougher. Minister of Health Carolina Darias said at the time, “The conditions are right,” to welcome Britons back.


EasyJet opens base at Malaga airport and starts new routes

EasyJet marked the opening of its new operations base at Malaga-Costa del Sol Airport in early June with the arrival of one of three Airbus A-320s that the company would base on the Costa from March to October each year. The move would lead to the creation of up to 100 new jobs, all on local contracts, the company said.

First cruise ship docks in Malaga since start of pandemic


On Tuesday 15 June, Malaga welcomed its first cruise ship in 15 months, with 1,270 eager passengers. Just before 6am the Mein Schiff 2, a cruise ship from the German arm of Tui, slipped into port. It was the first ship to dock in the normally busy cruise terminal since the start of the pandemic and was a welcome sight for many in the city. On board were over 1,200 German tourists who were on a specially prepared Covid-safe voyage, only stopping in Spanish ports.

Cudeca founder Joan Hunt OBE dies, aged 92

Joan Hunt, a pinoeer bringing palliative care to the Costa del Sol. / SUR

Joan Hunt OBE, founder and honorary president of cancer hospice foundation Cudeca passed away on Thursday 24 June, aged 92. The British woman who founded the Cudeca cancer care charity died at the organisation’s hospice in Benalmádena. Joan’s husband Fred died of cancer just a few years after the couple retired to the Costa del Sol in 1984 and it was that experience that made her aware of the need for palliative care in the area and ignited her unwavering resolve to fill the gap.

Inland residents protest against solar energy plants


Residents in the Guadalhorce Valley, the Sierra de las Nieves and the Serranía de Ronda protested throughout this year against plans to build giant solar energy plants in rural areas. “Yes, to renewable energy, but not like that” is the slogan they have taken to protests locally and nationally, calling for more regulation of large-scale projects.


Macharaviaya able to hold Fourth of July celebrations

The village of Macharaviaya held its annual Fourth of July celebrations for the first time in two years, in honour of Bernardo de Gálvez, the Spanish military leader who helped win the Battle of Pensacola during the American War of Independence and was born in the village in 1746. As Covid-19 restrictions continued, the live event was only open to people from the village itself. However, it was streamed live on YouTube and included a live reenactment of the Battle of Pensacola by the association of grenadiers and dames of Gálvez (Orden de Granaderos y Damas de Gálvez) dressed in period costume.

Marenostrom Fuengirola holds concert experiment


On Sunday 25 July Marenostrum Fuengirola carried out an experiment with a major electronic music concert where up to 2,000 people could dance without having to maintain social distancing. It was called Castlepark and was the only festival approved in Andalucía at this time. Everyone attending had to be tested and was given appointments earlier in the day in marquees set up near the river. Over 1,700 tests were carried out and 33 people tested positive. Their details were notified to the health authorities. Those who tested negative were given a green wristband to wear.


Annual espeto competition final takes place in Malaga

The final of the fourth edition of the Ruta del Espeto, organised by SUR and sponsored by Sabor a Málaga and the Diputación provincial authority, was held in El Balneario in the city on Tuesday 3 August. The coveted award went to the Las Palmeras chiringuito and by public vote, La Cepa Playa. The crown for the best espeto was disputed between five establishments in the province. Each one had fifteen minutes to prepare two espetos that had to convince the jury composed of six professionals in the hospitality industry and chaired by SUR food critic, Enrique Bellver.

Tom Jones performs to a seated audience at Starlite


Veteran Welsh singer Tom Jones filled the Marbella auditorium on Monday 16 August during the town’s Starlite festival. Sir Tom, also known as the Welsh Tiger, opened up the proceedings with What’s New Pussycat? Followed by It’s Not Unusual. During the concert, which lasted over an hour and a half, Jones played all the classic hits and tracks from his latest and forty-fifth album, Surrounded by Time, to an audience that had to remain seated throughout.

Spain praised for handling of Afghan rescue operation

In August, the Spanish government won praise and support from the EU for its handling of the rescue operation from Afghanistan. On Saturday 21 August, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was joined at the Torrejón de Ardoz airbase outside Madrid by the presidents of the European Commission and European Council, Ursula Von der Leyen and Charles Michel. The base was being used as a European hub for processing Afghan refugees. Andalucía’s two American airbases, Morón de la Frontera and Rota, were used to temporarily house people who had supported the US in Afghanistan.


Fire rages through Sierra Bermeja mountains


Nearly 1,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes after a wildfire broke out in Jubrique and Genalguacil in the Ronda mountains and spread down through the Sierra Bermeja, affecting parts of the municipalities of Estepona and Benahavís. The huge blaze was finally put out over six weeks later, by which time it had destroyed almost 9,600 hectares of land in Estepona, Casares, Jubrique, Júzcar, Genalguacil, Faraján and Benahavís and claimed the life of an Infoca firefighter.

Drought: water level in La Viñuela reservoir dangerously low

La Viñuela. / ÑITO SALAS

La Viñuela, the Axarquía reservoir, was only 23.2 per cent full after such a prolonged period of dry weather, the lowest it had been since 2008 when the level was similar and it was about to be declared a dead reservoir, something that was averted thanks to heavy rain in the autumn. However, the Junta de Andalucía insisted that there would be no cuts to domestic supply on this occasion.

Volcano erupts on La Palma, in the Canary Islands


Molten lava continued to pour down the mountainside from La Cumbre Vieja volcano after it erupted for the first time in 50 years on 19 September, and residents of towns and villages in its path had to leave their homes. By the time the eruption was officially declared over on Christmas Day, it had destroyed over 3,000 properties and hundreds of hectares of farmland.


Andalucía returns to in-person GP appointments

Andalucía became the first region in Spain to bring back the opportunity for patients to see a doctor in person at its public health centres on 1 October. However, the option remained for telephone consultations and requests for repeat prescriptions.

Disruption to rail services due to strikes and driver shortages


Users of the Costa del Sol’s Cercanías train lines saw their journeys disrupted when services were cancelled without warning due to driver shortages. Passengers, especially on the C-1 Malaga to Fuengirola line, which is used by 30,000 people a day, expressed their mounting frustration, some saying that the service had deteriorated over the last year. These disruptions were in addition to numerous AVE high speed and long distance train services that were cancelled due to a strike by drivers.

One of the world’s smallest ruminants born at Bioparc

Bioparc Fuengirola proudly announced the birth of a mouse-deer, one of the smallest ruminants in the world. It weighed in at 300 grammes, and is no larger than a smartphone. Within a few hours of being born these animals are able to stand up, walk, and even jump, and in just four months they reach sexual maturity. The adults reach barely 20 centimetres tall and weigh just over one kilo.

Work resumes on the Costa del Sol Hospital extension


The long-awaited restart of works to extend the Costa del Sol Hospìtal in Marbella, came in October 11 years after the activity came to a halt. At a cost of more than 75 million euros, the new wing of the hospital could open mid-2023.


End in sight for sewage in the Guadalhorce river

The Junta de Andalucía awarded the contract for the biggest sewage treatment project still outstanding in Malaga province: the metropolitan plant which was conceived 15 years ago to stop sewage being released into the Guadalhorce river from Alhaurín el Grande and Cártama. These are the two biggest places in Andalucía which lack sewage treatment facilities, and every year 5.9 cubic hectometres of waste end up in the principal river in Malaga province. This is the equivalent of 1,750 Olympic-size swimming pools. The plant will cost 105 million euros to build and will not be ready until 2025.

New company appointed to run the Caminito del Rey

It was announced that a consortium formed by construction company Sando, Salzillo Servicios Integrales and Mundo Management would be taking over the running of one of Malaga province’s major tourist attractions, the Caminito del Rey walkway - which is suspended some 100-metres in the air above a river gorge. The new management - said it would keep the ticket price the same, at 10 euros.

Severe storms cause damage to the Costa del Sol's beaches

Damge caused in November to a Malaga beach. / ÑITO SALAS

Severe storms which caused damage to numerous areas of the coast proved lucky for historians and archaeologists: the wrath of the waves unearthed two ovens, presumably from Roman times, near the paleochristian basilica of Vega del Mar, in the dunes of El Ingenio, in San Pedro.


Cudeca cancer foundation hit by wave of shoplifting

The Cudeca foundation reported that its 25 charity shops are losing an estimated 4,000 euros a month because of an increase in shoplifting. They have always suffered some petty theft, but the problem has worsened recently, especially in Malaga city.

Malaga confirmed as candidate for Expo 2027

Malaga city has officially become Spain’s only candidate to host Expo 2027, something the mayor, Francisco de la Torre, has been pushing for since 2019. At the time the announcement was made, the only confirmed rival to host Expo 2027 was the American city of Bloomington, in Minnesota, although others may emerge before the closing date for applications next month.

All change at Torremolinos town hall

Margarita del Cid. / FRANCIS SILVA

Margarita del Cid, of the Partido Popular, was installed as the new mayor of Torremolinos after a vote of no confidence in the PSOE’s José Ortiz, who described the motion as “an attack on democracy”. The vote passed by 13 votes to 12.