Hidden Bays of Cabo de Gata - Hiking the Volcanic Coastal Path from San Jose to Playa del Monsul

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Monday 16 February 2015

Hidden Bays of Cabo de Gata - Hiking the Volcanic Coastal Path from San Jose to Playa del Monsul

Lying between the iconic beaches of Playa de los Genoveses and Playa del Monsul is a treasure trove of volcanic clifftop paths connecting small, secluded sandy bays and rocky inlets where the waves lap or crash in splendid isolation. Although we had walked between these two famous beaches before, taking a higher path across the ridgeline looking down on these bays, we hadn't yet followed the path which, as we discovered today, hugs the sea and meanders from one idyllic scene to the next, taking in some of the most beautiful and moving locations we had yet discovered in the Cabo de Gata natural park.

UPDATE: We repeated this walk in January 2016 - click here for extra pictures

Setting off from San Jose (which we had reached thanks to a generous lift in a fellow campers car), we set off westwards to reach the golden sands of the Playa de los Genoveses. Although this was the 4th visit to this beach during our stay in the park I don't think it is possible not to be wowed each time by the perfect scene on offer as you start the trail towards the sand from the dirt track road. With over a kilometre of golden sand  spread in a gentle curve, bounded on both ends by low cliffs rising up and cactus fields extending inland to the red/orange Sierra del Cabo de Gata mountains it is perhaps our favourite view in the entire park.

Walking along the beach towards the Morron de los Genoveses viewpoint, we soon began the coastal trail, climbing up and over the first rocky rise and heading down an angled track seemingly heading straight into the sea below. Although it was clear many feet had come this way before, wearing a slightly flattened trail into the otherwise bare rock, today we were alone with just the sun, sky, the sounds of the sea and some spectacular wispy cloud formations above us. We felt very lucky to be here at this perfect moment.

Rounding the first rocky bend we descended onto the first of the sandy bays we would discover that day. Perhaps just 100m across at the widest point, this small sandy bay contained the ruined hull of a tiny ship set near the back of the beach, just where the ground began to rise up into the hills behind. It proved the perfect spot to sit and contemplate the scene on offer and reflect on how pristine everything seemed.

The path continued on, marked just occasionally with a blue and white marker, climbing steeply out of this first bay to go up and down again into the second. Having left one idyllic bay behind it was fantastic to find a second so close, this one slightly larger with some rolling sand dunes reaching onto the cliffs inland. There were also clear signs of volcanic activity, with hardened magma flows peeking out from beneath the fossilised sand dune cliffs.

We walked along the beach and beneath a rugged and precarious looking rock overhang that connected this bay to the next, passable by foot when the tide is out. Staring up into the cliff face, fossilised sand dunes crammed with volcanic rocks embedded in a volcanic eruption millions of years ago, was quite frightening and the enormous chunks of rock embedded in the nearby sand served as an obvious reminder this was a fluid and changing coastline.

We took a pause in the midday sun, perched on a rocky spire to enjoy some fruit, before climbing yet another short, steep path into the next bay and those beyond. Each time we descended to the sand, or traversed a precarious trail hanging above the crashing waves below we thought that we were almost 'there' (at Monsul), but another beautiful view emerged instead. The trail just seemed to extend on and on and that was just what we needed. Seeing just a handful of other visitors all day, this coastal walk was the perfect way to lose ourselves in nature and feel connected to the dynamic world surrounding us.

When we finally did descend to the first 'named' beach, Playa del Barronal, we felt almost deflated, saddened that the trail was almost at an end. However, the final clifftop traverse between Barronal and Monsul was just as stunning, if not more so, than what had come before, with the views over the sparkling sea extending around the Cabo de Gata headland. Standing on the final descent onto Playa del Monsul, looking out over the large rock which can be found on so many postcards, gave an entirely different perspective and feeling to what we had experienced during our previous visits to the beautiful beach.

It really is very difficult to capture in words and photos the absolute elation and tranquility, almost meditative peacefulness, we discovered on this section of coastline. It may be very different in summer, but in winter when it is quiet and peaceful we felt it was a unique haven of beauty.

The return route we took on the inland path, passing more quickly now back to Playa de los Genoveses and then San Jose, before picking up the trail to El Pozo de los Frailes en route back to our camping. Beneath a bright blue sky that had kept the hot sun on us all day we felt more like we had completed a walk at high summer than the tail end of winter.

Walk Information:
Motorhome Base - Camping Los Escullos
Start/ End Point: San Jose - Playa del Monsul - San Jose
Total Distance: approx 10km
Time It Took Us: 3 hours (excluding sitting and photographs)
Level: Moderate
Map: Editorial Alpina: Cabo de Gata Nijar 1:50.000

Related Posts:
10 Reasons to Visit the Cabo de Gata -Nijar Natural Park - Andalucia, Spain
12 Places to Visit and Things To Do in Cabo de Gata Natural Park
10 Hiking and Walking Routes in the Cabo de Gata - Nijar Natural Park

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