The best national parks on the Costa del Sol

As visitors to this coastline in southern Spain quickly discover, there’s a lot more to it than sand, sea and sangria. Nature plays a major part in the scenery and Malaga province has dozens of protected areas, inland and on the coast. In this blog post, we recommend the best national parks on the Costa del Sol to explore when you’re next on holiday.

All the nature areas mentioned here feature in at least one of our Costa del Sol Road Trips, whether the theme is Malaga Wine, Active Adventure, Family Fun or Luxury Experience.

Best natural park near Malaga city – Los Montes de Málaga

The capital of the Costa del Sol has one of the smallest natural parks on the Costa del Sol right on its doorstep. However, although los Montes de Málaga might be small in size, it comes big in scenery and views.

View of the pine forests in Los Montes de Malaga

Highlights in los Montes de Malaga

  • The dense pine forests – take one of the walking trails to explore the woodland.
  • The views of Malaga Bay – admire the vistas of the city and Mediterranean at your feet.
  • Lagar de Torrijos – visit this ancient traditional wine press, now converted into a museum.
  • Platos de los Montes – taste traditional hearty fare at one of the roadside restaurants, a must-try dish on the Costa del Sol.

How to get there

By car: if you’re driving from Malaga, take the A-7000 north out of Malaga city and drive up the zigzagging road. When you pass the Puerto del León restaurant on your right, look out for the turnoff for Lagar de Torrijos. Google map pin here.

By bike: if you’re feeling energetic, cycle up to Los Montes with or without help from an electric motor. Our Active Adventure Road Trip has all the details.

Best national park on the Costa del Sol – Sierra de las Nieves

And also Spain’s newest since this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve got national park status in early 2022. The vast mountainous area sits to the north of the province between Ronda in the west, Marbella in the south and El Burgo in the northeast.

View of Torrecilla peak in Sierra de las Nieves

Highlights in Sierra de las Nieves

  • Torrecilla peak – climb 1,919m high to reach the top of nearly the highest mountain on the Costa del Sol, often snow-capped in the winter. Views are extraordinary and well-worth the effort.
  • Natural elements – explore the caves, rivers and waterfalls dotted throughout the park.
  • Best hiking in the province – walk this national park on one of the many trails crisscrossing it.
  • Unique trees – discover the pinsapo pine, native to this area and northern Morocco.
  • White villages – visit the pretty villages such as El Burgo, Tolox and Yunquera as well as Ronda, a great base to stay while you explore.

How to get there

There are several gateways to the Sierra de las Nievas by car from the Costa del Sol, such as:

  • The A-367 to Ronda from Malaga.
  • The A-397 to Ronda from Marbella.
  • The A-366 to Yunquera from Malaga.

All are scenic routes (with a good dose of hairpin bends) and boast some of the views in southern Spain.

Best woodlands and white villages – Serranía de Ronda  

Also in the Ronda area, these mountains are home to majestic peaks, stunning white villages and rolling woodlands. The Serranía de Ronda also overlaps with the Parque Natural de Grazalema, in Cadiz province and also home to some fabulous scenery (see below).

Buitreras del Guadiaro Gorge

Highlights in Serrania de Ronda

  • White villages – explore the long list of pretty villages that perch on the sides of river valleys, guaranteeing spectacular views. Our favourites are Gaucín, Cartajima and Alpandeire.
  • Chestnut forests – walk these woodlands in spring for green shoots and a carpet of flowers and in autumn for golden leaves in a copper forest.
  • Buitreras del Guadiaro – discover this amazing river gorge home to a large colony of griffin vultures.

How to get there

The best access by car is the A-397 to Ronda from Marbella. Turn left onto the MA-7304 for Pujerra and Igualeja.

Best natural park near the Costa del Sol – Parque Natural de Grazalema

Most of this natural park lies in Cadiz province, but 5 of the 14 municipalities are in Malaga, so a legitimate part of the Costa del Sol! They include Benaoján, Cortes de la Frontera, Jimera de Líbar and Montejaque. The village of Grazalema, the rainiest place in Spain, is also in this park!

Llanos de Líbar mountain valley

Highlights in Parque Natural de Grazalema

  • Llanos de Líbar – hike this stunning mountain plain (in the image below) for extraordinary views, lovely scenery and bird watching.
  • Pretty villages – be sure to visit a few, all 14 are worth exploring.

How to get there

Leave Ronda via the A-374 and then, after the winding river gorge, take a left fork onto the A-372 to Grazalema.

Best natural park on the Costa del Sol near Nerja – Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama

This vast mountain range straddles the provinces of Malaga and Granada, and forms the stunning backdrop to Nerja and the Axarquía. To get an idea of its beauty, admire it from the Balcón de Europa in Nerja. This natural park is home to 12 municipalities, of which 8 are on the Costa del Sol.

The Almanchares River gorge

Highlights in Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama

  • The highest peak on the Costa del Sol – climb La Maroma, aka Tejeda, whose height of 2,069m is tough to reach, but the views are more than rewarding.
  • White villages – stop off anywhere along the way and explore them, some of which are among the prettiest villages in Spain. See our list of our ten favourite villages near Nerja.
  • Scenic hiking – walk these mountains for extraordinary views and scenery while you challenge yourself (many routes are tough).
  • Active adventure – discover river gorges, zip-lining, canyoning and rock climbing in this part of the Costa del Sol. Our Active Adventure Road Trip has some great suggestions.

How to get there

The best way to get to this natural park on the Costa del Sol is on the A-7207 from Torrox near Nerja.

All our Road Trips include overnight stays in Malaga, Marbella, Ronda, Antequera and Nerja, all handy for these gorgeous natural parks.

Smaller national parks near the Costa del Sol

The five areas described above are the largest national parks in the area, but the Costa del Sol is also home to numerous other protected nature spots including:

Acantilados de Maro

The cliffs east of Nerja are home to pristine coves and waters, best explored from the sea. You can join a kayak tour from Burriana Beach in Nerja or hire a kayak and go it alone.

Cliffs along the Maro coastline near Nerja

Desfiladero de los Gaitanes

Aka the Caminito del Rey, this spectacular river gorge is home to the famous gorge walk and some great hiking routes. You can also cool off in the nearby reservoirs in the summer. Read our guide to Caminito del Rey.

Desembocadura del Guadalhorce

Aka the Guadalhorce natural park and one of the best places to go bird watching on the Costa del Sol. It’s right next to Malaga city, so you can walk or cycle there and explore the five lagoons and undeveloped beach.

Lagoon at the Guadalhorce River Natural Park

Dunas de Artola

There are hardly any undeveloped stretches of beaches on the Costa del Sol, but these dunes include one of them. Located at the far eastern end of Marbella municipality, the dunes have wooden walkways crossing them as well as a lovely sandy beach (nudist at the west end).

Discover the best beaches on the Costa del Sol.

Fuente de Piedra

This saltwater lagoon, to the northwest of Antequera, is home to the largest colony of flamingos in Andalusia (and one of the biggest in Europe). The best time to visit is in spring when the flamingos have their young.

Flamingos at Fuente de Pîedra lagoon

El Torcal

This spectacular karst mountain range contains extraordinary rock formations and has the clearest skies for star gazing on the Costa del Sol. It’s a great place to hike, discover views and enjoy nature.

Discover the Costa del Sol beyond the sea, sun and sangría

These national parks on the Costa del Sol allow you to get off the beaten tourist trail and discover the natural delights of this part of southern Spain. All our Costa del Sol Road Trips step outside the usual tourist attractions and on them, you’ll come across things to do and see and places to stay and eat that most travel guides don’t mention. Download yours for just €4.95!