Ah, the beaches of the Iberian Peninsula. Every single one of them has crystal clear waters, gorgeous views, and a great atmosphere. But after visiting four beaches in Iberia, I have to ask myself: which was the best? This is a head-to-head match between the natural beauties that are Bolonya (Southern Spain), Cadiz (Southwest Spain), Maria Luisa (Southwest Portugal), and Dona Ana (Southwest Portugal). Every single beach here was drop-dead gorgeous and topless, and I feel extremely lucky and privileged to have visited every one of them. So while I’ll have a bit of a critical eye here for those of you planning on visiting Iberia in the future, please note that any of these spots would make a worthwhile daytrip.
Which takes us to the showdown categories…
Bolonya is one of the closest beaches you’ll find to the tip of southern Spain, and it has the most INCREDIBLE atmosphere (so incredible that it’s the featured image). Not too crowded, children and dogs playing everywhere, wild prickly pear bushes, heladerías and restaurants right up to the sand, cattle being driven by (don’t ask, I don’t know why), and let’s not forget the view of the African coast across the water! Africa is only 14 kilometers from the tip of Spain, and on a clear day you can see the silhouette of Africa on the southern horizon (pictured above).
Though mud tends to accumulate near the shops, the gigantic sand dunes nearby (where the photo above was taken) easily make up for it. When you finally reach a peak, there’s another, taller one waiting right behind it. They’re surprisingly difficult to climb, and the wind tends to blow scraping sand right onto you, but it still makes for great photos!
Finally: the dogs. From a tiny Chihuahua climbing a gigantic sand dune to soccer-playing bulldogs, this was by far the most dog-friendly beach I’ve ever seen. People often don’t keep dogs on leashes in Spain, and that pays off when someone’s French bulldog comes over to dominate you in soccer (she was an awesome defender) or a giant, barking mop tries to steal your volleyball, resulting in a fun game of keep away.
Dona Ana, Portugal
Dona Ana is not your typical beach. Part of it is just normal beach, but the real fun is hidden between the cliffs, where often the only way to get from one hidden beach to another is by climbing through a cave or two (shown above)—don’t worry, ropes have been installed to help you climb the slippery rocks. Dona Ana is possibly the most photogenic beach I’ve ever been to, what with all the fantastic cliffs. While the hidden beaches are small, you’ll find they’re almost deserted, and the city streets are always within eyesight.
Maria Luisa, Portugal
The only things distinguishing Maria Luisa from any other beach in the USA was the impressive number of people playing ping pong. In fact, after visiting Bolonya, I found Maria Luisa so ordinary that I don’t seem to have taken any pictures of it. Instead, here’s a lovely picture of a panda who looks like he’s playing the flute with his bamboo.
Cadiz seems to be one of the most popular summer destinations for Spaniards, which explains the crowd. There wasn’t much activity, just lots of crowded sunbathing. The only non-crowded areas are miniature beaches that have formed along the side of the bridge, ten-feet stretches of sand that can be your own private beach after a quick swim over. There’s also a castle on an island you can walk to via the bridge…and a spot on the bridge you can jump off of. It’s official: if all my friends jumped off a bridge, I would, too.
Obligatory beach activities: burying someone, frizbee, sand castles…and wading. If you can’t wade, why even bother? This is done best in a large group of people who slowly wade out further and further into the surf, resisting stronger and stronger waves, and body-surfing to get back to shore. Let’s see how the Iberian beaches held up.
Bolonya and Maria Luisa
Neither of these beaches were the best for wading, but they got the job done. The big waves start close to the beach, so your wade doesn’t last long, and you have to be wary of surfers.
Dona Ana has waves…and large rocks in a small, enclosed space. Like at Bolonya and Maria Luisa, the waves are BIG right up to the start of the surf, and carry a lot of force with them right into the cliffsides and rocks dotting the beach itself.
You really can’t go more than a foot without finding a shell (see foreground above). And I’ve never seen such a great diversity of shell types and shapes: if you’ve seen it in Spongebob, some hidden beach in Dona Ana has it.
Portuguese beaches just seem to be LOADED with shells, don’t they? Once again, there were several types of shells, and so many scattered all over that you could never run out.
If you go to certain parts of the beach, there are some pretty shells. But these places are far between and all the shells are of the same type. Pretty, but unimpressive after the Portuguese beaches.
I don’t think I saw a single shell…which was likely why the sand was so amazingly soft.