ÁGUILAS, 47km from Mazarrón and almost on the border with Andalucia, is hemmed in by the parched hills of the Sierra del Contar. Along with the cultivation of tomatoes – one of the few things that can grow in this arid region – fishing is the mainstay of the economy here, and a fish auction is held at around 5pm every day in the port’s large warehouse. Carnaval is especially wild in Águilas, and for three days and nights in February, the entire population lets its hair down with processions, floats and general fancy-dress mayhem.

Águilas is also popular for its plentiful beaches, and the area has a superb year-round climate. The town itself has managed to escape the worst excesses of tourism, and retains much of its rural charm and character.

The beaches

You’ll find sandy beaches, and over thirty small calas (coves) in the vicinity – those to the north are rockier and more often backed by low cliffs, while the best are the wonderful, fairly undeveloped cuatro calas south of town. You’ll need your own wheels to reach these beaches, which get better the farther you get away from Águilas, but all are signposted. The first two, Calarreona and La Higuérica, have fine sands and are backed by dunes and the odd villa, but 6km south of Águilas where the coast is completely wild, the ravishing back-to-back sandy coves of Cala Carolina and Cala Cocedores are simply superb.

If you don’t have your own transport, you’re better heading for the chain of beaches north of Águilas served by regular buses (generally mid-July to end of Aug only). Playa Hornillo is a nice beach with a couple of bars (and you could actually reach it by walking from the train station), while Playa Amarillo is decent but in a built-up area. The bus also passes playas Arroz, La Cola and finally Calabardina (7km from town). If you feel energetic, you could head across Cabo Cope to yet another chain of beaches beginning at Ruinas Torre Cope.

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