Everything that shines seems to have gathered here. The blinding sun mirrors on the rocky mountains; the sea caresses the coast with its scintillating veil; the infinite stars glitter on many a cloudless night. You switch off the engine and get out of the car; again. Every 30 minutes you get to a new hamlet, which is a new discovery, a new white enchantment on the mountain slope, with the maze of its narrow alleyways winding up and down. Beware or you’ll succumb to the charm of the Mediterranean, to this part of Europe where the names have an Arabic ring to them and the wind carries the smells of Africa. This is Andalucia, a dreamland between two worlds and the perfect setting for some majestic road trips: today, let me be your guide in the Almijara.
This road trip will take you from Sayalonga to Cómpeta through the white villages in the Almijara mountains. It’s meant as a day trip, but can of course be split up if you want to spend more time exploring, and particularly if you want to do some hiking – see our section at the bottom for hiking suggestions.
It’s important that you take your time and also enjoy whatever may pop up around you on the way. I cannot tell you “there’s a great view after a left curve at km 26,4”. You make your own road trip in the Almijara. Even though we take the same road, it can turn out differently for everyone.
One tip I can give you is not to spend too much time on your first stopovers. A road trip is a bit like a free art exhibition; if you stand half an hour in front of the first paintings, you’ll be too tired for the rest.
Another thing, if you’re backpacking solo and like to hitchhike: I really don’t think it’s possible here. I’m a hitchhiker myself (read my hitchhiking trip in Argentina’s Lake District) and can recognise a road that isn’t apt; very little traffic, full cars of tourists, no place to stand on the side of the road. Plus, you wouldn’t be able to stop where YOU want. So it’s better to find travel partners and rent your own car.
How to get there
The nearby park bears the complex name of Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama Natural Park. Our route today will take place between the edge of that park and the Mediterranean coast; right between the mountains and the sea.
It will start in Sayalonga, which is 47 km (29 mi), about 45 minutes East from Málaga; if you come all the way from Marbella (107 km/66,5 mi), it should take around 1h 20.
Coming from Granada in the North, it’s 117 km (73 mi), 1h 20 away. From Almería to the East, you’re distant 1h 45 and 170 km (105,5 mi).
Let’s go! Road trip in the villages of the Almijara mountains
Almijara, Alhama… You notice many of these natural landmarks have an Arabic name, which all come from the more than seven centuries when Spain was under the Arabs. It’s noticeable in names, but also in the architecture (think about Granada’s Alhambra or Córdoba’s Mezquita), the coats of arms of several towns (Árchez, Almuñécar, Baena…) and some typical meals. The administrative division we’ll cross today is called Axarquía, which is also an Arabic name.
Be ready to be surrounded by tranquillity. Although we’ll cross many inhabited hamlets, most residents work in the nearby towns of Vélez-Málaga, Nerja or Torre del Mar. In the summer months, the heat will chase the rest inside. A visit during the siesta time of the early afternoon, when everybody is shut indoors, will give an eerie air of ghost towns.
Let’s start our road trip in Sayalonga, which you access from the A-7 highway, taking the Algarrobo exit. You’ll be driving up on the A-7206 road, up and more up. Sayalonga is a cute white village that could easily be overlooked but deserves a stopover.
Go and wander in its narrow winding streets, where potted flowers and colourful doors pop against the whitewashed facades. Some alleyways are so narrow that a large person would have to pass it sideways. The streets are steep, too steep for our inexperienced legs; but look at that old woman carrying her shopping back up to her house, how fast she walks!
Let’s have a look at the village cemetery, near the northern exit. It’s the only round cemetery in Spain. It’s small, but breathes an air of authenticity that is captivating. The knowing visitor will recognise many masonic symbols in its architecture.
With 3,700 inhabitants, Cómpeta (put the emphasis on the first syllable) is a hub! Its main square is quite lively, especially compared to the other hamlets we’ll visit today. Several terraces next to each other can provide a typical meal and a well-deserved caña, a small beer. Don’t go for the jarra, the large beer, as the legal limit is 0.5 mg of alcohol per ml of blood to drive in Spain.
The direct surroundings of the square are very cute, notably the church terrace adorned with painted scenes of traditional life.
Either before or after lunch, make sure you walk up and get lost in the serpentine streets of the village. The emergency number to report lost travel companions is 112 in Spain (as in everywhere in Europe).
Canillas de Albaida
Nearby Canillas de Albaida is another dormant white village of the Axarquía district. Like in Sayalonga, walk around its alleyways and take pictures of your favourite hidden corners.
You will often see bottles of water left outside the door in all those villages. They’re not slowly warming up water for cooking! It’s a trick to prevent flies from coming inside; the fly sees itself disproportionately large in the water, gets scared and flies away. Try it if you have flies at home, I promise that it works!
An essential stop in Canillas is at the Ermita de Santa Ana church on top of the village. Expect beautiful views of the area, with a pervading sense of peacefulness. You can get there either by foot or by car.
When it’s time to hit the road again, take the direction of Salares. This is a tiny village of less than 180 souls that is best enjoyed from above.
Behind the church, at the end of the aptly named “Calle Puente“, you will find a bridge crossing the river. Take it and follow the path up the hill for about half an hour. This is the best way to take in the charm of the white villages of Andalusia, looking out like immaculate miradors over the rolling landscapes of Southern Spain. It might be time to enjoy the sunset with a glass of wine! (But remember, you’re driving…)
On the way back to the highway, take a different road that passes through Árchez. If you still have time and are willing to discover more, this small white (surprising?) village, only a stone’s throw from Canillas de Albaida, has an exceptional location on three streams and some more great views on the surrounding valleys.
If you feel like walking, let’s go for a stroll in the nearby fields of grapes, olives, chirimoyas…
From Cómpeta, you must drive back to the A-7 highway, either via Algarrobo if you’re headed towards Málaga or Marbella; or via Torrox if you’re planning to go east towards Nerja, Granada or Almería.
From Canillas de Albaida
The walk until a place poetically named Fábrica de la Luz (“Light Factory“) takes only around 1 hour one way and is fairly easy. There is a creek and enjoyable shade. You might find other hikers there, or people on a day out with a picnic.
Experienced hikers can take a chance on Puerto Blanquillo, a 600-metre incline that takes around 4 hours one way from the village. Be well-prepared and better-provisioned.
From Canillas de Albaida
An easier walk is the one along the “Acequía Real“, a tiny canal that brings water from the mountain to the village. The path is reasonably inclined but can be narrow and slippery in some parts, so be careful. I don’t think there is a circular way here, so just go as far as you wish and come back.
Look how green the area is compared to most other parts of Andalusia! You will breathe the refreshing air of the most verdant part of Andalusia.
Leave the village to the North along a road going to the Natural Park. About 1 hour later you will cross the river and take a sharp turn right. It’s a steady, tiring ascent but rewarding with some of the best views on the region. Ideal for an end-of-the-road-trip-day sunset!
Any of these small villages can be either utterly boring or rewarding with many hidden surprises. It merely depends on how avid you are to explore. The short road trip we took today in the Almijaras presented you with the highlights of the Axarquía region. But there are many more villages, viewpoints and hikes – many that I don’t even know myself yet. Feel free to drive further and stop anywhere. If you are still staying a while in the region, I warmly recommend you visit Frigiliana and Mijas Pueblo. And if you enjoyed my company, I can take you to another road trip nearby, this time in the Alpujarras.
Anthony is a long-time traveller, a polyglot and an all-kinds-of-art-lover. He writes with Anna about eco travels, nature hikes and cultural discoveries in South America on their budget travel blog Green Mochila. You can find them on social media as well: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram:
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