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Zulie Writes

6 Underrated Reasons to Visit Estepona, Spain

Image taken of author, smiling against a backdrop of a mountain view and a very blue sky. Maybe the rock of Gibraltar in the background. A great thing to see in Estepona!
Image taken by author. Maybe the rock of Gibraltar in the background. A great thing to see in Estepona!

Not many people know I’m Spanish. I’m Spanish! Before COVID hit, I used to see the Spanish side of my family once or twice a year minimum. I really missed my family, but I also missed Spanish food, speaking Spanish, the weather, and the culture.

I recently had the opportunity to go back. I spent some time in the south of Spain picking out a wedding venue and checking out the local towns in the area. Spain is wonderful because it’s stuffed full of these little towns that have managed to escape the ravages of extreme tourism while still being beautiful. One example of such a town is Estepona.

Estepona is a small town, with about 67k residents. It has one of the few remaining old towns in the area, with historic streets and buildings. It also has the honor of having recently undergone a facelift — the mayor in the 2010s invested a considerable amount of time and resources in beautifying the area. Estepona is located on the seaside, but not too far from the mountains either. I loved it.

I was only in Estepona for a week, but it was jam-packed full of activities, dinners, and fun. Here’s my list of unmissable things to do in Estepona.

1. Visit Claudio at El Refugio
2. Enjoy poetry and flowers in the Old Town
3. Get your orchid fix with the Orchidario
4. Demolish some cheap sandwiches at Bar Manolo el del Capote
5. Stroll down the senda litoral
6. See three countries on one hike

1. Visit Claudio at El Refugio

El Refugio is a mountainside restaurant. It’s built in an old refugio, or mountain refuge. Historically, these refuges are there to protect hikers far from any other accommodation. The owner of El Refugio makes it a point to keep it stocked with firewood at all seasons, just in case.

How did we find this fun thing to do in Estepona? My mom’s incredible Facebook detective skills. She was dead set on going up to see El Refugio because she’d seen some Facebook post that had her absolutely convinced it would be amazing. We were sure it would be closed, but we consented to make the hike anyway.

As we wandered up a mountainside road, a van passed us. A guy with long hair leaned out of the van and gave us a huge smile and a wave.

“That was the guy who runs El Refugio,” my dad said with no hesitation or doubts. “He seems like a cool guy. I bet this is his passion project. I bet he’ll open for us, even if he’s shut today.”

I questioned how he knew this all, but he was adamant he’d read it all on the guy’s face.

Twenty minutes later, we arrived at our destination. The man in the van turned out to in fact be Claudio, the owner of El Refugio. He was indeed very accommodating — we asked if it would be possible to buy a beer, even though we knew the kitchen was closed. He said no: the only thing possible would be to open the kitchen so we could experience his cuisine. He brought us plate after delicious plate of incredible food. We ended with some cake, perfect to enjoy the view with.

Sadly the only picture I have of El Refugio. Everyone other than me managed to smile in this photo.

If you’re looking for an incredible place to eat in Estepona, do not miss out on the authentic and tasty cuisine at El Refugio. You can walk the 4 miles up, or you can cycle or drive. The views are incredible, and Claudio is my new BFF.

2. Enjoy poetry and flowers in the Old Town

I want to shake Mayor José María García Urbano’s hand as he is largely responsible for making Estepona as beautiful as it is.

I love having specific destinations when I look for things to do, but sometimes I also enjoy wandering around and soaking in the beauty of a place. Estepona’s Old Town is a great place to do that.

First, the poetry. Mayor García Urbano added seventeen poems on ceramic plaques throughout the Old Town of Estepona. These poems range from the works of local poets to those of Nobel winners. Each one is visually stunning and very moving to read. You can use this guide to follow the ruta de la poesia.

Then let’s talk about the pots. Each old street has a series of potted plants affixed to the white-washed walls about one meter apart from each other, each street with a color scheme.

picture of a narrow cobbled street with fuchsia flower pots suspended on the walls
I was partial to the fuchsia color myself, but we saw blue, yellow, green, red, tan, and polka dots.

I’d be remiss not to mention the murals. Throughout all of Estepona, you’ll also see local artists commissioned to create gorgeous murals on the walls. Unluckily, there were some roadworks that stopped us from seeing some of the murals, but the ones we did spot were gorgeous. If you want to check that out in Estepona, here’s a great guide.

It’s a beautiful city. Go without a destination in mind and just soak up the scenery.

3. Get your orchid fix with the Orchidario

I’m a massive biology nerd, so it was very special for me to get the chance to visit the Orchidery. It’s a huge and hugely impressive site of over 5,000 different plant species and 1,300 orchid species especially. The placards are in Spanish and English, so you can read all about the flowers and plants’ fascinating natural history.

The outside is almost as impressive as the inside. With the eyecatching glass displays, the curving white staircase, and the fountain feature, I happily spent a few minutes enjoying the February sunshine as I admired the building.

The exterior of the Estepona Orchidario is well-worth seeing.
three women smiling at the camera in front of a waterfall in Estepona’s orchidario.
We loved the Orchidario in Estepona. The waterfall was spectacular.

It was a very affordable visit — just three euros per adult as I write this in May of 2022. My only regret was that the cafe was closed due to COVID since I would have really enjoyed some post-orchid cake!

4. Demolish some cheap sandwiches at Bar Manolo el del Capote

There are plenty of places you can go for a tasty, pricey, gourmet bite. But if you want some authentic cuisine that the locals eat, go to Bar Manolo el del Capote. I had a cheese sandwich (manchego, of course) for two euros. You can get tons of local tapas at this restaurant or opt for a montadito like I did. Everything we ordered was delicious and very inexpensive.

Tragically, I was too busy eating to think to take a picture, but I will do my best to paint the scene: it was brightly lit, clean, and full of patrons. The tables were a little wobbly and made of metal. The chairs were plastic.

You can find it close to the middle of Estepona, a little ways away from the beach.

a picture of Bar Manolo el del Capote, a small tapas bar in Estepona. It’s closed, but you can see the name of the restaurant and an awning reading “desayunos y tapas.” the wall is painted a mustard yellow.
Image taken from Google Street View

If you choose not to see Bar Manolo el del Capote, feel free to wander through the old town and pick any slightly grotty-looking bar that takes your fancy. It won’t be cute. It won’t be quaint. It will be both delicious and cheap.

5. Stroll down the senda litoral

The idea of the senda litoral, or seaside path, is to connect all of the Costa Del Sol which is pretty ambitious. Estepona is doing its part too, with a senda litoral that covers the entire seafront of Estepona.

It’s a gorgeous path — wide, flat, with entrances to the beaches. It’s perfect for a little cycle or a gentle seaside stroll.

a map of the Senda litoral, which goes from Nerja to Manilva, passing through Estepona.

When the full trail is complete, you’ll be able to walk from Nerja to Manilva along the coast. If you do so, make sure you pay a visit to the Estepona stretch of the senda litoral! I found it very charming, and adjacent some very tasty chiringuitos.

You can visit the senda litoral pretty much anywhere on the costa del sol, but you’ll find it much less crowded to do so in Estepona.

6. See three countries on one hike

While in Estepona, we took the opportunity to check out the much-contested Gibraltar. (Due to choice geographical positioning, Gibraltar has enjoyed a particularly tumultuous history where it was diversely Visigothian, Moorish, Castillian, Spanish, and finally British for the past three hundred years or so.)

(Do not get my dad started on the subject.)

Climb the mountains near Estepona and you’ll be surprised to be able to spot not just the British Rock of Gibraltar but also the Moroccan cityscape of Ceuta.

author in a floral dress and white sweater smiling at the camera in front of an amazing view from the mountains of Estepona where you can just make out what might be Gibraltar behind her.
The view was 100% worth the hike!

I’ve never had the opportunity to visit Morocco, but seeing the city of Ceuta so close by was a reminder that I would really love to. Flickr user Alison McKay did a much better job than I did at capturing the African coastline from Spain if you want to get a better idea.

One hike, three countries! If you’re near Estepona, do not miss the opportunity to check these areas out.

I didn't even touch on the nearby vineyards we visited or the panaderia that was right in front of our Airbnb! I left out the chirimoyas, AKA my favorite fruit in the world! I neglected to mention the hyper-convenient clinic where I got my thankfully negative COVID test upon flying back to the States.

These six things to do in Estepona barely scratch the surface, and we visited in February which isn’t exactly the best time of the year to experience the Costa del Sol. Unlike so many tourist towns, Estepona was full of life and excitement even in the dead of the Spanish winter. As a Spaniard myself, I loved the feeling of authentic Spain. So many sunny Spanish towns have succumbed to the undertow of tourism and lost their sense of self. Estepona is indubitably and wonderfully its own town.

Estepona is a marvelous town full of incredible things to do. Don’t think of this article as a checklist, but rather as a starting point. There’s culture, there’s cuisine, there’s nature. There’s some truly spectacular people-watching. No matter what your poison, you’ll find something to your taste in Estepona.

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Zulie Rane

Zulie Rane

Content creator, cat mom, 6-figure entrepreneur. She/her. Get 2x weekly emails on how to make money writing online: https://zuliewrites.ck.page/3e3d3a8187