City Guide to Spain: Málaga, Cádiz and the Costa del Sol

The southern coast of Spain mixes traditional Spanish port cities with droves of sun-seekers from across Europe. The seafood is exquisite, the beaches beautiful, and the architecture compelling. To sign up for a program here is to learn Spanish in paradise.

Size and Feel

Málaga is home to over 600,000 people (2003), making it the sixth-largest city in Spain. Because the city is significantly smaller than either Madrid or Barcelona and densely packed around the beach and port regions, Málaga feels small enough to explore in only a few days. Also, like Barcelona, the city is confined by hills and the sea, preventing the sprawl typical of inland cities. For students who want to become fully familiar with their study-abroad destination or have only a short time in Spain, Málaga is a fine size.

Cádiz is a significantly smaller city. With a mere 140,000 people (2003), Cádiz is the 33rd-largest city in Spain, on par in size with other popular small town study-abroad destinations like Salamanca. After a day of walking the winding streets of the old city, you will be familiar with the layout of the main peninsula. For students spending only a few weeks in Spain, Cádiz will hold plenty of cultural diversions, shopping, nightlife, and restaurants. But due to its small size, students spending more than a month will likely yearn for a larger city by the end of their stay.

Spanish Language Situation

While the Andalucía region does not have any of the language conflicts of Barcelona or Valencia, a thick accent can make communication with the people of the region more difficult than in central Spain. Specifically, the locals will drop the “s” on the end of many words. The people of Andalucía should have no problem understanding students who have learned Castilian Spanish with a typical Madrid accent, however.

Seasonal Variations and Climate

The best time to arrive on the southern coast of Spain is April through October, although the summer months bring enormous crowds to the region from central Spain and across Europe. Rain falls between November and March, but temperatures stay pleasant enough for a visit.

What’s Great…

People fall in love with the Costa del Sol for obvious reasons.

  1. The winding streets through old Málaga and Cádiz are mysterious and charming, always leading students on a new adventure.
  2. The resort area nightlife is top-notch. If Madrid is like New York and Barcelona like San Francisco, then Málaga is Spain’s Miami. Exceptionally beautiful, high-energy people are everywhere and are all looking to have a good time.
  3. The embracing culture of Andalucía will warm the heart of any student visitor. These people are not jaded by rough city conditions, and have the pleasant demeanor only maintained by people who live in paradise.

What’s Bad…

People rarely have a bad experience here, but there are a couple of drawbacks.

  1. Immersing yourself in the Spanish language can be difficult because of the number of tourists. If you find yourself partying with people from a different country every night, you’ll have a hard time focusing on your Spanish.
  2. Unless you’re willing to travel to nearby Seville or Granada, you’ll notice a lack of natural treasures in the form of famous buildings and museums.
  3. That pesky Andalucían accent can make striking up bar conversations with the local Spaniards a frustrating challenge.

Full Description

The southern coast of Spain, which includes the famous Costa del Sol, runs along the beautiful, clear Mediterranean Sea, sometimes only a few miles from the coast of Africa. This region follows in the gregarious footsteps of the regional capital, Seville, in maintaining an open and social community that embraces friends and visitors alike. Simultaneously, the Costa del Sol supports a massive and thriving tourism industry, with resort hotels extending to the east of Málaga’s airport for miles.

Málaga is the largest city on the south coast, frequented by tourists and shipping companies alike. This bustling city is the launching point for the region because of its large and accessible airport. The city itself is replete with beautiful gardens and Spanish architecture that betrays both Arab and European ancestry. The streets are filled with markets, tapas bars, and many residents who seem to have endless time in the afternoons to stand and chat with their neighbors.

Cádiz, a smaller but equally appealing destination for study-abroad students, is one of the oldest cities in Spain because of its prime location guarding the mouth of the Mediterranean. The ancient maze of streets constituting Cádiz’s original city (now referred to as the old city) is confined to a peninsula with stone walls built around all sides and a pleasant swimming beach at the far end. Beyond the old city’s peninsula is a long string of suburbs and resort hotels that fuel tourism to the area. While the old and new sections of this complex city contrast sharply in look and feel, the two coexist pleasantly and support each other in commerce and culture. This juxtaposition gives a unique experience to study-abroad students who want to experience a relatively unadulterated old Spanish town and at the same time have access to the beaches and nightlife of a tourist haven.

Several smaller towns dot the coast between Málaga and Cádiz, including the beautiful Marbella, England’s Gibraltar and the wind-sport enthusiast’s Tarifa–all worthwhile destinations. While visiting these smaller towns is a must, they will not yield as rich or diverse a cultural experience as Málaga and Cádiz.

As a study-abroad student, you need not be turned off by the presence of tourism here. While the many tourists bring crowds and a bit of crime, the cities of this region of Spain have successfully maintained their ancient charm. The resort hotels do not encroach on the cities’ centers. Thus, the Costa del Sol is a great place to plan a study-abroad trip if you want to have a fun-filled experience.

Suggested Schools

Don Quijote in Málaga – Part of a world-wide network of language schools, Don Quijote in Spain integrates culture, activities, sports and even cooking into their refined and effective Spanish programs.

Instututo San Fernando – Sister schools in Cádiz and Seville offering courses designed to university-level specifications combined with cultural activities.

Málaga Center Institute – Competitively priced Spanish school with a prime location in Málaga.

Instituto Andalusí – Pleasant language school attracting a young, international student body in a quieter part of Málaga. This school works to foster a strong community among students.

Cervantes – Top-quality teaching and small classes in a beautiful part of Málaga outside of the city’s center.

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