9 Days of Spain #2: Finding the Best Beach (Part 2)

The beaches of Iberia! Every single one of them has crystal clear waters, gorgeous views, and a great atmosphere. But after visiting four beaches on the Iberian Peninsula, 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) beaches. 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 today’s showdown categories…


Normally I find sealife in the water pretty annoying, especially when you’re talking about crabs, sting rays, or the bane of my existence: seaweed. But on the other hand, a couple of tide pools or places where you can spot schools of fish who avoid your touch can be a big bonus. Even those little shellfish that burrow into the sand after a wave washes over them can be hypnotic to watch. This is probably one of the hardest elements to balance, with the line between intrusive and fascinating sealife being so fine.

  1. Maria Luisa

No beach has ever hit the mark better than Maria Luisa. No seaweed or sting rays, but rather schools of small fish, burrowing shellfish, and the occasional crab helping to hypnotize the curious beachgoer. Essentially, Maria Luisa has several good elements without any bad ones. There are no incredible tide pools like in Galveston or San Diego, but the sealife is still fun enough!

Cattle resting between the beach and the restaurants at Bolonya
  1. Bolonya

Again, no negative elements, because there wasn’t any sealife. No crabs, seaweed, shellfish, tide pools…nothing. So while it’s not the best place for an aspiring marine biologist, your day also won’t be impeded by flea-ridden piles of seaweed. Instead, you get to enjoy the lovely cattle passing by (shown above).

Dona Ana1
Finding a hidden beach  through a cave opening at Dona Ana
  1. Dona Ana

Once again, there is no intrusive seaweed or sneaky crabs…unless you explore some of the caves. After discovering the cave that led to more hidden beaches, I began poking my head in a lot of innocent-looking crevices. Apparently crabs can climb rocks like spiders. I was definitely awake after finding THAT particular crevice…

  1. Cadiz

Ah, Cadiz, the only beach on the entire Iberian Peninsula that seems to have seaweed. Not only that, but there wasn’t a single fish in sight.


Turning my friend into a cinnamon bun for our sunbathing at Cadiz
  1. Cadiz

So soooooooooft.

Dogs and humans climbing sand dunes at Bolonya
  1. Bolonya

Giant. Sand. Dunes.

  1. Maria Luisa

I suppose the miniature underwater dunes were nice.

Dona Ana3
The part of Dona Ana that looks like a normal beach
  1. Dona Ana

I hesitate to call this sand. Those incredible shells are constantly being broken down by powerful Atlantic waves, leaving the “sand” with a consistency somewhere between gravel and broken glass. Why not just avoid the places with more shells, you may ask? Because of the burning sand. I was actually worried if I was cooking my feet alive. The heat of the sand was so intense that we opted for walking over the sharper, yet cooler, shell fragments! The picture above shows the more “normal” (and less shelly) parts of Dona Ana, but those parts aren’t nearly as interesting as the hidden caves.


  1. Bolonya (Atlantic)

    Bolonya has got to be the single best beach I have ever been to. It’s gorgeous, it’s full of life, and it offers everything you need from wading to shell-collecting to ice cream shops a half-minute’s walk away. No seaweed, no sharp rocks, no worries.

  2. Dona Ana (Atlantic)

I only wish it had better wading and was a bit cooler. I know temperature varies from day to day, but you know things are bad when you’re walking across broken seashells to escape the heat. Overall it is a wonderful place to visit and I highly recommend spending half the day exploring the hidden beaches and taking the most amazing photos, and the other half at the beachier beach nearby.

  1. San Diego (Pacific)

San Diego’s beaches are pretty well-liked, but I’d say their main advantage over other beaches is the quality of the waves. You can walk out into the surf forever, and once you get there, the waves are enormous. The only real downsides are the sting rays and seaweed, and the only reason that some of the Iberian beaches are above San Diego on the list is because of their incredible scenery.

  1. Port Aransas (Gulf of Mexico)

While Port Aransas has more intrusive seaweed than Maria Luisa, and doesn’t nearly match the scenery, Port Aransas is a lot livelier and has much better wading potential. So if you’re the kind of person who goes to the beach to look at things and have some peace and quiet, Maria Luisa would be higher on your list.

  1. Maria Luisa (Atlantic)

This is a very typical beach with the added bonus of being in Portugal. There’s nothing super remarkable about it besides the clear water, but you can still have a great time here. Bring some ping pong paddles!

  1. Galveston (Gulf of Mexico)

Despite its general ugliness, Galveston is never very crowded and has some pretty impressive sealife, which can give you a lot to do for an afternoon.

  1. Cadiz (Atlantic)

After the bridge jumping and maybe one hop over to a miniature beach, you’ve done all there is to do and might as well just explore the city a few feet away. There isn’t really room to walk on the beach, anyways.

All of these rankings are highly subjective, and I know of at least one person who’ll want to kill me for putting Dona Ana beach as only second place, but I just love doing things at a beach, like wading into the surf or coming across bulldog soccer stars (see Part 1). If you ever have the privilege of going to the Iberian Peninsula and spending a day at the beach, my highest recommendation is Bolonya, and my lowest is Cadiz, but they’re still all very worthwhile trips. And no matter where you go, you’ll always have sand eternally stuck in your backpack as a souvenir.


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