Two decades ago the main road linking the Costa del Sol’s eastern and western ends was known, with only slight exaggeration in the newspapers, as the “highway of death”.
Much of the coastal road was single-carriageway, passing through the town centres in pre-bypass days, and the open highways were unprotected by median barriers, thus encouraging disorientated visiting drivers in unfamiliar rent-a-cars to brake in the middle of the road and cross over in front of oncoming traffic. Serious accidents, and tragic fatalities, were frequent. Thankfully, the area has undergone a massive transformation in transport infrastructure since then, helped in great part by “convergence funds” allocated to Spain after its entry into the European Union in 1986.
Today, following completion of the San Pedro de Alcántara tunnel in 2012, travellers can drive all the way from Barcelona to Algeciras (near Gibraltar) without being stopped by a traffic light. The main bypass “autovias” are now triple-carriageway, and the Coast is linked by tollway (“autopista”) from Benalmádena to Guadiaro – although this route is best avoided during holiday periods and the summer months when the rates are subject to exorbitant increases.
The minor roads along the coast and urban streets have also been upgraded considerably over the past 10 years, the main inland towns are well-connected by modern highways, and other parts of Andalucía are easily accessible, including Huelva as the gateway to Portugal’s The Algarve area (across a bridge, with no passport control).
Away from the roads system one of Spain’s most significant transport developments in recent years has been the high-speed AVE rail network. Originally limited to the Madrid-Sevilla route (Spain’s prime minister and deputy prime minister at the time were both sevillanos!), the network now extends all the way to the French border in Gerona, and the Málaga-Madrid journey takes just two hours and twenty minutes.
Locally, the coastal train service is punctual, moderately priced and clean, though only covering stations from Málaga city to Fuengirola (there are long-term plans for its extension to Algeciras, via Marbella – but probably not during the lifetimes of many reading this) and inland to Alora. By sea, Málaga port is now one of the main Mediterranean hubs for international cruise ships, with more than 700,000 passengers arriving in 2012, and local residents are also able to embark on shorter holiday trips from the city. For those who want to visit Spain’s enclaves, a new service has reduced the ferry journey from Málaga to Melilla to five hours, and Ceuta is just one hour from Algeciras. Tangier in Morocco is even closer, about 50 minutes from Tarifa, mainland Europe’s southern-most point.
All of that, of course, is once you’re here. Where the Costa del Sol particularly stands out is with its air connections.
Now serviced by a sparkling new airport terminal and a second runway, Málaga has the third highest number of direct flight connections on mainland Spain (after Madrid and Barcelona) – linked to 74 airports. Most of these cover the main European destinations, as well as Turkey, Morocco and Russia, but the recent airport expansion has boosted the airport’s capacity to expand its direct routes further afield, including the Americas and the Middle East.