Fuengirola has been my home for a few years now.
The first year here has been a steep learning curve – especially when it comes to the tourist traps. I think they are almost impossible to avoid if you are not living in the destination and don’t know it in and out.
Some are more obvious than others, but I thought I would put together a guide for anyone who is coming here for a holiday, and may want to avoid a headache or two.
Chiringuitos are some of the few remaining authentic places on Costa del Sol. They were originally developed to cater to the fishermen returning from the sea, and as soon as tourists started arriving, transformed themselves into restaurants specialized in seafood.
Fuengirola has a very close and old relationship with chiringuitos as it use to be a small fishing village before it was developed into a tourist hot spot in the 60s.
WHAT IS A CHIRINGUITO?
It’s a beachside restaurant, normally owned by the local municipality, with a fishermen’s boat outside. The boat is used as a BBQ pit to grill sardines and other fish, a traditional way to cook them specifically for the region of Malaga.
As the saying goes ‘eat where the locals eat’ – in this case it couldn’t be further from the truth.
On my numerous attempts to find a good chiringuito, I found them extremely overpriced, with unprofessional service and the food is less than average quality.
Of course, the experience varies depending on where you go, but even in more ‘posh’ establishments in Malaga, we were served Pil Pil prawns in burned oil together with a few days sold baguette, all for a premium price.
Nobody is expecting a fine dining treatment, but the food is really below the quality you would want to see, for the amount of money you’re paying.
The fresh fish you see in displays is normally just to attract tourists – most of the items on the menu are cooked from frozen fish, and it’s almost never even indicated. Only the fish which is priced by kilo is the fresh one (no as in caught on the day, more like delivered from the farm), and obviously the sardines cooked outside on the BBQ.
THE SEASIDE VIEWS
The other selling point – is the view.
Well, if you don’t mind watching the sea through the crowd of semi-naked tourists spread out on sun loungers, then you will certainly enjoy the view.
Almost all of the restaurants you will find have obstructed views – the best ones are those which are a little elevated, so you might get a glimpse of the sea through the maze of sun umbrellas.
There are a few scenarios though when you can consider paying a visit to a chiringuito – for example for a a drink served at sunset, with nice sea views not obstructed by sun loungers!
In Fuengirola, I haven’t found one that I would be returning to for more food, but as soon as I discover it, I will be happy to report back.
A little disclaimer needs to be added.
As it’s always the case with food – it’s a matter of personal taste. Some people object that it’s a seaside place good enough for some quick snacks, but I would like to remind them that you are paying premium for badly cooked frozen food.
This is where I set my standards: If I can cook better food myself, at home, than the one prepared by a professional chef at a restaurant, I am not going to be happy about my experience.
One of the most annoying things about sitting on a restaurant terrace is the fact that within an hour, you get approached by street vendors about 15 times. Sadly, I’m not even exaggerating!
If they are not harassing you in the restaurant, they will block half of the pavement with their goods, and only pack them up as soon as police patrol approaches.
I have no idea where they come from or if they have some Street Sellers Association, but they are everywhere and all the time.
I’ve seen lots of tourists buying fake designer handbags from them, and if you think of doing the same, maybe you should know where the money goes.
And no, you are not supporting some poor immigrant family in Spain, as you may think.
There have been proven links between counterfeiting and organized crime, especially terrorism. One documentary I watched a few years ago made a direct link between the goods from street vendors and the terrorist attacks in Paris. Spain is one of the gateways of these goods into Europe, which probably explains their presence on Costa del Sol.
Holiday apartments are not a tourist trap on their own, but there are a few issues you may encounter when you’re coming for a holiday in Fuengirola.
I have stayed in a few Airbnbs around Costa del Sol, and have encountered some of these issues myself. There are a few things you should watch out for when you’re renting an appartment in a city like Fuengirola, which comes with its own unique considerations.
AIRCONDITIONING IN SUMMER
Some property owners, in order to minimize their electricity bills, will set their airconditioning units to run in max 30-minute intervals (or longer), after which they have to be turned on again manually.
Imagine sleeping in a super hot room and having only 30 minutes for the aircon to run before you have to touch the remote again!
Another common situation is that the apartment has a unit in the living space, but not in the bedroom where you sleep. Falling asleep when your room is very hot in the summer is quite the challenge, and can really ruin your holiday. Always check if there is an air conditioning unit in the bedroom.
Communal pools sound like a lot of fun, until you check the rules.
I happen to live in a building with a very large pool, unfortunately, as soon as I got there to enjoy it, I realized everything that you would want to do by the pool is forbidden – no food, no water toys, no games and the list goes on.
In the summer months, as lots of buildings have rental apartments, these places get quite busy. On top of that, they don’t stay open very late, maximum till 7 or 8pm.
Check with the property owner if there are any weird regulations you should know about, if you’re planning to spend time by the pool.
Parking is a major headache in Fuengirola – the spaces are limited, and in the summer when the total population of the town increases massively, it’s really a race to find an empty spot.
If you’re renting an apartment, make sure it’s one with a designated parking spot, so you don’t have to worry where to leave the car each time you arrive at the apartment.
HEATING IN WINTER
If you didn’t know it yet, almost no apartments or houses in Spain have central heating (at least in Andalusia). The reasoning is that the winter is too short and not too cold. While that’s true, the properties are built for summer, therefore don’t tolerate winter months too well and remain very cold.
Normally you would use an air conditioning unit with the heating setting on, but it’s not very effective since none of the properties are insulated (so all the warm air escaped through the gaps in doors and windows). If you’re renting a place in the winter, make sure there is one of these units in the living space and the bedroom, so you don’t wake up feeling like you’re in a freezer.
Use Uber, not Taxis
While taxis are not themselves a tourist trap, sometimes they tend to overcharge if they see you are a tourist, especially if you’re coming directly from the airport.
Before you get here, install the Uber app on your phone.
Not only are the rides so much cheaper than taxis, but also super convenient – they pick you up in the middle of nowhere and you don’t have to worry about looking to the nearest taxi rank or calling a taxi.
Even with Uber, some drivers are behaving not exactly ethically. They will pick up your trip, only to drive around in circles and cancel on you 10 minutes later. Keep this in mind and leave yourself plenty of time if you need to get somewhere at an exact hour.
Well, that was a bit of a novel, wasn’t it!
I hope you found it useful and can avoid at least a few headaches that might ruin your holidays!
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