Visiting Antequera From Malaga – The Challenges and The Rewards

If you are researching possible day trips from Malaga Spain, then you’ll certainly come across Antequera. This ancient town dates back to Roman times, is located only 35 miles north of Malaga, and features some very impressive sites – including three of the word’s oldest manmade structures. But visiting Antequera from Malaga without a car is not straight forward. We usually depend on public transportation for most day trips when we travel. And our day trip to Antequera wasn’t easy. So did Antequera Spain and its sites reward us for our troubles? I’ll show you!

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The Challenges

I love taking day trips from the various hub cities we visit around the world. But since we are frugal travelers, we rarely rent cars when traveling. Instead, we typically depend on public transportation. Consequently, I usually don’t base my day trip choices solely on the destination itself. I also look at the ease of getting there. Hence the titles for two of my other day trip blog posts – An Easy Day Trip From Budapest to Szentendre and An Easy Day Trip From Vienna to Bratislava.

When I first came across Antequera Spain in my Malaga trip research, I immediately knew I wanted to visit. But once I started to investigate getting there, I almost crossed visiting Antequera off the list.

The Public Transportation Options Are Murky Online

First of all, I found it really hard to understand my transportation options while researching them online. In fact, while preparing to write this blog post, 3 months after actually visiting Antequera Spain, I still struggled to find straightforward information that I could confidently pass on to you.

Two different Antequera Spain tourist websites don’t help much to clarify the confusion either – as I will elaborate on shortly. But I encourage you to check them out because maybe by the time you read this post, they will have updated. Plus they can be good overall resources for visiting Antequera. They are Tourismo Antequera and Antequera Discover. (However, double check their transportation info since some of it is not currently correct.)

Getting There By Train…Almost

You can travel between Malaga and Antequera via train. And you’ll find a convenient number of departure times throughout the day in both directions.

Trains lined up along the platforms at Malaga's Maria Zambrano train station
The platforms inside Malaga’s train station

Your options include high speed trains that only take about 25 minutes. Or cheaper regular speed trains that take around 75 minutes.

(If you want to read more about high speed trains in Spain then check out my post about Riding The Iryo High Speed Train between Malaga and Madrid)

Sounds easy, right?

Its not!

The most-used Antequera train station is actually not in Antequera. It’s in a small town called Santa Ana – 11 miles away. Antequera does have its own train station, but it’s been undergoing renovation for a number of years. And as best I can tell, no trains from Malaga currently stop there – though I think trains from other destinations might. If you currently book train travel between Malaga and Antequera on booking platforms such as Omio, or directly through Spain’s national rail carrier Renfe, you will only be given the Antequera-Santa Ana option.

Confused? Me too.

Once you arrive at the Antequera-Santa Ana train station, you will then need to actually get to Antequera. And the only reliable option seems to be taxi. The Tourismo Antequera website mentions a bus. But it appears to run only on weekdays, and only once at 12:40 (which seems completely useless). And there is no Uber in Antequera.

Plus, once you are finished visiting Antequera, you will also need to find a taxi to transport you back to the Santa Ana train station. And that’s easier said than done as you’ll see below.

Adding up all this hassle was enough to convince me to not take the train

Getting There By Bus…Theoretically

So we took the bus. The bus company for our Malaga to Antequera trip was Alsa – one of Spain’s largest. And our experience was good. The bus was very comfortable and only cost 6 Euros per person in each direction. And even better, the Antequera bus station is actually in Antequera.

An Alsa bus at Malaga's main bus terminal
That’s our coach to Antequera at Malaga’s main bus terminal

The only thing I didn’t like about visiting Antequera via bus was the schedule. There aren’t as many bus departures as train departures, and this forced us to cut our time visiting Antequera a little shorter than I preferred.

So then what’s the challenge, you ask? Seems like bus is the way to go.

Well, as I was confirming all my info for this post, it appears that the Alsa bus is no longer running between the two cities. The route is no longer available on Omio or Alsa’s own site (even though both Antequera tourist websites say that it is).

So I don’t know what to tell you. I even reached out to the Antequera visitor’s bureau for clarification, but never heard back.

I found a Malaga city bus currently running between the two locations. But it has an extremely limited number of departures, which makes using it for day trips quite impractical.

Hopefully, the Malaga-Antequera bus route with Alsa starts operating again.

Lots of Walking, Few Taxis, No Uber

Another challenge we faced when visiting Antequera was a lack of transportation options once we arrived. We ended up walking a lot more than I expected. And that’s fine – we generally don’t mind walking. But since we were already on a time crunch due to the limited bus schedule, our walking time did cut into our sightseeing.

My pre-trip vision had been to use taxis for getting around Antequera. The best sites are spread throughout the city. And while Antequera does have a few inter-city bus routes, these don’t conveniently connect tourist sites.

And as I mentioned before, there is no Uber in Antequera. I also checked a couple other ride share apps on my phone that offer rides in Malaga (Bolt and Cabify). But no joy.

We did successfully use a taxi for our first Antequera destination – the Dolmens. I found two white taxis just outside the bus station at a taxi stand. And the cost to the Dolmen visitor center was only 6 Euros.

Taxis parked at the taxi stand outside Antequera Spain's main bus terminal

But I never saw another taxi the rest of our time in Antequera. I had imagined we’d have no problem finding taxis outside the main tourist sites. But again, no joy.

So we ended up walking 25 minutes from the Dolmens to Antequera’s Alcazaba. After which we walked another 25 minutes from the Alcazaba back to the bus station. And like I said, we don’t mind walking. After all, it’s the best way to see scenic towns like this. However, if on a time crunch – nearly one hour of walking gets in the way.

A view up toward Antequera Spain's Alcazaba and surroundings
While walking to the Alcazaba

Limited Antequera Tour Options Too

Sometimes if I find a place I really want to visit on a day trip, but can’t find reasonable public transportation options for getting there, I’ll take an organized tour. You know the type – one of the typical tours that you can find on Viator that provide private transportation and a guide. Like this Palenque Tour we took in Cartagena Colombia.

And something like that would have solved a lot of these Antequera day trip challenges I’ve outlined.

But alas, I couldn’t find a reasonably-priced option that provided transport from Malaga to Antequera. Though here are a few that will guide you around the area once you get yourself there:

The Rewards

So if you are reliant on public transportation, visiting Antequera can clearly be a challenge. But is visiting Antequera worth it?

Definitely! Here’s a look what we were able to do and see during our 4 hours in Antequera.

The Dolmens of Antequera

The Dolmens of Antequera are a UNESCO World Heritage site and some of the oldest manmade structures on earth. In my opinion, this site alone is the single most important reason for visiting Antequera. We’ve previously explored several of Malta’s megalithic sites – including the Ggantija Temples on Gozo Island – and these ancient structures are truly awe-inspiring.

Pictured below is the opening to the largest of Antequera’s three Dolmens – the Menga Dolmen. These three dolmens served as burial chambers for the neolithic people who inhabited the area long ago. It was built around 3700 BC making it almost 6000 years old! It’s the largest megalithic burial chamber in Europe. And when discovered, several hundred humans remains were found inside.

The entrance to the Menga Dolmen - a must see when visiting Antequera Spain

Also fascinating is that each of the Dolmens were positioned with absolute intent. As we learned in the informative Visitor’s Center, the entrance to the Menga Dolmen is purposefully oriented towards a nearby limestone peak called La Peña de Los Enamorados. This peak just happens to look like a face pointing towards the heavens. And it was certainly considered a sacred place as it was home to a small neolithic shrine.

You can see the mountainous face of La Peña sitting just above the Visitor’s Center in the photo below.

The visitor center for The Dolmens of Antequera with La Peña de Los Enamorados in the background

The term megalithic refers to the size of the stones used to construct these structures. Each stone weighs around 200 tons, and a total of 32 stones were used to construct the Menga Dolmen. Upon entering the Dolmen, you really can appreciate just how mega these are….

Inside the nearly 6000 year old  Menga Dolman - one of the highlights of visiting Antequera Spain

It’s really quite amazing to stand inside, contemplate its age, and contemplate how the builders somehow pulled off its construction with the “technology” of the time. Also note that in the back of this Dolmen, they dug a well through many meters of rock – adding a water source directly inside.

Also of note, the megalithic walls and ceiling were constructed first, and then covered by dirt to create the “underground” chamber.

Not far from the Menga Dolmen is the smaller Viera Dolmen. Its positioning is astronomic (which is typical of other Dolmens across Europe), and is aligned such that light directly enters the chamber at sunrise on Summer Solstice. Viera is smaller than the Menga Dolman, so isn’t quite as impressive. But it’s still very much worth going inside – because you just can’t skip entering one of the world’s oldest structures!

The outside entrance to the Viera Dolmen surrounded by visitors in Antequera Spain

A third Dolmen called El Romerel is located a few kilometers away from the other two. It’s newer – having been constructed in 1800 BC. Since we didn’t have an easy way to get to it, we didn’t visit El Romerel.

The Alcazaba of Antequera

Sitting on a rocky hill above the town of Antequera, you’ll find the Alcazaba. Alcazaba is the Arabic word for fortress, and this Alcazaba was first built by the Moors during the 14th century while they ruled Andalucia. A hundred or so years later, the Spanish Christians defeated the Moors in Antequera – a huge victory that ultimately helped Christian Spain regain control of the region. The victors continued to use the Alcazaba as a defensive stronghold.

A street in Antequera Spain looking up to the Alcazaba

You can ascend the hill and visit most of what remains of this fortress, as well as its grounds. The small entry fee also includes an audioguide which I found quite helpful in understanding the Alcazaba’s history.

Scattered through the grounds are various ruins that highlight how important this hill has been over the millennia. You’ll walk by Roman ruins, Visigoth ruins, and ruins of a Mosque.

Two of the Alcazaba’s towers are still standing, and offer fantastic views of the surrounding countryside and out across Antequera’s whitewashed city.

A view from the Alcazaba of Antequera out across the nearby hills and mountains

A view from the Alcazaba of Antequera out across the town of Antequera

A Plaza and A Church

Just below the Alcazaba, you’ll find the beautiful Plaza de Santa Maria. I showed this picture to you earlier. This is the entrance to the Plaza….

Entering the Plaza de Santa Maria while visiting Antequera Spain

The main feature of the Plaza is the 16th century Royal Collegiate Church of St Mary (Real Colegiata de Santa María la Mayor). We didn’t have time to go inside due to our tight schedule, but from what I read, it’s more impressive on the outside anyway. (There is a small admission fee, or you can buy a combo ticket that includes both the church and the Alcazaba at a discount.)

In fact, I think the best way to enjoy this grand church may very well be from the grounds of the Alcazaba just above the church….

A view of the Real Colegiata de Santa María la Mayor church from the grounds of Antequera Spain's Alcazaba

When you visit the Plaza, be sure to also look over its edge at the ruins of Antequera’s Roman Baths just below. You’ll find an informative sign explaining everything that you need to know as you peer over the Plaza’s edge at this 2000 year old spa.

Looking down on the ruins of some Roman Baths in Antequera Spain

The Scenic Streets

As I previously mentioned, we ended up seeing quite a bit of Antequera by foot. And it is a very scenic town.

White washed buildings, narrow streets, lots of churches and their towers….

The view while walking down a street in Antequera Spain

The remains of a second defensive wall just below the Alcazaba, with a more modern neighborhood built up around it – even incorporating some of its structure…

The remnants of a defensive fortification in Antequera Spain

And an array of beautiful courtyards and squares…..

A courtyard and fountain in Antequera Spain

Tapas For Lunch

Regular readers know that a typical local lunch is an essential feature of any day trip I take. In the region of Andalucia Spain, tapas are huge part of the local cuisine. And since we were so tight on time, tapas were the perfect lunch option for us.

As we walked from the Alcazaba to the bus station, we stopped at Restaurante Abrasador Bodegas Triana for a quick meal (4.5 star rating on Google.)

Two women strolling outside Restaurante Abrasador Bodegas Triana in Anteequera Spain

The streetside outdoor tables offered great views up one of the town’s main thoroughfares to the Alcazaba. The prices were significantly less than what we’d been paying for food in Malaga. And the quality was great.

We enjoyed tapas including this cod and garbanzo bean stew…

Tapas on an outside table at Restaurante Abrasador Bodegas Triana in Antequera Spain

And a tapa named after the town…..

A bowl of Porra Antequerana -  a common tapa in southern Spain

This is a bowl of Porra Antequerana. It’s a thick cold soup made primarily from tomatoes, day-old bread, and olive oil. It’s traditionally topped with boiled egg and Iberian ham.

You’ll find various versions of this tapa throughout Andalucia. And it’s one of my favorites. Another version of this tapa is called Salmorejo. We learned to make Salmorejo when taking a cooking class in Seville a few years ago. And I make it at home now all the time.

The Antequerana version is known for being thicker than other versions. And a red pepper is traditionally added to the mix as well.

You cannot go wrong eating Porra Antequerana on a street in Antequera.

The Site We Missed

One important Antequera site that we were not able to visit is a Nature Reserve called Torcal de Antequera.

This site, which is also part of Antequera’s UNESCO designation, features an unusual topography of eroded limestone formations. The pictures remind me a bit of Bryce Canyon National Park in my own home state of Utah. It’s about 10 miles out of town. You won’t find any public transportation to the Reserve, but you could arrange for a cab or for a tour like this one.

Final Thoughts

I’m glad that I didn’t give up on visiting Antequera despite all the transportation challenges. As you can see the rewards of visiting Antequera can definitely outweigh some of the hassles. It’s one of those places in our travels that exceeded my expectations. And I really wish we could have spent a little more time exploring this great place.

But one of the many lessons of travel is that you just have to be grateful for what you can get some days – especially when you depend heavily on public transportation like we do.

And obviously, if you are traveling by car, Antequera and its surroundings becomes much easier to visit, and should be a no-brainer stop.

Finally, if our day trip to Antequera from Malaga sounds like a little more hassle than you want, then my next blog post is entitled “An Easy Day Trip from Malaga to Mijas Pueblo”. So stay tuned!

8 Comments

  1. Good on you for visiting despite the strong travel resistance. The more I travel the more I see oddness that flat out makes no sense. Now, this is no complaint or grievance. It just is, and you begin to discover the human element in circling the globe and being thwarted at all turns until you finally get where you want to be.

    It was nothing at all like your odyssey, but recently we bused to San Jose, Costa Rica from Grecia, a decent-sized city. The big bus station had no buses going to the biggest city in the country but a little one 10 minutes away, did. Odd. When we arrived, once again, a smaller bus station in San Jose had to be smack dack in about the worst neighborhood. Then the following day, we walked to another small bus station in about, once again, the roughest neighborhood, at 5 AM when it was still dark. Shanty Town, big-time. Rather than be upset, it becomes amusing to see the illogical nature of it all, sometimes. Eventually, persistence pays off and you get where you intended to go.

    Ryan

    1. Your story reminds me of the time I first went to Costa Rica 30(!) years ago. Used the bus to get around the country. I think we visited those same bus terminals in San Jose. No internet then so would go the day beforehand and check the posted schedules. Good memories!

  2. Thanks for the memories. We picked Antequerra as our base to explore southern Spain knowing nothing about it. Fortunately we had a car to aid in our explorations. I think one thing that makes Antequerra so special is it is not inundated by tourists. I understand why you were not able to visit Torcal de Antequerra but for readers if you can make it you will not be disappointed one bit. The City museum and olive oil museum are great options too.

    1. Yes, I meant to mention the few tourists part in the post. Another bonus of Antequera! As we were walking back to the bus station, we commented on how it really would be a nice place to spend some time in like you did. But with a car for sure!

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