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Scuba Diving and Birdwatching… Captivating Nature-Based Tourism on the Costa Cálida

Diving in Murcia
Photos supplied by Murcia Ministry of Tourism

With tourists once again eagerly making summer getaway plans as governments throughout Europe prepare to ease travel restrictions, Murcia is making sure the region maintains its popularity as one of Europe’s most highly coveted holiday destinations.

Throughout the pandemic, health and tourism authorities have highlighted Murcia’s commitment to safety and sustainability in the “new normal” world of tourism, and announced reassuring measures including free COVID insurance for visitors.

During promotional campaigns in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, they have also been showcasing the region’s diverse attractions, in recent months focusing on cuisine (as Spain’s current “Capital of Gastronomy”), wine routes, ecotourism, and health and wellness.

Now, as bookings increase following the UK government’s announcement of a roadmap out of lockdown, and a potential lifting of non-essential travel restrictions from 17 May, they have turned their attention to two of Costa Cálida’s other key nature-based tourist attractions: scuba diving and birdwatching.

Prime Diving Areas

During the Brave Divers virtual fair in February, Murcia highlighted the region’s credentials as a safe year-round scuba diving destination.

Minister for tourism, youth and sport Cristina Sánchez noted that scuba diving is a safe and diverse sports activity that enhances contact with nature. Despite the health situation, she reported, the sector recorded an 9.7 per cent increase in the number of divers in 2020, compared with the previous year, at diving centres operating between July and October.

Figures released by the Murcia Association of Diving Centres showed that 35,200 enthusiasts enjoyed diving activities in the region in 2020, with 42,600 dives in total and 15,300 courses and “baptisms”.

The Murcia region, which incorporates 250 kilometres of Costa Cálida (“Warm Coast”) coastline, includes prime diving areas in Cartagena-La Azohía, Mazarrón, Águilas and La Manga-Isla Grosa, as well as the Cabo Tiñoso and Cabo de Palos e Islas Hormigas marine reserves – the latter considered  the best diving destination in the Mediterranean.

The region’s strengths include a climate that allows year-round diving, moderate underwater and surface temperatures, and an extensive range of associated activities. The region is home to 25 diving centres, 16 of which are members of the association.

Birdwatching in MurciaSpecial Protection Areas for Birds

The tourism ministry also participated online last month in the International Ornithological Tourism Fair in Extremadura, promoting the attractions of Murcia’s flagship nature parks, Sierra Espuña y de las Salinas and Arenales del San Pedro del Pinatar, and birdwatching as a safe and sustainable ecotourism activity in harmony with nature.

Later, tourism minister Cristina Sánchez said that, in addition to ornithological tourism, the region is also placing a renewed emphasis on other nature-based activities as people increasingly seek open-air pursuits away from the more populated resorts. These include cycling, hiking and active and rural tourism, as well as wine and gastronomy tourism.

Murcia is one of Europe’s major birdwatching areas, thanks to its diverse orography, geographical location and climate, with exceptional ecosystems and a multitude of species. The region is home to 22 Special Protection Areas for Birds (Spanish acronym ZEPA), both on the coast and inland, covering an area of more than 200,000 hectares.

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