Health Benefits of the Salt Lakes in South Costa Blanca
About Salt Lakes
Salt Lakes (salinas), besides being picturesque, are renowned for the health benefits they yield for those lucky enough to live nearby. On the South Costa Blanca in the regions of Alicante and Murcia, salt lakes have not only provided local industry but are also a huge tourist attraction to thousands of visitors throughout the year. The mild winters, hot summers and countless sunny days of these regions have long been the pull for migration from North European countries. Salt lakes contribute to the reputation of the regions being among the healthiest in the world.
In some areas, bathing in the lakes is permissible, though always check for signs. Where possible, you can cover yourself in the mud from the lakes. Let it dry in to allow the natural properties to help skin, arthritic and rheumatic conditions and generally leave you feeling better. The salt in the water is also said to be good for respiratory conditions, so even having regular walks near salt lakes would incorporate daily exercise with the added health benefit of the salt air.
The lovely pink hue that can sometimes be seen on a salt lake is as a result of the pigment of a bacteria called Halobacterium, which can be found in the salinas.
Parque Natural de La Mata and Torrevieja are joined in a very large triangular shape in the Southern Alicante region, which includes Salinas de Santa Pola and El Fondo.
Salt lakes of Torrevieja
Torrevieja’s status of one the healthiest places to reside in the world, voted by the World Health Organisation in 2006, was influenced by the surrounding salinas. With a natural park developed to allow access to the beautiful areas surrounding the salt lakes, the gifts nature has bestowed upon this expanse of land can be enjoyed by many.
A variety of birds nesting in the salt lakes are protected by a society called ZEPA, which ensures that no development can be done in the wetlands, which are part of the Ramsar network since 1989. safeguarding such sites around the world. Due to the rock formations, the lakes are divided. The Torrevieja side is where the salt is harvested and sent to the countries in the north of Europe to be scattered on the roads in the winter months. With more than a thousand hectares of water, the El Fondo side of the salt lakes is where you will find a visitor centre. A cycling route, together with two walking trails, allow public access to the wetlands. Parts of the lakes are accessible to swim in if you can climb down into them. Bring a bucket to scoop up the mud and then rub it into your skin. Let it dry in the sun and when you wash it off, feel the softness. Over the following few days, alleviation of arthritic conditions should be noticeable.
While Flamingos are the most commonly found birds around the salt lakes, a variety of other feathered friends can be seen in El Fondo throughout the year. These include Pied Avocets and Black-Winged Stilts. In all, there are over 170 species of birds in these salinas.
Salinas of Santa Pola
A short drive north of Torrevieja, along the N332 will take you to La Salinas de Santa Pola Nature Reserve. Salt production is maintained in the La Gola area of the park, which also has two other parts, La Marina and Las Salinas. There you will find a white building which serves as the salt museum ‘El Museo de la Sal’ where you will get lots of information about the salt lakes. With birds likely to be nesting between April and September, the walking trails are not usually open to the public during those months. The more marshy area of Las Salinas is inhabited by beautiful flamingos, often pink, bathing in these wetlands. Flora and fauna adapt to the wet, saltiness of the area, thriving in and close to the pink coloured water of the salinas.
Heading south from Torrevieja, brings you to the largest salt lake in Spain and indeed Europe, the Mar Menor (Little Sea). Shared by the municipalities of San Pedro del Pinatar, San Javier, Los Alcazares and Cartagena, it has a depth of 7 metres at its deepest point, and expands 170 km, skirted by multiple sandy beaches. Shallow depth at its edges, which contributes to its warmth, makes this lake very popular for swimmers. The healing properties of the Mar Menor, like other salt lakes in the area include potassium, magnesium and calcium.
Natural Mud baths
Visitors enjoy ‘mud baths’ in different parts of the Mar Menor. The area of Banos de Lodo de Lo Pagan is likely the most popular. Situated in San Pedro del Pinatar the mud baths are specifically accessed in the Las Charcas part of the salt lakes. These can be reached by walking along the Molino de Quintin which is a paseo, built on a strip of land that runs from Lo Pagan across the Mar Menor, nearly, though not quite reaching the southern tip of La Manga, on the other side. Las Charcas is on a side of the Mar Menor that is contained within the natural park of the salt lakes of San Pedro. Wooden structures, which have been built at points along the walkway, stretch out into the lake with steps down into the water. Many people bring buckets to scoop the mud up from the bottom, though some use their hands. Rub the mud in all over your body and let it dry off in the sun. It’s best to leave the mud to dry as long as possible, for the best results, then pop back into the same water to wash it off. Your skin will feel so soft afterwards, it is amazing. Benefits can last for days, both health and cosmetic.
Salt flats and National Park
On the Northern side of the Mar Menor lie the salt flats of San Pedro del Pinatar. Declared a National Park in 1985, they are part of ‘Ramsar’s Wetlands of International Importance’. The nature reserve within the park also has the title of a ‘Special Protection Area’ and is home to fish, mammals, reptiles and insects together with beautiful fauna and flora. While flamingos are the most prominent of bird species to be seen as you travel between the salt flats, there is a selection of migratory birds who visit the area from other continents. Five different routes have been built to walk, cycle or hike through the natural park.
The salt flats in the salinas of San Pedro del Pinatar, which are being mined, are steeped in history. Today, the salt is harvested, to be exported to Northern Europe for the roads, during winter, similar to those of Torrevieja. The salt mine is close to Marina de Salinas Port, which was built where the Mar Menor meets the Mediterranean sea and is accessed by the road that leads to the national park.
To find the Mar Menor, the mud baths and the salt lakes in San Pedro del Pinatar, take the sign for San Pedro Playas, when you get to the roundabout of San Pedro del Pinatar on the N332, which is distinctive in that it has a boat on it.