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San Juan in Nerja

The festival of San Juan is celebrated on the evening of the 23rd of June each year with people staying out late and even camping on the beaches. This yearly event is filled with rituals which are still popular today amongst many of the Spanish partly because of their religious roots but more likely because they're just fun.

The roots of this festival as you may have guessed are pagan, falling very close to the summer solstice, which technically comes a couple of days before. The Catholic church sought to Christianize popular pagan festivals and so blended the solstice with the celebration of St John the Baptists birthday which, officially at least, is on the 24th. As a result this festival is really a bit of a mishmash.

Traditions vary around Spain from region to region but all cities mark “La noche de San Juan” (the night of St John) with the biggest celebrations taking place in Alicante, Valencia and the Canary Islands. One of the most obvious spectacles of the San Juan festivities are the lighting of bonfires (Hogueras) which in coastal areas tend to take place on the beaches. These fires have two symbolic meanings, one is to give the sun more strength as from this day on the sun gets weaker and the days shorter and the second is to cleanse the onlookers of their sins. It's said that anybody who jumps over one of these bonfires three times will be purified of their sins and their problems burned away. You'll also sometimes see small pieces of paper being burnt on these fires too. It is a common tradition in some parts of Spain to write down wishes and throw them onto the fires for them to come true!

If all this sounds a little dangerous to you then you can also go for one of the less risky rituals. Something that you'll definitely see if you're visiting Nerja at the time of San Juan is the custom of washing in the sea just after midnight. The beaches of Nerja and the surrounding towns fill up with thousands of people following this tradition with the sea cleansing them of their sins in much the same way that the bonfires do. If you wash your face and feet three times then you're said to be granted three wishes for the year and a happy twelve months hereafter. Even if you don't believe this it's thought that bathing in the sea at this time of year brings with it some positive effects, helping with skin complaints and allergies

In Nerja preparations begin days in advance with people staking their claim to their favoured spot on the beach by pitching their tents. El Playazo is very much a favoured beach over this period as campers can stay here for a few days and so whole families tend to turn up. As you can imagine there is a very social atmosphere with lots of music and wine. Most official events take place on Burriana beach with a bonfire, live music and fireworks and normally begin around 10pm.

San Juan Camping guidelines

During the festival of San Juan camping is officially permitted on the beaches El Playazo and Burriana. Normally you can only camp on Burriana on the night of the 23rd itself and must pack up by the following morning however on Playazo you can stay a little longer, normally from the morning of the 22nd until the evening of the 24th.

For the good of everybody the Town Hall applies (although rarely enforces) some basic rules concerning beach use during this period. Take a look below at the do's and dont's.

  • It is prohibited to connect electrical equipment to mains electricity. Any electrical cables must not cross roads or pedestrian access routes.
  • The use of any furniture other than that designed for a beach environment is prohibited.
  • Campers may not set up any site that could be described as a 'night club'.
  • Campers may not use any wood that may contain sharp objects such as nails or staples for camp fires / hogueras.
  • Vehicles may only be parked in designated areas. No parking is allowed on the sand.
  • Music is prohibited between the hours of 04:00 and 10:00 on the 24th June.
  • The use of fences or boards around a camp-site is not allowed.
  • All materials brought to the beach by campers must be removed, including rubbish, furniture and appliances.
  • It is recommended for general safety and beach use that camp sites should leave at least a two meter gap between each other.

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