Costa da Morte – The Coast Of Death

In spite of its sinister name, this coastline is, in fact, spectacular and beautiful!

Costa da Morte is a region along Galicia’s northern coast in Spain. This isolated and unspoilt coastline runs from Muros, at the mouth of the Ria de Muros y Noia, round to Caion, just before A Coruna. A large proportion of the North Atlantic maritime traffic passes along this coast and its melodramatic name comes from the numerous shipwrecks that have happened in this area of rocks, mist and storms, exposed to the Atlantic Ocean.

One such shipwreck happened in 1890 when the English HMS Serpent sank near Cape Vilan because of a bad storm. 173 men perished and were buried in the English Cemetery a short distance away.

During the Roman period the area was thought to be the end of the known world and the rock-bound peninsula, Cabo Finisterra (Finis-terrae), means “the end of the earth”. It was the final destination for many pilgrims following the Way of Saint James, a pilgrimage to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

It is also a land of legends. One of these is the supposed appearance of the Apostle Santiago de la Virgen (Saint James) in a stone boat guided by angels. Two of the stones that made up the vessel can still be seen in Muxia and many people attribute them with miraculous properties. Many of the pilgrims following the Way of Saint James finish the route in Finisterre where there is a 17 metre tall lighthouse which guides the thousands of boats that sail along this coast. In ancient times this place was known as the doorway to the Great Beyond and many pilgrims still burn their clothes here as a sign of purification before beginning their joyful return after having reached “the end of the world”.

Another of the legends features the villagers who used to put out lamps to lure passing ships onto the deadly rocks.

The people of the area still preserve pre-Christian Celtic ritual places and pass on some of the traditional beliefs. For example there are giant oscillating or rocking stones called “pedras de abalar” throughout the region. These were used in various rituals that are remembered locally.

The wind is believed to possess strong powers and local legend tells of it creating wild nightmares.

In spite of its name, this is an eerily beautiful coast, with rocky headlands, winding inlets, small fishing towns, plunging cliffs, wide sweeping bays and many remote, sandy beaches. Here you can witness the incredible spectacle of the sun “drowing” in the Atlantic Ocean. It offers something for everyone. The villages of Finisterra, Carnota, Muros, Muxia, Laxe and Malpica are good starting points to explore the dramatic coastline, there are some of Spain’s finest beaches here and some wonderful walking.

For historians the old quarter of Corcubion, the shrine of the Virxe da Barra de Muxia and the hillforts of the megalithic culture are worth visiting to discover the magic of the area. And for those who like to discover how the traditional way of life goes on, you can watch the local barnacle pickers, known as “percebeiros”, at work as they jump from rock to rock, dodging the incoming waves. They can be seen at work at the cliffs in O Roncudo very close to Corme, a beautiful village with narrow streets and brightly coloured houses. Pottery and bobbin lace making are two more ancient crafts that are still practised in the area. For lovers of shellfish this area is a paradise and the barnacles, cockles and mussels can be combined with the local wine called “albarino”.

Sailing opportunities

Galicia as a whole has more coast line and more beaches than any other region of Spain. The coastline has many similarities to that of Norway, with lots of inlets, coves and bays. It is known as the region of a thousand rivers and most of these vent into estuaries that feed into the sea through the many “rias” or bays. 

The “rias altas” or upper bays, north of Finisterra, are backed by rocky, mountainous hills and the weather here is cooler, windier and wetter. By contrast the “rias baias” or lower bays below Finisterra, are surrounded by softer landscape of forests and fields. Sailing and fishing are essential parts of life and here everything leads inevitably to the sea. The area has 1,300 kilometres of coast and 772 beaches and there are 25 marinas as well as almost another hundred small ports. There is lots of sheltered sailing, many anchorages and some interesting pilotage. Four weeks should be allowed for a good exploration.

Yacht charter sailing holidays are available and this area is one of Spain’s most scenic and pleasant holiday destinations.

Sailing conditions vary depending on the time of year, but in spring and summer the region’s Oceanic climate is ideal, especially when there are winds from the southwest. However the winds can blow up strongly at times and swell from distant heavy weather can create breaking seas over many banks. There are some unmarked rocks and shoals up to 4nm offshore in the more westerly rias and the whole aria is peppered with fishing floats and crab pot markers, therefore care must be taken.

So don’t be put off by the name. The “Costa da Morte” and the rest of the Galician coastline is well worth a visit.


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