Built on the slopes of a hill on which a castle-fortress once stood, scruffy little Ayamonte is full of beach-fronting high-rises, which, for the most part, are studded with vacation apartments for the Spaniards who flock here in vast numbers in July and August. The town, which is 37km (22 miles) east of Huelva via the E-1 (also called N-430), has more of a Portuguese flavor than any other in Andalusia. That's perfectly understandable since Portugal, or more specifically the unremarkable town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio, is only a short ferry ride away. Ferries leave every 30 minutes throughout the day until 9pm, charging 1.85€ ($3) for a one-way passage, which takes only 10 minutes. Ferries depart from the riverside promenade, Muelle de Portugal, in Ayamonte (tel. 95-947-06-17). Motorists can drive across the International Bridge over the Guadiana.
If you don't drive from Huelva to Ayamonte, you can take one of the frequent buses connecting the two. Buses arrive in Ayamonte at the station at Avenida de Andalucía east of the town center. Don't expect much guidance from the tourist office at Casa Grande (tel. 95-932-07-37; www.ayto-ayamonte.es), open Monday to Friday from 10am to 2pm and 5 to 7pm and Saturday from 11am to 1:30pm.
There's not much in the way of sightseeing in Ayamonte. In an hour or so, you can see the Old Town with its warren of narrow streets centered around Paseo de la Ribera, the principal square. Duck into the Iglesia de San Francisco on Calle San Francisco to see its stunning Mudéjar artesonado ceiling. The church dates from 1521 and was declared a landmark in 1935. Its chief artistic treasure is an altarpiece from the 16th century. Continue on the same street to Iglesia de San Salvador, dating from the 15th century. You can climb its tower (if it's open) for a panoramic view of the town, the river, and the Algarve coast of Portugal to the west.
Most visitors spend little time in Ayamonte and head instead to its major beach, Playa Isla Canela, 7km (4 1/3 miles) to the south. Buses from Ayamonte run there, departing summers-only from the Paseo de la Ribera.
If Isla Canela is too crowded, you can continue eastward to another good beach, Playa Punta del Moral. The beaches of Ayamonte open onto calm waters because of sandbars 50 to 100m (164-328 ft.) from the shore. These sandbars became virtual islands at low tide.
Most visitors eat at one of the tapas bars in the old fishing village of Punta del Moral, slightly to the north. Fresh fish is the way to go here. You'll also find plenty of places for lunch in Ayamonte, most clustered around Paseo de la Ribera in the heart of town. Go for the raciones of Jabugo ham and the fresh fish based on the catch of the day. The best seafood in town is served at Casa Luciano, Calle del Condado 1 (tel. 95-947-10-71), on the eastern side of the harbor. It features a daily menu for 30€ ($48).