Culture & Lifestyle

Spain’s Wild West: The Tabernas Desert | DW | 14.07.2021

The sun burns down mercilessly from the sky, even in the early morning hours, as the sandy ground gets as hot as glowing coals. A horse and cart clatter on by, then a cowboy approaches from the distance on his horse and the saloon doors creak in the dry desert wind.

No, this is not the Wild West. This is not even the US. We are in fact in the south of Spain, more precisely, in Andalusia.

Barren beauty: Large parts of the Tabernas desert are characterized by rugged sandstone hills.

The Tabernas Desert begins around 30 kilometres north of Almería. The area, which is strictly speaking only a semi-desert, extends over 280 square kilometres (28,000 hectares=. The sun shines for more than 3,000 hours a year in this region. In the summer months, temperatures can easily climb to 35 – 40 degrees Celsius (95 – 104 Fahrenheit), and it is rare for more than 250 millimetres of rain to fall around here – during the entire year.

A piece of Hollywood in Europe

As a result, there are not many animals or plants to be found. But that is precisely the great potential of the region. With its barren landscape, it has already served many directors as a backdrop for various adventure films. Around 500 movies have been made in Tabernas.

Spain I Western town Fort Bravo

Texas or Spain? The Tabernas desert has been transformed into many a different region on screen.


In fact, Arnold Schwarzenegger transformed into Conan the Barbarian here, while Harrison Ford became Indiana Jones. Even part of the classic desert film Lawrence of Arabia was filmed in this Spanish province.

But generally speaking, when the cameras roll the Tabernas Desert most often transforms into the Wild West. Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda fought out a duel here for Sergio Leone’s cult Western Once Upon a Time in the West. Clint Eastwood got into several shoot-outs with bad guys for A Fistful of Dollars, and Pierre Brice stood in front of the camera in the Tabernas Desert for the German TV production, Winnetous Rückkehr (Winnetou’s Return).

Wild West Experience

Elaborate sets were built for many of these productions, and at one point, there were 14 such Western cities scattered across the area. Three of these structures are still standing today, and if there is no film production taking place, they are open to visitors. This way, tourists then get to enjoy the opportunity to feel like they’re in the Wild West too – albeit in the middle of Europe.

And that’s exactly what attracted DW reporter Hendrik Welling there when he visited the Tabernas Desert for the series “Europe to the Maxx” for DW’s lifestyle and culture magazine “Euromaxx.” 

In the western town of “Fort Bravo” he slipped into the role of a real cowboy and even fought a duel with a villain – played by one of the local showmen. Experience his cinematic performance and a whole lot more in our video.

Service tips:

Address: Tabernas Desert, Almería Province, 04200 Spain

Getting there: From Almería, you can reach Tabernas by car in half an hour.

Our special tip:Visit the movie backdrop town of Fort Bravo (daily 9am – 7.30pm), which still serves as a film location today. Visitors can experience stuntmen performing daily Western shows.

The accompanying book

Europe at its most extreme: The series “Europe to the Maxx” on DW’s lifestyle and culture magazine Euromaxx brings Europe’s superlative experiences to life — from extraordinary architecture to spectacular landscapes to unique cultural phenomena. Accompanying the series, the book 111 Extreme Places in Europe That You Shouldn’t Miss was published in cooperation with Emons Verlag. It is an alternative travel guide, both informative and entertaining, for avid travelers, fans of Europe and anyone who likes to show off with unusual pub quiz trivia. Full of guaranteed record breakers!


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