In more modern times, sugar cane production has given way to more valuable cash crops, particularly semi-tropical fruits such as mango and papaya and widespread avocado plantations in what is one of the major avocado growing regions in Europe. The sugar cane factory is still on the eastern edge of town, but is now empty, as the main industry is tourism.
It is the eastern-most town in the area known as the Axarquía and has an official population of around 22,000 (in 2008) — nearly 30% of which are foreign residents, including around 2,600 British — although the true expatriate population, who for the bigger part are pensioneers, is probably at least twice that.The white villages climbing the mountains around Nerja are relatively new, and inhabited by foreigners. In the summer months, tourism swells the population several times more. The streets are narrow, some one way and some are pedestrians only. For tourists it is a fine place for shopping, the city center is so small, that you will soon know all of the shops and the shops, who are prepared to serve foreigners. Cars line many streets and there are two main car parks to take the overflow. On the Plaza Europa ther is a fine little aecological museum.
The town is situated on a fairly steep hill. It has several small beaches set in coves beneath cliffs. It is also becoming a significant centre for walkers, thanks to the mountain scenery of the nearby Sierra de Almijara and Sierra Tejeda. The Sierra de Burno overlooks the town. Nerja is also the centre of scuba diving on the Costa del Sol, with the Natural Park of Maro – Cerro Gordo nearby.
The town has 125 restaurants and five supermarkets, a Lidl and many mini-marts spread around town. Nerja does not have any large stores of the main chains of shops in Spain. Nerja has a small exhibition hall in the High Street and February or March there is a parade of bicycles which attracts a few thousand cyclists, including people of all ages. During Mardi Gras, there is a carnival parade through the town with people lining the streets.