There is an Airport bus that goes from the Bus Station every half and hour and costs 3e, the journey is about half an hour and It has its own bus stand, near the bus entrance on the right, with an information screen giving the time of the next bus. BUT
I prefer the local train, its cheaper at 1.80e, there are 3 an hour and it only takes 10 minutes. I must admit I was very wary the first time I embarked on this journey, and indeed practised it before I went on my flight! Now I use it all the time, going to Plaza Mayor shopping, to see my Ophthalmologist in Torremolinos or visiting friends in Benalmadena. The train ends in Fuengirola and if you want to get to Marbella there are apparently buses from the Train Station. I've not explored that yet. But I digress.
After getting off the Competa bus, turn right and go to the side entrance of Maria Zambrano Railway Station. Go down the ramp, turn left by Pull and Bear, there is also H&M and Mercadona along that row of shops. This is the side you stay on.
(If a comfort break is needed after nearly 2 hours on the bus, the toilets are on the right down by the row of shops with Swarovski on the right and Superskunk on the left. Usually very clean.)
Carry on by Mercadona and cross the open area where the Main Line trains depart, to the other row of shops with the Information office on your right. At the bottom you should see a notice for local trains, 'Cercianis'. Either get a ticket from the machine or go through glass doors to the ticket office with a cashier. If using the machine it states firstly if you have a Renefe card, (rail card) then the station you want, and 'ida' (going) or 'ida o vuelta'(return). It costs 1.80 single trip and the machine gives change.
At the ticket office ask for'un billete al aeropuerto' or just mumble 'aeropuerto' or 'airport' Give him a smile and a thank you, 'Gracias'. He deserves it.
Off you go with your ticket, red arrow pointing in the front and go through the barrier. Turn right, (don't turn left, that's the other platform) and either use the lift of the escalator down to the platform.
The train is a C1, and has Fuengirola in lights on the front, the illuminated signs give information of the time its due and also the time the C2 is due. Do not get on the C2, that one goes to Alora. The station announcements are clear in Spanish and English and also if you still feel anxious, ask a passenger, most people like to help as long as you smile.( As you can tell I am a great advocate of smiling, its got me round the globe without mishap).
If you have trouble with mobility, or a large heavy case, around about the centre of the train is a carriage for bikes and wheelchairs and the step is lower than on the other carriages. The Airport is only the third stop, first one is 'Victoria Kent', second one is 'Guadalhorce' and then the Airport. All on board announcements are in Spanish and English and also there are information screens in every carriage, quite self explanatory.
On leaving the train, take the escalator and turn sharp left and go to the ticket barriers, put the ticket through and unless you retrieve it, the barrier won't open.
The Airport is to your left and in front of the station entrance is either a lift or escalator to the Departure Lounge. T3 is the first building on the right, carry on into the huge revolving doors and T1 and T2 are to the left. Now search for your flight!
If instructing a visitor on this route, be sure to tell them the station name is Maria Zambrano NOT Malaga Centro-Alameda. That's the stop after and its on the east side of the river, near Alameda Principal about 20 minutes to the Port bus station and back to the main bus station.
Don't forget when booking your flights that the times of the buses on weekdays are:
7.00 9.30 3.30 from Canillas, 15mins after from Competa, and 11.30 1.15 6.00 from Malaga and the journey takes about 2 hours more or less, depending on the traffic.
Another small tip. When meeting visitors from the Airport, get a return ticket for yourself at Malaga and a return ticket for your visitor from the machine at the Airport, this then avoids queuing at peak holiday times, although there are 4 tickets machines, it can be fraught with different speaking holiday makers all trying to figure out where they are going. One machine takes cards only, which I discovered only after reporting it to the Security Guard, who kindly showed me the error of my ways!
To get back from the Airport to Malaga, after you go through the barrier turn left for the Malaga platform and right for the Fuengirola platform
I know this may be a little self explanatory to some, but I do hope its helpful to others.