As we neared the end of our bendy ascent through the tiny town of El Chorro into the Guadalhorce Valley, I actually saw a chicken cross the road. Sensing the danger of the oncoming vehicle, its pace quickened from a composed srut to a panicked dash in a bid to avoid certain death. The punchline was still unclear, but the chicken had made it safely to the other side, and we could breathe a sigh of relief.
Before the grand re-opening of El Chorro’s El Caminito del Rey earlier this year, such an event could quite plausibly have been the most exciting thing to have ever happened in the town, which is home to roughly 250 inhabitants.
Since its revival, El Caminito del Rey has probably been written about by every blogger and independent news publcation in all of Andalucía.
It’s kind of a big deal, though to describe it as ‘big’ would be quite the understatement; when I finally visited a few weeks ago, I was genuinely astounded. From the moment we ducked into the 80m-long tunnel at the start of a scenic pre-amble, to the imposing drawbridge at the route’s climax, a list of superlative adjectives almost as bottomless as the 105m chasm itself could quite easily have escaped my lips.
It really is awesome – as in, you will actually be in awe when you see it. And by ‘it’, I mean all 7.7km of paths, boardwalks and forest walkways; the whole thing is stupefying from start to finish. See, there I go again.
Even before we get past ticket inspection we are dumbfounded (and again) by the strange, Jurassic-like rock formations across the river Guadalhorce. Once the helmets and hair nets are on (which, by the way, I absolutely rock), we are left to stroll through at our own pace.
Inevitably there is an instant blockade of camera-wielding tourists (myself included) within the first 30 yards, but you can hardly blame them (us) – the scenery is already magnificent and on the other side of the gorge, a tiny, signposted section – more like a ledge actually – of the old Caminito is just about still intact.
Beneath the refurbished, entirely secure boardwalk, the old caminito – a hole-ridden, stone walkway held together by rusting steel beams – is still in place. It’s a wonder how anyone ever had the courage to walk along it, and even more amazing that people would still consider doing it in the 21st century, since until last year when the route closed for refurbishment, this is exactly what harebrained adrenaline-junkies, like Matthew from expertvagabond.com, were able to do (seriously worth reading; great post complete with hair-raising video!)
I revel in adventure and adrenaline-pumping sports but frankly, I wouldn’t have attempted the hike in its old state even if there were a life-time supply of yolk-glazed palmeras waiting for me at the other end. And believe me when I tell you I am THE number one fan of yolk-glazed palmeras (as in typical Spanish pastries; not an egg-related sexual fetish).
Beyond the first gorge, the unspoiled, prehistoric-like beauty of the scenery that unfurls below is such that we half expect a pterodactyl to come swooping down and spear a helpless Jurassic fish, or a herd of velociraptors to emerge on the horizon as a ruffle of leaves in a nearby tree reveals the head of a curious Diplodocus.
Well, perhaps only I imagine that, but there is definitely a sense of death in the air, quite literally, as the vultures circle above us patiently. Later we pass a plaque commemorating the only three people to have ever died hiking the caminito (since records began), but there is no mention of whether or not this had anything to do with hungry vultures or indeed a fortuitous velociraptor.
The highlights of the trail are the glass balcony and the drawbridge, which definitely gives you that ‘Indiana Jones rope-bridge’ sort of feeling, although this one, thankfully, does not snap as easily as the one in Temple of Doom, and there are no man-eating crocodiles idly waiting with their jaws open in the river 105m below. Still, it’s pretty damn scary. I nervously manage a selfie but don’t have the balls to attatch my phone to my, ahem, coughselfie stickcough, to get that ‘holy-jesus-look-where-the-fuck-I-am’ type shot. Never mind. Life goes on. Without selfies.
On the bridge, it’s hard to imagine a better view in Spain, or anywhere for that matter. The water is so still and turquoise it looks fake. In fact, the scenery in general is so deep in colour it looks digitally enhanced. #nofilternecessary.
The rest of the trail, heading in the Álora direction, follows the river until eventually we arrive at the enormous hydroelectric power station, which, although not as unsightly as you might think, kind of spells an end to the whimsical reverie that’s been going on in my head for the last two hours.
There’s just enough time for a round or two of tapas at the local bar before we are whisked back by bus to the car park at the Ardales end of the trail. By this time the fantasy is most definitely dead, but my appetite for Andalucían adventure is truly alive!
Need to Know
Unbelievably, the Caminito del Rey is free to visit, but it won’t be for much longer. Originally it was going to remain free for the first six months following the re-opening but this was extended to March of next year, from which point the fee to enter will be 6 euros.
However, you must reserve your tickets online well in advance of your visit. Usually, visitors have to wait between four and six weeks for an available date, so it’s important to think very far ahead! You can reserve tickets on the El Caminito del Rey website.
Make sure you take plenty of snacks and water, appropriate hiking shoes, sunglasses, clothes suited to the weather (so check the weather forecast daily during the week before you go!), a camera and pterodactyl repellent.
The original Caminito del Rey was built to allow workers from nearby communities ‘easy’ access to the large hydroelectric dam when it was being constructed at the beginning of the 20th century. The pathway started where the train station is now located and flanked the gorge all the way to the dam. In 1921, King Alfonso XIII visited El Chorro to inaugurate the dam but to get there he had to walk along the path first. Thus, the precarious pathway became known as El Caminito del Rey – ‘The King’s Little Pathway’.
Between then and some time last year, anybody was able to use the path, at their own peril!
If coming from Málaga, you’ll need to take the A-357 motorway and come off at Ardales (MA-5403). Keep following this until you reach El Chorro and from here the attraction is well signposted.
If coming from or via Antequera, there are two ways you can come. The first is by the A-384 motorway which leads directly to El Chorro, taking just under an hour. The second is by the A-343 and then the MA-226 to El Chorro, which, although takes just 45 minutes, is not a particularly well-maintained road, so there may be a few bumps along the way.
There is a train service from Seville to El Chorro that takes roughly two hours and costs 32 euros for a return ticket.
There is a train service from Málaga to El Chorro that takes roughly 45 minutes and costs 10 euros for a return ticket.
See the ‘Plan Your Visit‘ page of the Caminito del Rey website for train timetable information and more info on getting to El Caminito del Rey.
Interested in any more hiking or extreme activities in Spain? Head over to my 5 Adrenaline-Pumping Activities post for more ideas…