The World’s scariest footpath opened in Malaga province this spring – but I’ll let you in on a little secret; it’s not really scary anymore…instead it’s a spectacular hike, with breath-taking views in wonderful nature
(Second visit June 2015)
Two months ago, I was taking the ‘slow’ non-express train from Málaga to Sevilla. It’s a lovely journey that skirts the edge of Andalucía’s ‘lake district’ at El Chorro; a rocky landscape puntuated by aquamarine reservoirs edged by pine trees. The train follows the edge of the spectacular El Chorro gorge, where the sheer Gaitanes and El Chorro rock cliffs of some 400 metres are a draw for mountaineers from across the world. The mobile signal here as the train passes through the tunnels is a little unreliable to say the least but just as the awesome Desfiladero de los Gaitanes approached, a WhatsApp message came through from saying we’d got tickets! I was elated – yes we had just got tickets to walk El Caminito del Rey, ‘the world’s scariest footpath’! Below is the snap I took on my phone through the train window as I passed that day – perfect timing! You can just see the walkway on the right.
So finally, today, was our turn to enjoy the route. Sod’s Law dictated that despite an absurdly warm and sunny Easter, the weather for our trip would be showers! Yet although the day felt more like hiking in England’s Lake District than Andalucía’s Mediterranean Lake District, it was a wonderful, memorable day! I really recommend it! (In fact I just booked to go back again in June!! – hence this entry will be updated).
What to Expect
With the much-in-demand barcoded Caminito del Rey entrance ticket in hand, one feels like the owner of a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory!
With this piece of paper one has access to the ‘world’s most dangerous walkway’! But the route is much more than just the elevated boardwalk sections.
The route runs almost 8 km between the northern access near Ardales and the southern access near El Chorro (Alora). More than half of this route is a mountain trail running through the spectacular valley, access to which had been restricted to only mountaineers and hydro-electric workers in the past.
The ‘secret’ valley previously hard to visit.
Part of the path runs through the disused water channels.
The rest of the memorable route is made up of the dizzyingly high boardwalks that have been attracting so much media coverage recently. On the rock side is a wire cord to hold onto if you need to, and on the open side the wire guard comes up to above your waist. At the northern end of the gorge, it is really narrow, less than 10 metres and the rock has an extraordinary appearance due to the erosion by the river Guadalhorce.
Then the valley opens up, and you can see the odd passing train on the west side and then from the elevated sections, one re-joins the dramatic gorge which seems to become ever steeper.
This is how it looked before restoration (image from twitter):
Shows the scale rather well – now the new path sits above the old one…
Across the gorge one can make out the rainway tunnels…
Towards the southern point at El Chorro is the much photographed Desfiladero de los Gaitanes suspension footbridge – the view down is not for the faint hearted – but I have to admit that although in the past I have suffering from a bit of vertigo, I had no problems on this route. The ‘puente colgante’ and the elevated boardwalks are so well built and designed that I felt really secure – sorry, but it’s really not that scary at all! Let’s face it, the experience is now open to accompanied 8 year old children!
The new hanging bridge runs along side the almost 100 year old service bridge…
(Second visit June 2015)
Karl joined us on this adventure – his superb photograhy can be enjoyed on his facebook page.
Having said that, looking down from the suspension bridge might not be to everyone’s taste!
These hard hats are fast becoming the season’s must have accessory!
After the suspension bridge the final stretch of the boardwalk includes quite a few steps up and down, which are steep and small, so one has to concentrate when negotiating them. Also, there is a portion of the boardwalk that is wider, with a few benches where you can take a moment to rest and take in the view.
Upon arrival one has to don a hard hat (and hairnet for hygiene!) – it’s actually a great idea, as although there is a real risk from falling stones and rocks, I found that it was also possible to bump you head as you get distracted by the great views! – there are a few sections where the walkway passes through a low tunnel (avoidable if you are claustrophobic) and a few low arches. So the hard hats are a real necessity. One of the first things you notice about the elevated sections of the walkway is the robust and secure construction. It’s wide enough for walkers to pass easily. The timber walkway is not slippery and the wire edge comes up to above your waist – I felt secure the whole time and very comfortable learning over to get a better view. There are team members along the path at strategic points and also security cameras at regular intervals.
The main elevated sections are a wonder of engineering – not just for this recent 21st century refit but for the original walkway built long without the aid of helicopters (which were used the second time around!).
Here you can see the remnants of the old path running underneath the new boardwalk…
Even in the rain, the valley was full of colour…
The scenery is spectacular and even on our showery day it was a joy – the rock face is full of spring flowers and alpine-style plants. The valley is verdant and full of colour.
For the first 6 months of this new initiative, access tickets are free, although they have to be reserved online through the official website which has had various issues from hacking to crashing, as the unprecedented demand has apparently come as some surprise. This 6 month period is a trial; an opportunity to fine tune the experience, from ticketing, communication and parking etc. All these issues seem to be evolving and improving. Be aware that the walkway is closed in high winds – not for risk of being blown off the elevated sections or for the flexible suspension bridge, but actually due to the risk of falling rocks!
One can choose to start at the north end (Ardales) or the south end (El Chorro) – details are on the website. We reserved our tickets for access at the northern point near Ardales. Getting a morning ticket means that there was plenty of parking available outside the well-known El Kiosko restaurant – a good place for breakfast! From there we walked 2.7km (Update: there is an alternative 1.5km path – which I later took in June, it is a long, slightly claustrphobic pedestrian tunnel that cuts through the mountain saving you well over a kilometre of walking. I would recommend this route, much eaiser) to the starting point and information office.
The short walk to the starting point is a pleasure, running along the river…
It takes about 45 minutes at a normal pace to get to the starting point and the Caminito del Rey team suggest arriving 15 minutes before your scheduled departure time – so all that has to be factored in.
Update: If you take the shorter 1.5 km walk it takes less that 30 minutes to get to the North starting point.
(Second visit June 2015 showing pedestrian tunnel – the shorter route)
I am sure as the season gets busier with other visitors to the El Chorro lake district, then parking will become more and more of an issue that will need to be addressed. There were porta-loos at the access point information office (Update: as of June 2015 there are now normal W.C.s contructed together with a WiFi point that has solar powered phne charging USB plugs).
Sign-posting to the parking and start point was in place, but quite small, so if you are unfamiliar with the area, allow more time (Update: Signposting as of June 2015 was improved, but you still need to make sure you head to the right starting point – NORTH is Ardales, and SOUTH is El Chorro).
The southern access point is at El Chorro, beyond the train station. I know that route well, having walked the countryside there many times – it’s shorter but steeper to get to the start point. Also, I am not that impressed by the facilities and eating there – but I am sure over time with more international visitors this will improve. Remember that your ticket is not transferrable – you need to bring your national or foreign resident ID with you to check against the ID with which the ticket was booked. No tripods, walking sticks (or selfie sticks!) were allowed.
Update: Make sure you wear trainers or walking shoes with socks. Security were turning away guests with walking sandals without socks. Also, hard to understand, but women arrived in wedged heels – and were prevented to take te route. So dress appropriately).
There was a briefing before departure explaining the importance of respecting the environment, common sense security and safety and not to make noise – oh, and don’t bring along the ashes of a loved one to scatter – they frown upon that sort of thing! Also there are no loos, shops or anything on the route – so buy water at the local bars before passing the information point (and listen to your mother and go to the loo beforehand!)
One Way or Round Trip?
The path is linear, so once you complete it, you can take the inexpensive bus back to your original starting point. The busses run frequently – the web site suggested every half hour or so at weekends. We decided to walk to the end and then walk the Caminito del Rey back again as the weather had brightened up and the hike is just so great. Turning back is allowed so long as you do not pass the final control point as then you would need another ticket to get back on the route. For healthy people, walking at a normal pace stopping for photos etc. it takes less time than suggested on the website. We took about two hours each way with plenty of stops for photos! It really is very management for people of normal mobility and fitness – just some of the wooden steps were very steep and narrow.
The pathway was built in 1905 and was later inaugurated by King Alfonso XIII in 1921 (hence its nickname). The path was designed to link the two sides of the steep narrow gorge and make communications better for the mountain villagers. It also proved a valuable route for the hydro-electric workers – and as well as helping with communications and shifting materials between plants, it served as an effective viewing and survey route for the then newly created hydroelectric installations – a series of dams and sluices that controlled water flow for the hydro-electric plants and the reservoirs. These have since been superseded by a new plant and a new system, so the path fell into disrepair and was offically closed and made illegal to use I think about 15 years ago.
A fossil found in the gorge wall – right by the walkway…
However its extreme design attracted adventure seekers over the years, some of whom, without the safety equipment or techniques of climbers, sadly lost their lives walking the crumbling 1920s path, where sections would suddenly fall away without warning. Today as you take the path there are memorials at regular intervals remembering these that have died along this once treacherous path. The original 1900s path was much narrower than the new one, (which has been built above the original), and the structure is still visible.
The official website carries a lot of historical information.
(There are a few entries about El Chorro lake district on this blog – take a look here)