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El Caminito Del Rey: The once most dangerous hike in the world

It’s been a while since we managed to hitch a ride and today’s not going to be our day. The plan is to hitch from Granada to El Chorro and then tomorrow we can hike in the infamous El Caminito Del Rey canyon. Before swiftly moving on to Ronda, our final destination in Europe!

The car journey is around two hours from Granada, which sounds absolutely doable. We take the metro from Granada centre all the way to the end station Albolote. Then walk to a petrol station on the motorway. The heat is gruelling, even in the winter. We can’t imagine what it would be like in the summer. Waiting for hours, we don’t appear to pique the curiosity of any passersby.

At some point during the hazy hours we spot a guy from our hostel who we met in Granada – he’s hitchhiking too, but in the other direction, back to Ukraine.

The afternoon is creeping forward, the days are short and we begin to wonder about a plan B. We decide to take a bus, part of the way there, to Antequera. This entails getting back on the metro and departing at the bus station, part of the way back to Granada.

Without a care in Antequera

We catch a bus which takes a few hours to Antequera, booking a stay at a cheap hotel on the way there. By the time we get to Antequera, it’s already dark. The bus drops us off on a road high on a hill. The town is rather large and looks like it would be pretty if it wasn’t dark and unlit. It’s a mountainous area and is therefore quite cold, so we don our rucksacks and walk to the centre of town where our hotel is located. Luckily it’s only a 10 minute walk.

The room is okay, nothing special, but what can you expect for just over 30 euros. We’re pretty hungry so we head out in to the streets and find a pizzeria. It’s a quite a strange setup – there’s no one to greet us but it appears to be open, so we just go and sit down on a big round table. No one is there, it’s kinda awkward, but we wait a little. After twenty minutes or so a lady comes out the back with a look of shock on her face when she notices us.

Awkward Pizza

She comes and chats to us, talking about hitchhiking and our adventures and she mentions about some of their travels too. They’re a young hippyish couple running the pizzeria, blasting music out of the back in the kitchen and it appears they are smoking joints too. Well whatever floats your boat and we’re happy that they’re comfortable to do that around us – just bring us some damn pizza. Queue more awkwardness when one of the pizzas comes out covered in goats cheese – we both hate it. We’re too polite to say anything and just leave it on the table until the owner notices and is adamant that they cook us another. All in all an strange but nice evening.

After we finish, we stroll back to the tiny hotel room and research how we are going to get to El Chorro tomorrow morning.

We’ve never heard of Antequera, it’s about 1 hour north from Malaga. There’s lots to see here and a couple of days exploring Antequera wouldn’t go a miss. There’s a castle, a pretty old town, churches, winding cobbled streets over hilly neighbourhoods and there are also remnants of Islamic architecture. So, if you’re in the area, you might want to pay it a visit!

Antequera roofs and white walls, Spain
Photo by Jordi Vich Navarro on Unsplash

Hitching to El Chorro & El Caminito Del Rey

We’re up bright and early, checked out, and heading on the road leading out of town. The A-343. We slowly walk down the road thumbing any cars that pass, although there is not many. The road splits into separate directions after a short while and so we are heading to the junction, from there, the traffic is only going one way, direction El Chorro. So we know anyone that passes us is a potential lift. The road snakes up the hillside and before long we’re seemingly in the middle of no-where. The landscape is scorched, like a mountainous desert. It’s dry and inhospitable. We drop our rucksacks and pray for a lift, somewhere along the road, here.

Around 9AM and old dude pulls up by the side of the road in a beat up car. Sand is strewn in all directions and as the cloud slowly dissipates, the guy winds his window down and beckons us in. He’s on the way to a little town just before El-Chorro, his home town, Valle de Abdalajís. For the next thirty minutes or so, he mostly complains about the cold, which it isn’t, but compared to the summer? It’s basically arctic.

He drops us off on the main road, just outside of town, the main centre is down in the village and we’d only have to walk back up. We’re thankful, and begin to climb the hill, getting out of town to avoid local traffic. We start hitching from this point – we’re about 8KM away from the campsite we’d like to stay at but that is over 2 hours walking on a dusty mountain road, in pretty strong sunlight. The road is empty but we opt to wait it out.

To El Chorro & beyond

It was the right idea and after a wait of no more than an hour an almost full car of younger guys pull up. There is a bit of a language barrier and we try to explain where we are going and then they drive past it. The take us back down the mountain and then pretty much kick us out at the bottom of the road: the campsite is back up the mountain. Never mind, it’s only about 1KM away now, so we hit the road and slowly climb back up to the campsite. To top it all off, the car drives back past us, just as we reach the campsite. We try not to dwell on the fact that we could have skipped that whole laborious climb in the sweltering heat. Instead, we focus on the positive: we’ve made it to El Chorro and our campsite.

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El Chorro twinned with Llanberis

The campsite, Olive Garden, is pretty odd: It’s situated on a mountain and is not the only campsite on this stretch of road. It seems there are a few and it’s because the area is a climbing mecca. Our campsite appears to be the destination for English speakers and there is another which caters for the German speakers. Years later, in Llanberis, Wales of all places, hiking with my good friend, I notice a poster in Pete’s Eats advertising Olive Garden. It’s a very surreal moment, as I was sure I would never hear of the place again.

We’re shown a pitch on the side of a gravel covered hill. It’s not particular flat, or comfy looking but we pitch our tent up as the sun sets. Hitching in winter has its advantageous and disadvantages, for example it would pretty much be impossible to stand by the side of the road in the summer in this brutal climate, but in the winter, that’s totally doable. However, the days are so short. For instance, today, we have covered just shy of thirty kilometres, and the day is basically over.

Mountain desert camping

There is a common room in the campsite, but some of the guests insist on keeping the outside door open, allowing a very cold wind to penetrate the warm inside. It’s loud and guests get excitable when the alcohol starts to flow. It’s like a desert mountain Après Ski. Bored of the cold, we bag a snickers from the little mini-market inside the main building and hit the sack.

It’s very cold outside and we resort to our trusty jogging on the spot in the toilet block to warm up. Diving into our sleeping bags at breakneck speed in order to preserve all heat. The night is long, cold, and uncomfortable. We don’t sleep much, patiently awaiting the rising sun. Finally it wakes and sunlight streams into our tent, the morning dew runs down and drips to the floor. The new found warmth gives us the energy to rise and eat breakfast, in preparation for our hike.

Hiking the once most dangerous hiking path in the world: El Caminito del Rey

El Caminito Del Rey, which translates to The King’s Little Path, is a makeshift path. Made from steel and concrete, pinned into a vertical cliff face, in a deep gorge. The path was constructed to provide works access to the hydroelectric power plants at Chorro Falls & Gaitanejo Falls, for inspections and maintenance work. It was built between 1901 and 1905 and was officially opened by King Alfonso XII. During the initiation, he crossed the precarious one metre wide path hanging above a treacherous drop of 100 metres to the raging river below.

The walkway eventually succumbed to the elements and its access was subsequently shut off. The path eroded, with huge chunks of concrete falling in to the valley below, leaving just bare steel structures. The path was off limits for over ten years, but that didn’t keep the daredevils away. Check this video for some sweaty palm action. The notorious hike has however, claimed lives. Five people died between 1999 and 2000.

Following on from the tragic events, the site was dubbed for renovation. Over the following years, extensive, expensive works were performed, turning the area into a tourist destination. In 2015, the site officially opened.

First hurdle: Get to the start of El Caminito del Rey

Since we spent two days on the road, we’re overly happy to leave our huge rucksacks in the tent at the campsite, switching to our lighter counterparts. We head down the hill towards the main town of El-Chorro, from where the tourist bus apparently departs.

The hiking path actually ends in El-Chorro, but it’s not possible to start in this direction since the hike can only be completed in one direction. Therefore, it’s necessary to get to the start of the hike via a road, and it’s quite a distance away. The bus departs from El-Chorro train station. It’s scheduled to leave hourly and sometimes every half hour. Check Google Maps for the exact schedule – you are looking for the M-347 bus.

As we alight the bus, we quickly scan for free seats, the bus is full. It’s also tiny and old, barely enough space to fold up your legs in to your seat. The bus is also apparently full of old and sick people. The whole coach is coughing for 30 minutes of the ride to reservoirs where the hike begins. It’s quite a disgusting affair and I’m certain I will soon be ill from the germ express.

Hair-raising hiking through the gorge

We get off the bus where it terminates, by the reservoir, and walk to the starting point of the hike. A little way along the brilliant turquoise shores of the reservoirs. The walk to the ticket box takes around 30 minutes, coming in at 2.6KM, mostly along the river which leads to the canyon. Click here for Google Maps directions.

The tickets cost ten euros per person and can be bought online here, otherwise you can just buy them at the booth. The site has come a long way since the dark ages of the crumbling concrete. It has been completely renovated and a brand new path has been built in the canyon, hovering just above the crumbling old path. There are fences, barriers, gates, hand rails and most disappointingly hard hats, which must be worn at all times. It’s certainly not as exhilarating as it once was.

Nevertheless, it’s fun, and some parts are quiet dizzying due to steep drops. It’s a good laugh and the views are great, and plenty of opportunities for nerdy photos present themselves.

The final section of the hike is a hair-raising suspension bridge across the gorge. Not one for the faint-hearted! Afterwards, the path descends back down to El-Chorro where you can catch the shuttle bus back to the car parks by the reservoirs. Not us though, we keep on walking through El Chorro, back to our campsite, stopping only to watch the sunset and climb trees.

At the campsite we find another large shed with cooking facilities, we hang out, cook some food from the leftover boxes, make some friends and drink a few beers. All-in-all, a fun day!

For a more in-depth description and lots more pictures of the hike, check here on the official website.

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On the road to Ronda

El Chorro has been a quick stop on the way to Ronda and this morning we are on the road again. It’s a 67KM drive clocking in at just over 1 hour. Again, seems reasonable. Google Maps says the most logical route is back to El Chorro, over the mountain, back to where the hike started yesterday, around the reservoirs and on towards Ronda.

We’re not in a rush, we’ve got plenty of time. We lazily pack the tent and stroll down the hill to El Chorro, cross the dam bridge and sling our rucksacks to the floor. This is our spot now. A very slow hour goes by, barely even one car passes us. It’s clearly going to be a long day. We look for alternative, El Chorro train station is just across the road, but it’s not an often-served location. Of course, the train is not arriving for another three hours. It’s a nightmare. Throughout the day we switch between the station and the hitch point . Nothing. Nothing at all.

The train comes before a car does, so the train is the only option. Well, unless we want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere. The train takes us on a pretty crazy route, straight through the sides of the canyon we previously hiked, occasionally shooting out on to tiny sections where the hiking path pinned to the gorge wall can be seen for a split second.

Córdoba–Málaga Railway

A feat of engineering itself, this train was considered integral to the industrial revolution in Spain, particularly important to connect Madrid to the south, namely Málaga. The Córdoba–Málaga railway line spans 188KM and was built in 1865. The impressive line includes 17 tunnels, 8 viaducts and 18 bridges.

El Caminito del Rey pathway with train bridge

The train takes us a short while to Bobadilla, a 15 minute journey, mostly through tunnels. We change at Bobadilla, waiting in the station for an hour or so, on to a train towards Ronda. The sun sets in Bobadilla and the full moon rises over the baron landscape. This place is completed deserted and eerily quiet. By the time we’re on the train it’s already dark. The final section is walking to our apartment in Ronda, not so much fun in the dark, especially as the station is way out of the city centre. Our accommodation for the next two nights is super weird – but more on that in the next episode.

FACTS FACTS FACTS

How to get there

The closest international airport to El Caminito Del Rey & Antequera is Málaga Airport. There is also an airport in Granada which is severed by domestic flights mostly from Barcelona & Madrid. Check Skyscanner.

Check the trains, they go direct from Malaga to both El Chorro and Antequera, 40 mins and 1 hour respectively.

For getting around the area, a car will be the best option, but it is possible with the bus in the near vicinity. The official website of El Caminito Del Rey states the bus starts at 8:30 and runs until 4:30 in half hour intervals: check there for more up to date information

If you want to drive to the El Caminito Del Rey: head for this car park. Apparently it fills up early.

The Hike

The whole trail, from the reservoir to El-Chorro is around 8.1KM and takes around 3-4 hours. The hike can get very busy and it is recommended to book tickets in advance. Also, only 100 people are admitted every half hour, so queues can form.

Much more information can be found on the official website.

Things to do

There is a lot of climbing and hiking to do in the area, and of course the main event is the topic of this post: El Caminito Del Rey

  • Hike the El Caminito Del Rey
  • Rock Climbing – El Chorro and the surrounding area is a world class climbing destination, check here and here for some more info.
  • Swimming, BBQ’ing and water sports around the lakes at Ardales National Park.
  • Hiking – There are lots more hiking trails around the area, for example the Arabic Stair Case.

You can also apparently go mountain biking, bird watching and horse riding, a true outdoor paradise!

Accommodation

We camped at Olive Branch – they have pitches, private rooms and bunk rooms. There is lots of other accommodation around El Chorro – check www.booking.com.

Pro Tips

  • Prebook your tickets for the Caminito Del Rey in advance to avoid disappointment!

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