Caminito del Rey - History

El Caminito del Rey - Historic Photo - Photo Credit Diputacion de Malaga.

El Caminito del Rey - Historic Photo - Photo Credit Diputacion de Malaga.

HISTORY OF EL CAMINTO DEL REY

The original path was built between 1901 and 1905 by the Sociedad Hydroelectrica del Chorro (Chorro Hydroelectric Society). A pioneering project to take advantage of the 100m drop in the river Guadalhorce required the construction of a small dam, a canal, an arch-supported aqueduct across the gorge, and 1,400m of aquaduct- tunnels. Additionally a path way to provide access for workmen and materials between two hydroelectric sites, namely Salto del Chorro (Chorro waterfall) and Salto de Gaitenejo (Gaitenejo waterfall) was constructed. Work was challenging and sailors from Malaga were called in to hang from ropes fixed at the top of the gorge. Popular (unconfirmed) stories claim that convicts, including those condemned to death, undertook the riskiest parts.

As demand for electricity increased, work on a new and much larger, nearby dam to form the Embalse del Conde de Guadalhorce (Count of Guadalhorce reservoir) began in 1914. The chief engineer, Rafael Benjumea Burín, decided to upgrade the nearby path and include the aqueduct that spanned the gorge. He did this even though it was not a necessary part of the nearby dam construction work. The view of this bridge, named Balconcillo de los Gaitanes, spanning the gorge, become one of the most emblematic images of Malaga province in its day. One legend says that a pretty English girl with flowing blonde hair riding a white stallion committed suicide from this bridge.

Caminito del Rey Tour from Costa del Sol

Caminito del Rey Tour from Costa del Sol book now

Walk the Caminito del Rey with guide and transport from Costa del Sol. This tour helps you walk the exciting path without any of the logistical complications.  Fridays 
From Marbella, Torremolinos, Fuengirola and Malaga - 42€

Caminito del Rey - Private Full Day Tour from Malaga or Nerja

Caminito del Rey - Private Full Day Tour from Marbella & Mijas book now

Be driven to Caminito del Rey entrance and walk the path. This is a small group guided tour by professional historian along Caminito del Rey, including outward and return transport. You will be collected from south exit for the return transport.   
Tuesday to Sundays.
From central Nerja & Malaga -  75  €

 

When the dam was officially opened on a misty 21 May 1921 by King Alfonso XIII of Spain, sat in the Sillon del Rey (Kings seat) on the dam to sign off the works. He was also invited to walked along the nearby path, (reports of how far are contradictory) which thereafter was known as El Caminito del Rey.

These reservoirs were hugely important as sources of electricity to the development of Malaga. The project was also emblematic at a national level and the King bestowed on engineer Rafael Benjumea Burín the title of the Conde de Guadalhorce (Count of Guadalhorce). The Count had a house on the edge of the Guadalhorce reservoir, and was also a politician who went on to be Minister for Development and President of the national train company, RENFE.

The path was open to the public and was a popular attraction, especially for those living in the city of Malaga. The reservoir at the lower end of the path, Embalse de Tajo de la Encantada, was built in 1978 as a pump storage hydroelectric scheme. Its upper reservoir can be visited near the ancient village of Bobastro. The Caminito de Rey path gradually fell into disrepair and after a number of accidents it was officially closed in the 1980s.

The Camino del Rey, as it had become known, remained a popular (unofficial) attraction. As the path was closed off by little more than some wire and a sign, it could be easily reached by crossing the "Von Ryan's express" iron girder railway bridge, while keeping a sharp lookout for trains coming out of the tunnels at either end. Aparently this included groups of summer school children supervised by monitors, sadly on 27th July 1993 Rosa Polo from La Rinconada, Sevilla fell through a hole in the platform. (PDF). Question were even asked in Congress in Madrid.  

El Caminito del Rey - Old Path - Photo Credit Diputacion de Malaga.
El Caminito del Rey, pre-restoration. Photo: Diputacion de Malaga.

Following a fatal accident in 1999 and another three in 2000 (see memorial plaque on near the Ignacio Mena bridge), the authorities completely removed the first 30m of the path next to the railway bridge and at the lake end, making it impossible to 'walk' along the path. Such was the determination of local mountaineers to carry on using the path, that they set up a safety cable and acted as unofficial guides to take visitors along it. Missing sections had to be traversed either by scaling the cliff face above the path or tightrope-walking along a supporting rail. As you will gather from the video below, climbing and trekking on this old path was only for experienced climbers with proper equipment. Using the path was a finable offence although never enforsed. Websites advertised guides for the experience. Another plaque remembers a fatalaty on 14 Feb 2010 whilst others on 6th March 2013 fell 80m had to be rescued by helicopter and lived to tell the tale. Some unconfirmed reports state 27 deaths and 74 serious injuries on the path.

A video documenting the re-construction work.

The authorities had talked for years about restoring and reopening the path. When, in 2006, the Junta de Andalucia proudly announced that funds were available in the budget that year, local people could not be blamed for reacting with scepticism. Finally in 2012 the Diputación de Malaga took the initiative. A new aproach was to build a new lightweight path just above the old one, this signifantly reduced the cost and, and by splitting the cost with the Junta de Andalucia the project became viable again. A contractor called Sando was appointed in 2013 and the actual works were completed in 12 months. In late summer 2014, a Spring 2015 re-opening was anounced and actually kept to. Just before Christmas 2014 Malaga actor Antonio Banderas and new girlfriend Nicole Kimpel visited the works with President of the Diputacion of Malaga and Mayor of Malaga City.

It is worth noting that the original 'Caminito de Rey' name of the path changed over time in popular usage and in the printed press to 'Camino de Rey'. When the path reopened the original name with logo was trademarked and heavily publicised, and is returning into use.   

REOPENING

The new (third) path was due to be inaugurated on 26th March 2015 but the ceremony was cancelled out of respect to the deaths in the Germanwings plane crash two days before. It actually re-opened to the public as planned on the 28th March 2015 and included a very low key ceremony. The plaque can be seen in the cliff near the Alora control point.

Free ticket controversy

All the tickets had 'sold out' on the morning the online system opened. The demand was unprecidented. An additional availability that appeared on the website for the 1st to 4th April turned out to be a hacking attack and caused some issues when 300 walkers tuned up on these mornings for the 50, ten o'clock slots, all with valid reservatons in hand. The free website ticket allocation was controversial. Originally planed for six months it continued for a year and tickets were released in batches of three months at the beginning of the year to one month towards the end. The tickets were released only a month in advance and ‘sold out' in hours at the beginning of the year, fueled by local radio and social media. By the end of the year the allocation lasted a few days. It became almost impossible for foreign tourists to obtain tickets for planned holidays.

On the actual footpath, there were 23.000 visitors in the first month of operation. In the first year of operation there were 300.000 free tickets issued. The Malaga provincial council has not reported how many tickets were actually used as it is known a high percentage of the free tickets that could not be re-dated were 'no shows'.

Economics

The Diputacion de Malaga have reported that whilst the investment was 5.5m € the annual economic benefit to the area is 20 million euro annualy  local press reported this headline verbatim. The reports basis was 74.135 tourists, staying on average 1.7days spending on average 64.88€  equals 8.2 m € spend annually. In adition 172,980 day trippers spending on average 26.20€ equals 4.5m € spend annually. The report adds another unexplained 7m€ for indirect expentiture to arrive at the 20m€ return.  Andalucia.com views these numbers as groselty inflated and administration spin and awaits a requested detailed breakdown. This figure was mysteriously revised upwards to 40m € anually on the anniversary of the opening of the path.

Secret ticket aLlocation

Tourists also reported being able to obtain tickets from local hotels and restaurants. On 27th October, the secret parallel system was revealed in the Malaga press. The town halls of Alora and Ardales have been each issued with 100 tickets a day, increased to 250 on 1st October 2015. These tickets were given out at Ardales tourist office and given to local business on the justification of 'activating the economy'. The Diputacion de Malaga appears to have tolerated this system although it is forbidden in their own path's by-laws.

 

Private management

The Diputacion de Malaga approved tender documents on 20th January 2016 for the five year contract to manage the path commencing on the 1st April. Eight companies returned offers within the 15 day deadline. The contracts documents state the maximum entrance fee will be 10€ and the maximum number of walkers in a year will be 300.000 and per day 1.100. An annual minimum canon (fee) of 75.000€ is to be paid by the managing company.

On the 30th March, two days before the start of the contract, the name of the winning bid was announced as a joint venture between Hermanos Campano SL and  Bobastro 2000 SL. The winning bid included a canon of 409.565 €  and commitment to spend 17,25% on maintenance. The late handover resulted in the path being closed from the 28th March until 22 April 2016. Marina Bravo (Diputada de Media Ambiente y Promocion del Teritorio) of the Diputación de Malaga announced the following day that 37% of the advanced ticket allocation is for organised tours via tour operators, 37% for individuals sold by tourism business (hotels restaurant etc.) in the local area, 16% for school, cultural, and protocol visits and 10% for individuals sold on the on-line booking system. This is a deliberate policy to ensure that a higher percentage of the tourist spend is diverted into local business than has been the case to date. Since the contract allows a maximum of 1,100 visitors a day we expected to see only 110 being sold on the on-line booking system. However in practice there are 660 tickets a day available on the website.

Prizes and Awards

In 2015 the Consejo de Ministros in Madrid awarded Caminito del Rey the Placa al Mérito Turístico en Destinos Emergentes.    The Junta de Andalucia awarded the Premio Andalucía del Turismo 2016. At Euoropean level the  Caminito del Rey won one of the 28 EU 'Europa Nostra', prizes in 2016 in the conservation category. This EU prize recognizes European patrimony.  In the XIII Bienal Española de Arquitectura y Urbanismo, the Caminito del Rey was considered one of the best 22 projects carried out in Spain in 2015.  In São Paulo (Brazil), the Caminito del Rey was awarded one of the 26 prizes during the X Bienal Iberoamericana de Arquitectura y Urbanismo. The Bienal Iberoamericana de Arquitectura y Urbanismo is a Spanish government iniciative.

 

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