Caminito del Rey - Route description

The Caminito del Rey, The King´s path. © Michelle Chaplow
The Caminito del Rey, The King´s path. The old and the new pathways

DETAILed discription OF THE ROUTE

By Chris Chaplow

This description is walking the route from Alora / El Chorro northwards or upwards to Ardales. Since October 2015 all the tickets have been for walking in the direction, south to El Chorro, please read upwards from the end of the page for a description of the route in the direction you will walk it. 

From the El Chorro information point to the Caminito del Rey control cabin is an interesting uphill 2.1 km hike. After an easy walk through the woods, the path becomes exposed and the large arched railway bridge towers above you. As you climb up, the view of the Tajo de la Encantada reservoir becomes more and more spectacular, and the familiar rock face of Caminito del Rey comes into view. A grassy knoll offers a viewpoint. If you are walking in the morning, take advantage of the shade on this path. After crossing a concrete-clad water duct, the new path starts with wooden sleeper-edged steps that lead up before traversing across to offer the best viewpoint of the water, cliffs, boardwalk and iron railway bridge before stepping back down to a little terrace where the control point is located. A plaque on the rock face commemorates the opening of the new path. Having checked reservations and ID, you enter the boardwalk. This will be 30 to 60 mins after starting.

 

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  €

 

Boardwalk along the cliff face

This first section of boardwalk is in a chain-link cage to protect the railway line below. Cross over the railway line where breathtaking train scenes at the end of 1965 World War Two film Von Ryan's Express were filmed (2:27 to 2:59 below). In this movie you can see the German soldiers running along the Camino de Rey ( 2:58) , and the point where Ryan (Frank Sinatra) single-handedly holds back the German soldiers in the tunnel before running to join his escaped prisoner-of-war comrades on the train.(Opening to trailer below)

 

 

 

Very soon after this, you descend four flights of very steep, very narrow wooden steps. Hold on tight to the guard wire which follows the entire route. You soon become accustomed to the walkway being a mere 100m above the water below. There is no shade at all here and in the afternoon the rock face seems to radiate as much absorbed heat as the sun.

Be careful if you use your smart phone here - in the event of dropping it, the device might slip between the slats of the wooden decking, and get smashed to smithereens, or washed away.

Desfiladero de los Gaitanes

The path turns into the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes, with concrete steps to climb. It is quite narrow so be careful, especially if passing others on their way down. Soon you will reach the highlight of the whole walk - the section which offers a chance to view the 'old' path and see how it was constructed from railway lines used in the construction of the Conde de Guadalhorce Dam.

Hanging Bridge

The Puente Colgante or hanging bridge is part of the modern structure - it's a 30m-long galvanized steel suspension bridge with grid decking, through which you can see down to the river 105m below. Even with horizontal stays it sways when you walk on it and oscillates or wobbles up and down. This is a great photo opportunity; a maximum of ten people are allowed on the bridge at any one time. It has been officially named Puente Ignacio Mena, after the late Estepona councilor who served on the Diputacion de Malaga.

Looking down you can see the original 1921 path (see History of the Caminito del Rey) above the aqueduct. This is called the Balconcillo de los Gaitanes, spanning the gorge; it became become one of the most emblematic images of Malaga province in its day and the modern hanging bridge does not obscure this landmark. One legend says that a pretty English girl with flowing blonde hair riding a white stallion committed suicide from this bridge.

Look out for the memorial plaque to Antonio (Picholo), Andres (Moro), Martin (Loco) the three local climbers who fell to their death "Taking a giant leap to freedom" on 11 August 2000 The old zip wire that they were using came away, and has been left in place here, and you can walk under it as it hangs loosely down into the gorge. (See on Facebook)

Boardwalk continues

The boardwalk continues and winds around the gorge to a north-facing slope, offering welcome shade. The ferns and acanthus or Bear's breeches like it here too, and the green backdrop and shade make for a good photo portrait opportunity.

In the next section the path follows a tributary called Falla Chica, and doubles back on itself in a sharp U-bend. The old path can be clearly seen below the new, and one section of the old path comprises a 'short-cut' option over a four-metre bridge. Over the years the handrails and toe boards have fallen away into the gorge and the old bridge deck appears to be suspended in thin air. We prefer the new path. See this bridge on a 1940s postcard.

In the 1960 thriller "Scent of Mystery" Denholm Elliott and Peter Lorre travel across the picturesque Andalucian countryside, including the Camino del Rey, in search of an elusive American heiress (an unaccredited Elizabeth Taylor). Later they try to protect her from increasingly desperate attempts on her life. The film was one of the first to use Smell-O-Vision, a system that timed odours to points in the film's plot. The system did not work properly, even in specially equipped cinemas, and never took off. The film was renamed and re-released as "Holiday in Spain" and has a surreal quality. Without knowing the film's background story, the viewer would wonder why, for example, a loaf of bread from the oven is held in close shot for a long time.

Look out for the fossils in the rocks and as you come out of Falla Chica you will see another commanding view of the Balconcillo de los Gaitanes and hanging bridge.

Next you reached a glass-floored cantilevered viewing platform for a maximum of four persons. Another great photo opportunity for the brave.  Further on, coming out of the next inlet, you get a telephoto view of the platform.

Looking across to the other side of the main gorge you can see the railway line supported on large stone viaduct constructions between the tunnels. Amazing to think that this 192 railway line (Malaga to Cordoba) was constructed between 1860 and 1866. It was used by all the express trains from Malaga until the AVE line was opened in 2007.

The remnants of electricity poles can be seen all along the route. This was the auxiliary electricity for the workers facilities. Note the old ceramic insulators that were needed before wires were manufactured plastic coated.

Another plaque commemorates German Rafael Pfyffer, who fell to his death here on 14 Feb 2010, reminds us to tread carefully. "Hier an dieser Stelle bist du von uns gegangen. Wir sind dankbar, dass wir dich begleiten durften durch dein kurzes, aber sehr intensives und glückliches Leben."  (Here at this point you're gone. We are grateful that we were allowed to accompany you through your short but very intense and happy life.)

You continue and round another corner and look ahead at the green Valle del Hoyo (Hoyo Valley) where you are about to walk. Notice how you are entering a 'lost world', a valley whose sides are surrounded by high mountains of the Sierra de Huma and steep gorge at either end. That is the Gaitanes gorge you have come through and the Gaitenejo gorge you can see in the distance as the gap in mountains ahead. Be grateful that there is a hanging path out through the gorge ahead and you are not about to climb out over the top.    

 Valle del Hoyo


The boardwalk now ends and the new path has wooden stairs to take you right into the aqueduct that brought the water down the Valle del Hoyo from the higher Gaitanejo reservoir. The water either flowed in open canals as here or in tunnels (just behind you) on its way to cross the gorge on the Balconcillo de los Gaitanes bridge before descending in a vertical tunnel where the water gained speed and energy to drive the turbines at the bottom to generate electricity for Malaga. This innovative system for 1901 was the reason for the existence of the original 1901 path, which was built for workers to pass between the two sites and control the water flow through this valley. Imagine them running and shouting as they went about their job.

At the bottom of the stairs look back into the tunnel. Entering these tunnels is prohibited even though they are not really closed off. Just stand in the entrance to enjoy the refreshing cooler air coming out. Notice the high iron sluice gate and winding mechanism and operator's platform to control the water flow.

In the next section the outer wall of the canal has broken away. A long bench in the shade offer a perfect spot to stop and rest, have a drink or a picnic. The path continues slightly away from the canal but later runs adjacent to it. The canal is covered by a stone arch in some places, presumably to stop the soil from eroding, running down the valley side, and washing into the canal. You can see the construction in one place where the roof has fallen in.

Notice the derelict Cortijo la Hoya and abandoned orange groves and allotments. Imagine living here.

As the railway line passes the valley with less steep sides the construction is less dramatic, there is however a large bowstring arched cast-iron truss bridge to cross a tributary.

The reforested pine woods (Aleppo pine) offer shade and there are a number of places where you can sit and have a picnic whilst all around you will see pistacia leniscus and Anthyllis cytisoide shrubs.

There is no opportunity here, in-spite of the 200 walkers passing per hour, to buy a bottle of water. In one shady spot there is a pool to wash you face (but not drink) fed from stream water. The canal you follow has water in some places but is generally stagnant.

You can see some partially buried arch constructions for the canal.

Gaitenejo Gorge.

After 3km of path in and out of the woods, you climb steps again to join another boardwalk. It is now about two hours after you started. After walking around a large rock buttress, you enter the sheer-sided enclosed Gaitenejo Gorge. The boardwalk is twisty and undulating, and the safety protection in the section that clings to the rocky outcrop is chain-link fencing.

As it enters the narrow part of the gorge, the path once again meets the canal and is conveniently located on top of the canal's outer wall. Notice in the gorge the smooth, rounded rocks, carved by the fast flowing water over the years.

Down by the river you can see oleander, tamarisk and European marram grass. Circling above you will undoubtedly spot Griffin vultures, Egyptian vulture, Golden eagle, Bonelli's eagle, peregrine falcon, and Eurasian eagle owl. In the river you might spot otters, Spanish painted frog, common toad and Perez frog.

There is a small inverted truss bridge here across the river called Puente del Rey. Next to the path near the Casa de Guardia de Canal is built under an overhang of the rock. This is where the workers who controlled the sluice-gated water flow lived. The canal widens to form a mini reservoir to control the flow a little and an overflow drain discharges into the river, with stone steps providing workers' access down to the river. See postcard Disappointingly the casa was demolished in 2014 even though it did not appear from photos to be in bad condition; instead there is a wooden bench to have a rest.

Perhaps the bridge was a way to access the railway. It is not recorded that King Alfonso XIII came this far on the opening day.

Casa de Guardia del Canal

There are some more interesting features here. In one part you can choose to descend into the canal and walk through a short tunnel (instead taking the path that goes round). The board walk in the tunnel keeps your feet dry. Don't open the sluice gates now before you ascend back to the top of the canal's outer wall.

Further on another set of steps upwards is not necessarily a welcome sight at this stage as they take you up to pass a very narrow and overhanging part of the gorge. Say goodbye to the canal as it enters a tunnel.  

As you climb to the higher part of the gorge look how the rock has been carved by the water over the ages. There is also a small section here where the old concrete path has been restored for you walk on it. It features the concrete balustrade pillars and steel tube railings. Another set of steps descend all the way down to the river, perhaps this was to access another overflow discharge from the canal in the tunnel below you.

A red painted steel chain and ring is fixed into the rock above your head. Who knows what this was used for?

Very soon you come out of the gorge and into an open green area. You pass the control point on the way out and reach the Gaitanejo dam with towers at each end. In a few minutes you reach the Ardales Information point. Here you put your hat back in the collection box, check in at the portable cabin and either take the access road back or the lower path through the wood.

Ardales Access path

The lower path does involve a steep climb up the ridge in the forest, which can be a climb too much for tired legs. The access road requires a final and rather unpleasant last km link back up the MA-444 to EL Kiosko and the bus stop. At the top of the ridge on the path you can spy civilization in the form of the constructions around the Guadalhorce dams. Only 900m to go now before a well-earned cold drink in El Kiosko.  

back to Camino del Rey Home page