El Caminito del Rey


I first heard of the Caminito del Rey two months prior to our trip to Spain. Cheryl had just purchased tickets on line for the treacherous hike in a remote corner of Andalusia. The suspended path is affixed half way up the 1200 foot rock walls above the turquoise waters of the Guadalhorce River. Not for the faint of heart! The path originally started construction in 1901 to transport people and material between the two power stations located at either end of the La Garganta del Chorro Gorge. In the past, the locals would travel the path by horse, bicycle, or foot for school, groceries and social activities. Completed in 1905, it was finally officially opened in the early 1920’s when King Alphonso XIII personally made the hike. The path fell into disrepair over the years and was closed in 2000. Thrill seekers ignored the closure and a number of people fell to their deaths trying to cross it. The Caminito del Rey remained closed for more than a decade and slowly the government discussed plans for renovations. One of the world’s most dangerous hikes reopened after the 2.7m€ update in 2015. Portions of the old concrete path still exist and can be seen just under the new construction.

The difference in height between the two reservoirs offered an exceptional opportunity to engineer
hydroelectric power during the early stages of the concept. The dizzying walkways, fastened with metal brackets to the stone walls of the gorge, meander 4.8 miles between the power plants. One mile of that distance is the trek from the end of the trail to the train station in Alora which connects both Malaga and Seville. The bus also picks up here and will transport you back to the southern parking area.

Tunnel from parking lot

Just getting to the  beginning of the path was an adventure as we arrived, parked and were instructed to walk down the road and then take a right into a tunnel. The tunnel was pedestrian and roughly 400 feet in length. It was pitch black and I had to use the flashlight on my phone to navigate the unseeable trough in the middle which allowed water to pass through. Upon emerging the tunnel, we saw the Conde Guadalhorce reservoir and walked down to the control point where helmets were handed out and tickets were taken. At first glance, we were intimidated by the suspended path stretching over the heavy flow of water from the power station. But, we soon acclimated to the surroundings. The newly constructed 2X6 walkways with stainless cable and fence were well done and we had no problem with the 300’+ heights above the river.

The orange limestone walls against the clear blue sky were striking. The rush of moving water through the gorge and the ever-present flocks of birds both above and below us filled our senses. Although there were others on the trail, it was the off season and there were very few about. Occasionally we would merge with portions of the old trail and navigate stone staircases and grassy paths while enjoying the vast panoramic view of the El Chorro Gorge. An aqueduct ran the length of the trail and at one point, we entered the aqueduct which served as a corridor to get to the next section. Across the gorge, we saw an arched train trestle come into view. It appeared to be chiseled out of rock like the “lost city of Petra,” but at second glance you could see it was hand built by stone masons. As we drew nearer, we marveled at the scale of everything. We later learned that train trestle was used in the filming of “Von Ryan’s Express” – a Frank Sinatra film from the 60’s. The trail continued to a plexiglass overhang, 4 person max, which you could stand on and look straight down. We took our turn and enjoyed the birds-eye view. Nearing the end of the trail, we could see the suspension bridge crossing the gorge

Cheryl crossing bridge

up ahead which we needed to cross. Piece of cake! Newly constructed with grate flooring, not an issue. After the bridge, we soon completed the trail. Now the one mile walk to the train station to catch the bus back!

It is obvious Spain has prepared the attraction for tourists, not to mention the new parking areas and buses already in place. The local press report expectations of 20m€ annually brought in by the newly refurbished path. In 2016, Peru asked to meet with Spain to inspect the update as they were preparing to refurbish their Colca Canyon Trail in the province of Arequiipa. With Spain taking over the number two spot for the world’s most popular tourist destination this year, they must be doing something right.