The El Caminito del Rey walkway in southern Spain has in recent years become on of the worlds most beautiful boardwalk walkways. Originally built to provide workers a way to maintain the canal and reservoirs, El Caminito del Rey was formally known as the ‘walkway of death’ but was fully restored in 2015 and now offers one of the most adventurous and exciting daytrips from Málaga.
Made up of 19 939 meters of wooden boards, 29 725 screws and 3 075 iron bolts, the boardwalk was completed after only a year of renovation and El Caminito del Rey officially opened on 28 March 2015. In general, the walkway is only 1 meter wide and rises alongside the canyon up to 100 meters above the river below.
EL CAMINITO DEL REY
At the reception center each person receives a hairnet, hardhat and after a quick information and safety briefing, you are able to start the iconic walk from the Gaitanejo Hydroelectric Power Station. The first part of the walk leads you past the power substation, the Gaitanejo Dam, some shepherds’ troglodytic houses and viewpoint perfect of first pictures. As the walk departs in groups it is very crowded at first. However, after a kilometer or so the group spreads out and you are able to stop, take pictures and enjoy the walk at your own pace.
Walking high above the Gaitanejo gorge gives visitors a stunning view of the hallows formed by water erosion, informally known as the ‘Cooking Pots’. The boardwalk leads you into the Neolithic Cave of the Soto, a small tunnel called the Paso Subterraneo and eventually to the Toro cave. As the area was closed of to people for decades, the flora in the area is untouched and it has become a sanctuary for many animals. Even vultures are regularly spotted circling high above the canyon and the surrounding mountains.
Less than 1 km from the start you will find the first rest area, the Flat Rocks Flat Viewpoint, a perfect place to take advantage of the beautiful surroundings and take some pictures. Following many stairs, narrow walkways and holding your breath walking along the side of the cliff, you will find yourself in the Hoyo Valley. The Sapito Pintojo pond, some trees and the cool wind makes this halfway stop the perfect place for a sandwich and some water.
And then things get real. The narrow boardwalk hanging on the wall of the canyon leads you up to a 100 meters above the river below, winding its way along the steep cliffs. With shaky legs and sweaty palms you make your way deeper into the canyon, until you eventually reach the glass-bottom balcony. Stepping onto the clear glass gives you not only serious vertigo, but also a fantastic view of the canyon and river below. It is however absolutely not for the faint of heart or anyone with even the slightest fear of heights.
Further on, two 300 meter high cliff faces finally meet and visitors get to cross the Ribera Aqueduct bridge. Be sure to hang onto your hat, camera and your clothes as the wind will try to carry you away. Walking over a 35 meter long hanging footbridge and making your way through the dark railway tunnel are the last hurdles before completing the wonderful El Caminito del Rey.
Officially the El Caminito del Rey is only 2.9 km in length, of which 1.5 km is elevated boardwalk and 1.4 km is forest trails. Adding the 2.7 km to get to the start and a further 2.1 km on an exit road to get back to the El Chorro train station, the entire walk is close to 8 km and takes approximately 4 hours to complete. I do however recommend that you take your time to truly experience the beauty of the surroundings. Due to the variety in terrain including steps, bridges, steep uphills and downhills and narrow boardwalks, the walk requires certain level of physical effort yet you do not have to be super fit to complete the walk.
HOW TO GET THERE
If you are, like me, dependent on public transport when abroad, getting to the walkway by train is one of the easiest and fastest options. From the Málaga María Zambrano railway station, take a Renfe train to El Chorro, a small town close to the start of the walkway. The journey takes less than an hour and costs around €10 but be sure to book your ticket well in advance as there is only one train from Málaga to El Chorro in the morning and one train back in the afternoon.
Once in El Chorro, another 30 minute bus transfer included in the ticket price takes you to the El Kiosko Restaurant where snacks and drinks can be bought and last bathroom stops made. Be sure to walk down the wooden steps to the cool, turquoise blue waters of the Guadalhorce reservoir and in summer, take a dip! From the restaurant there are two ways to get to the official start of El Caminito del Rey. Visitors can get there by either following the 1,5 km pedestrian path, or the longer 2.7 km Gaitanejo Way, both offering a look at the famous Gothic Arches.
The Gaitanejo Way is shaded by hundreds of Aleppo pine trees and walking right along the river bank of the perfectly blue Gaitanejo reservoir makes this the preferred and recommended route to take to get to the official visitor reception center.
Tickets are sold online for €11,55 and to ensure that you do get to do this wonderful walk, be sure to book your ticket well in advance as it is a world-famous tourist attraction and is very popular during the summer months. On the day be sure to check the official El Caminito del Rey website as it gets very windy and the area and the walkway might be closed for safety reasons.
Hiking sticks, umbrellas, selfie sticks and other loose items are not permitted on the walk. A backpack with some water and snacks is a definite must as it can get very hot during summer. Also, wear comfortable shoes, shorts, a hat that cannot be blown off and enough sunscreen.