Pinned along the steep walls of a narrow canyon in El Chorro, in the province of Málaga, lies one of Spain most impressive hiking trails: El Caminito del Rey. The 7.7 kilometer long stretch of platforms, narrow ledges, and high bridges, meanders through the stunningly beautiful Gorge of the Gaitanes.
El Caminito del Rey (the King’s Little Path) was once considered Spain’s most dangerous hiking trail. The path was even closed for over a decade. But today Caminito del Rey is open and perfectly safe for anyone willing to walk along its 100-meter tall vertical cliffside.
If hiking the scary Caminito del Rey is in your plans, here is all you need to know about it.
A Brief History of El Caminito del Rey
In 1901, Chorro Hydroelectric Society decided to build two hydraulic stations, a dam and an aqueduct across the gorge. They needed a passage to provide access for workmen and materials, so they started the construction of a pathway.
Because the work was difficult and dangerous, the company brought convicts and sailors from Malaga to do the job. Workers had to hang from ropes fixed at the top of the gorge in order to build the road, but amazingly enough, only two men died during the construction.
The footpath was built between 1901 and 1905. However, the dam wasn’t finished until much later, in 1921. The original walkway was only 3 feet wide and had only thin steel safety wire for protection.
How Did El Caminito del Rey Get its Name?
The story says that at the opening ceremony, King Alfonso XIII of Spain sat on in his throne above the dam, to sign off the works. After the signing ceremony, the King was also invited to walk along the path. It’s unclear how far the king really walked, considering the difficulty of the passage. However, ever since that day the trail has been known as El Caminito del Rey.
The Old Caminito del Rey Path
After its use became redundant, the old Caminito del Rey pathway was abandoned and fell into disrepair. In time, all that was left of it was just a series of narrow concrete and wooden planks clinging to the 300-foot nearly vertical gorge. The trail was officially closed in 1992, but adventurers were still heading for it.
Nobody knows quite how many people died trying to walk the old Caminito del Rei. But the last four fatal accidents that took place in 1999 and 2000, determined the local government to finally close both entrances.
In 2015, after an extensive reconstruction that costed over 9 million dollars, El Caminito del Rey trail reopened for the public. But you can still see thorn fragments of the original Caminito clinging to the gorge, just below the newly cast path.
So if you are still in doubt whether you should attempt this hike, rest assured that no accidents have been reported on this trail since its reopening.
Hiking the New Caminito Del Rey Trail
The official starting point of the Camino de Rey starts at Silicon del Rey (the Chair Alfonso XIII) where the King sat during the signing ceremony. A shorter and more popular alternative access road is the one just south of the small tunnel on the MA-444, near El Mirador de Ardales restaurant.
Once you reach the control cabin, the staff will provide you some safety gear, including a helmet. They will also check if your shoes are suited for the hike.
The total length of the trail is about 8 km. The first 1.5 km goes through a tunnel that leads to the main gate. The next 4.5 km go through the canyon itself.
The trail is primarily straight, going down from north to south along the mountains and across some bridges. Many of the tricky places were modified during the restoration, so navigation along the rocks is much easier now.
The trek will take you through the Gaitanejo gorge, the Tajo de las Palomas canyon, then over the Puente del Rey suspension bridge, which is perhaps the scariest part of the hike. If you can overcome the fear that takes hold of your body when you look down, you will see a spectacular landscape all around you.
The hike itself is not difficult, but it may be a little spine-chilling. Especially if you have vertigo or acrophobia (fear of heights)! To go from one side to the other, you’ll have to cross a high suspension bridge. Even though it’s very safe, it’s still very intimidating to see that dreadful abyss under your feet!
After the bridge, you’ll descend a few hundred feet on a very narrow and almost spiraling stairway that leads to the exit. From this point, you’ll have another 2 km to walk before you get to the bus that will take you to the north parking lot.
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Logistics for Visiting El Caminito del Rey
We did this hike as part of a press trip to Malaga, but they offer guided tours at the site as well. You can also do this hike on your own. However, even though it’s cheaper, if you do the tour on your own you’ll miss many things. On the guided tour they give you a lot of information about the history of Caminito del Ray.
Ideally, you should hire a guide that will pick you up at your hotel and take you back afterwards. It’s a lot more expensive, but it’s worth every penny.
Admission fee is 10€/person, or 18€/person if you hire a guided tour at the gate. The cost for parking is 2€/space.
Visiting on Your Own
If you want to take your car, there are some things you need to know. First of all, there are two parking lots. You can park in the north parking lot, which is closer to the entrance. However, this is usually full by 10 -11 am. Or you park in the south parking lot and take the bus back to the north parking lot.
From the north parking lot it’s a 1.5 km tunnel that leads to the entrance. It’s a long way to get here and you’ll waste a lot of time to find parking. To get to the entrance and the booking office you’ll have to walk for 1.5 km. The hike goes in one direction only. That means you’ll have to take a shuttle bus if you want to go back to where you started.
One thing to keep in mind is that they will refuse you access at the gate if you don’t have close-toe shoes. Also, they will deny you access if you have children under 8 years old in your party. There is so much wind on this trail, that they don’t allow children under 8 on it.
El Caminito del Rey is a one-way trail, which means that after you finish the tour, you’ll have return to the north parking lot. There is a shuttle bus that runs every 30 minutes. The cost is 1.55€/person, but you’ll have to have exact change. Drivers don’t always have change, and they don’t accept cards.
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Visiting with a Guided Tour
If you choose to book a guided tour, you won’t regret it. It will take away all the hassle from your trip. The guided tours usually pick you up at your hotel and drop you off after the tour. The price of the ticket included the guide and the shuttle bus.
Tips for Hiking the Caminito del Rey Trail
• Even if you are afraid of heights, don’t let that detract you from coming here. Caminito del Rey is a gorgeous place to see and the experience is very rewarding.
• The old Málaga-Cordoba railway line runs through the gorge in a set of tunnels and bridges. If you are lucky enough, you may see a train passing just across from the walkway, so keep your eyes open!
• Buying your tickets in advance helps a lot. They only sell 50 tickets a day for those who buy the at the gate. So either come very early, or buy your tickets online if you want to get in.
• Bring lots and lots of water! More than you think you’ll need. This area is very dry and no matter what time of the year you come, you’ll be thirsty.