El Caminito del Rey: Adventure in Andalusia

El Caminito del Rey is an intense cliffside hike in Southern Spain.
El Caminito del Rey is an intense cliffside hike in Southern Spain.


A Look at El Caminito del Rey, One of the World’s Scariest Treks

By Jack Straw

The hike winds around the sides of a mountain, everyone hikes in the same direction.
The hike winds around the sides of a mountain, everyone hikes in the same direction.

What’s the most hair-raising hike you’ve ever experienced? If the thought of crossing a suspension bridge and scaling along cliff sides speaks to your adrenal glands, you need to add El Caminito Del Rey trail to your bucket list.

This hike is one of my all-time favorites and others who have made the journey quickly understand why. There’s much more to this excursion than testing your courage. You’ll also earn a shiny new passport stamp and experience much of Spanish history along your trek.

If you’re considering where to plan your next vacation, a European tour adds entries to your hiking journal and provides ample gorgeous views for you to take in. Are you ready to hit the road? Here’s a closer look at El Caminito Del Rey path.

What Is El Caminito del Rey?

El Caminito Del Rey is an 8-kilometer hiking trail in southern Spain, part of the western section of the Baetic Mountains in Andalusia, the far south of Spain. It offers some of the most magnificent views you’ll find anywhere.

Although it’s a natural wonder, you can’t simply show up in your hiking boots. To maintain safety along the route, you need to book a guided tour or score one of a limited number of passes that permit you to hike independently.

Walkers across the canyon can be seen hiking the narrow wooden trail on the side of the cliff.
Walkers across the canyon can be seen hiking the narrow wooden trail on the side of the cliff.

Ticket sales open approximately one month before each quarter and you can purchase them up to three months in advance. Based on the experience of past hikers, waiting in hopes you can get a walk-in slot usually ends in disappointment, so get out your calendar.

The History of El Caminito del Rey

El Caminito del Rey means “the king’s little path” in English, which might make you think this trail harkens back to ancient times. However, it has a more modern origin. Construction of the now-famous walkway began in 1901 to provide workers at the Chorro and Gaitanejo Falls power plants a way to travel and transport materials between the two sites.

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Constructing the walkway wasn’t easy and rumor has it convicts condemned to death completed many of the riskiest maneuvers dangling from cliff faces. When crews completed construction in 1921, King Alfonso XIII sat at the king’s seat atop the dam to sign off on it and famously walked the path, hence the name.

Is El Caminito del Rey Really That Scary?

El Caminito del Rey was once more frightening than it is today. Initially, you could only reach it via a railroad bridge that required an old-fashioned train dodge. Once you crossed that hurdle, washed-away sections of planking required heart-stopping leaps above towering chasms — all without a safety net.

Several fatalities led authorities to close the first 30 meters of the path. However, it didn’t deter the most intrepid explorers, who took to scaling cliff faces to reach their favorite trailhead. Unconfirmed reports detail 27 deaths and 74 severe injuries along the route.

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The terror begins soon after mounting the first set of stairs as you scramble along the cliff’s face. However, the once-treacherous wooden support planks are now full walkways with chain link-covered guard rails keeping you from going over the edge. You’ll still have a sheer wall to one side and a steep drop on the other, providing plenty of tummy butterflies.

The scariest part is undoubtedly the suspension bridge. The original was a true test of your vertigo, making you feel as if you scored a starring role in the next “Indiana Jones” flick. However, the modern, rebuilt version features waist-high guard rails that make the route safe for anyone aged 8 and up.

What You’ll See Along El Caminito del Rey

As you traverse the new route, you’ll catch glimpses of the old walkways in some areas. If you’re brave enough to look down, you’ll see the Guadalhorce River coursing below. You’ll also pass several waterfalls.

You walk through a pleasant forest on flat ground to get to the cliffs.
You walk through a pleasant forest on flat ground to get to the cliffs.

Highlights of your excursion to El Caminito del Rey include:

    • The Corridor of the Immortals: A scary path along a sheer cliff wall.
    • The Bridge of Sighs: The nickname for the 30-foot suspension bridge, thus named for the sigh of relief visitors heave upon crossing it.
    • The Cave of the Bats: A small cave located near the end of the route that’s home to a bat population
    • Gaitenejo Waterfall: Located at the beginning of the route
Hikers cross through many tunnels on the trek.
Hikers cross through many tunnels on the trek.

As you walk, observe the cliff face carefully. You’ll spot the remains of marine animals — fossils from Earth’s earliest days millions of years ago.

However, you also want to look up. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of ibex, impressive creatures who scale impossible-seeming mountainsides with ease.

You might also spy Griffon vultures and various falcons. Spend time in Desfiladero de los Gaitanos National Park after braving this trek, and you might spot red deer, badgers and foxes.

If you’re like me, planning can be half the fun of visiting El Caminito del Rey. A chance at a European excursion isn’t something to miss. Here’s what I did to make the most of my trip — hopefully, these tips will make yours more memorable.

Where to Stay When Climbing El Caminito Del Rey

Each group has different colored helmets so you can keep track of who you came to the hike with.
Each group has different colored helmets so you can keep track of who you came to the hike with.

You have several choices for lodging near El Caminito del Rey. Look into the following when booking your trip:

  • La Garganta: A mountainside hotel with private patios to enjoy your morning coffee or tea only 3 miles from El Caminito
  • Apartamentos Ardales: Located less than 5 miles from the trailhead, these spacious suites complete with kitchenettes are perfect for groups
  • Hotel La Fuente del Sol: Although it’s a little further from the trailhead, this charming inn provides mountainside luxury at affordable prices
  • Hotel La Posada del Conde: Located only 0.1 miles from the trailhead, this hotel features a daily continental breakfast, unbeatable views and a reading room for when you return from your trek

Many hotels have kitchenettes, letting you save by dining in your room. However, you’re in a new country — get out and explore the local flavor. Here are several restaurants worth trying:

  • Restaurante el Kiosko: Located at the entry of the Caminito del Rey, this restaurant features authentic Spanish cuisine. Choose from full meals, various tapas and delectable pastries to fuel your trek.
  • Meson Restaurante: Located at the Hotel La Posada del Conde, this restaurant features Mediterranean cuisine with an unstoppable view. They also have an extensive wine list, so you can try some Spanish reds.
  • Restaurante el Garganta: Located at the La Garganta Hotel, this restaurant features various local favorites, Mediterranean cuisine and creative cocktails.

Preparing for the Day of Your Trek

Climbing El Caminito del Rey may allow travelers aged 8 and up, but getting in shape will significantly increase your enjoyment of your trip. Don’t worry, though — if you’re a regular weekend hiker, you won’t have to undergo much additional training. The entire journey is just under five miles and you lose elevation, so those with a moderate fitness level should encounter no problems other than vertigo.

You also need the right equipment. Here’s what to wear and bring, and how to prepare for your El Camino del Rey trek.

The rugged countryside in Andalusia, Spain. Max Hartshorne photos.
The rugged countryside in Andalusia, Spain. Max Hartshorne photos.

What to Wear

Your shoes are the most important article of clothing you’ll wear. A sturdy pair of hiking boots — such as the Vasque Breeze or Wolverine Falcon — gives you the sure-footedness you’ll need to feel secure on this mountainside trail.

Otherwise, you should dress in comfortable, light layers, depending on the time of year and weather. Many people choose to visit during the cooler months, although winter rains have closed part of the trek temporarily in recent years.

What to Bring for Your Hike

Water is a must, so take your reusable bottle with you. You probably don’t need snacks as the trek traverses less than five miles. The steep cliff faces might upset your stomach too much to dream of eating, anyway. Handrails lend plenty of stability, so you won’t need trekking poles, although carrying a basic first aid kit is always wise.

Remember a cap and sunglasses — the vistas look better when you don’t have to squint. One of those nifty phone cases with an attached strap is a must if you worry about dropping yours.

The Trek Itself

The trek itself travels through three distinct phases. Phase one begins at the Restaurante el Kiosko, where you’ll head toward the official entrance gate. You’ll also get to face yet another fear — that of dark, enclosed places — if you dare. That’s because there are two routes to reach the gate:

  • Pedestrian tunnels: The brave souls choosing this route will pass through two 150-yard narrow, dark, pedestrian tunnels. You’ll need a torch and the ability to overcome claustrophobia.
  • Gaitanejo trail: If you prefer to stay in the sunlight, you’ll wind through the pines. This route takes longer — 50 minutes compared to 25 — so factor the extra mileage into your training.

Upon reaching the gate, you’ll present your ticket and begin the narrow gorge trek over suspended walkways. These are timed, so you’ll need to make your appointment. Each hiker gets a safety helmet and a briefing before embarking on this section.

Stage three descends to El Chorro, where you’ll catch the shuttle back to the trailhead. There are also snacks and toilets at the exit.

Will You Try to Conquer El Caminito Del Rey?

El Caminito del Rey was once one of the world’s scariest treks and still qualifies as such if you don’t like heights. However, it’s far safer to traverse today and deserves a spot on every nomad’s bucket list.

Plan your trip to El Caminito del Rey with this handy guide. Explore the route and more of what Spain has to offer in an adventure you’ll remember for a lifetime.

Jack Shaw

 

Jack Shaw is a lifelong New Yorker with over five years of experience writing about traveling and exploring the world around him. He serves as senior writer of Modded, a men’s lifestyle magazine, where he shares his tips on finding ways to go out and adventure. When not writing, you can often find Jack driving across the country or looking for new hikes. Read his bio here.

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