You stand a hundred metres over the precipice, on a wooden walkway attached to the flat rock. Above your head, the cliffs tower as high as 400 m and are home only to vultures and eagles. Below your feet, the Guadalhorce River roars in the canyon. This is Caminito del Rey, certainly one of the most spectacular attractions in Southern Spain.
In fact, let me tell you straight away, it’s not open to everyone. If your lungs are weak, have a heart condition or suffer from vertigo, this is not for you. If you’re a child under 8, thanks a lot for reading me, but you’re not allowed. If you’re a pet, you can’t go either.
If you don’t fall in any of these categories, you’re in for a treat! So let’s travel to Andalusia, here’s what expects you…
The Landscape of Caminito del Rey
We’re in the middle of the province of Málaga, 60 km north of that city, 50 km south of Antequera. We’re surrounded by dry rocky mountains pierced only by a river; the Guadalhorce bears an Arabic name, like many other natural and cultural landmarks in Andalusia.
We are in the Gaitanes Canyon, which (probably) takes its name from the vultures that dwell here. It’s an impressive gorge that is in parts only 10 metres wide and 400 metres high.
We’re not alone in the canyon. Egyptian vultures, griffon vultures and golden eagles; Spanish wild goats, foxes, dormice and more are all residents here.
Insider Tip: Bring a pair of binoculars with you; they’ll come in handy to watch the majestic birds of prey.
The riverbed inside the gorge.
It’s a natural area of valleys, marshes and canyons with difficult access that has retained most of its wild beauty. Of course, it’s a perfect spot for experienced climbers and for many water activities in the nearby reservoirs.
Hikers also come here to walk part of the path called Gran Senda de Málaga as well as for the Caminito del Rey. It is one of the best day trips from Malaga and is an activity we highly recommend.
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What is Caminito del Rey Actually?
At the beginning of the 20th century, when the province of Málaga started its industrialization, a canal was built there to provide for a hydroelectric power station. Workers had to walk from one reservoir to the other, for maintenance work of the canal and to transport materials.
Yep; what you will follow is the precarious one-meter-wide walkway that was hung to the cliff for the workers. Prepare for hidden landscapes and vertiginous sensations! Legends say that sailors built it, as they were used to climbing ropes and working in suspension above the void.
Don’t worry: I was there with someone who suffers from vertigo (hi mum!). She tells me that the first 10 minutes were difficult, but then you just enjoy the view. A good exercise to fight off your fears!
It was then called “Balconcillos de los Gaitanes” after the ‘little balconies’ you can still see sticking out of the cliffs. But in 1921, King Alfonso XIII came and walked the whole path, hence the current name of ‘King’s little path’. If Alfonso did it, you can do it too.
This is the kind of path you will follow. Easy peasy.
True enough, Caminito del Rey earned the nasty nickname of “world’s most dangerous walkway” after five people died in 1999 and 2000. They were not visitors, though. Since then, massive restorations have been made, earning it the Europa Nostra Award for heritage conservation. It’s also a candidate as we speak to become a UNESCO world heritage site.
Under the new, modern (reassuring!) boardwalk, you can still see parts of the old path used by the workers.
Caminito del Rey: The Tour
A bit of numbers. The whole walk of the Caminito del Rey consists of 7.7 km (4.7 miles). That took us a bit more than 3 hours and a half; but it can be less if you’re self-guided. It’s a total of 4.8 km of access ways and 2.9 km of boardwalks.
The entrance ticket to that fantastic experience costs 10€; 18€ if you choose a guided walk. Either way, you’ll get a helmet at the entrance that you must wear at all times.
Now, I’m not a fan of guided tours – in fact, I usually avoid them. The last time I took a tour was in the rain and the biting cold of Uyuni, Bolivia (it was splendid, though!). But in this case, I have to say that the amount of information you will get from your guide will go well beyond this or any other blog article (although I’m doing my best here).
You will learn –either in English or in Spanish– all about the geography and the biodiversity of the area. You’ll also gather many facts about the history of the pioneers of the electricity production, if that’s your thing.
My advice is really to go with the guide. S/He will also reassure you when you feel uncomfortable and even take pictures of you. My other advice is to book online at least 2 weeks beforehand, earlier in high season from June to September.
We are provided with a helmet, a radio and a reason to smile.
Insider Tip: If for some reason you can’t make it to the Caminito (eg. if you’re a 6-year-old dog with vertigo), there is a virtual tour on the official site of Caminito del Rey. I swear it’s almost as breathtaking as in real life. But I strongly advise against it if you plan on coming – keep it a surprise!
How to Get to Caminito del Rey
By car, the site is 50 minutes from Málaga; between 45 and 55 minutes from Antequera; 1h from Ronda.
There are also trains from Málaga (Maria Zambrano Station) to Álora (El Chorro Station). I advise you check the times cautiously before so as not to miss either your tour or the train back. You’d have to get a tour between 12:00 and 14:30 to make sure you get a train back to Málaga.
Something important to know: the Caminito del Rey is a linear tour, not a circular one. There’s only one direction to follow, from the North (Ardales) down to the South (El Chorro).
This means that if you arrive by car, you’re facing a dilemma. Either you park in the north, do the walk and take the shuttle back to your car. Or you leave your car in the south, take the shuttle to the northern entrance and do the walk.
As for us, we took the 1st option, so we have some time to chill in the shuttle after the walk. But I guess it’s all about how you time it all, really. Either way, the shuttle will cost you € 1.55 per person. Unless you decide to walk the 12 km from one side to the other…
Count also with a 15-minute walk from the northern parking to the entrance and a 20-minute shuttle ride.
Travel Must: We love renting cars whenever we travel — it just gives you so much freedom to explore at your own pace. The easiest way to get to Caminito del Rey is definitely by car. Click here to compare car rental prices. You’ll be surprised at how affordable it is!
The exit path passes under the old railway bridge.
Tips for Doing the Caminito Del Rey Hike (Be Prepared!)
It’s essential that you prepare well for such an exclusive adventure. Don’t you worry none, I’ve got your back!
So here are the main points:
- Have appropriate footwear, meaning no heels or flip-flops; and a light jacket in case of wind
- Bring water, sun protection, and a hat in summer
- Bring something to eat that’s easy to munch — bars, fruit, nuts, things like that
- Do not walk outside the marked way
- Do not litter (do I have to say it?)
- There’s no toilet on the path, but there’s one at the entrance (now that I think of it, I don’t remember one at the exit, but probably)
- Reminder: do NOT go if you suffer from vertigo, heart conditions, or breathing issues.
- Due to lack of space, it’s forbidden to carry backpacks or any big object including sticks, camera tripods, crutches, umbrellas
- It’s also forbidden to smoke, drink alcohol, or be on ecstasy (the latter is not mentioned but I guess so)
Note that the Caminito del Rey may close in case of strong wind, rain, or high temperatures or due to detachment of rocks or maintenance works. In case of closure, they will send you an SMS.
If you still have doubts, there is a long list of rules and regulations on the official site, which takes up almost the whole alphabet. You find it here. Honestly, most of these rules are pretty straightforward.
Last but not least, here comes the timetable, as of October 2019:
From Jan. 2nd to March 25th: 9:30 to 15:00. Tuesday to Sunday.
From March 26 to Oct. 28: 9:30 to 17:00. Tuesday to Sunday.
From Oct. 29 to Dec. 30: 9:30 to 15:00. Tuesday to Sunday.
Mondays closed – Dec. 24, 25 & 31 and Jan. 1st closed.
Tip: If you don’t want to deal with all that planning, a convenient way to experience this hike is to go on a guided tour from Malaga. This includes transportation from Malaga as well as a guide throughout the tour, which makes it an easy day trip!