We had been reading about the Caminito del Rey and it’s very scary bridge for some time and had finally decided to take the plunge, definitely no pun intended.
The Caminito del Rey, which translates to Little Path of the King, is a narrow walkway attached to the side of a gorge, about 100 metres up, originally built in 1905 for workers at the nearby hydro plants to cross quickly. The concrete path had fallen into disrepair and had seen a number of deaths, so it was closed to the public, however after replacement by a wooden walkway in 2015, it was reopened. As the starting point, Ardales was only about 12 km from our apartment in Alora, it really was a must do and so after a hearty breakfast we were away. It should be mentioned that one of us (read Cath) is a bit scared of walking over bridges, in fact very well built bridges e.g. The Brooklyn Bridge gave her anxiety so there was much preparation in the car for the crossing that lay ahead.
We had attempted to get our tickets on the website but it indicated that all the tickets were sold out for the days that we could go, but having experienced other sites in Spain indicating the same thing on line whilst having tickets available at the gate we decided to give it a go; if nothing else the short drive was sure to be spectacular.
We had no trouble snaffling a car park near the entrance for €2 and walked on down the hill for about 50 metres, to a tunnel entrance. The tunnel, which presented us with our first challenge of the day, was rough hewn and the light fairly dim. After about 200 metres we emerged onto a broad gravel path winding through a wooded valley. It was a pleasant 2km walk, with fantastic views and we appeared to be the only people there, until we eventually rounded a bend and found that plenty of people had preceded us. There was a small cabin office, to purchase tickets of €10 each for the walk and €1.55 for the return bus. We bought our tickets and then waited while a group before us were corralled, instructed and then sent off along the trail.
After about 15 minutes a fair sized group had collected behind us and we were allowed into the next stage beside the office, where we were each given a hair net and a safety helmet, which was a bit of a surprise. The website had indicated that we would need bottled water, sun cream, lunch and hiking shoes but there was no mention of safety helmets being required. What had we gotten ourselves into?
We had (not so) sensibly ignored most of the advice on the website and turned up in sneakers, with bottled water, sunscreen and our large Berber style hats (a Moroccan necessity but not terribly fashionable) to keep the hot Spanish sun at bay. Getting those hats into the backpack was no mean feat, let us tell you. Surely we would not need a snack or picnic lunch for a 5km walk?
The first section is relatively straightforward, just a gravel path through the valley. However you soon come to some wooden steps, and then you are on the Little Path or boardwalk. From here the walk becomes steadily more, shall we say, interesting, as the ground drops away into the gorge and you are soon walking along the side of a vertical cliff, with a 100 metre drop beneath you (second challenge for the day). The walkway is made of typical decking planks, sufficiently spaced to allow you to admire the view directly beneath you if you so desire, but there is a waist high wire netting fence on the outer side and a strong wire attached to the cliff face to hang onto if you get nervous. At this stage we were both still confidently strolling along, even the scaredy Cath. We wisely chose not to look straight down generally, but to admire the overall perspective and we have to say, the scenery is jaw dropping.
Far below the river tumbles through the boulder strewn bottom of the gorge. It is a beautiful jade green and looks very inviting, but no one is contemplating the dive. The sides of the gorge are a mix of sandy brown and grey, with small clumps of vegetation clinging tenaciously, the ubiquitous Oleander adds shades of pink, blood red and cream which is delightful against the jade stream. As the rock wall turns this way and that, you are often surprised by new vistas opening up, the gorge one minute closing in and the next minute spreading out, such that at times you get a very clear picture of the path ahead and how there is nothing below, except a very long straight drop. It really is a credit to the builders and to those men who must have scrambled across here daily.
As we walked along, stopping here and there for photo opportunities, we began to overtake many of our fellow walkers. The instructions had advised that people should bring drinks and meals to see them through and after we stepped off the wooden walkway in the middle section, we found many people stopped beside the gravel path to enjoy a bit of shade and a rest. It was actually quite rewarding to us, as we realised that the months of walking and sightseeing had put some stamina into our legs and bodies. Apart from a quick drink of water, we felt no need of sustenance and kept on moving.
Once again the central gravel path gave way to the wooden walk and we were back on the side of the cliff. The second section proved to have a few more daunting spots, right angles in the cliff face where the path seemed to end, and you rounded a bend only to see that you were walking in and out of a crevice and had the opportunity of seeing people on the opposite wall of the path…. And the almighty drop below them. But the best was yet to come.
As we neared the end of the trail, we caught occasional glimpses of a small bridge spanning the gorge. The wind was starting to whip up and neither of us were looking forward to the bridge crossing. Unfortunately, just before the bridge, people had taken the opportunity to have their photos taken by a helpful guide. It was a great spot to get the must have “selfie”, which is becoming the bane of our travelling existence (but we shall rant about that at another time!!) Waiting was worse for us, so we pushed around several groups, including a poor fellow who had a death grip on the inner safety wire. A quick note to travellers and tourists everywhere, if you are going to insist on a photo at every location, leave a clear path for those who want to continue, standing across a path like Brown’s cows is at the least an annoyance and to be blunt, you are rude!
At last we were on the verge of crossing the bridge. It was a metal grid platform, a little over a metre wide, suspended by a typical suspension bridge setup and held firmly by cross wires bolted into the cliff faces. The wind was much stronger now too. Cath went first, bravely she still thinks and Ian followed. What had appeared to be a quite solid platform bounced a little with each step. It was disconcerting, but with a firm grip on the side wires, we were both across, at least one of us feeling relieved that it was over (you can guess which one). That was when we found the scariest part of the walk…
The path took a sharp right turn along the opposite cliff face and for some reason the builders had decided to put in a series of steps, each riser being only a single wooden plank, such that you could see straight through or straight down. That was quite challenging (read anxiety invoking) and added to this was the complication that the steps went both up and down in different places, with the descent being trickier because the risers were only about a handwidth, as decking planks are. We followed this path around the corner and out of the gorge and with the wind increasing commenced the final stage, which was a series of descending steps along a sheer cliff face, with no opposing gorge wall. Somehow the combination contrived to make the experience shall we say, exhilarating!
We finally descended onto a gravel path which wound it’s way down to water level. We were both relieved and pretty chuffed that we had conquered our fear of heights (Ian) and bridges (Cath). We ambled on for about 500 metres where a bus picked us up and delivered us back to the car park. On the way home in the car we both agreed that it had been the best €10 we had spent on the whole trip and that it was time for “Dos Cervesas Por Favor”.