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To Hike or Not to Hike – Caminito del Rey

     I was horrified when I read about the Caminito del Rey trail while planning for our upcoming road trip through Spain. But I couldn’t get over the incredible canyon views and a part of me ached to see it. I got Angie on the phone for her opinion.

     “So there’s this breathtaking canyon hike in Spain I think we might have to do… even though it really looks kind of terrifying.”

     “How terrifying?” Angie inquired.

     “It seems to be a wooden walkway bolted to the side of a cliff face about 300 feet above the bottom of a canyon. But it looks amazing.”

     “Send me pictures…let me see.” 

     I pushed send and waited for her response. Part of me wanted her to be too horrified to agree to the hike…but another part of me needed her to build up my braveness and tell me yes.

     “It looks awesome…but scary. I think we have to do it.” 

     “I think so too.” I agreed. “It used to be considered one of the world’s most dangerous hikes.” I tried to sound confident. “It was built in 1901 or 1905…But since it was rebuilt in 2015…no one has died.”

     Angie gave the go ahead and I booked our tickets online for our trip. Ready or not, we were going to hike the 5 mile long Caminito del Rey trail.

Waking Up in Ronda Spain

Ronda Spain View
     The morning of our hike we woke up in Ronda, Spain where we had explored the previous day. I had a terrible jaw headache from my TMJ and was using all my tools and pain devices to make this day happen. 
     We walked through Ronda and stocked up on Spanish olives which we were now addicted to and some local wine and then headed east almost an hour towards El Chorro (about 30 miles northwest of Malaga).
     I messed with my S-Hook in the car to get my neck to settle down while Angie drove. Lightheaded pain plus scary canyon hike seemed daunting, but I wasn’t going to miss it.

Gearing up for the Caminito del Rey Guided Tour

     We arrived right on time for our 11:00 Caminito del Rey guided tour and Angie dropped me off to check in while she parked. I popped a couple Advil and hopped out.
     After crossing a long bridge, I saw a group assembled and a guide standing on a bench addressing them. Assuming this was the 11:00 group, I piled in next to them.
     Angie quickly caught up.
     “Did you check in?” She whispered, looking around.
     “Not yet, she was talking when I walked up.” I nodded towards the Spanish speaking woman on the bench.
     “Follow me.” The blue jacket lady hopped off the bench and motioned to the group. “The trail is about a half mile from here.” She repeated the instructions in Spanish.
     The group began moving and we followed.
     “We have to hike a half mile before we hike the 5 miles?” I whispered to Angie, my flip flops flapping up dust as I walked.
     Angie shrugged and we ducked into a long tunnel with the group.
     We emerged to see the green Guadalhorce River shimmering against the mountain rock.

Who Will Scan our Tickets For Caminito del Rey?

     There was a larger group of people milling around ahead. The blue jacket lady began to scan the tickets of the hikers. I handed her mine and she shook her head.
     “Not my tour…try over there.” She pointed to a young man who was squinting his eye and using his finger to count his group members. 
     I presented our tickets and he scanned them and advised us to use the bathroom and make sure we have enough water. 

New Shoes for the Hike- No Flippies Allowed

     “It’s a long walk and there are no restrooms or stops on the trail.” He pointed to the bathrooms. “And you…you can’t wear those shoes.” He then pointed to my dusty flippie feet.
     “It’s ok…I always hike in these.” I hopped around to show my ease of walking in my beloved flips.
     The young man shook his head. “Not here…not ok.” He then informed me I could either go back to the car to change or they had shoes conveniently for sale…but no flippies allowed. 
     I begrudgingly bought gym shoes, strapped them on my bare feet and bagged up my flippies. At least they were Chucks with the Caminito del Rey emblem on them…not too bad.
     “I’m probably going to fall on my face from these shoes.” I whispered.

High Winds on the Caminito Trail

     A voice from the steps of the building rang out.
     “Attention please…everyone who is on the 11:00 tours line up by the gate with your guide to sign the waiver and get your safety helmet. All other ticket times…your afternoon tours have been cancelled due to dangerous winds on the trail. Your tickets will be refunded.”
     Angie and I looked wide eyed at each-other.
     “Too dangerous?” I mouthed, cringing. 
     Angie shrugged and gave me the… “I don’t know…” face. 

Hiking on a Cliff Face 

 

     We did what we were told and began to hike down a wooded path with the teal colored Guadalhorce River on our left. I could see one of the bolted wooden platforms ahead.
     “It doesn’t look too bad.” I peered confidently at the planks. “It’s not too high up.” I lightly held the metal cord bolted to the wall as I walked, just in case.
     The 3 foot planks seemed pretty sturdy, but I stayed close to the rock wall, shooting my arm over the edge for quick pictures.

Caminito del Rey Facts and History

     Our guide Pablo shouted back helpful information about the trail as we walked.
     “This trail is called Caminito del Rey which translates to ‘The King’s Little Path.’ It was named after King Alfonso XIII who officially opened and walked this path in 1921. The original Caminito del Rey path was built for workers to maintain the hydroelectric power station but locals also used it as a shortcut. You can still see bits of the old boardwalk underneath us. The recent renovations earned it a Europa Nostra Award for heritage conservation.”
     A woman in front of us stopped to take a picture alongside a Caminito del Rey sign on the trail and we did the same.
     Pablo continued…”This is about a 3-4 hour hike. The trail is 5 miles long…350 feet from the bottom and one way only…so once you start…you have to finish…no turning back.”

Distracted by Fear- The Caminito del Rey Nerves

     “What if I freak out and can’t make it?” I did a loud whisper to Angie. “I might need a Sherpa to carry me out.”
     Angie laughed, “You’ll make it. Hey…how’s your headache?” 
     We stepped into a significantly narrower and higher section of the boardwalk and I did a tighter grip on the metal cable. The canvas shoes were doing a scrape, scrape, scrape against my toes with each step.
     “You know…the terror really takes my mind off the pain…it’s not too bad.” I laughed.
     “We will need to take the tunnel coming up on our right.” Pablo called back. “It’s too windy on the trail.”
     We followed Pablo into the tunnel and emerged to go down a series of steps leading close to the Guadalhorce River and then we had to huff and puff back up again.
     The woman in front of us stopped to pose in front of another Caminito del Rey sign on the dirt path between boardwalks.
     “Does that sign have a mile marker on it…how far are we?” I peered ahead.
     “No…” Angie laughed…”It looks  exactly the same as the sign earlier.”

Caminito del Rey See Through Platform

     When the wooden planks began again we were high on the cliff face and my heart got a little pumpy. There was a transparent platform ahead and Angie ran out onto it.
     “Jeez Louise be careful.” I scolded.
     “Take my picture.” Angie instructed. “Do you want a picture out here too?”
     “I absolutely do not.” I laughed. “I’ll just lean my arm over and get a photo while giving the railing a death grip.”

A View of the Old Caminito del Rey Walkway

     The walkway ahead bent around and we could clearly see the crumbling old path across from us…running parallel to the boardwalk but below us.
     “Before the wooden planks were replaced,” Pablo looked back at the group, “Hikers were required to wear climbing gear and a body harness. They would clip their safety lines along these metal cables. One section of the path had disintegrated so badly the hikers had to traverse across the canyon on a thin metal beam. Five people died from 2010-2011, right before they closed the old path for good.”
     I held on a little tighter to the cable as we approached a hanging metal bridge. My bare toes were rubbing uncomfortably inside the stiff canvas shoes.

The Caminito Hanging Bridge in the Wind

     “We need to take turns crossing.” Pablo warned. “The bridge has a lot of movement to start, and with this wind, we don’t need any accidents.”
     I heard a little “Eeeehhh.” noise of nervousness come out of me.
     Angie crossed first, the bridge bouncing and swaying. I took careful steps after she had crossed, heart pounding and hands pumping sweat.
    The bridge bounced wildly with each step and I held on and tried to step softer. The wind whipped my hair in a crazy tornado around my head and the green water raged beneath me. I breathed the warm air and peeked through the metal grating under my feet, feeling my stomach lurch a little. 
     Safely across, it seemed the scary part was over. Then we rounded the corner and were face to face with about 7 flights of steps going up. The steps were bolted to the cliff face and were surrounded by chain link fence. They were fashioned from metal grating, the kind of stairs with a space between that went straight down to the canyon below.
Caminito del Rey Trail and steps

Just When we Thought the Scary Part was Over

    “For the 1st time today, I am glad I’m not in my flippies.” I announced. “I would have had to climb barefoot so no shoes would sail through. I bet I have blisters on top of blisters though. My baby toes are killing me.”
     Once up the steps and back on the wooded path, the woman in front of us stopped for about her 10th photo of the day at a matching Caminito del Rey sign. Angie and I eyeballed each other and laughed.
      “You want a picture by the sign?” I smirked.

Oh No…Not Pinkie Toe

     We passed a viaduct and my pinkie toes felt wet and worn. 
     “I think I need to bust out the flippies.” I winced with each step. “This seems to be the end.”
     I gingerly pulled off the shoes to see what looked like a fat, liquid-filled  sixth toe sprouting off each baby toe.
     “Holy moly…these blisters are freakishly huge.” I strapped on my flippies and flapped the last part of the dirt path.
     “Just up at the end here,” Pablo announced, “You’ll jump on the bus back to the parking lot.”
    We thanked him, grabbed a cold water and a popsicle at the snack stand and got on a nearby bus, hoping it was the one we wanted.

Post Caminita del Rey Relaxation

     Back near the parking lot, we stopped at the little restaurant for olives, soup and a nice post hike ale.
     Afterwards, we stopped into Granada for a tasty paella at an outdoor café. Then we had a relaxing soak at the Hammam Al Ándalus…the traditional Turkish style hot springs baths. And we were off to our cave hotel for the night.
Caminito del Rey



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Click here to read about a hike down the mysterious Initiation Well in Portugal

Click here for some monkey business at the top of Gibralter

Click here for an Iceland canyon hiking adventure

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