Travel Journal

Following the (modern) King's footsteps

(Monday 1 June 2015) by Mariken
The El Chorro gorge
The El Chorro gorge
El Chorro is not only famous for its excellent rocks; it is equally famous, or maybe even notorious, for having the 'world's most dangerous footpath', the Caminito del Rey. This walkway (the King's little pathway) was built between 1901 and 1905 by the Hydroelectric Company El Chorro, not - contrary to popular belief - because the king wanted to inspect the construction works going on in the gorge, but because the Hydroelectric Company needed an access way between the Upper Gorge near Ardales (Salto del Gaitanejo) and the Lower Gorge in El Chorro (Salto del Chorro), to accommodate the maintenance workers to cross the area, to bring in the necessary materials and equipment and to facilitate inspection. The walkway got its famous name in 1921 when King Alfonso XIII used this path for the inauguration of the dam Conde del Guadalhorce. Since then the path fell into disrepair, due to lack of maintenance. Not only were the handrails missing, large chunks of concrete had fallen out of the main construction as well, making the walk a hazardous undertaking. Following the death of several hikers in 1999 and 2000, the local government decided to close the Caminito for visitors and removed the entrance. That did not stop thrill-seekers to still walk it and as long as you knew what you were doing and used the steel cable for clipping in via ferrata-style, it was manageable. By no means safe, but manageable.

Two years ago we defied heights and danger and walked along the old and dilapidated Caminito del Rey. Apparently we risked a 6000 euro fine, but fortunately it was then too scary for the police to go on and catch us. :-p I have to admit that even though I think the title of 'world's most dangerous footpath' was a bit exaggerated, you do understand why the Caminito was considered dangerous if you see pictures of the gaps along the way. No, it wasn't for everyone. We had tons of fun though!

Again, old vs new
Again, old vs new
Restoration works of the Caminito del Rey started in February 2014 and nowadays, the 'world's most dangerous path' is completely refurbished and officially open to the public again. The new Caminito has been built on top of the old one, using shiny new boards. It is wide, it is completely fenced off, there are cameras everywhere and Caminito officials are strategically stationed at those places that are considered 'high risk' (e.g. the chain bridge which can only carry 10 people) to check whether everyone complies with all safety measures and bark instructions if necessary. Visits to the Caminito are very strictly regulated. You have to make an online reservation for a certain date and time slot, whenever there is a breath of wind, access is completely prohibited (and all bookings are simply cancelled), all visitors are registered with their passport numbers and given helmets, there is an endless list of do's and don'ts on the website... next thing they want is a blood sample! Needless to say it is nowadays utterly safe and therefore utterly boring. No, that last statement is not true. The views are still absolutely stunning, so it is still definitely worth a visit. However, don't expect the thrill ride it used to be; unless you suffer from serious vertigo, walking the new Caminito is just a walk in the park. Since the opening on 28 March 2015, thousands of tourists have already flocked to El Chorro to 'test their limits' and be 'the ultimate dare-devil'. I am afraid that's what happens if you change the world's most dangerous footpath into an idiot-proof stroll. Apparently the site is fully booked well into September, so even if you do manage to get up there, you won't be alone!

Furthermore, don't believe newspaper reports that state that they have tried to remain faithful to the original design and that only in a few places new structures have been built. The new Caminito is exactly what the name suggests: brand spanking new and not one sliver of the old Caminito has been reused in the new design. In some places the new Caminito even takes a different course than the old one. When building the new Caminito del Rey, the old one wasn't removed, the new one has just been put on top of it. Sometimes the old Caminito can be clearly seen through the new boards. So much for authenticity.

On the chain bridge
On the chain bridge
For the village the new Caminito is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it brings in money, big money. El Chorro is suddenly on the map again, with roads being patched up and the train station being refurbished. Local businesses profit from the increased amount of tourists as well, as many drink a cup of coffee or eat an ice cream in El Chorro and some even stay overnight. On the other hand, the enormous amount of randomly parked cars and coaches is a real nuisance and you don't have to be a genius to figure that this enormous influx of tourists can hardly be beneficial for the Natural Park in which the Caminito del Rey is situated.

When we first heard about the restoration we were afraid that this would also limit the climbing opportunities in El Chorro. Even though El Chorro has many more sectors, quite a few routes start from the Caminito. However, some smart official realised that gaining the mass of day-trippers involved the risk of losing the long staying climbers and therefore, despite the strict regulations, climbers are still allowed free access (it is currently free for everyone, but as of August an entry fee is imposed on all visitors apart from climbers), provided they register and show proof of insurance. It's a nuisance and the crowds might seriously mess with your ability to focus while climbing (to say nothing of the highly probable risk of having your gear kicked off the Caminito and into the gorge!), but at least climbing is still allowed, so no complaints here. The thing is, the Caminito officials would not recognize a climber if he was dancing naked in front of them, so when you show them your membership card of any climbing association, you get access to the Caminito, whether you carry all your equipment or not.

Jacco checking out the climbing routes
Jacco checking out the climbing routes
We had not planned any climbs in the gorge for this stay - many of it is trad and the majority of the routes is too difficult for us anyhow - but obviously you can't stay in El Chorro for two months and not walk the Caminito del Rey. So last Friday we used our climbers' status to gain access and walked the 2.9 km from the south entrance to the north entrance for the second time (and back, since the road between El Chorro and Ardales is closed for road works).

Did we like it? Yes, we certainly did. As said above, the views are still stunning and the walk is gorgeous. Was it an adventurous, thrill-seeking experience as advertised all over the world? Absolutely not. You don't even have to watch your footing anymore, although that can also be regarded as a bonus, since you now have more time to enjoy the view. ;-) On the other hand, you do have to make sure you do not accidentally bump into someone walking in front of you, as you are hardly the only one up there.

So, the final verdict... even though I do certainly not begrudge the inhabitants of El Chorro the extra money coming in, I think it would have been better had the Caminito del Rey been left as it was. Now it is for everyone, but certainly not as much fun as it used to be. Beautiful, yes. Spectacular? No. Not anymore.

  • Wat een pracht... by Jac
    • Helm by Mariken
  • Toch een mooi uitzicht by Aafke
  • Ik kan toveren by Ilse
    • Goed he? by Mariken
  • Heerlijk! by Marike

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