susan on the beach
Caminito del Rey - self guided tour
Updated: Feb 24, 2022
Do I need a guide to visit Caminito del Rey? You can do it yourself, with a little planning and insider tips! Here is our guide for your self-guided day at Caminito del Rey.
And what a great day out! Follow our insider tips to have a perfect day on the Caminito del Rey trail, one of the most sought after attractions in Andalucia.
Caminito del Rey is a spectacular walking path in Malaga province, Andalucia. The scenery is spectacular and the hike is truly unique. One of the best things about it is the complete change of scenery from the coast. If you are staying with us in Marbella, this is a fantastic day out in the mountains, lakes and country; If you book a morning time-slot for your hike, you can be back for Paella on the beach by 3pm!
Should you take a guided tour or go it on your own? It all depends how much time and patience you have to organize your trip, and if you thought to buy entry tickets in advance. There are many tour guides that offer guided tours with or without transportation out to the El Chorro area. If you are here for a short stay and don't speak Spanish, or if you didn't buy tickets ahead, it might be worth it to book one of these tours. Look on Tripadvisor and Airbnb Experiences; and make sure the transportation out to El Chorro is included (meeting point in Malaga or Marbella) or does the guide just meet you at the trailhead. Finding the trail head and being on time are the challenges here, so if you want an easy day make sure this transportation is included in your package. If the guide is meeting you at the entry to the trail, you will have to do a lot of the below organizing yourself and you should not pay more than 60 euros for your group for the guided tour - official tour guides are on hand for a fraction of the price. Below we'll go a bit further into detail about how you can do a self guided day at the Caminito. You can purchase entries online for 10 euros each, that's all you need. Read further or contact us through our website we'll be glad to provide custom tips!
A bit of History
The trail was developed as a way to connect the Malaga coast to Seville, in 1901. The rugged cliffs along the Guadalhorce river, with 300 meter high canyons and passages sometimes as narrow as 10 meters wide, made for difficult transportation before the railway installed their tracks. You can still see the train from Seville passing through the gorge, as you walk the boardwalks, today.
After building the railway, a dam was built in 1913 which created the system of lakes (called "embalses" in Spanish) that you can still see today. These lakes have beautiful turquoise water and the shores are dotted with campsites that rent kayaks for the day, if hiking on the vertiginous caminito is not your cup of tea!
The hydroelectric plant is an important source of power for the Malaga area, and the town of El Chorro is deeply linked to the maintenance of this power plant and the building and maintenance of the railway. It's hard to imagine the school children that had to use boats along this dangerous irrigation trail, high up on the canyon walls, to get to school every day!
What to expect
The Caminito is a one-way trail along the canyons - the starting point is the Kiosko restaurant (in Ardales). From there, you hike all the way to to El Chorro train station station through the canyons. So you have to take a bus or get a lift one direction, either to the trail before your hike, or back to your car after your hike. The hike is a gentle one, no technical difficulty, accessible to anyone who can walk 8km on uneven surfaces (no climbing involved). It can be very hot, bring water! And the uphill bits are at the very end so take some snacks and preserve your energy. You can take as long as you want and stop along the way, if you are not in a guided tour. The bus stop is clear and easy but the buses only run every half hour (we did this during travel restrictions in April 2021).
The area is beautiful in itself, there are plenty of other hiking trails around and you can spend a day here without doing the Caminito. You can swim in the lakes, rent a kayak in the camping grounds (some open only in the afternoon), or just drive around and look at the splendid scenery. You can book directly through the Caminito website: either a guided tour for 18 euros or a time-slot for walking yourself for 10 euros. Then just make your way to the entry point to get a hardhat and you're off! The trail is about 1/3 boardwalks hanging suspended along the cliff, and 2/3 walking along broad and scenic paths.
If you book the official guided tour 18 euros per person, you will receive a different color hat that distinguishes your group from the general public, and your tour guide will want to keep track of you. So you will have to keep up with the group. You will receive a headphone that works on a walkie-talkie so the guide can explain things to the whole group while on the narrow trails.
It takes about 2 hours to hike from the entry where you get your hardhats, back to El Chorro station where you left your car or get the bus. There are no toilets during the trail, and lots of people around so hard to find "private" space - make sure you use the servicios at the entry gate. Also no food or drink provided so bring your own. You can stop and picknick in many places along the trail. You don't have to complete the walk within any given time frame. You are not allowed to use selfie sticks or do anything that impedes the passage on the narrow bits of the path. The boardwalks are narrow and very high up if you suffer from vertigo this might not be for you.
A Self-guided day at Caminito del Rey is possible, if you have a car and some time to plan your day to make sure it goes smoothly.
(1) Buying your Tickets
You can buy tickets yourself on the official Caminito website. We recommend taking booking your entry from 10:00 to 11:00 am, to be sure that (1) you will arrive in the parking lot before the crowds and (2) you will be able to take the first bus in time to the head of the trail.
There are 2 ways to do the Camino: either take the shuttle bus before your hike or after it. We preferred to arrive early and park at the south access to the trail ("acceso sur"), which is the ending of the trail. This means, you must arrive early and park here, and take the first morning shuttle bus to the head of the trail, so that you will be directly back at our car at the end of the walk. If you did not leave enough time, you can always park at the beginning of the trail (parking lot north, near El Kiosko restaurant), but you will have to queue and wait for the shuttle bus to take you back to your car after the hike.
(2) Leave Elviria +- 3 hours before your entry time, park at the south access point at least 75 minutes before your scheduled entry time.
Timeline for a successful self guided day:
=> Drive 80 minutes from Elviria to El Chorro
=> Park in the South Access zone => Take the Lanzadera shuttle bus 34 minute drive
=> Walk through the tunnel to the trail head "meeting point" 20 minute (1,5 km) walk
The southern access point is in the village called El Chorro, on the edge of the lake near the hydro electric station and the Garganta restaurant and hotel.
The Southern Access point is next to the El Chorro train station where there is a nice little bar with a terrace and the Garganta hotel & restaurant, you can
put either in your gps. There is a free parking area is near the Garganta hotel and restaurant. We did this early, off season, during Covid, and there was no problem finding a parking space at 8:00 am! When the tourists come back, you might want to try to be on the first bus and get there quite early to be sure to find a space. You can have a coffee or breakfast at the train station café which directly overlooks the shuttle bus stop to the head of the trail. It is very pleasant to have a drink or a meal on the gorgeous sunny terrace of the Garganta restaurant, after you've finished your hike and before starting the drive home.
(3) Take the Lanzadera bus to El Kiosko (northern access point)
The bus stop which is just in front of the El Chorro train station and Garganta restaurant. The bus is called the "Lanzadera" and the first one runs at 8:30 or 9:00. When purchasing your ticket for the Caminito, be sure to leave at least an hour from the first bus departure time, to take the bus (every 30 minutes, 30 minutes ride) and walk to the beginning of the trail (30 minutes)
Don't worry about knowing where to get off, the bus is dedicated to people hiking the trail like you so everyone gets off at the same spot! Get off the bus at the Kiosko restaurant, and find the tunnel passage that will take you to the path to the start of the trail. You'll see lots of other people heading the same way. If you have more than 30 minutes until your ticket time, you might want to have a delicious hearty breakfast at El Kiosko overlooking the blue lake and beach, where you can also have a swim if you want to come back another time!
You can also just drive out to El Kiosko for lunch and a swim, bring beach shoes, towels, maybe a floaty toy or raft... a change of clothes so you can have lunch afterwards on the beautiful lake view terrace.
(4) Find the tunnel to the trail head
With your back to El Kiosko, facing the lake, walk to the left (south) until you find the tunnel that will take you to the path to the head of the trail.
This path is a 2,7 km walk and you will then arrive at the entry point, where you will receive your hard hat and the guides check ticket times and let people into the trail at their allotted time.
If you booked a guided tour on the official "caminito" website, this is where you will meet your guide. There are some toilets here and machines where you can buy water if you forgot.
(5) Enjoy the trail at your own pace!
If you booked a guided tour you will have to stay with the group; if you booked a simple entry ticket you can explore the trails at your own pace! Bring water and a snack, but no selfie sticks or large cumbersome bags etc. They are very attentive about not having people block the narrow trails. Yellow/orange markers along the trail indicate places where you should keep moving, do not stop up traffic. The official "Caminito" website has a detailed description (in Spanish but sadly not in English) and photos of everything you will see along your way, click here.
(6) Arrive in El Chorro village next to your car
If you followed our instructions and parked at the southern access, you will wind up next to your car at the end of the walk. The last part is the breathtaking suspension bridge (pictured above) ; then you climb down a long staircase to get out of the canyon and the last part of the hike is a rather steep incline up into El Chorro village and the Garganta restaurant, where it is very pleasant to sit and have lunch or a soft drink before taking the road back to Marbella
Depending on how long you spent on the trail, you can easily be back at our apartment for a swim in the sea or the pool, drinks on the terrace and paella dinner on the beach!
This is just one of the fabulous self guided driving tours we can help you organize, when you stay with us as your home base for your Andalusia adventure. Come to the Costa del Sol, it's so much more than just the beach!