Once considered the most dangerous hike in the world, the Caminito del Rey (a.k.a the “King’s Path”) originated as a path for miners in the El Chorro gorge, which is an hour outside of the city of Malaga.
Over time and with little maintenance, the trail fell apart, and became a hotspot for thrill seekers and rock climbers, many of which plunged to their deaths. The trail closed in 2000 after a series of deaths, though this still didn’t stop some adventurous hikers! But in 2011, Andalusia’s regional government funded the trail’s refurbishment, and in March 2015, the new, safer walkway opened to the public. It was named by Lonely Planet one of the best new attractions of 2015, and since I was planning a trip to Spain, I decided to keep an eye on how to make it one of my visited spots.
Other than the official website and this website, there’s very little information in English about how the new, refurbished trail works. And, currently, the trail is free to access, but you have to reserve your spot in advance, and as of right now (July 2015), the trail is fully booked through September 2015, with no possibility of reserving anything beyond that date. Here, as someone who has been on the refurbished trail, I will explain how the trail works, how to get yourself on it, and how to not be confused by the lack of clear information that presently exists for this brand new attraction.
It’s fully booked! Can I still do it?
Just like the way popular concert tickets sell out in seconds, the booking for the Caminito del Rey filled up within days of the dates being released to the public. But, since the booking was free, there is no punishment to people who book a time and access gate and never show up. They let 50 people through every half hour, but unless you have a large party, it’s very likely that not all 50 people will show up, and you may still be able to go. The people working at the gate will let people on the trail if it’s not at capacity for that half hour, as long as you have your passport with you (they record all visitors on the trail for extra safety reasons). So fret not! Even if you arrive at 10:00 (opening time) and it’s full, you may still be able to get in at 10:30 or later, if you’re patient. And if you’re coming after September 2015, keep your eyes peeled on the official website for when more dates are released, and book your time sooner rather than later. Note that it’s better to do it earlier in the day, before it gets too hot.
It’s also possible, if you’re staying in a hotel in Ardales (by the north access) or in El Chorro (the south access) that the hotel can get a trail permit for you when you get there.
How do I get there?
When you book your time, you choose either the North Access or the South Access point for your booking. If you are coming by train or bus, it is better to choose the South Access point, as the El Chorro train station is 30 minutes from the access gate, and buses go there too. There is a shuttle bus that runs between the south and north access points, since the path is linear and not circular, so you could potentially take the shuttle bus to the north access gate provided your start time isn’t too early. That being said, they closed the access road between the north and south gates the week before we got there so the shuttle wasn’t running, and we didn’t know about it until the night before our hike. So if you’re for sure taking a bus or train, use the south access point.
If you’re driving, you can choose either access point. For the south, park near the El Chorro train station or somewhere else in the area and walk in. In the north, you park at the El Mirador or El Kiosko restaurants (if you’re using a GPS or Google maps, navigate to El Kiosko rather than “Caminito del Rey”), and though parking is limited, we had no problem. From there, you follow the signs that say “Caminito del Rey – 3 km”, and it takes a reasonably fit person under an hour to get to the access gate. For either the north or the south access points, you have to be at the gate 30 minutes before your chosen access time, so plan accordingly.
Then what happens?
Once at the access gate, you will be required to present a print-out of your confirmation for the time of your hike, as well as your passport. Because safety is extra-reinforced now, they make note of who is registered on the trail at any given time. We were given a hair net and a helmet to wear in case of falling rocks (there weren’t any – again, extra safety I guess?). Then, there was a 10 minute safety explanation/demonstration conducted in Spanish. He did it again for my partner and I in English, but for us, it only took two minutes. The gist of it was, there are no bathrooms on the trail, stick to the trail, wear your hard hat, and don’t be an idiot.
What’s the hike like?
After the first hour (or less) it takes to walk from the parking lot to the North access gate (roughly 3 km), the trail itself (what lies between the two access points) is about 3 km long. There is a slight bit of uphill and downhill, but the gains aren’t enough to cause intense physical exertion. It takes around 1-1.5 hours to hike from one end of the trail to the other, and it’s largely boardwalks and easy, flat forest trail. From there, it’s another 2 km or so to the start of the El Chorro access route, where you would take a shuttle back to your parking spot. If the shuttles aren’t operational, you simply walk back the boardwalk and access route you came, which can be nice to see parts of the trail as the day’s light changes. But you have to turn around to do this before you pass the access gate, otherwise you will not be allowed back in.
There are railings to hold on to for most of the boardwalk section, and since it has all been re-done, you shouldn’t have to worry about any danger. A few rangers patrol the pathway to make sure no one is doing anything stupid, and there are a maximum amount of people allowed on the suspension bridge and some of the viewpoint areas to stay safe. In fact, it’s probably overkill with how safe this hike is.
My partner and I are both fit hikers, so it didn’t take us a super long time to complete the hike. We left our car at the Accesso Norte parking lot around 9:30 AM, and we were back at our car before 2 PM. If you were simply taking the shuttle back to your car, actual walking time would be much less.
Is it worth it?
Considering that there is no charge to hike the Caminito del Rey right now, I’d absolutely say it’s worth it! The views are stunning, and even spotting remnants of the old trail can give you a bit of a thrill imaging what hiking that would be like. As mentioned, it’s a complicated process to get passes for the trail, and maybe that will change when they eventually start charging people to enter, but for now, it’s worth to experience the King’s Path for yourself if you’re going to be in Andalusia anytime soon.