I walked like Bambi while holding onto the thin metal chain nailed onto the side of the cliff. The narrow path continued its incline until it offered the best vantage point of the Caminito del Rey – except I couldn’t look at it without inducing stomach-churning feelings about the sheer drop below.
Built under King Alfonso XIII to give workers access between two hydroelectric energy plants, the Little King’s Path is often known as the most dangerous trail in the world. Originally constructed in 1901, the one-metre wide concrete path jutting out from the cliff had been left abandoned and to be forgotten, until it was rebuilt and reopened with wider and safer walkways in 2015. This, however, still does not help those like me who don’t even feel comfortable looking over the edge of an escalator in a shopping centre, let alone scaling narrow wooden paths suspended 100m high along a cliff.
Not one to be defeated by my own irrational fears, however, I took on the hair-raising cliff walk as a day trip from Malaga, which turned out to be one of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever seen, and one which I’m surprised is not better known.
Caminito del Rey
The sun shined brightly overhead and the temperature rose steadily to another sweltering Spanish summer’s day. By the entrance, we huddled under the trees already trying to escape the heat, and waited for our turn to be let through to the park.
Before we’re allowed in, our group is briefed on what to expect when we get inside. There aren’t many rules to follow except you need to wear a helmet at all times, and for your own safety (as well as maybe potential embarrassment), the use of selfie sticks are also banned from the hike.
With sunscreen applied, water in hands, and helmets on heads, we set off on the Kings Path.
The walkway starts immediately from the dirt trail among the trees and heads first into a giant crevice between the rocks. In the shadow of the cliffs, a cool breeze blew through the gap as we walked towards the sunlight at the end of what felt like a tunnel, and turning immediately to the right, I saw the first incredible view of the Caminito del Rey.
Hyper-aware of the drop below, my first few steps on the wooden path are cautiously slow. But little by little, my footsteps started to feel more confident, especially when I realised the original concrete path could still be seen underneath the new walkway we stood on. Most comforting of all though, I was relieved to find it wasn’t quite the 100m drop I’d anticipated – but it turned out the real test of my vertigo would be saved for last.
The trail is somewhat split into three sections, and the middle part took us back on solid ground. We strolled through the park along the turquoise river, stopping occasionally in the shade to rest and admire the view. Among the trees and wildflowers, and against the backdrop of the sand-coloured cliffs and the chorus of cicadas, I felt like I was much further away than an hour from the Costa del Sol.
Measuring 3km long, the original Little King’s Path had slowly fallen into disrepair since its construction, with huge chunks of concrete missing from many sections along the path – giving it its infamous dangerous reputation. The area was officially closed in 2000 for over a decade due to safety, partly in an attempt to deter daring adventurers who still came here during those years in search of a death-defying challenge. And people have died on this path – halfway through the walkway, you can see two plaques placed on the cliff in memory of just four people who have sadly lost their lives in this gorge.
The wooden pathway eventually picked back up from our gentle stroll in the park, and I could immediately see and feel the difference between the first section of the cliff walk compared to this. Mainly, the path was much, much higher, and the towering cliffs also stood further apart as the path headed towards the end of the gorge. The wind howled through the giant crevice while we climbed, and with the sheer drop to the ravine clearly visible from our narrow path, it made my somewhat steady footsteps totally shaken again.
Although the new and improved walkway does feel very safe, this doesn’t remove the very daunting realisation of the 100-metre drop below. But for those who want an extra dose of thrill, you can also stand on a hair-raising glass platform right at the highest peak of the path.
For me though, I hugged the cliff as much as possible and took slow, steady steps along the incline – which is more than can be said for my heart rate. Just when I thought the worst part was over, around the final corner before the descent is where my stomach truly dropped – a metal chain bridge, suspended between the two cliffs. I’m not ashamed to admit I had to close my eyes for this part to be lead across by Dave, who then walked back to take more photos. Oh, what it must feel like to not be controlled by irrational fear.
Was I scared? Yes, I think that much was clear. But would I do it again? Absolutely. Despite the terror I felt towards the end, the trail was worth every step. The hike had some of the most stunning landscape I’ve ever seen (when I had my eyes open), and the unique experience was the perfect excursion to add to our Malaga city break.
Are you scared of heights too? Have you been to Malaga? Would you walk the Caminito del Rey?
Update: I’m really excited to say Lonely Planet featured this post as one of their Best Blogs of January 2019!
Plan your trip to Caminito del Rey
- We went on a small group tour to the Caminito del Rey which included the entry fee and return transfers from our hotel in Malaga. To do the same, check out this half-day excursion from GetYourGuide which has excellent reviews.
- You can also visit the site independently, but you’ll need to book your entry tickets in advance (€10) as they’re popular and capped daily.
- The whole trail is 7.7km (3km of which is on the wooden path along the gorge), and took us around two hours to complete.
- There are no toilet facilities inside the park so make sure you go before you enter. There are free public restrooms just outside the entrance.
- Make sure you take some water and sunscreen with you for the walk, but don’t bother bringing a hat because you’ll need to wear a helmet at all times (provided for free at the entrance).
- The trail is one way and does not circle back on itself, but there are shuttle buses available at the site to transfer visitors.