Ami Sedghi, The Guardian, March 27, 2015
Wind whips my face and pushes me into the wire sides of the hanging bridge I’m attempting to cross. At 105 metres high, with the river flowing below and steep rock walls on either side, it feels a little daring, but not terrifying. And I had come here expecting terror, for I’m walking the infamous El Caminito del Rey path.
Dubbed “one of the world’s scariest hikes”, the walkway attached to the steep walls of the El Chorro gorge in the province of Málaga, southern Spain, reopens to the public on 28 March after a €2.7m refurbishment. Built at the turn of the 20th century to give workers access to two hydroelectric plants, the path – also known’s as the King’s Little Pathway – was closed in 2000, for more than a decade, after a number of people died attempting to cross it. The dangerously worn-out path earned a reputation though as thrill-seekers ignored the closure and dared the crossing, despite a maximum fine of €6,000 for trespassers.
Now, secured wooden walkways and stony paths make up much of the once dilapidated route. We approach the walkway from the town of Ardales; the route is linear and there are two entrances, one in Ardales, the other from Álora.
A view from the boardwalk of the new Caminito del Rey path in El Chorro, near Malaga. Photograph: Jon Nazca/Reuters
We are swiftly handed hard hats. Safety is key on the new route. Indeed, I feel so secure that it takes a few minutes of walking along the new boardwalk before I look down and glimpse the 100-metre drop to the floor of the gorge – at this stage it feels more like a nature trail on a family day out (although children under the age of eight are not allowed and it is not wheelchair accessible).
Videos of the old route had left my palms sweaty; this new path gives me a slight flutter but more of surprise than fear. I am so consumed with taking in the views, I forget I’m so high up. The wind is blowing hard though and I’m more afraid my camera equipment might fly off than that I might pitch over the side.
The first part of the path, a boardwalk that offers great views of the turquoise water of the Gualdalhorce river swirling below and the cliffs, eventually turns into a stony track that gently runs down and then slopes gradually upwards. Among the trees, some benches have been erected. It’s a sign of its new calm ambience, where walkers will be able to sit and take in the views. A group of locals are traversing the route – they have been invited to come and see the new tourist attraction before it opens to the public – and the mixture of ages reflects the new accessibility.
The new pathway clings to the rock face. Photograph: Jon Nazca/Reuters
Marrying the old path with the new construction, says Luis Machuca, head architect and director of the project, was very important to him. Testament to this can be seen as I walk along the second part of the boardwalk, pinned to the mountain walls. Through the wooden slats you can glimpse the rocks and water below, but the real stomach-churner comes from seeing the old path snaking beneath. Riddled with holes and with sections where entire chunks have long ago rusted away or fallen into the ravine, you wonder at those who walked along it over the years and those that lost their lives here. A poignant reminder of the path’s tragic past remains: a workman sits on the floor eating his lunch, a memorial plaque to three young men who died in 2000 screwed into the rock wall above him.
A view from the valley floor. Photograph: Jon Nazca/Reuters
The climax of the 7.7km walk comes around two thirds of the way along. After the tranquil stroll through the Hoyo valley, there are steps onto the next part of the boardwalk. It winds around a corner and curves along the rock and I’m seized by the sheer scale of the spectacular steep sidewalls of the gorge. This, Machuca tells me, is his favourite part of the route. To our left is a view of the mountains and the river, to our right the glass-floored section hangs over the cliff giving walkers a clear view of the gorge. Machuca describes this part as making him feel as if he were a mouse entering a cathedral: “It’s not only the view and the surroundings, but the emotion of walking the Caminito del Rey,” he says.
The reopening of El Caminito del Rey is of huge importance to the local area. “When people think of Málaga, they think of the sun and beaches, but now this is something totally different,” says Francisco Vázquez, an engineer who worked on the project, “It’s another experience. A pretty special experience concentrated into a short time.”
Selected as one of Lonely Planet’s top new travel experiences for 2015, the reopening of the pathway has been anticipated for years. Already the route is booked up until June. Groups of 50 people are allowed to enter the walkway every half an hour and the organisers expect to see 600 people walking the path each day.
It may not be the world’s scariest hike anymore, not even close, but Caminito del Rey’s true attraction is still there. Stunning views and an awe-inducing sense of scale from the sheer rock walls and dizzyingly high pathway will stay with you long after you’ve stepped down from the hanging bridge and walked away. Adventure-seekers may be disappointed by the makeover but for those looking for a bit of excitement mixed with beautiful views it may just be the ticket, if you can get one.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
This article was written by Ami Sedghi from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.