The Vanlifer's Guide to the Caminito Del Rey, Spain
I’d wanted to hike the breathtaking cliff-side hike of the Caminito Del Rey for a long time, ever since I read the blog post on “Spain’s Most Dangerous Hike” on the Expert Vagabond blog way back in 2014.
Reading about Mr Vagabond’s death-defying experience of making his way along perilous crumbling paths piqued my interest, but upon hearing of the complete renovations of the trail - making it safe for all, I was sold!
We packed up the bus, dusted off our hiking boots that had been in deep storage while we wintered by the beach, and hit the road!
The route to Caminito Del Rey is incredibly well maintained, the roads are smooth, and it’s not too steep even for old buses like ours.
We drove up from Estepona -- on the coast near Marbella -- on the A3-55, a route that takes around 1 hr 38 mins in a regular car, and took us two and a half to three hours in our 1969 VW T2 Adventurewagen - she’s an old lady, we let her take it easy!
There is the option to take the AP-7 highway from Estepona which shaves it down to 1 hr 25 mins for a regular car, but we prefer to take the scenic route, and with so many picturesque views along the way - unless you need to save those thirteen-minutes, I’d recommend taking the A3-55!
Free Camper Parking
There are a few different apps and sites that we use to find free camper friendly overnight parking; they include Park4Night, Camper Contact, and FurgoVW.org.
Near The Entrance of Caminito Del Rey
Address: 36.932598,-4.803150 - copy the numbers in bold and paste into your GPS or maps.
We lucked out on finding a few great options on Park4Night, and one, in particular, was flat, safe, very close to a restaurant, bathrooms, and a tiny store.
Not to mention, it was the closest camper parking option we could find to the trailhead of Caminito Del Rey.
We had planned to stay at a different camping spot -- mentioned below --but upon arriving, it was apparent that our bus wouldn’t make it down the very bumpy dirt track.
Parking by The Water
Address: 36.904400,-4.821500 - copy the numbers in bold and paste into your GPS or maps.
When driving past this parking area it looked idyllic, right on the water's edge, surrounded by woods and only one other camper was down there. But - upon checking out the road down, we realized that you’d have to have a more off-road suitable vehicle, which we don’t.
If you have a fair bit of clearance under your camper, then this is quite probably the best camping spot in the area for scenery - but there aren’t any bathrooms nearby.
Address: 36.934299,-4.804570 - copy the numbers in bold and paste into your GPS or maps.
Just a couple of hundred meters up the road from our chosen camping spot, there is a tucked away car park that was almost always empty.
This could be a great option if you arrive and find the other spot full, but do watch out as there are bugs galore as it’s so close to the water!
This was one heck of a challenge; there are no real shops anywhere near the trailhead or end of the trail.
Near The Caminito Del Rey North Entrance
Where we parked near the beginning of the hike - there was one tiny store called El Kiosko that pretty much only sold Doritos, Pringles, coca-cola, and water - well, they sold more but not a fruit or veggie in sight!
Near The Caminito Del Rey Exit
At the end of the hiking trail when you’ve worked up an appetite and want to pick up some food, don’t be fooled into thinking the supermarket called Supermarket Maribel -- with a tagline along the lines of, we sell everything you need -- will have fruits and veggies either.
All we could see was tinned produce and sliced bread, but if that’s what you’re into - the old lady that runs the place is a hoot, so go say hi!
2km From Camper Parking
After our hiking expedition, we went on a quick -- albeit uphill on the way -- bike ride to the local campground called Camping Parque Ardales that has a tiny grocery store inside.
There was more on offer here; I was especially happy to find some vegan snacks! And the staff were incredibly jolly and spoke decent English.
Antequera Carrefour 33 km North-East
The closest large shop with extended opening hours is the Carrefour based in the Centro Comercial La Veronica shopping center in the nearby town of Antequera. It’s regular opening hours are 9 am to 10 pm Monday through Saturday and closed all day Sunday.
There were four restaurants within a five-minute walk of the camper parking that we found, none of them spoke English, but they all tried to accommodate our allergies.
Bar La Cantina - 180 meters
This small restaurant sits in an idyllic location almost atop the dam itself, with views over the water from their outdoor seating area, it’s a great place to stop for a cold drink.
The food is probably most likened to a greasy spoon cafe in England, no frills, no fuss - just quick and easy.
The Restaurant At Hotel La Posada del Conde - 260 meters
An immaculate establishment, with a dining room that looks straight out of your Grandma’s photo album!
One of the staff members spoke English, and he helped us to find vegan dinner options, we each had a huge salad with all sorts of veggies, perhaps one of the best salads we’ve had at a non-vegan restaurant.
Restaurante El Kiosko - 350 meters
This restaurant is connected to a bar, and the El Kiosko store, we went here one night as they are also right by the bathrooms!
If you don’t have any specific dietary requirements, the food looked like it would be great, really traditional and the restaurant was bustling. Unfortunately, for us - it didn’t work out quite so well as even though we ordered in Spanish, they brought us the wrong food.
Restaurante El Mirador Ardales - 800 meters
By far the best ambiance of all of the restaurants in the area, the restaurant itself sits upon a tunnel cut out of the mountain, and from the road, you walk up a staircase leading into the establishment.
Unsure as to what you should be expecting, as soon as you walk in, you’re met with the feeling of being in tropical Mexico, combined with lakes of Switzerland thanks to the deep blue waters that the restaurant overlooks.
The food here smelled and tasted incredible, and you felt as though a chef rather than a cook had prepared your meal.
PHRASES FOR VEGETARIANS AND VEGANS
In Spain, a vegetarian diet also contains fish, so if you’re a strict vegetarian or vegan, you might want to memorize a few of the below phrases.
- I am Vegetarian - Soy Vegetariano
- I am Vegan - Soy Vegano
- Without Fish - Sin Pescado
- Without Meat - Sin Carne
- Without Dairy - Sin Lecheria
- Without Egg - Sin Huevo
Hiking the Caminito Del Rey
The hiking trail isn’t strenuous and is more of a long walk, so it’s suitable for all ages and fitness levels. There is only one slightly tiring section, and that’s right at the end where you’ll find a staircase leading to the exit.
Scenic Walking Route to the Trailhead
Walking from our camping spot two trails lead to the trailhead, one is right beside the bathrooms at the Restaurante El Kiosko, this route is 2.6km long and is beautifully scenic, you’ll meander through a woodland path, passing by the water with countless birds flying overhead!
Fast Walking Route to the Trailhead
If you ended up sleeping in and you’re in more of a rush, you can walk south along the main road (so the El Kiosko restaurant will be behind you on your left). After a few hundred meters you’ll see a tunnel leading through the mountain - this route also leads to the North entrance but is only 1.5kms in length! This route isn’t as pretty, but it’s much faster.
Buying Tickets In Advance
The hiking trail is incredibly popular and has welcomed over 1,000,000 visitors - for that reason the Caminito Del Rey website recommends always purchasing tickets in advance, especially if you’re in a group.
You can purchase them online via the English Caminito Del Rey booking site
Buying Tickets On The Day
We heard from friends that it’s possible to buy tickets on the day if you arrive just before opening, and flash your best smile. So that’s what we did, and we got in.
We also saw many other people were arriving on the day and getting tickets, but if you have your heart set on hiking the trail - you should probably buy tickets ahead of time.
Time and Length
The actual trail measures 5 km in length, but if you’re traveling with children, seniors, or anyone with injuries - you’ll want to remember about that extra 1.5 km - 2.7 km that you’ll have to walk to get to the start of the trail.
Everyone that goes on the trail must wear a helmet to protect yourself against any falling rocks from above. The helmet is provided along with a brand new hairnet is provided as part of your ticket price and doesn’t cost you anything additionally.
It’s Only One Way!
You may be surprised to know that the trail is strictly one way, meaning that you walk from North to South for 5km and then have the option of walking back to your parking via the main road, or you can take the shuttle bus for an additional fee.
Getting The Bus Back
The shuttle bus is located just after the exit of the Caminito Del Rey trail and is well signposted from the helmet drop-off point.
The bus leaves every thirty-minutes and costs €1.55 per person, or €0.94 if you happen to have a multi-journey bus pass from Malaga City Transport.
Bring cash with you; the bus does not accept cards.
As well as the incredible hiking in the area, the Guadalhorce Reservoir (Embalse del Guadalhorce) also allows some watersports and has a few rental companies along its banks for equipment including kayaks, paddle boards, and pedal boats.
Camping Parque Ardales
This watersport spot was the best in the area! It was secure as it was based inside of a campground and is run by one of the friendliest chaps that we’ve ever met - seriously he knew a little bit of every language.
As people would say where they were from, he would bust out some phrases and tell a tale of when he was in that country - cool guy!
We had our own paddleboard with us, but as we were missing the paddle, he very kindly lent us a kayak paddle at no charge.
There was also kayaks, paddle boards, inflatable boats, and pedal boats on offer - they all looked incredibly well maintained and most looked close to new.
For the non-water-loving members of the family, there was also a small pebble beach that many had brought blankets or lounge chairs to hang out on.
As we didn’t have to pay, I’m unsure as to whether cards were accepted, but I would err on the side of caution and assume not.
Island Recreation Area
The closest watersport spot to our camping spot was the Island Recreation Area; they have kayaks, paddle boards, pedal boats with slides, and even inflatable obstacle courses.
Like most places in the area, they don’t take card so be sure to bring cash.
This area was incredibly noisy with loud music continually blaring, not quite what I’m wanting when I’m enjoying nature - but if that’s your thing, this is the place for you!