Leaving Granada our travel time to Estepona was only 2 hours so we took some detours along the way to visit a few of the top rated pubelos blancos (white villages). Our first detour took an hour driving on a road clinging to the mountainside, climbing ever higher in the Sierra Nevada’s where 3 white villages are located one after the other. The first, and lowest was Pampaneira, then Bubion and finally Capileira. All 3 of these small, quiet hilltop towns are distinguished by their simple whitewashed houses influenced by the Moors of North Africa. Today the area is a popular hiking destination with many shops, hotels and restaurants catering to the needs of hikers. Coming back down the mountain we headed closer to our destination before taking a short second detour to visit Frigliana. This was my favorite white village because while enjoying the mountain location you can also see the Mediterranean. It’s proximity to Malaga and the Costa del Sol make it a popular tourist town.
Estepona is a sea port and resort area popular with tourists, but quieter than the nearby and more popular town of Marbella. The population is around 70,000 and it is one of the few coastal towns maintaining it’s pueblo charm and character. We joined a brand new gym only a 10 minute walk from our apartment and found a tennis club up in the mountains to play at, keeping us busy when not out visiting the nearby countryside.
Our big plan while here was to hike the 100 year old Caminito del Rey trail, formerly the worlds most dangerous footpath. The walkway was closed following 5 deaths in 1999 and 2000 and fell into further disrepair. After a 4 year restoration project the walkway re-opened in 2015 and is now one of the more unique experiences one can enjoy. In most places the new walkway is directly above the old one so you get a good look at how dangerous this was in the past. The Caminito de Rey is famous because two sections of the 8 km trail are a walkway pinned into the steep walls of the narrow El Chorro gorge.
Researching this walk on the internet I questioned our sanity more than once in wanting to do this!!! What fool wants to walk along 2.9 km of boardwalk pinned into sheer walls??? Early in the walk I mentioned to Blair that if the walkway collapsed we could hang on to the cable strung along the wall, and his response was “why delay the inevitable”!?! Fortunately we did not have to test this theory and our hike was one of the most amazing things we have ever done, second only to hiking up Wayna Picchu in Peru. The views through the canyon are breathtaking, as well as the walkway taking your breath away. Looking upwards during the walk Blair spotted many vultures and eagles soaring overhead. There were a couple of moments where I thought “what the heck are we doing” but overall it was a fabulous adventure we recommend to anyone without a fear of heights 🙂 The suspension bridge near the end of the trail seriously raised my heart rate as it shook with every step we took, swinging 100 meters (328 ft) above the gorge.
Before buying our tickets online we checked the weather forecast, this is not something you want to do in the rain. The tickets are inexpensive at a cost of only 10 Euros each (11.36 USD) plus we paid 1.55 Euros each (1.75 USD) for a bus ride back to the start. The hike through the gorge is one way from North to South. The beginning of the trail is a bit hard to find with various signs showing different distances so we asked a local hiking guide and were directed up the road to a 150 meter long tunnel cut through the cliff. The tunnel is pitch black with only the tiny light of the exit visible in the distance, a bit of a creepy way to begin. Once through the tunnel we had about a 1.5km walk to the ticket office and official entrance to the gorge where we were provided with hair nets and hard hats (most unattractive), these are mandatory to be worn during the entire journey. Safety is high priority with many CCTV cameras stationed along the walkways, signs telling you to keep 1.5 meters between you and the person in front and security staff at key locations along the walkway. The suspension bridge near the end of the walk is limited to 10 people at one time and there is security staff there to ensure the continued safety of all hikers.
On our way back to Estepona we took the long way home to visit the mountain village of Ronda. The top attraction in Ronda is the epic Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) which spans the 328 ft deep El Tajo gorge. Completed in 1793 this bridge took 40 years to build and cost the lives of 50 workers. Ronda is a very popular tourist destination and was not our favorite place as it was overrun with many large tour groups 🙁
Under an hour away from our apartment is Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory and a slice of Britain off the tip of Spain. My cousin suggested we park our car in any of the large lots before the border crossing and walk over to Gibraltar. It was a simple process waltzing through a fairly lax customs office before walking across the Gibraltar airport runway to officially get “on the rock”. Once there we found that unfortunately the cable car to the top of the rock was closed for maintenance. The other two options were a 2-3 hour walk or a very expensive taxi ride so we decided to hike around the lower part of Gibraltar, making it as high as the Moorish Castle on the northern end.
I don’t think we really did justice to our visit to Gibraltar with not being able to utilize the cable car to reach the top, as we had hoped. It is a very, very busy place with a lot of traffic on the roads which deterred us from walking too far. There is a long pedestrian street filled with all the brand name British shops with a large square at one end filled with restaurants. After hiking around for a while we found a fish and chip shop and tucked in to a nice lunch sitting in the sunshine.
Estepona has a lovely old town area which was revitalized in 2012 with many of the small winding streets filled with colorful flowerpots attached to the building walls. Even in January it was a beautiful and colorful walk.
We also came across some of the local street art. The mural below by Joaquin Aguilera is dedicated to the fishing past of the neighborhood where it is located. There are many murals throughout the old and new areas of Estepona.
After a very relaxing 10 days here on the Mediterranean Sea in Estepona, and the highlight of our time here the exciting Caminito del Rey hike, we are now headed back inland to Seville and more historic sites…..
Tickets should be purchased ahead of time for the Caminito del Rey hike as they are generally sold out. We bought our tickets at this site the day before. Also plan to arrive 30 minutes before your scheduled time to make the walk to the controlled entry point.