El Chorro has always been a popular location for travelling climbers. The huge Gorge and its spectacular walls provided a focus for hard sport climbing development in the mid 1980s and the place became very popular in the early 1990s, boosted by publications like Andalusia Rock (Chris Craggs, 1992) and the various Rockfax guides including the yellow topocard published in 1993. However, after this early boon, the place has been somewhat overtaken by the easier pickings on the Costa Blanca and Mallorca and has even suffered the ignominy of not having been in a Rockfax print guidebook for the last 3 years.
With the publication of the 2008 Rockfax guidebook the area is set for a comeback. It is now time to ditch the old idea that El Chorro is just a dark gorge with intimidating hard routes and a few polished slabs, all plagued by access problems. El Chorro these days has far more to offer with a host of crags in and around the village, plenty of superb destinations within a short drive, and a vibrant and active climbing scene attracting visitors from all over Europe.
El Chorro is also one of the most economical places you can get some winter sun sport climbing action since there are loads of lo-cost airline and charter flights available to Málaga, it is very easy to climb here without hiring a car, and there is camping and other reasonably priced accommodation available. The crags in and around the Gorge provide enough to keep anyone busy for many visits. The best of the climbing tends to be on the huge ridge towering over the village which has a great mix of routes across the grades on crags like Frontalas, ???, Escalera Arabe and Las Encantadas. El Chorro - Lower Gorge itself has many superb walls with a series of classics which are well worth picking off, especially if you want to sample the unique atmosphere of the approach along the crumbling Camino del Rey - the Walkway. Once through the Gorge the walls open out with another set of excellent crags in the vast central gorge area. Los Cotos is a little on the polished side but great if the weather is cool; El Polvorin has superb classics across the grade, and hard climbers need look no further than El Makinodromo where you could easily spend your whole holiday attempting the world famous Lourdes (if you can cope with the walk-in).
To make the most of the area though, you are advised to hire a car so that you can visit some of the other crags away from the village. This will bring some of the good/bad weather destinations into play like the magnificent shaded walls of Desplomilandia, the superb sunny slabs of Valle de Abdalajis and Túron and the beautiful towers of El Torcal de Antequera.
Over the years El Chorro has had a number of access problems affecting different crags. Currently the situation is much more stable than it used to be but there are still four areas of concern that the visiting climber needs to be aware of.
1) Railway Tunnels - Access to the railway tunnels is now totally banned with large sections of fencing erected and guards being posted at the entrance to one of the tunnels at popular times. The policing of the tunnels is for safety reasons, due in part to incidents involving people pushing prams through them or walking on the tracks with their iPods on! Although this has made access to the climbing in the Central Gorge area a bit trickier all the crags can still be reached at all times.
2) Upper Gorge - Climbing in the Upper Gorge is now banned for environmental reasons and the area has been left out of this book.
3) Wild Camping - No camping or open fires in the National Park.
4) The Walkway - The 'Camino del Rey' itself has had its initial section dismantled but this is now easily bypassed by a via ferrata that starts down the slope from the bridge that is specifically intended for climbers to access The Gorge and avoid using the tunnels. For those who wish to negotiate the whole of the Camino del Rey, including the Upper Gorge, a rope and quickdraws are necessary to negotiate a section that is missing. This section is at the top of the Upper Gorge and necessitates a climb up, across and back down onto the Walkway and has some bolts for protection. This section can't be negotiated by those without climbing experience.
When do I go?
The best weather for climbing is normally to be found between the middle of October and the beginning of May. During this period the air temperatures can be perfect and the options of sun, shade and/or altitude can be utilised to keep the ambient temperature comfortable. It can be cold so a warm coat and hat are advisable additions to the packing list. However it is more likely to be on the warm side so shorts, suncream and a sunhat should also not be forgotten. Wet weather does occasionally close in but the chances of a complete wash out are low and there is usually always somewhere dry to climb. Summer is most definitely not the time to be planning on a trip, as inland temperatures regularly hit 40˚C, although high up in the shade at Loja or El Torcal it might be cool enough to venture out on to the rock without frying.
Who flies where?
The main airport for the area is Málaga International Airport. Luckily this is one of the best served and most popular airports in Europe and with flights from all major European destinations all year round. Prices are some of the cheapest available to any climbing destination in Spain and look likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. If a bit of time is spent searching out the bargains outside of the holiday periods, it is still not uncommon to be able to pick up return flights from the UK for £65 or less.
- www.easyjet.com - from East Midlands, Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool, London Airports, Manchester, Newcastle.
- www.flybe.com - from Exeter, Southampton.
- www.jet2.com - from Belfast, Newcastle, Blackpool, Manchester, Leeds/Bradford.
- www.ryanair.com - from Stansted, Birmingham, Bournemouth, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool.
It is also worth checking on charter flight availability as occasionally they are cheaper, especially for trips during holiday periods.
El Chorro is perhaps the best of Spain's major winter sun climbing destinations to consider for those wishing not to hire a car, but having one makes getting to other nearby spots possible and is essential for those who don't like walking very much! Car hire is relatively cheap - in the region of €15/day for a small car. All the following companies have on-airport offices and pick-up and drop-off. www.holidayautos.co.uk, www.europcar.com, www.hertz.com
Without a Car - El Chorro, more than any of the other winter sun climbing destinations in Europe, lends itself to those on a tight budget, or those who wish to climb without making use of a car. Travel from Málaga's airport or train station to Alora, and then on to El Chorro, is relatively straightforward and cheap. From the accommodation centred on El Chorro it is possible to walk to many of the areas great cliffs such as Encantadas, Makinodromo, The Gorge and Frontales. For the crags further afield, hitching a lift is a real possibility, or hooking up with others with transport in the cafe, bar or refugio.
Where do I stay?
Apartments, Villas and Cottages - There are lots of options available in the immediate surrounds of El Chorro that vary from small cottage-style terraces to huge villas complete with pools and luxury accommodation. There is plenty of accommodation within walking distance of the crags, and the bars at the refugio and station, for those without a car. The surrounding villages and towns also have many places of all shapes and sizes to rent and will be of interest to those looking for a broader selection of shops, eating and cafe/bar options such as those in the bustling town of Alora. The cost of the accommodation is on the best side of reasonable and varies from around €50 to €140 per person, per week.
Refuges - There is a refugio in the centre of El Chorro that has very basic accommodation (and a bar) at around €10 per person, per night with breakfast. There are a couple of other excellent refugio-style set-ups in El Chorro village that offer a good standard of accommodation and are fully geared towards the rock climbing market. A big advantage for those travelling on their own is that during the climbing season there are always plenty of other climbers staying at the refugios. There are also refugios in other towns such as Archidona.
Camping - The El Chorro campsite is very close to the climbing and the centre of El Chorro but is not a particularly cheap option with prices of about €10 per person, per night. There are also some small chalets on the campsite that are reasonably priced if the other accommodation locally is full. There are several beautiful campsites up on the shores of the lakes just above El Chorro but these are only open from Easter until the end of September. Important - Wild camping in the National Park of El Chorro is banned and campfires are also forbidden.
Shops and Eating Out
For the El Chorro based visitor there are a number of small shops spread out around the village that stock all that is needed to sustain a visit. Meals are served at the Refugio, the Station Bar and the La Garganta Hotel. Further afield there are many more options. Alora is around 10km from El Chorro and has lots of bars, restaurants, cafes and larger supermarkets. Up at the lakes above El Chorro are some superb bars and restaurants that have wonderful views. Málaga (about an hour from El Chorro) has all the attractions, and distractions, of a large city along with hypermarkets on its outskirts.
Where can I buy gear?
There is a small climbing shop in the centre of El Chorro village that stocks plenty of gear and clothing. Málaga has larger shops.
What else is there apart from the climbing?
For the sunlover the warm Mediterranean waters and sandy beaches are only an hour away. Walkers and mountain bikers will find the hills and mountains of the El Chorro and El Torcal Natural Parks provide plenty of potential. Day visits to the major historic cities of Antequera, Cordoba, Sevilla and Granada are possible by car, or train, from Málaga. There are many opportunities for relaxing in the quiet villages that dot the neighbouring landscape and the city life of Málaga is only a quick train or car journey away. Slightly further afield, but good for a rest day, are the tourist hot-spot of Mijas, a pretty village perched high above the Mediterranean, and the impressive town of Ronda.