The popular climbing spot of El Chorro, to the north of Malaga, has suffered in recent years from ambiguous access information with rumours about it being closed or having strict requirements for permits before you can climb. With a new Rockfax guidebook in the offing, we have been spending quite a lot of time there recently and can give a full update on access.
Oddly it has never really been closed, and the short-lived permit system came and went around 10 years ago. The truth is that there is now more climbing available at El Chorro than ever before.
The main change to the area has been the construction of the Caminito del Rey - a spectacular pathway through the upper and lower gorges which has become extremely popular amongst locals and tourists alike with over 1000 people walking it on most popular days. It has brought a major boost to the area. The Caminito del Rey is based on the old Camino del Rey which was the original path that was built for the king to view the construction work carried out back in 1905. It had fallen into disrepair although climbers used it back in the 1990s to get to the routes.
The new walkway is fixed above the old one and is totally solid and safe, however it has removed access to most of the routes in the actual gorge. Some of the routes are still reachable from below, but it is generally discouraged since climbers active in the gorge become such an attraction for the walkers on the Caminito and there is so much climbing on offer elsewhere. This includes the routes on El Chorro - Lower Gorge and the route Zeppelin - you could climb them but you are better off looking elsewhere.
Outside the gorge though route development has been prolific with many new routes on existing sectors and full new walls being found. Places like El Corral East have some superb climbing and there are many more just like it.
The other factor that was off-putting about access in El Chorro was the fact that you often needed to walk through the railway tunnels in order to get to some of the crags in the central open area of the gorge (Los Cotos, El Polvorin, Makinodromo). This is still the case and, although signs suggest walking through the tunnels is not allowed, it is still done by most climbers with no repercussions. There is an alternative way of getting to the central gorge as well without going through the tunnels if you don't want to chance it. The tunnels thermselves are wide and there is no danger if you happen to be in one as a train passes.
El Chorro can definitely be considered a great venue for anyone in search of winter sun destinations. There are many more routes than in the 2008 Rockfax guidebook and the new one looks like it will be at least twice as thick. The area is booming from the new tourism interest, although this doesn't really affect any of the climbing except the parking in the village if you are looking for an aprés-climb beer.