This is without a doubt one of the best and most fun walks I have ever done. It takes you up into the spectacular gorge of Los Cahorros where you cross hanging bridges, walk alongside centuries old irrigation channels (acequias), crawl through caves and edge round narrow ledges, clinging to the rock face. It is awesome!
Great Family Adventure – Indiana Jones-Style!
This is such a great hike for families. Our children thought it was like a giant adventure playground. E said the hanging bridges were like huge versions of the rope and slat bridges you get in playgrounds. M said it was like having to cross the reactor shaft in the Death Star like Luke Skywalker did in Star Wars and they both loved the excitement of having to crawl and squeeze along the narrow ledges. Andy and I felt as though we’d stepped onto the set of an Indiana Jones movie!
It is not a walk for the faint hearted though: the hanging bridges do bounce and swing around quite a bit as you cross them, but this just adds to the excitement. Then there were sections in the gorge where we had to crawl in our hands and knees for several metres to get through and the second half of the walk, where you climb out of the gorge and up to the top of the hill, is pretty strenuous walking on a loose gravel path. But it is all worth it, as the views and scenery are spectacular.
Despite some gaps between the slats which give them a rather unnerving, rickety appearance, the hanging bridges are perfectly safe. They are also fairly well enclosed at the sides so that it would be difficult for you, and more importantly your children, to fall off them. Fortunately for us the route was relatively quiet and we could cross the bridges one person at a time. We also didn’t have to wait to cross, but I could imagine this would really slow you down if the walk was busy with people crossing and stopping to take photographs. The third and longest bridge can only take 4 people at a time, so at busier times you would no doubt have to queue.
The Hanging Bridges
So, you start off just outside the lovely village of Monachil, in the hills above Granada at the north western edge of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Monachil is only 8km from the centre of Granada and so makes a great day out if you are staying in the city. Following the signs for Los Cahorros, the walk takes you into the cool gorge with sheer cliffs on either side. For quite a distance you follow an old irrigation channel (acequia).
And then you reach the first bridge, hanging dramatically across the gorge, suspended high above the river. It is wonderfully exciting to cross.
A little further and a few steps up and down and you reach the second bridge, which is fairly short.
All the time you can hear the rush of the water below and see waterfalls and rock pools that would make a great place to cool off in the heat of the summer. They didn’t look quite so inviting at this time of year though, the source of the river being up in the snow capped peaks above. Brrrrr.
The third bridge is the most dramatic part of the walk. Not only is it the longest bridge by far, but it has deep waterfalls on either side and is suspended the highest above the river. This bridge can only take 4 people at once and it does swing and bounce around quite a bit, especially near the middle. What great fun though! E went back and forth several times she enjoyed it so much.
The Narrow Gorge
After the third hanging bridge begins the narrowest part of the walk where you cling to the side of the gorge, sometimes with only a tiny ledge on which to stand. In places the sides of the gorge overhang the path so that you have to crawl underneath to get past. In others there are metal handles set into the side of the rock so that you can hold onto these and edge around the obstruction. We loved it!
Our children found it particularly amusing to see mum and dad on their hands and knees getting through sections that they had just ducked to get under! I should say here that if you really couldn’t manage the crawl or hanging onto the rock, there is an alternative, rather wetter, option. Since in places the path is only a few feet above the river, you could climb down and walk along the riverbed. In places there are even ladder rungs on the side to allow you to do this.
At one point, you reach what appears to be a dead end, but this is NOT the end of the walk: the path continues on into a cave where there are lots of hidden side niches that the children climbed into to surprise us as we went past.
At the end of the gorge, there is one final hanging bridge to cross, which didn’t seem to be as well maintained as the first three. This one only had chicken wire up the sides to make sure you didn’t fall off and it was curled up and coming away in places. But it was still solid enough and we all made it across safely.
The Climb Out of the Gorge
From here the walk is completely different. The path climbs up out of the bottom of the gorge and is pretty steep with lots of switchbacks and a loose gravel surface. At one point there was a fence right across the path and we thought that it was completely blocked and we would have to turn back. But then we noticed a sign painted in red on the wall saying “Por favor cierren la puerta” or “Please close the gate” so we realised it was ok to squeeze through the gap at the side and continue.
The views all around in this section of the walk were breathtaking: you could see back down into the gorge and across to distant mountains where huge birds of prey were circling the peaks. The bright yellow flowers of the gorse bushes and the purple of the rosemary on the hillsides looked beautiful in the sunshine and against the clear blue sky. Down in the gorge near the hanging bridges we had seen a few other walkers and some rock climbers, but up here we were on our own and there was barely a sound other than the buzzing of the bees as they busily flew from one plant to another. It was so peaceful.
The Descent Back to Monachil
Once you reach the top of the hill, the path turns and you start the steady descent back into Monachil. From here you can see not only Monachil, but right out to Granada in the distance. The route passes scattered houses and farms to re-emerge next to the little car park just above the town. There is a restaurant here if you want to stop for something to eat or drink. Their €9.50 menu of the day sounded lovely.
Practical details for your walk from Monachil to the Los Cahorros gorge:
Trek Sierra Nevada
We found details of this walk on a brilliant website called Trek Sierra Nevada. It is in their list of the top ten walks in the area.
Here is the link for the Monachil – Los Cahorros gorge walk.
You can print out a map and directions from their website and on the whole we found these to be great. There were a couple of things that we didn’t find clear though, so I am adding here a few details of my own:
Where to park in Monachil?
The walk starts from the village of Monachil. As with most of the mountainside towns here, the roads in Monachil are narrow, but there are two good spots to park for this walk. Before you cross the river, there is a public car park in the town itself. For this simply carry straight on as you enter the village and you will see the signs for ‘Parking Público’.
Alternatively, bear left as you enter the village and cross the river, then turn right and head up the hill out of town with the river on your right. You may find a space on the street here, but if not, carry on up this road and you will reach another small car park. The road bends to the left away from the river, then makes several switchbacks and the car park is just after you see a restaurant set back on the right. It is on the right and has a low wall around the edge. If you are following the Trek Sierra Nevada directions, this car park is just above Point 3. You simply walk back down the hill towards the restaurant El Puntarrón and double back onto the dirt track that leads away from it (there is a big brown signpost and you need to follow the direction of Los Cahorros).
What can you expect from the walk?
The full circular route is 8km, but you can always hike into the gorge, see the hanging bridges and then retrace your steps back to the start. If you follow the full circular route there are 4 hanging bridges in total, the third one being the longest. As I mentioned above, the walk can be quite challenging in places and we needed to crawl on our hands and knees through some sections, so if you don’t feel comfortable or aren’t physically able to do this, don’t plan to go much further than the third hanging bridge as this is when the path starts to get narrow and more challenging.
Also, whilst there is plenty of shade when you are in the gorge, there is a very steep and demanding climb out of the gorge in the middle section of the walk and from here to the end of the walk there is no shade at all, so be prepared for this if you are walking in the heat of the summer.
Finally, we found some of the signs on the last few sections of the walk to be missing or a bit confusing. To make it clear, from the top of the hill (after you have climbed out of the gorge) you basically stay on the main path. It bears left and starts to descend and you follow this all the way down into Monachil, ignoring any side roads or farm tracks that say ‘Camino particular sin salida’ as this means ‘Private road with no exit’.
I hope that if you are ever in this area you will give this walk a go as it really is so rewarding and such a lot of fun! Thank you Trek Sierra Nevada for introducing us to it and for the great route map and directions.