This is one of the best walks we’ve done in Spain, definitely the best we’ve done with the children. Yup we managed the 5km and 6 hours duration of this shady river walk with all three, easily a personal record for us!
But apart from being able to take the kids along, this trail really is something special. The Río Chíllar is a short river that rushes to the coast from the Sierra de Almijara around Frigiliana, carving a deep gorge through the limestone rock via a series of dramatic narrow canyons, that widens out to a cavernous tunnel of vertiginous pine-covered slopes with shady pools hugging the bank, occasional waterfalls and a cool flat river bed that trickles to the sea.
Sounds lush doesn’t it? And it really is. The trail begins at the edge of the seaside town of Nerja (or you can add another 2.5km to the route and start at El Playazo beach if you really want to do the complete mouth-to-source river experience).
How to get there
Nerja is about 50 minutes drive east from Malaga city on the A-7.
On foot from Nerja, you need to access the track that runs along the bank of the Río Chíllar. There are several ways to do this but the two easiest are as follows: walk to the end of Calle de Joaquín Herrera, which is behind the bus station on Calle de Pescia, and follow the path down to the river. Alternatively, walk along Calle del Puente Viejo (off the roundabout near the Super Sol supermarket, on Calle de Antonio Ferrandis, which leads directly to the riverside road.
If you’re coming by car and want to skip the first couple of kilometres, access the riverside road via Calle del Puente Viejo, as above, and drive for 2km until you reach the cement works where there is official parking for 63 cars (costs €1). If that is full, the second (free) official car park is just above the site of the Sunday market on Calle del Mirto. However it is a fair walk from here to the start of the river. Many people park on the side of the road, despite the no parking restrictions, but beware you can get a fine of between €100 and €600 for parking here.
After ten minutes you pass under the motorway and are truly out in the wild. This is the cavernous bit. The vertical white cliff face of a disused quarry yawns to your left as you stroll along the stony river bed, shoes still dry at this stage as the gently flowing ribbons of water are easy to avoid.
Pretty soon you come to an old hydroelectric station where you find the first really deep pool to cool off in.
There’s lots of smooth rock here if you fancy a picnic.
Soon after this point keeping your feet dry is no longer an option though there are frequent stop-off spots on the bank if you need a break.
Of course the amount of water flowing will vary depending on the time of year and recent rainfall, but eventually you will reach the point where riverbanks disappear and you are forced to wade.
The walls of the canyon will suddenly narrow – in places so narrow that you can touch both sides at the same time – while the depth and speed of the water increases and you find yourself in a series of cahorras (rapids).
Don’t worry, they are easily negotiated and just beyond each there’s always a quiet pool to relax at and catch your breath.
Along the way you will be accompanied by huge colourful butterflies and massive dragon flies while reeds, rushes, palms, sugar-cane, ferns and other shade-loving plants dance on the banks to the squawks of tropical birds. I’m not a birdwatcher myself but apparently all of the following can be spotted: goldfinches, greenfinches, Iberian chiffchaffs, serins, siskins, collared doves and grey and pied wagtails amongst others.
At the farthest point (which we fell shy of), approx. 4km from the cement factory, there is a plunge pool and a “massaging” waterfall you can sit under.
A great walk for small children
Once you’re well prepared, this is an ideal walk to do with little ones for the following reasons:
It’s flat. It’s not that far. There’s shade all the way and lots of shallow pools for quick dips to cool off in. It’s linear so you can turn back at any time and you couldn’t possibly get lost unless you accidently started climbing up a cliff. And most importantly, reluctant young hikers (like our Ray) will no doubt get far more of a kick out of wading through a river, kicking stones and spotting creatures, than walking on a boring old track.
When to do it
Everything I’d read beforehand said it’s “best walked in June, July and August” so I was a little nervous about how we’d fare in mid October. However the fact that we’d had very little rain thus far this Autumn – maybe three wet days since late August – and higher than average temperatures meant that the water levels were still sufficiently low but water temperatures high enough for wading in all day.
It’s two weeks later now and it’s rained only once since and not that heavily, so I’d imagine the water levels are still fine though the temperatures are definitely starting to drop a little now. Be warned though, water levels can change very quickly and the river is prone to flash floods. Do not attempt the walk after a lot of rainfall or if rain is forecast.
What to bring
Water, lunch and snacks, sunscreen and hats, maybe swimmming togs. Wear short shorts and bring a spare set of clothes apiece in a separate compartment of your bag or in a plastic bag.
Comfortable shoes are the number one requirement for any walk. I’m not sure what to recommend for this one, but the following was our experience:
Our kids wore crocs and were absolutely fine all day. Ivan wore trainers and had no problems initially but started to feel hot around the ankles the last hour and by the time he took them off at the end of the day both heels were ringed with blisters. I wore flip flops which were fine in the shallows but in the fast-flowing rapids they kept slipping off. I also had a pair of diving wet boots that I thought I was very clever for remembering, but these were no good at all – the soles too soft for stepping over the stones so very tiring on the feet. Everyone else seemed to be wearing trainers.
Next time I’ll wear a pair of close-fitting crocs for the shallows and bring trainers for the rapids.