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.
22 Comments Add yours
Grainne, this is so exiting and I can’t wait to go there. This is at the top of my ‘to do’ list when we get there. It looks fantastic. Many thanks for sharing this and making clear the directions xxx
It’s definitely one of the most amazing walks we’ve ever done Rachel! River’s probably too high at the moment with the recent rain, later on in the summer could be too hot, autumn’s really the ideal time for it. Besos xx
Would this walk be ok to do in mid February?
Hard to say Pauelette… the weather is unpredictable at that time of year so it would depend on how much recent rain there’s been, have to be very careful of flash floods. Also the water temperature will be cold, you’re not going to manage it in flip flops, maybe if you had those knee high wellies?? (don’t know what they’re called). You probably aren’t going to manage the whole way without getting wet but it would still be worth doing the first half or maybe a bit ore. Good luck!! xx
Thank you for this fantastic piece of info – we are staying in Nerja for a week in August this looks like a great trip. Our kids are 7 & 9 so good to see proof it’s easily manageable for little ones. Can’t wait to go!!
You should have no problems with a 7 and 9 year old Tracy..enjoy! x
Last week I tried to walk along the canal that runs parallel to the river alongside the mountain and then drop down to the gorge at, or near to, the source. We never found the path down and had to retrace our steps on the 1 foot wide, precipitous path.
Just after the round red brick building there is a path on the right. The start of the path has been destroyed and at the top it has been fenced off although holes have been cut in the fence.
Gráinne, we completed this walk yesterday and had a wonderful time. So varied and not too much of a challenge but perfect for an afternoon and suitable for all ages. Thank you so much for the advice regarding wearing runners as nothing else would have worked really. We enjoyed a coffee and snack under the shade of the overhanging rocks, just lovely.?
So glad you enjoyed it Brenda. It’s a cracker alright 🙂
Did this walk today 04/04/2017 around 26 degrees. Great walk and great fun walking in the water. Met many people doing the walk. Easy-going for a couple in their 70s. Give it a go you will enjoy!
Well done Alistair! It was a beautiful day today. I am DYING to do that walk again it is my absolute favourite. Was the water cold?
Thanks for dropping by the blog, Grainne x
We have been frequent visitors to Nerja for 10 years and at last are getting round to do the walk this July. However, it doesnt matter how many accounts we have read, we still cannot work out exactly where the walk ends. This would help, as we want to end up in Nerja and walk the other way!
Can anyone shed some light please?
Andy from Cheltenham
Hi Andy, I’m afraid it’s not possible…as far as I know at least…to access the Rio Chillar from anywhere else. You are walking essentially through a gorge, along a river bed, with very steep sides all the way. If you look at my photos I think you’ll see what I mean. Hope you enjoy! Thanks for stopping by my blog, Grainne x
This is a great post, thank you and very informative for us as we are planning on doing it with an 8 & 6 year old. I was wondering if walking sandals would be suitable? I don’t really want to take trainers just for this as we are travelling light!
I am really looking forward to it.
Thank you 🙂
Yes I would think so, although if you do the whole walk they may start to chafe a little towards the end. I can’t say for sure, we only did the walk once, but as it happens we are planning to do it again tomorrow!
You could also get those water wader shoe thingies, you see a lot of kids wearing them at the beach, don’t know what they’re called exactly, they’re snug to the foot with a thick sole, good for walking on rocks or pebbles.
Enjoy your day out!!
How far is the walk and how long up and down with young kids please?? I’m going to Nerja next week. Thinking about doing it with family. I have a 1 year old and 5 year old. Is it suitable please ???
We did the walk again just last weekend. The river is much drier than when we did it 4 years ago due to poor rainfall this Spring. This means that there’s quite a stretch at the start before you get your feet in the water, and it’s very exposed. Do you have a carrier for the one year old? I would advise starting out early when it’s cooler and power through the start, about 20 minutes, until your feet hit the water. Gets easier then and there’s increasingly more shade/places to stop.
I have to say though I wouldn’t do it again in July. There was a LOT of people, which ruined it a little. Especially farther up the river there were bottlenecks at some of the narrower stretches. It was a Sunday, maybe less people on a week day.
If possible, I would do it in late September / early October when cooler but water still warm and crowds have thinned out.
Bring plenty of water, food and something like chocolate for energy hits. And sun cream.
We have never made it to the end so I can’t say how long sorry. There’s a small waterfall and pool at the top apparently, but it’s interesting all the way.
Hard to gauge timings with children that small. We spent 6 hours on the river with a 5,3 and 1 year old a few years ago…
Just back from Nerja and we went on this walk with a two family group. Although hot and quite busy it was still a lovely trip. Once in the gorge you are out of the strong sunshine. My Keen walking sandles were ideal, having a sturdy sole to cope with the rocky pebbles, but allowing the water to cool your feet. No chafing either. There is very wordy sign at the head of the gorge warning about a 6000 plus euro parking fine now, which seems excessive to the point of implausibility. Still plenty of folk parked on the road and no indication of restrictions before you get to the gorge.
Glad you enjoyed it Steve and the sandals worked out. It is one of the few walks that’s doable in hot weather.