La Garganta Verde

In addition to the Sierras de las Nieves, I had also read a lot about the Parque de Natural de la Sierra de Grazalema.   While not too far from Ronda or from the Sierras de las Nieves, this park is known for hiking, caving, canyoning, kayaking, rock climbing, cycling, birdwatching, and paragliding.  It’s 534 square kilometers and was named Spain’s first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1977.  It’s also known as one of the great parks of Spain for walking trails.  These four are listed as the best:  La Garganta Verde, El Pinsapar, Llanos del Rabel, and El Torréon.  The kicker, though, is that all of these walks require a permit from the Centro de Visitantes El Bosque.*

* I’d read it could be difficult to obtain a permit and your best bet was to make the request 1-2 months in advance.  That was no problem for me, as I was planning this trip pretty far in advance.  Luckily, you can email the center for your permit – cvelbosque.amaya@juntadeandalucia.es.  They’ll send you a form in Spanish to fill out in Spanish and need copies of your passports (I was pretty impressed I was able to do it without much problem).  Then, if they have space for you to visit, they’ll email you your permit a week before your visit.  I’m happy to report we were traveling in the off season and had no issue…though I’d read in the late spring/early summer it’s impossible to visit on the weekend (but I bet it’s AMAZING).

Since we were somewhat tight on time (it takes a while to visit the main cities in Andalusia), I researched and decided La Garganta Verde or “Green Throat” looked like our best bet.  It’s a 2.5km path that winds down 100m into a lushly vegetated gorge.  Our hike to Torrecilla the day before was supposed to be the more strenuous of the two hikes, so this sounded like a good plan for day two.

That morning we awoke to pouring rain in Ronda.  Our options were to explore Ronda more, drive to Seville early, or drive to La Garganta Verde and take our chances that it might stop raining.  Ever the optimists, we decided we’d take our chances and make the drive to Grazalema.

It’s about a 45 minute drive to the base of the hike and once you’re in the park it is absolutely stunning.  Read – it’s incredibly lush.  I immediately said to Jim, “Man, this is beautiful – maybe we should’ve come here yesterday when it was sunny, instead (I got the permit for two days of hiking in the park).  I snapped a few photos as we climbed up various mountains, completely in love.

Our instructions were that the trail started 3.5km south of Zahara de la Sierra at KM 10 on the CA9104 to Grazalema.  When we arrived at our destination, we saw one other car in the parking lot and no rangers or anyone to check our permits in sight.  At first, we weren’t sure if the trail was closed for the rain or still open.  As the rain eased up, we decided to change into our hiking pants, raincoats, and hiking boots and brave the rain for the hike down.  Let me just say, I’m so glad we did.

The hike starts out very much as a walk.  In the middle of the parking lot there’s a metal gate (with a sign that says please close the gate behind you in Spanish) with a path forward.  There’s a clearly defined trail with a stream (we assume due to all the rainfall) in the middle.  During this part, I stopped a couple of times just to admire the lush landscape (above photos), though kept my phone inside my raincoat as there was a pretty steady stream of rain the entire hike/walk.  After 10 minutes or so there is a vista point.  We didn’t stop there, but after the fact learned it’s a good place to see the griffon vultures.  Apparently, on clear days you can see a whole colony flying high or walking around (secretly, I’m glad we didn’t see any vultures, especially after seeing this video!  It picked up that kid!).

After 20 minutes or so on this path we started our descent (photos below) after passing a nesting area (where we were reminded to be quiet).  This is where the walk really becomes more of a hike.  The reviews I’d read said this was an easy walk.  Neither Jim nor I would classify it as such.  It’s not impossible, but it is A LOT of rocky steps and climbing.  I’d think you’d need to be in relatively good shape and with good joints to complete this.

There was a nice breeze and at certain points the cool rain felt amazing, as it was incredibly humid all the way down.  The mist and fog was heavy, but each view a little prettier than the last.  Once the path became more rock steps, I stopped taking photos.

Around an hour in, we saw the family (the other car from the parking lot), who seemed to be enjoying the view and a snack.  We passed them and continued down the gorge.

IMG_8725

In the above photo we saw our first glimpses of The Green Throat (the waterfall in the middle bottom of the photo).  Finally, we made our way to the base.  Down there the fog/mist was so thick it felt like you could cut it with a knife.  As you can see from the photos below, the water was rapidly flowing.  Under normal circumstances, you can cross this water and follow the riverbed to a cavern – Cueva de la Ermita (the cavern you see in the photo below).  I’ve also seen photos of folks swimming and interacting with vultures (we think these people are crazy) and this guy who played a flute down there.  We didn’t go any further and instead enjoyed a bag of peanut M&Ms, watched the waterfall and then started our trek back up.

In some ways the way back up was easier than the way down (at least I always think hiking up is easier).  The highlight of our trip up, though, was when I saw an Iberian Ibex.  We were on one of the steep parts of the trail and I saw what I thought was a deer and said, “Oh wow, a deer!”  It wasn’t until later I realized it must be an Ibex, as it scampered away like we were cheetahs and we never saw it again.

Once we returned to the walking path we breathed a little sigh of relief, took off our hoods and let the rain run down our heads.  We were exhilarated but exhausted.  As we got into our car to leave we marveled that no one ever checked for our permit and how lucky we’d been to only share the trail with one other family (we couldn’t imagine what it’d be like super crowded).  It was a gorgeous hike, one we’ll always remember.  I can’t think of a better place to hike in the rain or a better person than Jim to do it with.

If you’re headed to this area, I’d recommend exploring this park to the fullest extent.  In fact, Jim and I have even talked about potentially flying into Málaga with some more permits to explore more areas of the park before we leave Europe.  Fingers crossed we can.

The drive to Seville was long, wet, and cold.  That shower after we checked in was well deserved and amazing.

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