If you thought that this part of Spain was all about white villages, a visit to Andalucia’s very own Jurassic Park – El Torcal Nature Reserve near Antequera, will soon change your mind.
Situated around thirty kilometres north of the city of Málaga, and near the geographical centre of Málaga province, El Torcal is one of the most spectacular natural landscapes in Spain. The area is well-known for its unusual limestone rock formations which had their origin under the sea around 150 million years ago, during the Jurassic period. In time, immense pressure caused by movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates forced the seabed to rise to an altitude of more than 1300 metres, forming one of the most striking karst landscapes in the whole of Europe.
The grey limestone has been shaped by a peculiar erosive process known as karstic moulding, which is the name given to the chemical reaction on the soluble limestone rock by carbon dioxide in rainwater and ice. But you don’t need to be a geologist to appreciate that El Torcal offers a wonderland of limestone structures, rock towers and cliffs with caves, galleries and alleys thrown in. Even the road up to the Nature Reserve makes for an impressive ride, but nothing can prepare you for your first sight of El Torcal.
You might think that because of the altitude there would be little vegetation, but nature lovers will be in their element. Unsurprisingly there are many types of rock plant, which flourish in the cracks between the rocks, but there are many other interesting plant species including numerous varieties of wild orchid, saxifrage, peonies, wild lilies and roses.
If wildlife is your thing, then look out for geckos, lizards, snakes, wild goats, cattle and many small mammals such as moles, dormice or rabbits. Don’t forget to keep scanning the skies for golden eagles, griffon vultures and kestrels circling overhead. Entry is free to El Torcal Nature Reserve and, with no specific opening or closing hours, the park is open to the public anytime. The visitor centre has regular limited opening hours, depending on the time of year, and facilities which include a cafe, gift shop, information desk, exhibition/film area, clean toilets and plenty of free parking.
Even if you have reduced mobility, the road to El Torcal is worth the ride. There is a ramp up to the visitor centre and the viewpoint, “Mirador Las Ventanillas” is only 100 metres away and has level access. From here you can enjoy a stunning view of the town of Villanueva de la Concepción, the Río Campanillas area, Málaga and, on clear days, you can see the mountains of Morocco, on the African continent. From the visitor centre there is a circular, self-guided route, marked with wooden posts which will take you about an hour to complete. For longer routes you need to hire the services of an experienced guide, which can be arranged through the visitor centre.
The paths are not made up, but are simply worn by the feet of humans and animals. You’ll need to pick your way carefully between the rocks or risk a sprained ankle, especially if it has been raining and the rocks are slippery. Sturdy footwear is required and, although you don’t need hiking boots, flip-flops are not suitable.
It’s advisable not to deviate from the paths as it’s easy to get disorientated. In the summer months the rocks get very hot, radiating their heat so you should take sunscreen, a hat and plenty of water. During the rest of year, the weather at El Torcal can be cold (well, it is more than 1300 metres) so it’s best to take an extra layer of clothing for warmth.
There’s no doubt that the weather conditions will determine your experience, so you might have to be prepared to return on another day.
As you might imagine, the area can get very crowded during the daytime with coaches full of tourists, so if you are a photographer, an early morning or evening visit away from the well-trodden path makes for magical photographs.
We took a 3-4 hour guided tour in the Nature Reserve with David, a knowledgeable local guide with SenderoSurAventura, who skipped along the paths like a mountain goat. He pointed out many Ammonite fossils (hard-shelled sea creatures that lived more than 200 million years ago) along the way, as well as leading us to areas and enigmatic formations that we would never have found for ourselves.
Popular imagination has defined many of the strange shapes, which have been given such names as El Tornillo (the Screw), Los Cuchillos (The Knives), La Mano (the Hand) and El Sombrerillo (the Little Hat). Early humans and neanderthals inhabited this area for thousands of years and there is evidence that they lived in some of the caves within El Torcal. But this should come as no surprise given the proximity to the ancient dolmens in Antequera and the best-preserved remains of Neanderthal man ever found in Western Europe, in a cave near to the Zafarraya Pass.
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Another place I’m going to have to find time to visit. Thanks for sharing. I hope to visit Málaga sometime in the near future.
Well worth visiting. Hope you get to see it soon 🙂
Thank you for posting. Love your enthusiasm. I will certainly add it to my bucket list after reading.
Thanks Kay – I’m pretty sure you’ll love El Torcal 🙂
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Not in this heat! 🙂 🙂 But it does look fabulous. Bit like Brimham Rocks in Yorkshire but just a teeny bit warmer 🙂 Take care, Marianne.
Sounds like the sort of place I’d love to visit. Never heard of it before. I might go sometime, although I’m not sure it’s the sort of place that would appeal to my kids. They’d probably just say something like, we’re going all the way out there just to see a bunch of ROCKS?? Would you happen to know if there’s a bus to El Torcal?
…. though I would think that your children would enjoy looking for dinosaurs, wouldn’t they? 😉
Not sure about the bus, Serena – I doubt it – though I expect there would be coach trips there. Or a bus to Antequera and then a taxi would be another way.
What a fabulous nature park Marianne. Fascinating rock formations and it looks lie there is something for everyone. I like the idea of having a guide for the things one would miss.
I’ve been up to El Torcal a few times before, but always on the self-guided route. This time was SO much better with the guide. Well worth it! 🙂
I absolutely loved going on this walk with you, Marianne. In ‘real life’ I’ll probably never get to walk this path and feel the beautiful worn stones beneath my feet – but this is sensational! 😀
That’s the beauty of blogging, isn’t it, Dianne? You go on a walk, take some photos and people right across the world can share it with you 🙂
What a magnificent place! I didn’t know it existed. Thanks for sharing. Will remember that in future when we are down that way. 🙂
OH yes, well worth a trip, and only an hour away 🙂
Lovely pictures, love the landscape. 🙂
Yes, it’s a pretty unique landscape …. thanks 🙂
I’d be very happy up there, it looks glorious. How wonderful that your blog has helped Aaron and Mike with their move, isn’t blogging amazing? ☺
You’d LOVE El Torcal, I’m sure, Gilly.
Blogging IS amazing – and creates opportunities and friends right around the world. Yes, I never fail to be amazed and it’s SO lovely when people tell you 🙂
Great post, I *think* it was here that I visited a couple of years ago but sadly it was too misty to see anything. I would love to visit when I can really appreciate the views!
Hmmm … that can be the problem with the weather. Perhaps you’d better schedule in a return visit, Mrs T 🙂
Marrianne your pictures are amazing and so professional I do so enjoy seeing them. Thank you for sharing your artistic creativity with us.
Thanks Pat – I’m glad you enjoy them 🙂
Haha! Thanks Marianne. I am sure we will be in touch at some point! Bring on that lovely sun. Keep up your great work, it is truly brilliant – even for someone all the way over here 🙂
I don’t really have Facebook (but started to create a profile just so I could contact you) to say thank you for your wonderful blog. Now that I can reply to this post it is much easier.
Mike and I are moving from New Zealand to Malaga. We have used your shopping carts and various pieces info to get a better insight into all sorts of things – It has really helped clarify and fine tine our research so far. It is a daunting but very exciting process for us as I am sure you appreciate. We will continue to follow your blogs, I just really wanted to thank you for your labour of love!
Cheers, Aaron and Mike
Awwww thank you so much, Aaron. Very kind of you to say so. How wonderful that you are moving to Malaga – I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I love New Zealand! 🙂
If there’s anything I can help with, just let me know …. and GOOD LUCK! 🙂