Hiking at Río Chíllar in Nerja

Hiking at Río Chíllar in Nerja

It is about 2:00 in the afternoon and the Andalusian sun is beating down on the coastal town of Nerja. At a high top table in one of the bustling streets we are enjoying what is left of our tapas. We spent the morning exploring the little whitewashed town of Frigiliana, and drove to Nerja for lunch. Drinking the last sips of our tinto de verano, we wonder what we should do the rest of the day. Earlier that morning, Moritz suggested hiking. But by now it is really too hot to make our way up to any of the summits in the nearby Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama. Having lived in Málaga a few years ago, I had often heard people talking about hiking at Río Chíllar – a river gorge just outside of Nerja – but I had never actually been there. Just outside the town of Nerja there is a stream coming down from the nearby mountains. The water has gradually carved its way through the rocks to form a narrow gorge. It was the perfect solution for one of those warm Spanish days: the walls of the gorge would offer shade, and Río Chíllar’s water would cool down our feet.

Off we go to the river

We enter the location of the trailhead on our phone and set off. Close to the start of the hike the map sends us onto a small dirt road next to a trickling stream: Río Chíllar. Even though there is no obvious parking lot there are lots of cars parked along the side of the road, so we decide to leave our car there too. After lathering ourselves in sunscreen we set off towards the trailhead. The first thing we see is a huge sign saying it’s illegal to park on the side of the road and you can expect a fine up to 6000 Euros if you are parked illegally… We laugh it off and continue our way (we didn’t get a fine but we should have probably looked into the parking situation before we went! You need to park somewhere in a residential area and then walk about 20 minutes to the trailhead).

río chíllar river hike
Hiking in a river – perfect on a hot day!

Cooling off our feet in Río Chíllar

The trail starts in the riverbed of Río Chíllar. It takes us past what looks like a former quarry. At this point the river is no more than a trickle on one side of the wide riverbed. But the water soon finds its path, zigzagging across the stones, forcing us to get our feet wet for the first time on the hike. As we walk through the river on our sandals, the water feels pleasantly cool on our skin. After passing by a small hydroelectric powerplant the gorge starts to get narrower and the banks of the river are covered in lush vegetation. Bright green leaves and pink flowers contrast vividly with the brown, sandy colour of the walls of the gorge. It almost feels like we are not in Spain, but in a jungle somewhere in South-East Asia.

río chíllar river hike
The further we hike, the narrower the gorge becomes

Into the gorge

The further we walk, the stronger the current of the river becomes. The water is soon reaching up to our ankles. We wonder where all the water is coming from, as the surrounding land is arid from the lack of rain. After having walked about an hour, the canyon starts to narrow. All you need to do to touch both walls is stretch out your arms. We have no idea how long the trail is, and decide that this is a good point to call it a day and turn around. When we look up the length of the trail later, we find out that it was not a bad idea to turn around. The whole trail, leading to a little pool with a waterfall, is 8 kilometers one way. This means the full hike takes about 5 hours, especially considering the necessary photo stops and, of course, the fact that you are walking through water. Nonetheless, we agree that hiking about half of the trail was worth it. Unless you really want to go bathe in the pool at the end, it seems that there is not really a reason to go that far.

Do you want to go hiking at Río Chíllar?

A few tips and tricks for those who want to visit Río Chíllar. First of all, make sure that, unlike us, you are aware of the parking situation and park in one of the designated parking lots. This does mean you have to park further from the actual trailhead. If you want to do the full hike, consider that it will take you about 5 hours. It’s a good idea to start in the morning if you want to beat the heat. Make sure you wear shoes that can get wet (there is no way you can avoid walking through the water on this trail) and perhaps a bathing suit for dipping in the pools of Río Chíllar. Finally, unfortunately there have been cases of vandalism at this beautiful spot. Please be kind to nature and leave no trace of your visit!

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río chíllar river hike

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