Beautiful beaches, majestic mountains, yummy food, café con leche, and lots of wine, just an itty-bitty sample of what El Sur de Espana gave to DoristheExploris!
What is there in Southern Spain for you and/or your friends and family? The mountains and the coast all in one! From rock climbing, zip-lining, mountain biking, hiking, beach time, surfing, shopping, sightseeing, jamming night life, delish cuisine, fabulous vino and so much more!
I started rock climbing only about 2 years ago and I will never forget what I told my friend who introduced me to rock climbing. How much fun I had that day, but that the gym climbing was just not enough for me. I asked him if he ever saw the movie ‘Cliffhanger’. With much hesitation and confused look on his face (plus a chuckle or two) he indicated yes. I then proudly notified him that I would be doing everything just like in the movie! It did not take long for me to realize how silly my statement was (ok, so I was naïve newbie climber). But, as a totally adventurous chick who loves to travel, it took about a bit more time to realize how climbing would look for me. I decided I would be a destination climber, quite fitting for DoristheExploris!
I started out 2011 by climbing in various awesome US and Caribbean locations, but I was itching to go to Spain, my motherland, to touch that rock despite the fact that I am NOT a 5.14 climber. Not sure why, but I just could not get sweet Spain out of my mind. In November 2011, I journeyed over to Spain and spent about 3 weeks in Alora, a beautiful village about 45 minutes from Malaga and only 15 minutes from El Chorro (a climber’s paradise). I climbed my butt off with my partner and fell in love with the mountains and goats of mi Espana.
On that trip, I learned a lot about myself, my climbing and set goals to return to Spain again to climb more and more. I decided to return in April 2012 and stayed in Mijas Costa’ish area, which is about 45 minutes from a lot of backcountry climbing, El Chorro, and only 15-20 minutes from Malaga. Spain has such a high concentration of difficult climbs, but I too have found plenty of climbing to be had at 6b+ or less range and have enjoyed all of it, onsites, red points, whippers and all!
I did a lot of research and visited lots of websites and wished there was one place that would be my starting point. So here it goes, a place to start…a few tips to help you plan your climbing/adventure trip to Southern Spain!
How to get there? Best to fly into Malaga. A popular airline in Spain is Iberia (partner with American Airlines). I am a loyal Delta Airlines frequent flyer, and Delta only flies into Malaga during peak seasons. So how do I get there when there aren’t available direct flights into Malaga all the time? I fly into Madrid and take the Renfe train from Puerta de Atocha Station down to Malaga (2.5 hours). Just make sure NOT to book your ticket on Rail Europe, but rather go directly to http://www.renfe.com/ (trust me, its easier to make changes!). It’s tricky to take the metro from Madrid Barajas airport to Atocha so I just taxi over to the train station at about 20 euros. But honestly, easiest is to get a direct flight into Malaga, I just only fly Delta, thus willing to take the train down on off seasons. I highly recommend hiring a car; it will give you freedom to get around. Folks in Spain drive on the same side of the road as in the US, so it is not difficult for Americans to adjust to driving in Spain. It is just fast paced driving is similar to NY….home for me and can be doable for you, just get your big girl (or boy) panties on and go go go. There are lots of roundabouts so I recommend getting to know the etiquette around these; my sweet UK friend Louisa whipped me into roundabout etiquette shape! (Here is a good site with tips, http://www.helium.com/items/644569-driving-etiquette-tips-for-roundabouts).
Where shall I lay my head to sleep? There are many, many options that it is hard to know where to start. Below I am making a few recommendations, but first think about where you want to climb and also what else you want to do during your trip, and based on that, secure a place that is in the middle of it all. I really liked staying in Mijas (Costa) because I was about 45 minutes to all climbing all the way around Andalusia, close to beaches and Malaga. I have done the close to El Chorro thing, but prefer to venture out to secret unpublicized crags in other areas of Southern Spain like Villanueva de Rosario.
In your search, I highly advise to stick to reputable websites. Three good places to search for housing are http://www.tripadvisor.com/ (check out the vacation rentals section), http://www.airbnb.com/ (make sure you check ‘entire apt’ when searching so you get a place all to yourself) and http://www.holidaylettings.co.uk/. I know this is silly, but never give out your credit card number, don’t deal with anyone unless you get a legit lease agreement and pay securely via pay pal if you can. Just something to think about.
Here are some recommendations to consider if this is your first trip to Southern Spain.
- El Chorro – The Olive Branch (http://www.olivebranchelchorro.co.uk/) is a great option, its cheap, not very posh, but where you will find lots of climbers. The owners are super sweet and it is walking distance to some of the climbing in El Chorro. Also Rockfax.com provides a list, I have not stayed at any of these locations, but these are frequented by climbers (http://www.rockfax.com/accommodation-areas/el-chorro/). There is also the hostel near the train station (sorry but I love a sweet soft bed and clean shower after a long day bushwhacking through crags, so if you are looking for that too, the hostel may not be a top choice, but a place where you will find lots of climbers).
- Alora – I recommend Casa Bliss, 3 cottages tucked away with beautiful mountain views (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g608964-d1160086-Reviews-Casa_Bliss-Alora_Province_of_Malaga_Andalucia.html). This location is private and remote feeling with awesome mountain views. The properties each have their own patios, grills and share an appointed pool. El Chorro is the closest climbing to Alora and there are two straightforward ways to get to there (15 minutes or a scenic route that is 30 minutes). Be sure to stop in at Los Caballos for dinner (yummy and cheap) and definitely check out Alora, a cute village with lots of character!
- Villanueva De Rosario – I recommend Silvia Fitzpatrick’s pad (http://www.climb-europe.com/RockClimbingSpain.html), she has a cute set up with terrace views in the village of Villanueva de Rosario and the cave of Chilam Balam (home of one of the world’s hardest routes Chilam Balam, 9b+ or 5.15b). There is not a ton to do here, but you will not need it because there is so much awesome climbing here you will be busy doing that instead! There is a local bar just a short drive from the accommodations that is a must do. We got tapas enough for a gazillion people (ok maybe not a gazillion, but close!), beer, wine and coffee for 8 euros, if you climb there give back by supporting this local business! Check out a couple photos of what your views would be from Silvia’s base camp accommodations, yup, from the terrace you will view the Cave of Chilam Balam!
- Mijas (Costa) – In April 2012, I stayed in an awesome penthouse (http://www.tripadvisor.com/VacationRentalReview-g580271-d2113206-Luxury_Penthouse_with_Seaviews-Mijas_Costa_del_Sol_Andalucia.html) that had the most amazing ocean views, super close to A-7 motorway, 15 minutes from Malaga airport, close to beaches, walking distance to grocery and dining and climbing locales averaging from 20 to 60 minutes. There is climbing worth checking out right in Mijas, Pueblo, which is inland a few exits away on the A-7 and about 15 minutes from this condo. The only ‘con’ is the condo has no Internet, but I got a dongle (USB internet access), which can be refreshed, for use at any gas station. I will return again in a few months and this is where I will stay, I am SOLD!
Where shall I get my ‘craggin’ on? Well another hard choice since Spain has a gazillion places to climb! It all depends what you want to get out of your climbing and what grade you are climbing comfortably at. El Chorro has been known in the past to be a little soft, but the new El Chorro guidebook pretty much fixes that. The El Chorro guidebook also provides a conversion from the French grading system (how all is graded in Spain) to the Yosemite Decimal System. The David Munilla guidebook is pretty spot on in grading routes for El Chorro and all the surrounding areas in Southern Spain.
Below are some crags I recommend on a first time trip to Southern Spain, which will get all acclimated to Spain climbing and give one a better idea for planning a second trip to Southern Spain! I plan to soon explore more of Villanueva de Rosario, Archidona, Grenada, Turon, Mijas, and maybe another crag under development, to start…..ha-ha!
- Valle de Abdalajis – This crag is well published in the El Chorro guidebook, consists of limestone, slabby kind of climbing with opportunities to practice some crack leading at lower grades. In general you will find a few 5.7s and 5.8s, lots of 5.9s and 5.10s and a couple 11a/b climbs. The approach is slightly uphill, super short and the crag itself gets sun. I would start at Sector Central then Sector Diagonal; the other two crags are ok.
- Escalera Arabe, Sectors Sergio and Suiza – These crags too are well published in the El Chorro Guidebook with a mixture of technical and slightly overhung pumpy routes. These two areas have a blend of a few 5.7s and 5.8s, lots of 5.9s and 5.10s and a couple 11a/b climbs. Don’t leave without trying ‘Dos Tetas Tiran (10d, technical), and ‘Mas Que Una Carretera’ (10b, slightly overhung, sloapy bulges). Also once you get warmed up, move over past the first section and start with ‘Café’ (10a) where you will get 5 10s, an 11a, and a cool down 3 5.8s and 5.9s, all mixture of pumpy and technical climbs. If you have a few folks in your group wanting to climb harder but stay within the same area, send them to Upper Crag and Sector Arabesque where your lowest climbs are at about 11ish and mostly in the 12 range. The hike is at least 25 or more minutes, and sustained gradually steep kind of hiking. Then you scramble on up. I hear through the local grape vine it is not good to go here on super windy days or just after heavy rainfall (it dries quick but with seepage plus that big scramble up becomes a really muddy one).
- Las Frontales – This crag is well published in El Chorro Guidebook as well, with a fairly easy approach. I would recommend making sure you get on ‘Un Monton de Chatarra’ (10b), which is pumpy, and long, top 50 climb well worth climbing at Sector Castrojo. Be sure to use a 70 meter rope which will be barely enough for the climb! Also, there are about 4 higher grade 12s, some 11s, some 10s, some 9s, some 8s….get my drift, a great crag for a group with mixed abilities. And while you are there, check out a little hike down ‘Amptrax’ (5.7, 10a, 10a, 10b, 10b, 5.9, 5.8, 5.8), a top 50 8 pitch climb with not so hard grades but BEAUTIFUL rock and climbing moves, well worth the fun!
- Desplomilandia – Please make it a point to visit this crag well published in El Chorro guidebook. This crag gets a lot of shade and perfect for hot weather. There are no real moderate (well my version of moderate) grades here, all in the 5.10s and on up and up. My goal this year is to become a consistent outdoor 5.10 climber so while my harder local climbers hit a near by sector, I hit Pozo de la Mona where you find 15 5.10s (a to d) with a few 11s and 12s nestled here and there. JUST what DoristheExploris’ doctor ordered! All the other crags might have 1 5.10 or 11 and the rest 5.12s to 5.14s. I highly recommend this lovely crag!
- Turon – I plan on visiting this crag in a few months, but need to recommend it as every local keeps pulling my ear why I the MASTER TECH SLABSTER has not hit this crag. Also publicized in El Chorro guidebook, this crag is unique in that it is near El Chorro, but not as crowded and nestled in the cute town of Ardales. I have about 19 5.10s (a to d) I have a choice to get on plus about 5 11a’s I will give a whirl, plus there are plenty of 5.12s and a few 5.13s just in case the partner I take needs a challenge!
- Los Cotos – Well this is a crag I sought out to get, but with a river too high, we had to turn around and climb along the way back in El Camino Del Rey. To get to this crag you need to complete El Camino Del Rey, a fun must do, just please plan it well as it can be dangerous. I sought out Los Cotos due to its technical, slabby features, but just now realized that it has tons of moderates, making it a great crag for groups in mixed abilities. Approach, 5.freaking serious, climbing, I hear is fun but polished due to popularity. AT your risk you can bypass El Camino and go through the train tracks, but you could be fined. As climbers, please respect the local rules, these regions are letting us touch and explore their rock, even though a great short cut, each time you go through the train tracks, you are dishonoring a request of the local authorities. I am not judging, just my personal two cents, suck it up and get El Camino done!
- San Anton, Malaga – This is an awesome crag, short approach and a variety of climbing styles all in one area. This is not published, just eye out your climb and do it? There are two crags, one has short (like 50 – 70 feet at most) climbs, and this is where you want to go if you seek more moderates. I think they range from a couple 5.8s to mid/high 5.11s. It is a great way to get used to the rock, it looks pumpy and polished, so trusting your footwork is key. Then the 2nd crag is much taller and much harder, like maybe a hard 10 or two and on up and up. So this is a great crag with a mixed group so everyone can get their challenge on. I have climbed here and graced it with a few 20-30 foot whippers (thanks Silvina P. for the catches in November 2011!) and feel so blessed to have had to opportunity to climb there. Here is a google link to show you how to get there…..good luck! http://maps.google.es/maps?saddr=Mijas&daddr=Av+de+San+Ant%C3%B3n&hl=es&ie=UTF8&sll=36.739529,-4.360886&sspn=0.002863,0.006539&geocode=FfNnLgIdTTy5_yldw9h6q-FyDTGw5naleNIDBA%3BFZueMAIdEW-9_w&t=h&mra=dme&mrsp=1&sz=18&z=18. I also climbed at a crag called La Cala, which is literally right off the freeway, cannot tell you how to get there, ask a local climber. It’s very urban and very pumpy. I met the guy who maintains that crag and makes sure the bolts and anchors are up to date. I was not run off, but rather welcomed and got to finally send on lead first go a pumpy 10b/c with a bulgy roof (all of my weaknesses!).
- Archidona – Well, this is a crag that has 2 5.10s, and the rest 5.freaking hard as hell (lots of 5.13 to 5.14s to choose from). I need to go back to red point a climb and give ‘Cayo Malayo’ a whirl to see what I need to do back home training to get this one done. This crag is great for when it rains, it is always pretty cool weather and full of lots of bird poop (no I am not kidding). If you can send comfortably 12a and on up, you will have some lovely overhung choices here. This crag is published in the El Chorro guidebook, but I hear it is a copy as when I visited, my local friends showed me newly bolted climbs not in the guidebook, just fyi.
- Villanueva de Cauche – There is a crag so lovely with a couple 5.10s and 11s to entertain DoristheExploris and the rest in the 12 on up and up up ranges. Like Archidona, this crag is published in the El Chorro guidebook as a copy from another older guidebook, so the locals will show you all the newly bolted lines.
- Villanueva de Rosario – This is where my heart is! Nestled in the beautiful village of Villanueva de Rosario, this region houses some of the worlds hardest climbing, but also an abundance of climbing in the 5.10 to 11 grade as well, you just have to go with a local or Silvi to show you where they are! Ever look at an anthill and wonder how many ants there are because there are at least a gazillion of them crawling around? Where would you even start to count? That is Villanueva de Rosario, look every direction, 360 degrees and all you see are lots and lots of climbing areas. I recently went to a soon to be named crag being developed (6 FAs on my tick list and I get to help name them, woo-hoo!) and on my hike out, I almost got lost because all the crags all around me look the same….yes, very funny! I cannot even explain the climbing style which varies from blocky stuff, steep caves, burly, techy vertical to totally slabby, single to multi pitch, and lots of free roaming goats…ahem….a climber’s paradise! I recommend you at least hire Silvia Fitzpatrick one or two days to explore this area, beware you might fall in love with this crag like I did!
- Mijas, Pueblo – If you are going to rent the condo I recommended in Mijas, Costa, then you need to make it to the crag of Mijas, Pueblo. You drive up and if you want, you could technically belay and anchor right from your car, that is if you have a convertible or a big sunroof. I hear The Ravine, a crag nestled way back is not worth climbing as it smells like dog poop and the climbing is ok. But nevertheless, imagine climbing here and seeing your belayer below you at the car, and next to you, you might look a homeowner in the eye from their upstairs room because it is nestled right in a residential area. Make sure to check out the first two crags Sector Entrada Gratis and Sector Pire Sin Manos where you will find 8 5.10s, 4 5.11s and a handful of 5.12s.
There are many crags in Spain not publicized so worth checking out. I highly recommend hiring Silvia Fitzpatrick (http://www.rockclimbingcompany.co.uk/) who is an experienced guide and knows the Southern Spain region very well. I recommend getting at least the El Chorro guidebook and also hiring Silvia to get to know some hidden crags and get introduced to urban cragging in Malaga. At first I did not understand the David Munilla guidebook, but as I got to know the area, that book is one I prefer to use over El Chorro (even though it lacks actual crag pics).
- El Chorro Guidebook by Mark Glaister (http://www.rockfax.com/tagged/spain/)
- Andalucia Guidebook by David Munilla (http://www.climb-europe.com/RockClimbingShop/Guidebooks_for_Spain.html)
- The Climbing Angel of Villanueva de Rosario, or kick ass guide Silvi, make sure to book her in advance, she is very busy and also has to fit in her 5.freaking hard climb on in between seasons of coaching and guiding (http://www.rockclimbingcompany.co.uk/)
A great resource to climbing in Europe and Spain, make sure to hit this site as part of your planning!
So, what else shall I do on rest days? Rest assure, if you are as addicted as I am to climbing, you just might be talked into 1 day of other stuff. I forget, I keep visiting my sweet Espana, full of so much to see and do other than Climbing.
- Get to know la costa (beach)! – There are a lot of beaches to visit in Southern Spain. The most frequented are those in Costa del Sol area. I rented a bike from Fundacion via Verde (http://www.fundacionviaverdedelasierra.com/) at about 7-10 Euro and road from Marbella to just about Puerto Banus. A lovely bike ride indeed, and on a clear day you can see Morocco and Gibraltar. On your ride you will have plenty of stops for food, but be sure to stop off the popular ‘Cappuccino Café’ for café con leche (pricey, but nice). Next time I plan to explore ‘La Costa Tropical’ which is close to Granada, in particular I want to check out Motril, Nerja, and Salobrena (http://www.costatropical.net/).
- Malaga (Centro) – If you are near Malaga, make sure to check out the center of the city, parking is hard to find, so we parked in a parking garage for about 4-5 euro. If you do, check out the Museo Picasso and although I am not vegetarian, check out Canadu (4 course meal for under 9 euro) or El Vegetariano de la Alcazabilla, both reasonably priced, and impressive cuisine. I will return to eat at both of these spots! Oh and cannot forget, if anything walk through Bodega Bar El Pimpi (http://www.bodegabarelpimpi.com/).
- Wind surfing, surfing, sailing
- Mountain biking – I recommend a mountain biking tour with Silvia Fitzpatrick (http://www.rockclimbingcompany.co.uk/) or Sierra adventure with the family with Funadacion Via Verde (http://www.fundacionviaverdedelasierra.com/).
- Zip lining, Hiking, Canyoning, Mountaineering
- Sierra de las Nieves (http://www.sierranieves.com/eng/)
- Dining – Lots a good food to be had in Spain, make sure to try a lot of the local food rather than fish-n-chips please (ha-ha). Oh and do not forget to try some vino tinto (red wine) and at the grocer try my favorite Realeza, Tempranillo, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y Leon (has two red and gold fiery lions on the front of the label) which averages at about 4.50 Euros, yumminess!
- Touring neighboring villages near El Chorro – All of these are cute villages (some super small, others much larger) are fairly close to El Chorro and worth exploring: Alora, Coin, Valle de Guadalhorce, Almogia, Pizarra, and Valle de Abdalajis.
- If you stay in the condo I recommend in Mijas (costa), make sure to walk to George’s Bar (http://www.georgesbar.es/) with good food and cool owner! Also about 1 exit (away from Malaga) on the A-7, take La Cala de Mijas exit and check out El Olivo restaurant. When you take the exit head up hill until you see a modern looking building on the right with a grocery store, or ask a local, food is good and fairly cheap. Try out their Huevo Rellenos and their avocado salad with shrimp, yumminess!
- Make sure to visit Seville (http://www.exploreseville.com/) and Granada (http://www.turgranada.es/?id_idioma=2).
- You can also take a ferry to Morocco – There are a number of ferries from Southern Spain to Morocco, I recommend the most popular route from Algeciras, Spain to Tangier, Morocco, which is only about 30 minutes on a high-speed ferry, and they run every hour on the hour. Although more expensive than the slower ferries, a round trip ticket should be around 37-40 Euros.
- At least on one of your trips, make sure to get Gibraltar off your tick list as well (http://www.andalucia.com/gibraltar/howtogo.htm).
Oh my word, am I done, are you done? No way Jose, this is just a start to get you itching to visit Southern Spain. What are you waiting for? See below a slide show giving you a taste of Spain, Viva Espana!