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El Torcal de Antequera National Park Hiking Routes

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About El Torcal de Antequera

El Torcal is a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site within the Betic Mountains, known for its unusual finger-like pillar stone formations and other distinctive geological features. It is widely regarded as one of the most unique karst landscapes in the whole of Europe. Located right next to Antequera, just 48.1 km / 29.89 mi from Malaga, El Torcal is often left out off the tourists’ radars. While it is probably better for the preservation of the area, it doesn’t do justice to the beauty of this awe-inspiring mountain range. After all, there has to be a reason why it was added to the natural UNESCO World Heritage Site list. For sure, it has something to show off for it, especially, for nature enthusiasts like me. 

Situated in-between the countless pieces of Betic Mountains, El Torcal could be easily mistaken for being just another fish in a pond. Having that in mind, a keen eye will notice a difference of range’s formations, whose rounded-shaped rocks give out that something unusual had happened here. Ultimately, the finger-like pillars need certain conditions to form.

Rock formations of El Torcal are reminiscent of the Great Pillars of the Gondor Kings. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Formation of Sierra del Torcal

Betic Mountains stretch throughout the southeastern part of Spain along the Mediterranean coast. Its location is no coincidence. The genesis of these mountains rose large parts of the Iberian Peninsula from the depths of the ocean millions of years ago. This gradual action shaped the iconic peninsula to its current form we all know and appreciate today. Geologists can tell that the rocks across the area, started to form at the bottom of the ocean about 200 million years ago during the Jurassic era. 

El Torcal is a great example of this geological process, the whole mountain range is like a ‘living fossil’ and speaks for itself of what had happened here throughout all that time. The incarnation of these mountains is a very interesting and unique case in the peninsula. For this reason, in 1929 El Torcal de Antequera became the first object to be recognized as “Andalusian Protected Natural Area”. In the coming years, the mountain range was declared and added to many other conservation lists, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site list, I mentioned before.

El Torcal, together with La Peña de los Enamorados (human head shaped mountain) and three neolithic megalithic monuments form Antequera Dolmens UNESCO Site. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

El Torcal Details

Map of El Torcal

The views from El Torcal are just as breathtaking as the rocks itself. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

How to get to El Torcal de Antequera? 

Despite being located right next to a regional center – Antequera, due to its nature, El Torcal offers a very limited variety of access. 

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By public transport

There is no public transport running to El Torcal.


By car

Car is the only way to get up to El Torcal visitors center. You can reach it from 42nd km of road A-7075, between Antequera and Villanueva de la conception.

Parking at Centro de Visitantes Torcal Alto on the mountain range is limited and the road leading to it is closed after the slots are filled. Alternative parking is next to A-7075 Road. There will be a bus running between parking lots after the upper one is closed, which costs 2.00Eur for a round trip. Alternatively, you can climb up to El Torcal Alto visitors center on a 3.6 km / 2.24 ft long orange-marked hiking route, with 263 m / 863 ft vertical ascension. It is considered intermediate difficulty. 

The road to El Torcal Alto Visitors Center is fairly good. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

By taxi

If you don’t have a rented car, you can take a taxi from Antequera


El Torcal Guided Tours

Another option is to take a tour from Antequera. There are quite a few options, but personally, I prefer taking tours via third parties, like GetYourGuide, so I get better guarantees for quality service and proper cancelation policies. Enjoy one of the most famous natural landscapes in Andalucia.

* All of these tours are curated by GetYourGuide, therefore you can cancel up to 24 hours in advance to receive a full refund.

Many plants and animals find El Torcal as their home. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

El Torcal Hiking Trails

Visiting El Torcal de Antequera is free of charge and you don’t need a special permit on any of the three marked routes. Entering other hiking trails is your own risk and responsibility. If you want to explore beyond the official trails, I recommend getting one of the guided tours in the mountain range. Note that these don’t include a transfer from Antequera as GetYourGuide El Torcal Tours.

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Green route

Most of El Torcal’s visitors are probably going to choose this hiking route, and most of them going to regret not taking the yellow one. On the map, the green route basically looks like a mini version of it. Nevertheless, this short trail is not shy of El Torcal’s beauty. The 45 min walk is relatively easy compared to what the yellow route has to offer, and for sure it is more than enough to get the feeling of what this exceptional mountain range is all about. The unique rock-pillar formations will please throughout the route, the hike includes famous figures like “Sphinx”, “the Indian” and “the Cathedral”.

Trail details

These narrow passages between the rocks have opened-up following a karst collapse. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Yellow route 

More of the “same” El Torcal natural beauty, which is hard to get enough of. The yellow route goes deeper into El Torcal Alto mountains throughout narrower shady paths. The non-green part of the hike is dominated by vegetation and it is not that hard to get lost if you walk off the marked trail. In addition to the rock formations mention before, the yellow route includes “the Finger (not that one)”,  “Camel”, “Jug”  and “Bottle”.

Trail details

The view from Mirador de las Ventanillas. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Orange route

The orange route is somewhat different compared to the other two marked paths. This hike is one of the ways to get to the top of El Torcal after the road MA-9016 to the visitors center gets closed due to reaching its limits. The path begins at the lower parking of the mountain range and leads up to El Torcal Alto visitors center.  Despite its functional description, the orange route offers spectacular views and vistas like “Mirador de Manuel Grajales”. Other interesting objects along the road are An old shepherds’ refuge “Majada del Fraile” and the Natural Monument “El Tornillo”.

Trail details

There are obvious traces of an attempt to make Camorro Alto climbing trail more accessible. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Climbing Camorro Alto

This is the only unofficial hiking route I can recommend with confidence. Climbing the highest peak of El Torcal de Antequera sounds more dangerous than it actually is. Generally, given good weather conditions, a good pair of shoes should be enough to ensure your safety while climbing Camorro Alto from the northern side. Nevertheless, don’t forget that this is a nature reserve, thus if you chose to climb the mountain, maintain a “leave no trace” approach and respect the inhabitants of the area.

Trail details

The size of El Torcal is surprising. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Geology of Sierra del Torcal

Finger-shaped rock pillars might be more common in other parts of the world, but here, in the Iberian Peninsula, they are unique geological formations. This, of course, requires specific conditions to emerge. The limestone sediments, from which Sierra del Torcal is shaped, originated in the deep past, when dinosaurs used to roam the Earth. Back then, the current area of El Torcal was submerged underwater in the Tethys Sea, located between the Iberian and African tectonic plates. As you might already know, most of the limestone rocks form throughout millions of years in the shallows sea waters, wherever it is due to biological process like oyster shells, or simply by evaporation of water, leaving Calcium Carbonate (precursor to limestone) to sink to the bottom of the ocean, where it was pressured into limestone. This process lasted for about 175 million years and resulted in strata thousands of meters thick.

Limestone rocks are a good place to look for ancient fossils. El Torcal is no exception to that. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Of course, limestone alone was not enough for such awe-inspiring rock formations like in El Torcal to take shape. These sedimentary rocks were only a mold for the forces, which sculpted the area during the last millions of years. The process, which started somewhere in the middle Miocene after the region has surfaced from the depths of the ocean, thanks to the Alpine orogeny. In fact, it is still happening today, as the Iberian plates to the north and African plates to the south continue its almost timeless showdown of collision in an attempt to form another supercontinent. Still, these uniformitarian forces were only the catalyst for the genesis of the current day form of El Torcal de Antequera.

A photo of El Torcal de Antequera is the thumbnail of the limestone page on Wikipedia. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

As you might now understand – being exposed to the atmosphere are not natural conditions for limestone. Like almost anything else, it is vulnerable to all kinds of erosion: driven mainly by either wind or water cycles.

First and foremost, El Torcal is best known as a karst landscape, but what does it mean? Yes, there are some caves and holes in the area but that alone is so impressive, and more importantly unique? Definitely, no. This puzzled me for a while until I dug in a bit deeper into the mechanics behind the formation of this exceptional mountain range. Caves and karst sinkholes are typical for limestone strata exposed to rain and other water cycles. All thanks to the same physical feature of Calcium Carbonate – for which we can thank for having beautiful stalagmites and stalactites as well – its solubility in water. Here in El Torcal, it has saluted entire layers of Calcite, forming wide passages between the rocks and exposing them to further erosion caused by rain, ice, and wind. Finally, these meteorological agents shaped the uncovered layers of limestone to these remarkable stone pillars. Only by understanding these slow and gradual mechanics, one can really learn to appreciate the uniqueness of El Torcal. 

Visiting El Torcal is a must for any mountain lover. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Personal Experience

Having traveled the old continent in and out, very few natural landmarks still manage to surprise me. El Torcal proved to be that kind of a place. Needless to say that I loved it, or that I highly recommend visiting it. Instead, once again, I want to emphasize the out-of-place feeling the mountain range gives. The natural UNESCO World Heritage Site could hardly be compared to any wonder of nature I know. The picturesque rock columns are reminiscent of a somewhat mythical aura from a deep past. The only good match I can think of is the Great Pillars of Gondor Kings from Lord of the Rings. Of course, the main difference between the two is that you can actually visit El Torcal de Antequera and see it with your own eyes. Therefore, why hesitate? Let El Torcal speak for itself.

All content and photos by Alis Monte. If you want to collaborate, contact me on info@ctdots.eu Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

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