The access area consist of two ways which go from the bus stop in front of El Kiosko Restaurant up to the Reception Centre or Control Point. The latter one is the place where the tickets are checked, where the visitors receive hard hats, instructions and information about what they will see during the visit and what is allowed or forbidden to do along the path.
The Access Area 1, part of the large tunnel by El Kiosko Restaurant. This part of the route goes along the Gaitanejo Way.
The Access Area 2: Gaitanejo Way that goes through a small pedestrian tunnel.. This is where you go through the tunnel and the Tafoni Bridge..
Any of this access area offers views over the, so called, Gothic Arches.
Access 1. Gaitanejo Way (2.7 km of the route).
The longer access route (2.7 km) starts at El Kiosko Restaurant, goes through the Big Tunnel and stretches along a narrow path surrounded by Aleppo pine trees which were planted to keep the ground from moving and prevent sitting of the reservoirs. There is an information board titled 'El Caminito del Rey', and little further the old Hydroelectric Power Station Gobantes, which was the first reversible power plant in Spain, and a great overflow for the Guadalteba Dam (four 11 m-wide gaps between pillars). Further on, you will find the ruins of a typical Gaitanejo cave-house on a path's meander. It is called 'Casa de Farraya' [Ferraya's House], and some of its parts, such as a run, stores, oven, etc., can still be seen. Then the path goes downwards to the right bank of the river with typical river bank plants. There is an interesting large wall with peculiar rock formation, tafoni, named Gothic Arch, and an information board about 'The Stretch of the Guadalhorce River in Gaitanejo'. The path ends a little further at the Control Point at the northern access to El Caminito del Rey, where the old Substation and Gaitanejo Dam is and where the path officially starts.
There are the ruins of the Farruya of Farraya House, dug in sandstone and covered with leaning wall. Some of its rooms and holes where beams were placed, or storage, oven, etc., can still be seen. Some of these houses that are spread around in the surroundings are medieval, and were homes to the workers who maintained hydroelectric plants until the 1970s. Thanks to the path these houses got connected with El Chorro village, so some of the people who lived in them moved to the village.
If you go down that path, you must walk along the right side of the Guadalhorce River, where plants such as rushes, reeds, oleanders, African tamarisks, and some poplars and willows. This is where visitors can also admire birds that are normally seen around rivers, such as cormorants, grey herons or Cetti's warblers. The impoundments or storage ponds created in reservoirs or artificial lakes are good for cultivation of fish, which depend on dam safety system. These ponds are habitat of barbels, Iberian nases, carps, goldfish, black basses and common sunfish, among others.
Access 2. Pedestrian Tunnel and Gaitanejo Way (1.5 km of the route)
The route that starts at the pedestrian tunnel, which is 200 m before El Kiosko Restaurant, is some 1.5 km long (approximately 25 minutes), so it is shorter than the above one. This tunnel, which is longer (150 m) and narrower than the previous one, leads to a narrow path that connects to the Gaitanejo Way. The latter one starts at the turning at the altitude of El Mirador [The Viewpoint] Restaurant, climbs to the Reservoirs Viewpoint and goes down to Gaitanejo Dam. The way, which is only used for authorized vehicles and maintenance, goes downwards, while, close to its end, you can admire emerald green water in the reservoir. At one turning, you can see the round outline of the Gothic Arch or tafoni from a different angle than from the path that goes through the Big Tunnel at the altitude of the river. The way than goes down, through the tunnel and under the Tafoni Bridge, covered in natural holes. It gets close to the Substation and Gaitanejo Dam, where the Control Point, the northern access to El Caminito del Rey Path and the official beginning of the route are.
Hiking lovers should visit this beautiful spot in March or April, the best time for plants, when you can admire Aleppo pines, juniper berries, eucalyptus, willows or ash trees. As for the birds, you can see black redstarts, peregrine falcons, Bonelli's eagles and vultures, as this is the zone of vulture colonies, as well as water birds like cormorants, grey herons and common egrets. Some mammals are commonly seen in the evening in this zone, like the mountain goat, fox, wild boar (more frequent in Hoyo Valley), and sometimes even the otter. Reptiles, for example, lizards (smaller and bigger ones) and snakes live here as well.
Gothic Arch – a real geological attraction
The arch was named this way by mistake, as its circular form does not meet Gothic style standards. It is outlined on a sandstone wall, which represents the most peculiar erosive form in this beauty spot, created by natural ground cracking. Actually, these are tafoni, cave-like formations, created when clay is compressed by big blocks of sandstone due to the influence of external factors, such as water or wind. Close to this place, there is a rest area with benches, tables and the information board 'Section of the Guadallhorce River in Gaitanejo', where you can admire birds and enjoy their singing. You can even see the first vultures along the route, which nest on the trees tops. You will then go downwards, surrounded by dense vegetation that is mainly composed of Aleppo pines, juniper berries, eucalyptus, willows, ash trees, and scrubland made of palmettos, thymes, blackberry bush, and so on. The vegetation around the river will change into plants typical for riversides.
The Parda Mountains also have the above erosive formations, tafoni, although they are not as incredible as the first ones. Nearby ruins of the cave houses called 'Cuevas Pardas' [Brown Houses] were built in the holes of tafoni, and were inhabited from the age-old times, above all by farmers, until mid 20th century, when the buiders and other workers settled there.
Tunnel and Tafoni Bridge
With the aim of building and maintaining of hydroelectric power buildings of Gaitanejo (dam, station, canal, boardwalks and bridges), as well as of providing workers with food, an access way as well as a tunnel were built on a small hillock, using small holes and natural caves. At the exit of the tunnel and after the bend at the bridge, stop to admire interesting formations of tafoni. They consist of four big holes, two of which are regular and positioned one above the other.
People are commonly intrigued by the names of places or toponyms, above all if these are related to some location features. So you might want to know that the names, such as 'El Desfiladero de los Gaitanes' [the Gaitanes Gorge], Gaitanejo or Tajos de Gaitán [The Gaitán Cliffs], all refer to Gaitán or Gaitanes, birds of prey that used to fly over this place, above all bearded vultures. During spring and summer, it is easy to see them fly as well as their nests at the narrow canyons.