The river forms a pool, surrounded by plentiful vegetation, after supplying with a lot of noisy rapids and going through many gullies. This is Hoyo Valley. This zone consists of varied landscape, such as:
- Rest area and information boards, where the Hoyo Valley Path starts.
- Rest Area next to the Canal
- Sapito Pintojo Pond
- Hoyo Valley Rest Area
- Big Rockslide
- Hoyo House
- Damaged high walls of the canal
- Bat Shelter
- Canal floodgate - the end of Hoyo Valley.
Rest Area and Information Boards (910 m away)
The river forms a pool, surrounded by plentiful vegetation, after a lot of noisy rapids and going through many gullies at the end of the second canyon. This is the beginning of Hoyo Valley, which turns into a different landscape, and you can finally see the end of the ravine, the last canyon, called Gran Gaitan. While walking on the hard ground, you will go past the viewpoint and the railway, and get deeper into the valley along the surface of the canal until you reach the exit some 1800 m away. There are varied draining systems, such as bridges, floodgates, slopes, sand traps, etc., as well as some natural attractions (Sapito Pintojo Pond, wild pine woods, bat cave, and so on), sand traps and information boards. The route stretches at the bottom of Almorchón Cliff and in front of the Ballesteros Cliff, where vultures nest and you can see some of them fly over the place at certain time of the day.
The central part of the Gaitanes Gorge is a mountain range which consists of Almorcón Cliff on the right (Ardales), and mountainsides of Antequera on the left, made of three large rocky formations (Ballesteros Cliff, Estudiantes Cliff and Huma Mountains), and frequented by trains. All of this forms part of a closed valley, which is surprisingly green thanks to pine forests with some wild thick plants and emerald colour of the river.
Rest Area next to the Canal
If you follow a dirt track, you will arrive at a narrow curve where you can see the canal again. It is a short gap, round 4 m long, which is surrounded by cables, and then it disappears again. The winding path keeps stretching downwards, offering views of a river meander and Peñón de Cristo, rocky outcrop opposite. Then it gets to the longer gap of the canal, which is also protected by cables. It is next to a booth and the sign that marks 1200 m of the route. At this spot, surrounded by pine trees, you will find a place to rest, with a bench and an information board about the plant life, where you can admire fine panoramic view over Hoyo Valley and Ballesteros Cliff and Estudiante [Strudent] Cliff on the left with the quarry at the foot. From that point, the narrow path becomes rather steep and downwards, with safety cables by the side, until it gets to a slope covered in green plants or a big black wire mesh, which is there to protect the slope from being damaged and where a wall with plants can be seen. A bit more downwards, there is another natural attraction spot.
Many of the plants that can be seen along the path are protected species or even endangered as they are highly peculiar, such as Rucapinos africana, Sarcocapinos baetica, Campanula mollis, Chaenorhinum rubiflolium or Cytissus moleroi.
Sapito Pintojo Pond (1380 m away)
At this shady bend, you will see some ruined parts of the waterway (thick walls, retaining walls and a floodgate,...), that used to be another sand trap, where a spurt comes from and supplies Sapito Pintojo [Iberian Painted Frog] Pond with water. This habitat of small amphibians endemic species was adapted in 2015 in order to create fine conditions for this class to lay eggs, reproduce and develop, as well as another spot at the end of the valley, which was modified in order to shelter bats. All these actions are meant to improve and recover local plant and animal life. Therefore, this is one of few open areas of the Hoyo Valley Path, where large trees, such as carob trees, and two stone benches are, so you can rest a little, drink some water, have a snack, or have a pleasant walk.
You are halfway the end of the route, so having a short rest in the shade, if possible, is always a good idea. Two large carob trees in this zone are part of medieval vegetation, which were planted in the gorges at the time of Berbers for pasture.
Sand Trap in Hoyo Valley (1510 m away)
Having gone past the lowest point in Hoyo Valley, Sapito Pintojo Pond, you will walk uphill between pine trees, where the walls of the stony canal can be seen until they get to the ground level where 1400 m and 1500 m are marked. This is where another important infrastructure lays, a sand trap with a large pond for water harvesting. You might want to stop here to watch a screw which was used for moving the floodgate with a wheel. Another sand trap was placed here, and although the area is surrounded by trees and large rocks due to some landslide, it is rather cosy and offers views of Ballesteros and Estudiante Cliff which are opposite.
Big Rockslide (1800 m away)
After the pond, the canal runs on the surface and under a small bridge. The path goes through bushes and large rocks, which are separated from the way, up to the spot where you will probably like to take some photos and where a 'hollow' carob tree is. The zone has some old inscriptions, like MP5 and MP6, on the rocks and it can be recognized after a rocky outcrop with a pylon and a house in ruins (1600 m sign). The path continues upwards to a crack on the canal's vault, and then up again to a clearing where you should turn towards the rockslide, a real natural viewpoint. This is the middle of the valley, surrounded by big stone blocks, from which you can admire a fine panoramic view of the valley and high cliffs around it. The railway is also present, as well as a peculiar metal bridge made of two large green arches which take to the tunnel. Finally, look at the white huts where dynamite was kept, and the high mountain sides in Antequera a bit further on.
Behind and high above you, there are vultures flying close to Almorchón Cliff, where Las Buitreras (Vulture's Nests) Viewspot is. The calm and quiet of the spot can be interrupted by the sound of regional or goods trains which can go up to Bobadilla or down to Málaga. Please mind that these are not AVE trains which mostly go underground, through a 7-km-long tunnel in Valle de Abdalajís to the viaducts in front of Álora town.
Hoyo House (2100 m away)
When you go past the ruins and the hollow carob tree, you will still go uphill. The path here offers the view over Peñón de Cristo rocky outcrop, together with canal stone walls, arches and vaults, until you arrive at a curve signposted by MP, and a withered tall narrow pine tree (1200 m sign). There are Hoyo House ruins on the left. The house was built in the centre of the valley, just few metres away from the river, with the railway tunnels in the background. The house tells about the lifestyle of agricultural and livestock community, and was named after the greeny valley, also called De los Naranjos (Oranges Valley), and placed on a small hill. Its water tank, which was supplied by water from the canal, was used for family needs as well as for watering a small orange orchard, other fruit and for the animals on the farm. It had been built before the works on the old boardwalk started. Actually, according to the descendants who live in Ardales and Álora, people first started living there at the end of the 19th century.
The inhabitants of the house had rather limited incomes and lived on few cows, hens, pigs, goats and sheep, and made cheese. At the end of the 1960s, the house had been abandoned, and used as a shelter for mountaineers and climbers who climbed the slopes of the gorge. Since then, it obtained many different names. In 1980s some medieval Islamic and Castilian pottery was discovered during an archaeological drilling, which lead to belief that there had been settlements since the 3th century. In that period, this was probably a small farmstead (القرية / al-qarīa in Arabic) or a farm house.
Damaged High Walls of the Canal (2400 m away)
Away from the house, which can no longer be seen, the curvy path becomes straighter and runs between trees by the canal walls, which goes down to the ground level along this stage (2200 m sign). Having walked under another small bridge that goes over the canal, you will come to a long curve and a gentle slope, where the canal turns into an irrigation channel, and its cement and stone walls become taller and taller, until they reach a rather high altitude. The first crack is actually the way through the inside of the canal (2300 m sign) up to an open space with a stone bench with views of the end of the valley, the railway and the entry to the Gran Gaitán Gorge.
Although the great part of the route along the waterway was built as a passage, some of the stretches are in open air, surrounded by thick walls, as it happens in Hoyo Valley. The canal's main purpose was to hep generating power in El Chorro Hydroelectric Power Station, counting on the flow of 10,000 L/s, and a drop of 100 m between Gaitanejo Dam and the exit from the last gorge.
Bat Shelter (2390 m away)
At the rest area and the space where the big hole is on the canal, an old service tunnel was refurbished and turned into a shelter for bats where they can hibernate. The entry to the cave, which is surrounded by plants and has a drain at the bottom, was closed by a large wooden gate with a small opening on its upper part, through which these small chiropterans, the only mammals that can fly, can come inside.
As it is said on its information board, the Bat Shelter is habitat to endangered species such as horseshoe, greater mouse-eared bat and cave bats. Due to their peculiar biological structure, these animals need safe habitats where they can reproduce and hibernate for a long time (round 183 days).
Bats are rather endangered species because of some human actions. Although they are considered to be harmful, they are actually of great help to humans as they eat big amounts of damaging insects, such as moths, mosquitoes, and so on. They are very important for the environment because they pollinate, control plagues of insects or small vertebrates, and spread seeds.
Canal's Floodgate (2390 m away)
From the rest area and the shelter, the path turns towards the other shorter section of the canal, marked by 2400 m, which runs along the walls of the Peñón del Cristo. There is also an information board which warns about possible rockslide. The path leads to small wooden stairs that connects to the last stretch of the boardwalks. Stop for a moment to enjoy the panoramic view of marvellous Hoyo Valley. This is where the canal separates from the path and goes into a rocky wall. This 300 m–long stretch, which can be accessed through and entrance hole, can be visited as it was lightened during the refurbishment. The small stairs go up a large canal control floodgate, which still has a mechanism used to move it up and down. It consists of a board, screw, frames, wheel and access stairs.
The canal goes underground from here up to the Aqueduct Bridge, apart from a small opening on the corner of the Falla Chica (the Small Fault). In 2017, the canal was opened for visitors again after it had been refurbished, so they it can be used when hanging path is closed due to the landslide caused by rain or wind. Thanks to this pragmatic solution, the path does not need to be closed and the visitors can continue their journey.
There are small holes and cracks on the tunnel ceiling, which had been made during drilling and later became day shelter for varied kinds of bats. In order to protect these animals, gentle led lighting was installed close to the ground.