Bobastro … the stunning one-thousand-year-old Spanish ruins sadly eclipsed by the once most dangerous pathway in the world

Most people arrive in the Spanish village of El Chorro just to catch the bus out of it and to the start of the once infamous pathway El Caminito del Rey. This is understandable as admittedly, there is little else within the village of great interest. The breath-taking views of the surrounding Andalusian mountains are somewhat spoilt by the sight and constant humming of the hydro-electric power station here that keeps the lights on in neighbouring Malaga.

Yet, El Chorro is a good base for other great hiking paths that few walk or even know about. One is the hike across Las Mesas de Villaverde to the ruins of Bobastro. The one-thousand-year-old church and surrounding ruins are all that is left of the grand headquarters of Umar ibn Hafsún, a once powerful bandit leader who fought against the Córdoba caliphate in the ninth and tenth centuries. In defeat, Ibn Hafsún retreated to Bobastro where some believe he converted the city to Christianity and commissioned the Bobastro church to strengthen his cause and rebellion against the ruling Emirate.

Driving to the ruins from El Chorro is far quicker and much more convenient than walking. Take the road MA5403 out of El Chorro and around the hydro-electric reservoir, past the Gorge of the Gaitanes west and around Las Mesas de Villaverde, then take the MA448 south and follow the signs. Those who do fancy the walk but not the hike can follow the same five kilometre route, but for the more adventurous there is always the mountain path.

The village of El Chorro (around 60km north of Malaga) is a tad more than just a bus stop and car park to the tourist attraction El Caminito del Rey

El Chorro does look picturesque if one can ignore the hydro-electric pylons, the Chernobyl style chimney and the concrete water tunnel running down the side of Las Mesas de Villaverde opposite the village, as well as the constant static buzzing from the electricity plant

Close to the power station across the reservoir, along the MA5043, a path leads off, up Las Mesas de Villaverde towards the Bobastro ruins. Note, this is the first and only sign pointing to the ruins along this route!

This is proper mountain hiking so good walking shoes, stamina and a big bottle of water are required

…but the climb is worth it, with views more and more stunning the higher up one goes (and no sign of the electricity station and pylons)

Some fabulous rock formations can be seen along the way also

Looking back down at El Chorro village from the top of Las Mesas de Villaverde, over 500m above sea level

At the top the path levels off and is relatively smoother, leading through yellow grass and lush forestry…

…towards the less than scenic high walls of the y-shaped hilltop reservoir often seen from flights to Malaga passing regularly overhead

Take the path right along the perimeter wall where a marker suggests one may be going in the right direction

After a half-an-hour’s walk or so, one will be level with the northern end of the hilltop reservoir (it was too ugly to warrant a photo) and what appears to be a fence marking the end of the path

The path does actually continue. Just squeeze around the fence and carry on until the Chernobyl chimney is within walking distance

Access to the chimney is understandably prohibited to the unauthorised, but shortly before reaching it a narrow road track leads off to the left. Ignore the chain across it. This is the path onwards (even though there are no signs to suggest so), across the other side of Las Mesas de Villaverde

…where the views become even more breath-taking, particularly of the Gorge of the Gaitanes and a glimpse of El Caminito del Rey

Parts of the notoriously dangerous original path of Caminito del Rey can still be seen below the much safer new path above it

More photogenic views looking west

The forest path suddenly comes to an end and leads out onto the MA448. Even here there are no signs to say that the ruins are around a kilometre down this road from this point

More amazing views

Finally, the ruins are in sight from the raod…

…but, there is still a way to go to reach the entrance to the grounds. Carry on down the MA448

Blink and one could miss the entrance to the Bobastro ruins along the MA448

The hut opposite is the ticket and information office

Most of the path within the grounds is uneven and the ruins themselves are still around half a kilometre from the entrance. But, there are rails where necessary to help along the way

There is no mistaking the ruins when finally reached

What is surprising is how visitors are free to walk within and even on top of the ruins

The most striking aspect of the one-thousand-year old church is its round window openings

Now, for the 5km hike back to El Chorro

Useful information

The grounds to the Bobastro ruins are open daily from 10am to 3pm.

The church is undoubtedly the highlight within the grounds, but there are other ruins and signs of ancient habitation along the way to stumble upon.

There are hourly guided tours, albeit in Spanish only, available on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. There is no need to book in advance, but to be honest there is really no need to have a guide as there are plenty of signs and information panels within the grounds both in Spanish and English chronicling the history of Bobastro. Some visitors have reported that the grounds are closed off whilst a tour is taking place. Enquire at the ticket office hut if the gate does appear to be closed well before 3pm, and I am sure they will grant access.

Some areas within the grounds may be roped off for excavation work but are clearly sign posted

Wear good walking shoes and take care along the uneven ground.

Tickets, with or without a tour cost €3 per person (2017).

There are no toilet or catering facilities within the grounds or nearby, but there are plenty of shaded benches dotted around to sit down and savour the surrounding vistas over a packed lunch.

I am not a professional hiker, just an enthusiastic one. It took me around two-and-a-half hours to walk from El Chorro, climb across Las Mesas de Villaverde and reach the ruins on the other side. The climb up was easier and quicker than the walk down Las Mesas de Villaverde as the path is uneven with lots of loose rocks and stones, so do take care. However, it is not terribly steep and does not require anything more than good walking shoes, patience, water, salty snacks, sun screen and stamina.

There are only two direct trains daily from Malaga (María Zambrano) to El Chorro: one around 10am and the other around 4.45pm (2017). The journey takes around forty-five minutes and a single ticket should cost no more than €6.50 (2017). There are a couple of basic hotels within El Chorro to stay a night or two in if planning to walk El Caminito del Rey (which I would thoroughly recommend) and to the Bobastro ruins. I can image that even Superman would struggle to conquer both on foot in one day. The eateries in and around El Chorro are adequate enough to starve off post-hike hunger and thirst.

Footage of the Bobastro ruins can be seen in this short TLT video below. Just press play.

TLT x


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