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 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.
The new Caminito del Rey… is this still the world’s most dangerous pathway?