Home Travel BlogEurope Travel BlogSpain Travel Blog El Torcal near Málaga, and a Trip to the Bottom of the Ocean

El Torcal near Málaga, and a Trip to the Bottom of the Ocean

by Silke Elzner

El Torcal is like a massive grey wall that seems to appear out of nowhere. One minute you are travelling through a lovely Andalusian landscape of ruined farm houses, rolling hills and flowering almond trees. The next, you are confronted by this stoney monstrosity that rises unexpectedly into the air like a sore tooth from healthy gums.

El Torcal dares you to take notice, you cannot help but feel intrigued by this unusual change in scenery.

As your car courageously takes on one hairpin curve after the next on your climb to the top, overtaking bicyclists and slow trucks, you have plenty of time to wonder what you might get to see up there. As the rumour goes, El Torcal is not your usual mountain range. It’s a landscape full of surprises, with fantastical shapes and bizarre formations.

El Torcal is just an easy day trip away from the Costa del Sol, but it’s a different world altogether. The minute we stepped out of the parked car to tackle one of the signposted hiking trails we knew that we were in for a treat.

El Torcal rises like a grey wall from the farming landscape of Andalusia

El Torcal rises like a grey wall from the farming landscape of Andalusia.

From the Depths of the Ocean

I don’t know about you but I am always confused by geological explanations. The way oceans were formed and mountains created are hard to comprehend. These processes took place over millennia. There are massive forces at work, chain reactions of events that you will struggle to string together in your mind. The same goes for the theory of how the nature reserve of El Torcal north of Málaga came into existence.

Even though the formation was now a mountain range, sticking out of the undulating landscape in the south of Spain, it once used to be the bottom of the sea. Geological forces pushed this part of the landscape up, creating mountains – just like many other mountains that you would see in Andalusia, for example the Sierra Nevada.

Great forces were at work during the formation of El Torcal

Great forces were at work during the formation of El Torcal

However, El Torcal was special because the stone that was pushed upwards was made of brittle, eroding materials. The stuff that ocean floors were made of. Millions of sea creature skeletons, compressed to solid rock, had covered the area in thick layers.

Now, exposed to rain, sun and wind, the processes of erosion set in. The soft stone was crumbling, washed off by the rain, blown away by the wind. In some parts, this happened slowly, in others more dramatically. The mountains transformed, leaving behind the bizarre shapes as we see them today. Pill stacks and screws, pinnacles and rock giants.

Overall, a landscape that reminded me of the drip sand castles that my brother would build for me in my childhood. And the process was still ongoing. Like a living landscape made of stone.

A landscape of bizarre shapes and formations

A landscape of bizarre shapes and formations.

The Yellow Path

At El Torcal, you could follow three different routes through the karst landscape. While the green route was easily accomplished even with children, we opted for the yellow route, a two-hour hike deep into the valley, around a mountain in the centre and back. A wonderful experience for people like me who are not exactly hikers but appreciate some small challenges along the way.

The track was level in most parts but covered in pebbles and rocks. It was easy going in the lower lying parts of the track and a bit more challenging when there were inclines and descents. In most parts, natural rock would act as steps. Best to tackle with proper shoes but on dry days like ours also manageable in normal comfortable footwear.

The hiking trails at El Torcal are easy to tackle.

The hiking trails at El Torcal are easy to tackle.

Besides the rocks, it was a barren landscape. You could hear goats passing through, their bells chiming and echoing in the valleys. Some birds in the trees, which, now in spring, still had no leaves. Red berries here and there, some heather, hardy shrubs.

Sometimes, trees would find ways to grow in exposed cracks of the stone, like parasites making use of the shelter of the rocks until the roots would break apart the hard material. It was as if the living things were in constant competition with this stoney landscape.

Trees breaking apart solid rock

Trees breaking apart solid rock.

But we were not here to see the trees. We wanted to explore the rock formations. They came in all shapes and sizes. Some of them looked as if a giant had placed them there, big boulders balancing precariously on top of other rocks.

In other places, the wind had carved vertical lines into the surfaces, edges smoothed by rain, creating a look of stacked slices of ham or flat pills. At the very top, pinnacles reminded us of faces and people, some of the heads leaning forward to a degree that looked almost impossible.

Some stones looked as if they had been placed there by giants.

Some stones looked as if they had been placed there by giants.

Nature Park El Torcal is Just a Short Drive Away

It is so easy to visit El Torcal, it’s surprising that it’s not frequented by more visitors from overseas. You need a rental car to visit, but from the coast it’s no more than a 70 minutes’ drive.

Once there, there is no entry and no parking fees to pay, and a visitor centre will provide you with maps and refreshments. Near the car park you can find a lookout from which – on good days – you can see all the way to Málaga and the blue Mediterranean. On weekends, things can get busy. If that happens you may need to park at the foot of the mountains and take the shuttle bus up.

There are three routes you can take to explore the region, the shortest one taking just 45 minutes from start to finish. There are no facilities and almost no shade on the way, so come prepared. Since El Torcal is a trip to the bottom of an ancient ocean, there are some ammonites you can see but you will have to join a guided Ammonites Tour to make out the shapes in the rock.

Bizarre shapes resembling slices of ham.A Great Day Trip Destination from the Costa Del Sol

El Torcal is a great day trip idea from the Costa del Sol and from Málaga. It’s like a trip to another world, one that the whole family will enjoy. The bizarre shapes of the rocks, the views from the top, and the immersion in nature make for unforgettable experiences.

More beautiful photos below!  ↓

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