Location: Andalusia in southern Spain
Length: 656 km
Potential dangers: Hunting, some road walks, breeding boars, wasps, dogs, getting lost, no water, river crossings in the colder seasons, eventual forest fires.
Difficulty: There are very easy stages and very long and/or difficult mountain stages. To predict the difficulty of every stage there is a very useful table provided by the Gran Senda Organisation. Also you will find the composition of paths (single trail, dirt road, road, river crossing) at the beginning of every description of the stages in the downloadable guidebook provided in english language.
Civilisation density: You will have at least one point of civilization on or at the end of every stage. This doesn’t mean that you’ll find accommodation or something like a pharmacy over there. But at least there will be a bar and a cold cerveza.
Landscape: Very diverse and very beautiful, sometimes unbelievably lovely. You’ll see the Mediteranean Sea, the mountains, agricultural landscapes, lakes and hills. A very good reason to do it! I was completely overwhelmed.
Cultural sites: You will cross some “bigger” cities with wonderful cultural sites like Ronda, Archidona, Nerja and Malaga. But in general the trail passes through simpler, rural areas.
Best time to do it: There is one thing I can already say: Do it in May, but in the beginning of May. It’s the time of bloom, the landscape buzzes and you’ll see the most fantastic colors around you. But in this year it was a particularly hot May and there is not a lot of shadow on the road. It can be hell, too. Maybe it’s better to do it in autumn or even winter. But you won’t experience the wonders of spring then. Look at the climate table of Andalusia and see what suits you most.
Trail signage and way markers:
If there is one compliment to be given to the Gran Senda Organisation then it is that one: The signage is nearly perfect. Everywhere, even in the most lost areas, you’ll find wooden posts with striped (go!) or crossed (don’t go!) trail marks. You wont get lost if you hike with your eyes open. As I hiked in the end of May and nature was in full bloom it happened that one or two posts were hidden behind bushes, but in general they were easy to locate. There were only two times when I had some difficulties finding my way. On the stretch from Nerja to Frigiliana behind the river crossing I lost one hour because of bad signage and in the forest from Ardales to El Chorro I saw a “corzo morisco”, a kind of a mountain deer, directly in front of me and out of surprise I missed the junction which was well hidden in some bushes.
Sometimes I had the impression that someone coming from the opposite direction has installed the trailmarks.
Busyness and Solitude:
Between Nerja and Frigiliana I briefly met two girls from Switzerland who did more than one stage. I also met some day hikers on this stage. Between Periana and Pulgarin Alto I met a group of American day hikers on a visit to Andalusia again. That was it. This trail is – regarding other hikers – completely deserted. You’ll meet forest workers, farmers and some tourists in cars when the road is near, but there aren’t any hikers. At least in the areas where I was. It’s quite a lot of solitude to take in. You either search for that or you have to deal with it when you are hiking solo.
There is this great guide which you can download for free on the website of the trail. There is some really good information in it, like the lengths the heights and the level of difficulty of every stage after which I chose the stages I wanted to walk. If you are interested in it there is even some quite useful information about history and geography. Unfortunately it also lacks some really important information.
The maps they provide in the guide and on the website by the Gran Senda Organisation are completely useless. Don’t even bother to load them down or print them out. I recommend some kind of App with offline Maps based on Openstreetmap (for example MapOut for IOS). Offline Maps are – in my opinion – mandatory.
There is no real indication about where and when to find water on the trail or even the possibility of water. As I walked in the month of May at an shadowless average of 27°C I would have been very grateful not to have to pack 3 liters of water on top of the weight of my backpack. In the guide they write about water but more generally, where it comes from and why and the geological conditions. In case you are sweating like I did, this is quite useless.
- GPS Downloads.
There are GPS downloads of every single stage and they are obviously very detailed. I don’t know what I did wrong but I wasn’t able to load them into my map app (MapOut). There is no download of the complete trail. At least I didn’t find it. Instead I downloaded it from gpsies.com. But this was clearly not always the designated trail (read this, if you want to walk Nerja-Frigiliana).
- Accommodation and transport.
There is no useful information about the end of every stage. If there is civilization, accommodation, something to eat and drink or private or public transport. All things you are longing for after an exhausting hike. There are some random links on the website but accommodation should at least include a short description and a price range.
As I posted some pictures on Instagram the Gran Senda Organisation contacted me and offered me help if I would need it. I was pleased to hear that. Later I had one question but they couldn’t answer it and the reaction alone took some days. At the end they offered to meet me an give me some “presents” – I can’t imagine what kind of presents that would be and I’m really not much into merchandising stuff but I would have liked to talk to someone who maybe did the whole through-hike – but when I said I would like that but I had no car and I’m kind of far from Málaga they didn’t answer anymore.
Spain is public network paradise. Even in the mountains you will frequently have at least one point of coverage. I think it happened to me only four or five times that I looked on my phone and read “kein Netz”. Wifi in the hostels and on the camping sites on the other hand is more or less useless and ultraslow. Better to have a good plan from your home provider.
Anyway: In my opinion it is absolutely necessary to have offline maps with you. Print them or use something like MapOut (IOS).
I carried my (ultralight) tent all the way but if I had known that I would barely use it (which was more out of personal reasons than out of exterior conditions) I would have left it at home. But this was my thing and it is completely possible and even easy to pitch camp all the way. As usual it is more difficult in the mountains. If you want to, you can look out for “recreation areas” where you can camp legally and where there is water most of the time.
Most of the land is privately owned though, and it is not advisable to pitch camp there.
There are no dangerous animals, snakes or insects in Spain so this is nothing to be worried about. What you will hear at night are owls, boars, deer, goats, mice and squirrels.
Near to El Chorro I recommend the fantastic, huge and very wild camp site Camping Parque Ardales with very friendly staff, directly on one of the clearest turquoise mountain lakes .
Keep in mind that it is forbidden to free-camp all over Spain.
This is why you should do the Gran Senda de Malaga. The landscape is diverse and at least once on every stage I found it really breathtaking. I chose the stages I walked because of a mixture between their level of difficulty and where they would lead me to, but they were all fantastic and I have a lot of wonderful pictures in my head which I will be able pull out on cold German winter days. It surprised me and it is much more beautiful than I thought it would be.
After my second day I bought a pepper-spray in a hunting and fishing store in Antequera. A lot of farmers have untrained guard dogs which are alone on the land or around the houses. Sometimes they are aggressive and won’t let you pass which can be quite a problem in the mountains when there is no alternative path.
This was my hike. And I finish with a short abstract which is purely my opinion:
Please ask in the comments if you have any questions. If I can answer them, I will do so. And if you do/did it, let me know. Have Fun!