Garganta Verde, tucked into Sierra de Grazalema Park in Andalucía, is a 400-metre deep canyon that makes for the best half-day hike in the area. Here’s all you need to know.
Sierra de Grazalema lies between magical Seville and the beaches of the Costa del Sol. While its mountains only reach up to about 1,700m, its landscape is dotted with deep canyons, lush green vistas, and wildflowers. Set amongst the valleys and cliffs of this part of Andalucía, white villages where locals pursue a rural way of life, create dreamy hillside scenes.
There is plenty of hiking in this slowly developing region, but in our opinion, the best walk is into Garganta Verde, a spectacular canyon cut by the Pinar River. The canyon drops to a depth of 400m and is only 10m wide at its narrowest point. Standing at the bottom and looking up at the towering walls, as vultures circle overhead, is an awe-inspiring experience. It made us feel very small indeed.
Fortunately, it’s not a long and arduous journey to get to the bottom. In fact, it’s an excellent and relatively easy half-day hike. Beware, however, that a permit is required and the walk can only be undertaken at certain times of the year.
Here are all the details.
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IN THIS GUIDE
GARGANTA VERDE HIKE OVERVIEW
A short hike descending to a 400-metre deep canyon
2.5km each way – 5km in total
3 hours for the round trip
350 metres (+/-)
April – May
THE GREEN RAVINE OF ANDALUCÍA
Garganta Verde, meaning Green Ravine, gets its name from the lush vegetation that covers the upper canyon walls. Past the gate bearing a ridiculously over-zealous warning that the path is “extremely difficult,” the beauty of the area becomes apparent immediately.
A gently sloping path guided us through bright yellow gorse and broom. The scent of the region’s fir trees filled the air with a freshness city-dwellers like us long for. Equally impressed with the surroundings, a family of roe deer bounced across our path with a very seasonal spring in their step.
After about 20 minutes, the first view of the canyon appeared from between the trees at a mirador. It was an impressive sight, far better than the emptiness of the trail would suggest.
Shortly after the mirador, the path began crisscrossing down the canyon wall. It required some careful footwork but nothing too challenging. At some points, metal handrails and steps carved into the rock made the hike down a little easier.
As we descended deeper into the canyon, the foliage became denser and greener, the air fresher and cooler. Views of the canyon walls opposite occasionally punching through the trees. It’s a beautiful walk down.
Garganta Verde, meaning Green Ravine, gets its name from the lush vegetation that covers the upper canyon walls.
Around 1 hour and 10 minutes after leaving the car park we arrived at the base of the canyon. Large cream boulders formed a dry river bed that cut through the valley floor. We crossed to the far side and found a path that led us past a small cave.
A little further on, after dropping down into the river bed, a second cave, Cueva de la Ermita, opened up as a massive expanse in the valley wall. Pink stalactites hung from the ceiling.
Just past the cave, the towering vertical walls, only a few meters wide in places, rose inexorably upwards. The air was cool, almost damp, the sound of water dripping from the cave ceiling was all that broke the silence. Griffon vultures circled overhead.
Navigating a way over massive boulders, we continued another 200m deeper into the canyon. But, before long, the bottom dropped away too steeply and we were left staring at an area where only abseilers and the crazy proceed.
Instead, we found a massive boulder, refuelled and contemplated the hike back up.
HIKING PERMIT FOR GARGANTA VERDE
Sierra de Grazalema is one of the last places where the Spanish Fir (or Pinsapo) grows. The park looks after the few that remain with a lot of care. Therefore, during the summer season (01 Jun to 15 Oct) when forest fires are a risk, hiking is not allowed at Garganta Verde at all. In the other months, a permit is required.
Permits can be obtained in person at the El Bosque visitors centre. Obtaining a permit on for weekdays should be no problem at all, but weekends and public holidays can get booked up.
It’s possible to reserve a permit up to 1 month in advance by phoning or emailing the El Bosque visitors centre, telling them the date you intend to walk, the name of the route (Garganta Verde), the number of walkers and one passport number. The permit usually needs to be collected in person from the visitors centre, but if you ask them nicely they may email or fax the permit to you. Please be aware the visitors centre staff speak very limited English, so if you don’t speak much Spanish, being understood on the phone can be a challenge.
All the permits are free.
El Bosque Visitor’s Centre // 10:00 – 14:00 everyday | Phone: +34 956 709 733 | Email: email@example.com
The path down the canyon is very clear and easy to follow (unless there is snow on the ground). The route is fairly steep but not that long. On the steeper sections, there are some metal handrails and steps carved into the rock.
On the valley floor, the path goes along a dry river bed. Here large polished rocks and massive boulders litter the trail. It’s fun to try and work your way through, but you will need hands for a little scrambling and a sense of balance in places. Once it gets too difficult just turn round and head back.
Avoid hiking after rain when the descent will be trickier and the rocks at the bottom of the canyon will be slippery. After significant rain the dry river bed will not be dry!
Reasonably fit people wearing shoes with decent grip will have no problem doing the Garganta Verde hike at all, but some caution is required going down.
It takes 1 hour 15 minutes to descend, 30 minutes to explore the canyon bottom and 1 hour 15 minutes to return. Allow about 3 hours for the entire trip. Why the same time going up and down? Yes, going up is a good cardio workout, but it’s much easier to find your footing – so the times even out.
MAP – HIKING GARGANTA VERDE
A physical map isn’t needed, but – for souvenir purposes or if, like me, you get an inordinate amount of pleasure from tracking your progress on a map – we recommend this one. Guy Hunter-Watts provides maps in his excellent hiking book detailing the best path around the mountains of Ronda and Grazalema.
WHAT TO TAKE ON HIKE?
01 – The Garganta Verde hike is not long or difficult but good solid walking shoes are a good idea, mainly because the path is rocky and steep in places.
02 – Much of the walk is in the shade of the canyon, but the beginning and end can be hot, so sun block and a hat will help protect from that sizzling Spanish heat. However, in the depths of the canyon it can get quite cold, so bring some layers to rug up a little.
04 – There are no refreshments on the route so make sure you have water and some snacks for an energy boost to get you back up that canyon wall.
05 – Take a camera and, if you are a bird-watcher, a pair of binoculars.
06 – Most importantly, make sure you have your permit with you, but don’t expect it to be checked anywhere.
BEST TIME TO HIKE GARGANTA VERDE
You cannot hike the canyon in summer (01 June to 15 Oct) as the park authorities shut the trail due to the high fire risk.
In our opinion, the best time of year to do the Garganta Verde hike is throughout April and May. At this time, the glorious wildflowers of the region are in full bloom, the weather should be clear but not too hot and tourist numbers will be slightly lower. March would be OK as well, but the weather may not be as good.
The best time of day is in the mid-morning when the sun is not too hot and the light is beginning to creep into the canyon and illuminate its towering walls and verdant valleys.
WHERE TO STAY FOR THE GARGANTA VERDE HIKE
The closest places to Garganta Verde to stay are the white villages of El Bosque, Zahara or Grazalema. El Bosque has the benefit of the visitor’s centre making it easy to pick up the permit, but it does not have a dramatic location. Grazalema sits in picture-perfection at the base of some beautiful craggy mountains, but dies in the evening. So our pick is Zahara.
Sitting on a hill just under a Moorish castle, Zahara has magnificent views and great walks. But best of all it has a couple of decent restaurants in a cute square. We suggest you stay at Alojamiento Rural el Pinsapo and head to Cerveceria el Gallo for its tapas.
HOW TO GET TO GARGANTA VERDE?
Garganta Verde is in Sierra de Grazalema which is a 1-hour 30-minute drive from either Seville or from the beaches of Marbella on the Costa del Sol.
The trail begins at a car park located 4 km south of Zahara on the CA-9104, which joins Zahara and Grazalema. This is a magnificent windy mountain road and well worth traversing during your stay.
There is no public transport to the trailhead, so you will either need your own car or take a taxi (+34 666 842 973).
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MORE READING FOR YOUR SPAIN TRIP
Andalucía is one of our favourite areas in Spain. With an excellent climate, world-class cities and beautiful nature parks, it’s a fantastic southern European destination. Here are more of our guides from the area.
Our complete guide to Cádiz, the island city of Andalucía
Hiking El Pinsapar near Grazalema
Complete Guide to hiking El Torreón in Sierra de Grazalema
Our complete guide to Cádiz, the island city of Andalucía
Our favourite things to do in Seville
What to do in Córdoba – A 2 day Córdoba itinerary
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