I expected great food, pretty villages, fabulous monuments, and fascinating history in southern Spain. I didn’t expect a nature park with whimsical rock formations reminiscent of what you see in some of the great parks of the US Southwest. El Torcal de Antequera, about 30 km north of Malaga, was nowhere on our radar screen. Thanks to our Granada guest house host, who recommended the place, we got to experience the unexpected—a weird and wonderful geology display in the middle of culturally rich Spain.
El Torcal Nature Reserve is not big, only about 17 square km, but it contains some of the most impressive limestone landscapes in Europe. The Jurassic Age limestone dates back about 150 million years when the area was part of a marine corridor. Subsequent movement of the earth’s crust forced the rock up, forming a limestone mountain range. Forces of erosion, over millions of years, have created the most unusual and amazing rock formations.
El Torcal is a bit off the beaten path and overshadowed by other attractions in southern Spain. But for nature lovers, or those seeking a change of pace and a chance to stretch their legs, El Torcal is a worthwhile little detour. The closest town with tourist amenities is lovely Antequera, about 16 km away. It too tends to get overlooked by tourists who don’t venture beyond the Costa del Sol—a shame really, because it is a beautiful, authentic town (and has very reasonably priced places to stay). Maybe it’s a good thing that El Torcal and Antequera have escaped the main tourist circuit.
The best way to experience the awesome scenery is to get out on one of the walking trails. There are two marked trails that begin at the parking lot—the 1.5 km Ruta Verde (Green Route) and the 3 km Ruta Amarilla (Yellow Route). We did the latter and it was excellent. There’s also a 5 km trail that requires a guide, but we arrived too late in the day.
Following the Ruta Amarillo we were treated to a prehistoric-looking wonderland of gnarled and pillared rock formations.
What do you see in this piece of rock? Although the trails in El Torcal are not long, it’s easy to spend many hours admiring the scenery and taking way to many photos.
These pillared rock formations, or “tornillos” (screws) are probably the most distinctive structures in the park. We found some of the best examples while exploring the area opposite the car park.
Another surprise was the extent of animal life. Spectacular Griffon vultures circled above us and nimble mountain goats gracefully negotiated the challenging terrain. Apparently there is also a healthy population of reptiles, including the Montpellier snake, which can grow to 2 meters. I wasn’t too disappointed that we missed seeing this creature.
If You Go:
- Approximate driving time to the park from Antequera is 30 minutes, from Malaga about one hour, and from Granada one and a half hours.
- Park entry is free. There is a visitor centre with displays and facilities.
- The 1.5 km green trail and 3 km yellow trail are not difficult but the terrain is rocky and uneven and may not be suitable for young children and folks who aren’t sure-footed. Wear running/walking shoes.
- If you’re not a keen walker, the drive up to the park is alone worthwhile. The final photo above was taken from the side of the road. There are a few nice viewpoints very close to the visitor centre.
- If you have the time, spend a night in Antequera. Church lovers will be amazed by its 30 plus churches with fabulously ornate interiors (truth be told, we only visited one). The city’s architecture is a wonderful mix of Roman, Islamic, and Spanish influences. I couldn’t resist adding a couple of photos of Antequera (below).
- In Antequera, if you’re looking for delicious food and simple, inexpensive lodging, I can recommend Arte de Cozina. Try the pisto (Spanish ratatouille).