Sierra de Grazalema is a little known gem for hikers with green valleys, deep canyons, and craggy mountains. El Pinsapar trail is one of the best hikes in the area. Here’s all you need to know.


Sierra de Grazalema, in the centre of Andalucía, is dotted with deep canyons, lush green vistas and craggy mountains. In early spring, while many of Europe’s hiking areas are covered in snow, this corner of southern Spain is beckoning hikers on trails bathed in sunshine and framed with colourful flowers.

It’s the perfect time for European hiking.

And one of the best paths in the park is El Pinsapar trail. This half-day hike climbs a ridge with excellent views over Andalucía before sinking into the coolness of the forest. A forest which is a little special since it houses the unique Spanish fir called pinsapo which can only be found here and in the Moroccan Rif.

But it’s not just botanical jewels you’ll find on this excellent half-day hike. Keep your eyes peeled for deer, ibex and a myriad of birds.

Here’s everything you need to know including how to obtain permits for the hike.

To cap it off, Tre Cime has some of the best-positioned rifugios to stop for a refreshing beer along the trail.

Here’s what you need to know.

HIKING EL PINSAPAR TRAIL OVERVIEW


SUMMARY / A half-day hike for fine views before plunging into forest

DISTANCE / 5.5 km each way – 11 km in total

TIME / 4 hours for the complete round trip

ELEVATION / 700m descent and 700m ascent

DIFFICULTY / Easy – medium

HIKERS / Mark & Paul

HIKING EL PINSAPAR TRAIL

The start of the el Pinsapar trail carried an overly dramatic sign that warned us we were about to embark on an extremely difficult walk that can be treacherous in challenging conditions. It’s hard to imagine that this beautiful hike on clearly marked paths could be considered treacherous in any conditions, but with not a cloud in the sky, we set off.

The trail slowly wound its way up under a canopy of towering pine trees. Dappled light illuminated the carpet of pine needles underfoot; softening our step and invading our senses with the scent of fresh pine.

After half an hour, we made it to the top of a ridge. A noisy Spanish school group marvelled at the views: the dramatic peak of San Cristobal; the craggy buttresses of El Torreón; and shimmering white towns breaking the swathes of dark green forest.

We followed the path left, contouring the steep slope of the mountains halfway between the summits and the valley floor. We weaved through pink flowers, yellow gorse and green shrubs as the views expanded around us. After an hour we left the warmth of the sun behind and entered the shady coolness of the forest.

EXPLORING THE PINSAPO FOREST

Under the confines of the Pinsapos, the sounds of the forest came to life. Birds twitted in trees, tiny lizards scraped over rocks and deer rustled leaves in the distance. We were surrounded by the rare pinsapo fir. A perfect cone shaped tree with sharp bristles and small red berries. The botanical jewel of this park and the reason it was made a biosphere reserve.

An hour and a half after leaving the car park, still deep in the forest, we reached the highest point of the walk at 1310m. Next, we dropped steeply and crossed small cuttings that must be a tumult of water after rain – bouncing downwards on a carpet of pines.

We arrived at a clearing with two benches sitting in the sun calling our names.

From the car park to the clearing, El Pinsapo is an excellent short hike. With varied scenery, interesting flora and spectacular views from the top of the ridge across Andalucía, it’s one not to be missed on your next trip to this beautiful part of Spain.

PERMIT FOR HIKING EL PINSAPAR TRAIL

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 on El Pinsapar trail at all.

In the other months, a permit is required.

Permits can be obtained in person at either the El Bosque or Grazalema visitors centre. Obtaining a permit 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 visitor’s centre. Tell them the date you intend to walk, the name of the route (El Pinsapar), the number of walkers and one passport number.

The permit usually needs to be collected in person from the visitor’s centre. However, if you ask them nicely they may email or fax the permit to you. Please be aware the visitor’s centre staff speak very limited English. If you don’t speak much Spanish, being understood on the phone can be a challenge.

If you are doing multiple hikes on your trip, like the Garganta Verde, you must specify the days you intend to do each walk.

All the permits are free.


El Bosque Visitor’s Centre / 10:00 – 14:00 everyday | Phone: +34 956 709 733 | More: See their website

Grazalema Visitors Centre / 10:00 – 14:00 & 15:00 – 17:30 Tue – Sun | Phone: +34 956 132 052 | More: See their website

TRAIL CONDITIONS FOR HIKING EL PINSAPAR TRAIL

The El Pinsapar trail is very clear and easy to follow (unless there is snow on the ground). There is 700m of ascent and descent so it requires some effort, but at no point is the path particularly steep or challenging. It’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other.

It takes 2 hours to reach the clearing with the benches. You could continue on the path, which drops steeply to the village of Benamahoma, but buses from Benamahoma to Grazalema only run early in the morning and late at night, so you will probably need to take a taxi back.

We suggest you hike back the way you came. Allow about 4 hours for the entire round trip.

EL PINSAPAR TRAIL MAP

A 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 also provides maps in his excellent hiking book detailing the best path around the mountains of Ronda and Grazalema.

To save this map, click on the star to the right of the title – this will save the map to: YOUR PLACES -> MAPS in Google Maps.

WHAT TO TAKE ON EL PINSAPAR TRAIL

The El Pinsapar trail is not long or difficult but good solid walking shoes are always a good idea.

Half the walk is spent in the sun and the other half is in the shade of the forest. Wear sun block and a hat to help protect from that sizzling Spanish heat. However, in the forest it can get quite cold, so bring some layers to rug up a little.

There are no refreshments on the route so make sure you have some water and some snacks to give you an energy boost for the 2-hour walk back.

Take a camera and, if you are a bird-watcher, a pair of binoculars.

Don’t forget your permit!

BEST TIME TO HIKE EL PINSAPAR TRAIL

You cannot hike the El Pinsapar trail in summer (01 June to 15 Oct) because the park authorities shut the area due to high fire risk. In our opinion, the best time of year to do the El Pinsapar trail is throughout April and May. At this time, the glorious wild flowers 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 hike can be done any time of day, but the light is better for photographs in the morning and evening, and you should probably try to avoid any extreme temperatures.

HOW TO GET TO EL PINSAPAR TRAIL

The El Pinsapar trail is in Sierra de Grazalema, a natural park which is a 1-hour 30-minute drive from either Seville or Malaga.

The trailhead begins at a car park located just past the 3km marker on the CA-9104, which runs from Grazalema to Zahara. This is a magnificent windy mountain road and well worth traversing during your stay.

There is no public transport to the trailhead. You will either need your own car or take a taxi (+34 666 842 973).

WHERE TO STAY FOR HIKING EL PINSAPAR TRAIL

The closest places to the El Pinsapar trailhead 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. However, it’s not blessed with the most dramatic of locations. Grazalema sits in picture-perfection at the base of some beautiful craggy mountains, but the whole town goes to bed very early with few options for grabbing a bite much after 7 pm.

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.

If small villages don’t do it for you, consider heading to Ronda, a beautiful larger town a 40-minute drive away.

BOOK YOUR STAY

WHERE NEXT?

There are a number of great hikes in this very scenic part of the world. Just north of El Pinsapar trail, lies our favourite walk in the area, the Garganta Verde. A magical hike into a plunging 400m deep canyon. To the west lies El Torreón, the highest peak in the park at 1654m. It’s a short 1 hour and 40-minute ascent for some truly glorious views over Andalucía, Gibraltar and sometimes, Africa.

If you are in the area make sure you check out the best white villages, as well as a rather unique blue one, before heading to the magnificent historical cities of Seville, Granada or Córdoba.

HIKING EL TORREÓN

HIKING GARGANTA VERDE

SPENDING A DAY IN CÁDIZ

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Sierra de Grazalema is a little known gem for hikers. Its green valleys, deep canyons, craggy mountains and white towns are a joy. And El Pinsapar trail is one of its finest. Here is all you need to know. #elpinsapar #grazalema

Sierra de Grazalema is a little known gem for hikers. Its green valleys, deep canyons, craggy mountains and white towns are a joy. And El Pinsapar trail is one of its finest. Here is all you need to know. #elpinsapar #grazalema

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