Thursday, 18 February 2021


El Torcal de Antequera
El Torcal de Antequera is a nature reserve in the Sierra del Torcal mountain range south of the city of Antequera, in Andalusia, Spain. 

From the tops of the hillsides, you can see far into the fertile grazing lands of the province of Málaga. 

There are numerous hiking routes throughout the park, some for serious walkers and climbers, as well as for those who might prefer a more gentle meander. 

El Torcal is known for its unusual landforms and is regarded as one of the most impressive karst landscapes in Europe. Karst topography forms from the dissolution of soluble rocks like limestone, dolomite, and gypsum. It often has underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves. 

Water loves to dissolve the softer rocks but it works its erosional magic on harder, more weathering-resistant quartzites given the right conditions. El Torcal has many wonderful caves and thousands of chasms for the small animals living in this area to call home. Some are quite small, while others are large enough to be explored. The rock we see at El Torcal formed over several hundred million years. 

About 200 million years ago, much of Europe and the Middle East were submerged under the Tethys Sea. 

This was a time of carbonate sedimentation as the skeletons, shells and shells of small marine animals lived and died, depositing their remains at the bottom of the sea. 

Over vast amounts of time, these wee bits of marine matter built up until 175 million years later, the sediments have built up and compacted to form strat thousands of metres deep. 

Towards the Middle Miocene, the Iberian plates to the north of the Tethys Sea and the African plates to the south, compressed, deformed and fractured those sediments. This process is slow and continuous and still continues today. Water, wind and ice continue to shape the landscape and present the continually eroding karst landscape you can hike through today at El Torcal de Antequera.

El Torcal Natural Park is a UNESCO site. Hiking through the hills, you can see the large mushroom-shaped folds, with a very wide upper part and horizontal layers, and short and abrupt flanks. Karst acts as a large sponge, storing rainwater and releasing it within the rock to encourage the limestone to dissolve. 

Gravity pulls the water down and it trickles out again as streams along the edge of the cliffs. One of the sites that the water gathers is in the Nacimiento de La Villa spring on El Torcal's north side.

El Torcal, Karst Topography

Along with its distinct hoodoos, sprinkled amongst the limestones, you will find a wealth of interesting plants and wildlife. Look for lilies, red peonies, wild rose trees and thirty varieties of orchid.  

The many species of reptiles include the Montpellier snake and ocellated lizard, both endemic to El Torcal. 

Other wildlife to look for are the resident Griffon vultures and Spanish Ibex, Andalusian mountain goats, voles, fox and rabbits. If you are here in the evening, look for some of the nocturnal mammals who call these hills home — badgers and weasels.

The park has an excellent Visitor Centre which makes a natural starting point for your exploration of the reserve. There you will find details about the park, parking and walking routes. Guided walks are available, including the popular ‘Route of the 5 Senses’, a night-time ‘El Torcal Under Moonlight’ walk and a fossil-hunting walk, Route of the Ammonites. The visitor centre includes a very reasonably priced restaurant which offers a good selection of traditional food, all made with locally sourced ingredients.

For those who might enjoy some sightseeing in the heavens, this area of Spain has extremely favourable conditions for stargazing and astronomy. The Astronomical Observation of El Torcal (OAT) is located within the park. They host regular observation evenings that take advantage of the lack of light pollution in this region.  

Places to Stay: Finca Gran Cerros Rural Retreat: The epitome of tranquil, rural Spain, Finca Gran Cerros nestles into the Andalusian hillside just a few minutes drive from the traditional white villages’ of Álora and Valle de Abdalajis. Visit them: Fina Gran Cerros is about 30 km south of El Torcal de Antequera nature reserve in the Sierra del Torcal mountains.