The view from the bottom of Garganta VerdeAs part of our week at the end of August with Clive & Sue (of  The Grazalema Guide and Wildside Holidays) we had permits for a visit to 'La Garganta Verde"' a “must do” for the more adventurous visitors to the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park.
The 'Garganta Verde' is a 400metre deep, limestone gorge with a Griffon Vulture colony at the top, 'La Ermita' a pink cave at the bottom and dramatic landscape at all points in between.

Mountain views on the Garganta Verde walk, photo by Eatock/Muir

 

The drive up to the car park along the CA-531Grazalema to Zahara road provides plenty of stunning panoramas for the photographer, and a sense of wonderment as to just how the many cyclists that use the route can possibly keep pedalling when the legs of mere mortals must surely be reduced to jelly!

Leaving the car park the path appears deceptively gentle and pretty much remains that way until you reach the Griffon Vulture colony. On route there are good views of Choughs, Blue Griffon Vulture flying along the limestone cliffs of the Garganta VerdeRock Thrush, Sardinian Warblers, Crag Martins and we were lucky enough to see a Short-toed Eagle surveying the scene from a rocky promontory.

The views from the Griffon Vulture viewing platform are excellent and will, with a bit of luck give photographers frame filling shots of these huge birds as they soar by at eye level. They really are close enough so that as they pass by you can hear the sound of the air rushing over their wings. It really is an amazing sight to see 30 or more of these birds in such a small area and so close, many of them perched on the cliffs in front of you, but do remember to respect the natural silence of your surroundings.

Of course the gorge has much more to offer than just the Griffon Vultures, that is merely the first course!

Resuming our descent, winding our way down the steep but well defined path, we came across several Two-tailed Pasha (Charaxes jasius) large striking butterflies with a restless flight, but seemingly more approachable on these slopes where you can look into the trees that are in effect growing below you.

 

As we dropped down the trail that clung ever more tightly to the side of the gorge, the walls of rock started to close in above us and the sky became visible only in letterbox format.
The intricate pattern of a Two-tailed Pasha butterfly (Charaxes jasius)
With the bottom beckoning we became acutely aware of the stench of rotting flesh and soon found the source, the corpse of a young Spanish Ibex that had perhaps slipped, falling into the depths of the gorge and was now slowly being devoured by maggots, at these depths having escaped the searching eyes of the Griffon Vultures.

Once you reach the bottom the floor is littered with huge boulders gradually diminishing in size as you walk northwards towards the pink cave. Numerous very large pink woodlice, superficially similar in structure to sea slaters, boldly scuttled over the rocks.

Stepping into the pink cave is like being transported to the landscape of another planet. The bottom of the gorge has cut through the cave, bathing it in a gentle light which gives the vast cavern the appearance of some huge film set for a Sci-Fi epic about Mars.
An large unidentified pink woodlouse amongst the boulders at the base of the Garganta Verde

 

The roof of the cave plays host to a group of rock doves and bats can be seen making short tentative flights during the middle of the day.

It is easy to lose a sense of scale at the bottom of the gorge, there are some well established trees growing near the mouth of the cave which seem to melt into the fabric of their surroundings. It was Adult trees in the mouth of 'La Ermita' caverncertainly something of a surprise that such a spectacular gorge didn’t have any hint of water flowing through it at the time of our visit.
The natural beauty of this lost world is something to be savoured and the sense of stillness & tranquillity that it evokes is priceless. So of course we lingered a while, soaked up the atmosphere and had our lunch.
(Note the person in the bottom right of the image below, this will give you a sense of the scale!)


The climb out of the gorge is definitely a long hard slog for Mr & Mrs Average fitness, particularly in the 40C temperatures that we found ourselves in. Frequent stops along the zig-zag path, searching out the few scattered spots of shade was very much the order of the day and taking plenty of water was an absolute must. But even in our struggle ever upwards the shear beauty & spectacle of our surroundings was always apparent, and of course the sense of achievement when we reached the top was immense!

All in all an unforgettable walk if you are prepared to dig deep and of course approach the whole thing sensibly carrying plenty of water, wearing a hat & a good pair of walking boots.
Many thanks to Clive & Sue, who were not only exceptional guides & perfect companions for this walk, but also organised everything from the permits to the ice packs, despite the fact that they had promised themselves never to do the Garganta Verde walk in August again!
La Ermita, a huge and colourful cavern at the base of the gorge

This article originally appeared on the Grazalema Guide at http://www.grazalemaguide.com/ a complete guide to this fantastic area.

Clive & Sue now run the VisitorCentre in the heart of the village of Grazalema.

Griffon Vulture in the clear blue skies over the Garganta Verde