Monday, 19 December 2011

The Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama sink their bow in the sea, like a pirate ship frothing in the waves. The vertical walls and the elastic sea blend in a unique picture. The ship seems to be ready to pitch again, to ride the waves, as if the sierras wanted to escape their fate. The clash of the titans gives birth to the natural area of the Maro-Cerro Gordo Cliffs. It is an ambiguous, savage land forged by the erosive power of the sea and the robustness of the mountains sinking in it. It morphs following the whims of the sea, reinventing itself to create different, fickle landscapes. When the sea is calm, it shows a kind face. When it is rough, it shows a fiercer look. Let us leave solid ground to enter the whimsical world of the Blue Giant.

Zooming In

This coastal area is home to an amazing ecosystem and landscape. No Costa del Sol smoothness here: a unique place where the sea and the mountains get together in radical combinations of steep slopes and vital marine corners. The twists and turns of the rocks give rise to inaccessible clear-water, fine-sand beaches. So secluded are they that they can only be reached by connoisseurs, or by local hippies who like to spend even Málaga’s short winters amidst their reeds. Two hiking routes afford views of the cliffs from the coast and the mountains. However, the best place to look at and experience them is the sea: kayaking between stone walls, paddling down narrow paths, swimming in pools, snorkelling in coves, feeling the power of the sea beneath your feet… a unique experience. To write this article, I contacted Educare Aventura (Burriana beach, Nerja), an active travel company organising a wide range of activities, including kayaking tours of the cliffs (more info at But before the adventure, a few facts and figures.

Maro-Cerro Gordo Cliffs Natural Area

We are now in a SPAMI –a Specially Protected Area of Mediterranean Importance, as designated by the United Nations. It is a narrow coastal strip, 12km long and 1mi into the Alboran Sea (395 land and 1,415 sea hectares), spanning two provinces, namely, Málaga (Nerja) and Granada (Almuñécar). Its semi-arid climate makes it home to unusual species for a coastal area. In fact, it is the only place in the world where tree germander and box grow together. To them we should add Aleppo pines, the crops in the terraces of the cliffs, overlooking the sea, mastic tree, common juniper, carob trees, wild olives, European fan palms, Prosopis juliflora, and common sea-buckthorn. More curious species include sea rosemary, cliff immortelles, and sea fennel. However, one of the area’s greatest treasures is the marine flora: posidonia and marine phanerogams that are native to the Mediterranean. Posidonia share their narrow space with man, for indiscriminate fishing has pulled them out as if they were just grass. It is a pity, for they attract hundreds of endangered marine species, such as marine sponges, corals, sea anemones, and molluscs like limpets or noble pen shells. And there is more: the cliffs that sink into the sea house seagulls, ocellated lizards, kestrels, falcons, chameleons and, surprisingly enough, Spanish ibexes. If you go deep into the water, you can come across conger eels, grouper fish, sea bass, moonfish, moray eels, dolphins, and turtles. The rich variety of this marine-terrestrial ecosystem is unique in Málaga Province. To enjoy it, you can take a few hiking routes across the cliffs and down to the coves, reaching unspoilt rock beaches like Molino de Papel, woods like El Cañuelo, or sandbanks like Cantarriján. But looking at the cliffs at sea level is also worthwhile if you want to appreciate their height, granite mass, interplay with the sea –the sinuous way in which the Mediterranean lassoes the feet of the rocky giants and seems to be knocking them down. Our trip today will get us to the blue giant to show us the majestic cliffs of Maro-Cerro Gordo.

En el mar

A bright blue sky, only stained by a few gray clouds coming down from the mountains. A bright blue sea with gentle waves and crystalline water. This trip I made with the help of Educare Aventura. They gave me a kayak and some basic instructions to use it, a scuba-diving snorkel, and a three-hour guided tour for €15. In autumn and winter, tours depart at 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. at weekends (tides permitting). If you are in for a great sunset, the afternoon ride is your choice (full contact details and more info at I choose the morning tour (it is Saturday). After signing up and paying my fee, I meet the guides/instructors, José and Alberto, and my companions: a German family with two kids (a boy and a girl, probably under 10), a silent girl from some European country, and another man. While still on solid ground, we are shown how to paddle. Just the basics to enjoy our trip. It is so easy that it is apt for neophytes. Besides, if you get into trouble, there are the instructors to help you out. Our kayaks touch the Alboran Sea with their noses. It is a cool, stimulating morning. We are heading east, towards the impressive cliffs. We can make them out in the distance, standing against the sky and plunging into the sea. Under a wide array of arbitrary shapes, they look like sombre islands. Black-headed gulls glide overhead until the find an impossible hole to land in. Each stroke brings us closer to the cliffs and makes them look even more majestic. We can hear the waves beating against the rocks. We can see how the water has bored through the walls, piercing the granite at a patient and unflagging pace. First mythical landmark: Cascada de la Doncella, a delicate waterfall that resembles a water-drop film. I can picture the maid –or, better, mermaid– taking a bath, resting her tail on the rocks. We get closer to the edgy walls and feel their power as they loom in front of us. We touch the jutting rocks; they are as sharp as daggers. The waves are rougher now, and the sea beats our kayaks with a little more strength. It reaches every nook and cranny, filling them in and then emptying them in thunderous ebbing. I would not like to be here when the Mediterranean wakes up, wrapped in its sound and fury. The rocks and the waves make you feel so fragile… Pasaje del Silencio: a silent oasis in the middle of a boisterous landscape. We move on, paddling delicately, using our paddles to lean against the rocks. The open sea again, but close to the soaring cliffs. We can see the green crests high above, or the fences of the farming fields. Ochre, brown, and dark grey shades on the rock walls. Tiny coves where nostalgic men and women –survivors of the hippie movement– have built their houses with reeds. You can see them with their flapping clothes, staring at the deep-blue sea. The arbitrary shapes have given rise to formations with names of their own: “Gran Genital,” “Camaleón,” etc. Rocks carved by the sea and the wind. Two men are watching us from one of the cliffs. The seagulls keep flying overhead, squawking, landing on the rocky islands. There are places where the sea’s echo booms loudly. The rocks break the waves in a splashing show. Being in the precipices is a gratifying experience. You are aware of your presence in an almost inaccessible place, with the sea-through water under you kayak playing hide-and-seek with the rocks at the bottom, plus the sun and the salt residue. We stop at La Caletilla beach to regain strength. A few more hippie homes stand facing the sea. Some of their dwellers are lying in the sun. At the far end of the beach, a hand-made raft with a white sail. We talk about the landscape, active travel, Nerja, and kayaking in Málaga and Andalusia. We are told this was the setting of the famous scene in “Verano Azul” where Pancho cried, “Chanquete is dead! Chanquete is dead!” Back to the sea. Some of the rocks seem to be about to fall. The waves keep flooding secluded coves that seem to emerge out of nowhere. The cliff immortelles hang above our heads. Fresh watercourses flow into the sea, getting mixed with the salty water.. Next landmark: Cascada Grande. Water falling 15m in all its might. Our kayaks get closer to the waterfall, and Alberto encourages us to paddle under it. What a surprisingly splashing experience! Through the tube of the watercourse we can see two mountaineers, ready to go rappelling. José explains that in spring, when waterfalls are mightier, it is not possible to go under Cascada Grande. I look and listen. Then I look up. So many metres. It is really overwhelming. There are other secrets like this one in the natural area of the Maro-Cerro Gordo Cliffs. The peculiar combinations of the sierras and the sea lend magic to the place and give free reign to the imagination. On the way back, you can go scuba-diving and treasure hunting in the bottom of the sea. Fabulous creatures and posidonia all around. If you are brave enough, you can even explore Cueva del Lobo, the Wolf’s Cave. I paddle back slowly, savouring the trip, wrapped in bright noon sunlight. I take a look at the crops, at the goats balancing atop the cliffs. I can see La Maroma behind the clouds, as high as 2,068m. Nerja is coming closer, or we are coming closer to Nerja. Someone at the Balcony of Europe may be looking at us. Maybe it is the egregious effigy of King Alfonso XII. As Burriana beach gets larger, we gather momentum and paddle towards the seashore. The noses of our kayaks kiss the sand. Grrrrssss. Grrrrsssss. We are on the beach. We get out. We take pictures. Click. Click. The sea is all smiles behind us.


The wind howls in the rocks; the waves break against the cliffs. A white sail flaps in the near horizon –too weak a structure for the mighty Mediterranean. A long-haired, rough-bearded man clothed in rags is the captain. He gets around a rocky outcrop and heads for the open sea. A modern Robinson Crusoe. He leaves La Caletilla beach, the impervious cliffs, and the crystal-clear water of Maro behind. He will be back. And so will I.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Useful links: All the information on the Maro-Cerro Gordo Cliffs can be found in the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Government of Andalusia, A Visitor’s Window Into Natural Areas. To read about Nerja, check the Nerja Town Hall website and the corresponding entry in this blog: 93 NERJA: Intensely Blue. Finally, to contact Educare Aventura, go to the corporate website.

Images: Here you can see all the photos of this blog entry.

Geolocation: Find the exact location of this Natural Area on the Google map below.

Ver El Color Azul del Cielo "Espacios Naturales de Málaga" en un mapa más grande