When it comes to Nerja, we often think of it as Marbella’s more laid-back cousin. It is a quaint town with a walkway along the shore, and its most grandiose attraction is the Balcony of Europe. However, not all the charms of the city are exclusively located on the edge of Playa Burriana or at the top of its rooftop bars.
The Nerja Waterfalls are, in fact, destinations of their own, worth exploring even if you’re staying outside the city. Both of them are not the most accessible and require a bit of effort on your part.
The first one is the Vado de Los Patos. The waterfall is located in Las Sierras de Tejeda natural park and is accessible by an 8 km walk along the river. Some parts of the walk are reminiscent of the famous narrows of Zion National Park in the US.
The second waterfall is the Cascada de Maro (which simply means the Maro waterfall). Unlike the Nerja River walk, it is not accessible on foot! It lies on the shoreline of neighboring Maro but can only be accessed by kayak. It’s 3 km from Nerja departing from the Burriana Beach.
- There are two Nerja waterfalls you can visit during your holiday on the Costa del Sol.
- The Vado de Los Patos can be reached by hiking approximately 8 km in the mountain range north of Nerja. It is the city’s most popular hike.
- The Cascada de Maro is a waterfall only accessible by kayak, located on the protected cliffs between Nerja and Maro. Canoes for kayaking in Nerja can be rented at Playa Burriana.
Nerja River Walk
The walk along the Rio Chillar takes you to another Nerja waterfall called El Vado de los Patos. This trek involves walking along the Chillar river, sometimes ankle-deep, covering a total of 16 km. The trail is quite straightforward: you walk eight km one way and then eight km back along the same path.
The route is unique due to the opportunity to walk along the riverbed and experience the impressive Cahorros and waterfalls. The walk on the trail is slow. Why, you ask? Well, even though the total elevation gain is only of 471 meters, walking in the river makes it a moderately tough hike.
Typically, you’ll be walking in ankle-deep water, although in certain years, it might be knee-deep. The water is cool but not freezing since it doesn’t come from the top of the Sierra Nevada; rather, it originates from a lower altitude.
What does Cahorros mean exactly?
The answer to that question wasn’t easy to find. It seems to be a word used only in southern Spain to describe a cliff or depression in the terrain carved by the flow of water. Much like a gorge?
It takes around 6-7 hours for the trip to and from El Vado de los Patos. Because it’s a long hike for a day, it’s better to start early to avoid crowds. As it’s an out-and-back trail, you can turn around whenever you like.
But don’t worry, it’s not too hard. Some even say kids can do it!
How to hike the Nerja River (Rio Chillar)
Hiking the Rio Chillar on your own
Doing the hike on your own is quite straightforward if you’ve read about it beforehand. That’s why I created this guide.
If you’re interested in learning more about hiking the Rio Chillar, exploring the Cahorros, and discovering the hidden Nerja waterfall within the gorge, you’ll find all the information you need below.
Hiking Los Cahorros del Rio Chillar with a guide
Some tour companies, like Travel Factory Andalucia, offer guided tours of the Rio Chillar.
However, since it’s such a simple hike, it doesn’t seem worth paying for the trip. You can also get a cab to the destination and ask for Rio Chillar; they will take you to the start of the trail. a piece of cake!
But of course, the guided tour is still an option.
Nerja river walk (Río Chillar) – Cahorros – Vado de Los Patos Overview
Let me give you an idea of the hike to El Vado de los Patos. You’ll see a landscape filled with the flora typical of the Malaga province and that it gets prettier as you walk along.
The description stops at the famous waterfall. But you can also keep walking on the trail to reach Cortijo del Imán, a spectacular hiking destination halfway between Nerja and Frigiliana.
Parking lot to the tercera fábrica
Starting from the parking lot, you’ll head towards the trailhead of the Rio Chillar.
After passing the barrier, you’ll be surrounded by nature. At this spot, you’ll see a small river that you can walk next to in the beginning.
At some point, you’ll reach what’s called the ‘third factory.’ To get to the path, you’ll need to climb down. If there’s been a lot of rain, the river might overflow, making things a bit trickier. Be careful while climbing as it could be slippery.
Tercera fábrica to Los Cohorros
From here, the scenery becomes greener and more lush. The river also gets wider.
After walking about four kilometers, you’ll come across the most captivating section of the trail: Los Cahorros. These ‘Cahorros’ are three narrow passageways in the mountain where the river flows through. Each one is more than twenty meters high. (For comparison, the Narrows of Zion National Park in the US are 450 meters high. While this hike might remind you of that, it’s definitely not the same.)
When you go over the narrow, there’s a pool about half a meter deep (it depends on how much rain there’s been). It’s a nice time for a rest and some food to get energy for the rest of the trek.
This is also good spot to decide if you want to keep going to the big pool, El Vado de los Patos. It’s around two hours from here. Lots of people turn back after the gorges because the path gets tougher.
Los Cohorros to the waterfall
After Cahorros, you can just keep walking until you get to the Vado de Los Patos waterfall. You can check its location on the map here.
What you need for the hike
- Bring the Right Footwear: It’s better to wear tennis shoes with socks to hike the Nerja river. (Even if they get wet, they will dry quickly!) Here’s why: if you wear open shoes, small rocks can get inside and bother your feet. Also, I wouldn’t suggest shoes with thin soles because the riverbed of the Rio Chillar river is rocky. The best option would be an old pair of sturdy hiking shoes. (Pssst! If you want new shoes, I really like these for hiking anywhere!)
- Don’t Forget your Walking Stick: It might not seem like it, but walking in a river for over 8 km can be strenuous. A walking stick is definitely something you’ll be grateful to have.
- Waterproof Bag or Backpack: Since you’ll be hiking in the river, don’t be surprised if some of your things get wet. The best way to keep your personal items (books, a change of clothes, food) dry is to have a (preferably waterproof) bag to carry your things.
Where to park to hike the Nerja River
There isn’t a proper Rio Chillar parking spot near the park entrance. (I read somewhere that this is the city’s way of managing the popularity of the hike.) The parking lots are situated in the vicinity of the Nerja market.
- This is where the hiking trail begins.
- There are two free parking lots available for use.
- The first one is Parking Mirto/Parking Municipal Nerja Calle Mirto (Google Maps).
- The second option is the municipal parking area Almijara-market (Google Maps). You can’t park here on Tuesdays because that’s when the market takes place.
From the parking lot, it’ll take around fifteen minutes to walk on a paved path to get to the beginning of the trail.
Is the Rio Chillar Walk Closed?
Update 2023: Due to the risk of fire in the region, it has been closed since August 9, 2023. Check if it is still the case when you go in Nerja. It would be a shame to miss this beautiful hike!
Want to explore more of Málaga?
Maro Waterfall (Cascada de Maro)
This Nerja waterfall is tucked away within the natural haven of Acantilados de Maro-Cerro Gordo. The arid and secluded limestone cliffs are what make a place like Nerja so special to me. It’s Europe’s answer to a tropical paradise. The beaches might be rocky, but the water glistens crystal clear.
Just to the east of Nerja is the picturesque hamlet known as Maro. Perched upon steep hillsides it offers breathtaking views of the Medditerreannean. This waterfall in one of the most enchanting natural wonders in the whole region. The proximity of the Cascada de Maro to Nerja makes it an ideal escape for nature lovers. The views along the coast are really amazing.
During your visit, you’ll get to see the Maro waterfall but also to explore some of the best parts of Maro. You’ll see the Maro ravine, the dramatic cliffs that outline the shoreline, and the inviting Maro cove. You can even go for a swim in the clear water. This is a great chance to try snorkeling in Spain.
How to go to the Maro Waterfall from Nerja
Rent a kayak on Burriana beach
You can easily go see the Nerja waterfall for yourself without needing a tour. If you want to go by yourself, you can rent a kayak or SUP at Burriana Beach.
The famous Maro waterfall isn’t the only thing to see; the journey is also quite amazing. There are many waterfalls and hidden spots around the cliffs for you to explore. You can also snorkel in various places along secluded coves until you reach the waterfall, which is a true wonder.
Also, you can visit the Cueva del Lobo Marino, which means the Cave of the Sea Lion. I’ll give you more info about that later.
Get on a kayak tour
On the flip side, when you’re in a foreign country, it can feel daunting to to try such an adventure on your own. You might feel more comfortable exploring Spain’s lovely nature with a guide. That’s why I’ve found two tour companies that can help you explore the Maro cliffs and see waterfalls near Nerja.
The two companies mentioned below offer a 2.5-hour trip that lets you discover the Maro cliffs by kayak and includes a visit to the Cueva del Lobo Marino when conditions are right.
Swimming from Playa de Maro
Starting from Maro’s sandy beach (find it on Google Maps), you can reach the waterfall without needing a kayak.
It does take some time to get there. But if you’re patient, you can swim there easily. If you worry about getting tired, you can bring a float (you can find one on Amazon) or something to rest on.
Did the Maro Waterfall disappear?
In the last few years, the water that used to flow in the Maro waterfall has been used for irrigation.
As a result, the waterfall might dry up if there’s no rain for a long time. Because of this, the waterfall might not look as impressive as the pictures you usually see of it.
Before you go specifically to the waterfall, it’s a good idea to ask a company that does tours or rents kayaks if there’s water in the waterfall. (Tip: Even if you’re doing the trip on your own, it’s always good to ask them. They’ll know.)
But even if there’s no water in the waterfall, the sea is still strikingly clear and it’s worth visiting.
Why should you visit the Maro cliffs anyways?
- The area is spectacular for doing SUP (or kayak!) due to its calm, turquoise waters, and beautiful rocky landscape.
- Calm water on rocky shores means fabulous visibility underwater. Don’t forget to bring your snorkeling gear; you wouldn’t want to miss out on the beauty beneath the surface.
- The sea lion cave is amazing and one of its kind in the region. You can even enter it with a kayak. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can climb up to the cave’s platform and even access the cave itself on foot. The best part is at the end: the cave offers a beautiful interior beach and and there’s a spot (like a bridge) where you can walk over the clear blue water — it’s absolutely wonderful.
Watch Out for Jellyfish! The route along the coast is beautiful, allowing you to enjoy the Costa del Sol’s coastline and marine life to your heart’s content. But be careful, there might be jellyfish in the water.
Remember to have a light and wear shoes. Some spots inside the Cueva del Lobo Marino are narrow and dark. Moreover, as you can imagine, climbing out of your kayak within a cave can be challenging. That’s why it’s usually best not to go into the cave without shoes and proper lighting, as this could become tricky. I suggest adventuring inside only if you’re with someone.
Nerja boasts, apart from its well-known attractions, two beautiful waterfalls that are worth checking out. This coastal town has more to offer than its calm reputation might make you think.