"The feeling of being surrounded by nature at such a height is unexplainable," said Rosa García, who lost her vision many years ago. She was describing her experience this week as a participant in the Caminito del Rey's pilot tour customised for the visually impaired.
The project, which uses touch and smell to offer a sensory experience of the famous daredevil walkway around El Chorro gorge for those unable to see it, was first proposed by the site's management. The tailor-made route is the first of three different tours arranged in the coming months, as part of plans to make this tourist favourite more inclusive and "open to every kind of person", according to Paco Campano of the company that managers the Caminito on Tuesday.
Before starting the walk, the ten blind participants and their companions met with a guide, who helped to familiarise them with the route and the terrain, using a scaled-down model of the gorge. There, the guide described the Caminito for the walkers, comparing it to a "giant balcony that stretches along a vertical wall", and also spoke about the varieties of rock that can be found at the site. In addition the participants had the chance to touch replicas of items found in the area, such as clay pots and wicker baskets.
The first stop on the tour was the old hydroelectric dam where only the sound of the water could convey to the walkers the height of their location.
Later, where the security fence and walls narrow, the guide explained to the walkers that only the wooden footbridge was protecting them from a 50-metre drop to the ground. "Really? 50 metres?" Rosa responded, shocked, as she and the other walkers experienced a sense of vertigo.
Without doubt, the pilot tour was considered a success by both the organisers and the visually impaired participants. It was clear that the walkers enjoyed the experience as the feel of the rocks and the sound of the river, birds and wind all combined to provide them with a sensory picture of the Caminito.
Foreign visitors a majority
At a press conference held yesterday, the president of the provincial government, Elías Bendodo, announced that since reopening two years ago, the Caminito del Rey has welcomed 600,000 walkers. Of those, he added, approximately 420,000 were not from Spain, confirming the Caminito's reputation as an international tourist attraction.
The majority of the foreign tourists came from other European countries, with British visitors accounting for 20 per cent of the total number. However it was also revealed that visitors from countries further afield such as China, Canada and Costa Rica had experienced the thrill of the gorge-side walkway.