Penon de Ifach Calpe’s stunning Rock Tower

Penon de Ifach is noticeable the moment you get near Calpe as it thrusts 332m into the towering over the landscape. Surrounding the other side of the Penon de Ifach is the Mediterranean Sea as it sticks out into the ocean. Not only is the large calcareous rock the landmark of Calpe and surrounding towns, but it is also a great natural mountain that begs to be explored and climbed. As a treat, those who are brave enough to take on the trek are rewarded with unparalleled views of the bay and the town from its top.

View from penon calpe costa blanca

Photo kindly supplied by Outbound Adventures

The Penon de Ifach is found within the Penon de Ifach nature reserve, which is a protected natural area of just over 45 hectares. In fact, the park is one of the smallest nature reserves in Europe as most of the actual park is made up of the large Penon de Ifach rock. Despite the size, the thrill of climbing to the top and exploring the land allows it to attract, more than 100,000 visitors a year. While the locals would never say it, many British expats and visitors often refer to it as the Mini Gibraltar due to its unique charm and the fact that The Rock of Gibraltar is the only other significant ‘ Penon rock formation’ in Europe.

The actual Penon de Ifach is a huge rock that is made out of limestone that rose up from the sea. Over possibly thousands, or ten’s of thousands of years, the rock inked to the shoreline by sediment and debris that fell off the rock eventually forming a bridge from the rock to the shore. It is much more than just a rock however as it is now host to its own ecosystem and is the home of many different animals as well as flora and fauna.

Ancient Iberian village Penon de Ifach

More than just a hiking site and a landmark, the Penon de Ifach has a rich history over which it has served many different purposes for those who lived nearby. Prior to the arrival of Christianity in the 4th or possibly 3rd centuries, at the foot of the Penon de Ifach sat an Iberian village. By Roman times this same settlement had moved further down to the isthmus joining the rock to the actual mainland. There are some findings from both sides of the rock however that suggest that the rock was inhabited by people throughout the Middle Ages so clearly not all settlers moved away.

Ancient Iberian village Penon de Ifach

Due to its height, the Penon de Ifach was a popular landmark used by mariners over many centuries. It also doubled as a watchtower since it offered a great lookout point that spanned over the sea to keep an eye out for invaders and pirates. It also allowed for a great view out over the villages to see if intruders were coming by land. However, even though the vantage point was ideal, attacks from the sea continued to ensue, forcing those who lived on the side of the mountain to withdraw to the village of Calpe.

For a great time the village of Calpe actually owned the Penon de Ifach and it was considered a part of the village. However, it became privately owned in 1872. Ownership passed from owner to owner for a few decades until the Generaitat Valencia Authority purchased the rock and the land surrounding it in 1987. Shortly after its purchase the authority declared that it would become a nature preserve and be fully protected.

Calpe rock

As mentioned earlier, Penon de Ifach has a very unique ecosystem and is home to a lot of different fauna and flora. Included in the many varieties of wildlife are endangered and rare species. This is one of the many reasons why the entire area is now considered a protected nature reserve. One thing interesting about the mountain is that it features different wildlife based on the altitude of the mountain.

Calpe attractions

Close to the base of the Penon de Ifach are many plants that are common to the Mediterranean area, but as you travel up the mountain in elevation the plants start to have more in common with what you find in Alpine locations. Along the crevices and ledges of the rock face are many rare and almost extinct species such as the Thymus Webbianus, Silene hifacensis, and Rock scabies.

Rare Birds and Animals

The mountain is also filled with a wide array of fauna many of which are reptiles or birds. There are over 60 bird species that congregate and nest on the mountain during different seasons of the year. Some of the most common include the peregrine falcon, winter wren, pallid swift, and the shag. As mentioned, there are many reptiles on the mountain such as Montpellier snakes and occelated lizards along with mammals like the shrew, hedgehog, and rabbit.

Calpe Island rock

The Red Route

There are several ways to walk up Penon de Ifach depending on your level of ‘climbing’ ability. Most tourists that simply want to reach the top choose to follow the Red Route pathway. The pathway starts at the information centre and goes up the north side of the rock. There are eight points of interest that you will come across as you walk up the pathway and there are several scenic overlooks that you should stop at for some views that you will never forget. Included in the list of designated points of interest are the remains of an Iberian village, tunnel, guard post, Western vantage point, windblown pines, fork, summit, the Botanist Cavanilles vantage point.

 Calpe attraction penon_de_ifach

The pathway can generally be considered as two sections. The first section is the winding path that leads its walkers up to the tunnel, and the second section would be the walk once you pass out of the tunnel. The first portion leading up to the tunnel is steep but the ground remains mostly even. However, once you get out of the tunnel the walk becomes much easier. The rocks on the floor of the tunnel have been worn super-smooth by generations of visitors, so take very great care when passing through it. Be warned however that due to ha lack of tree cover the walk can be humid and hot in the summer months so it is important to pack a lot of water.

Tunnel trough Penon Calpe Costa BlancePhoto kindly supplied by Outbound Adventures

Western Vantage Point

There are two vantage points that are marked along the path. The first is the Western Vantage Point which is found close to the start. The second point is much higher up the trail and is called the Botanist Cavanilles Vantage Point. Both of the vantage points look over the coast and surrounding area off to the West. While walking along the path you will also walk by an Iberian village that dates back to the 3rd century BC and there are also pine trees that are known as the windblown pines. These pines grow in many different shapes because of the wind that is constantly pummelling them. Just the walk alone is scenic as it features a shady landscape that is lush and covered with various lichens and polipody ferns as far as the eye can see.

Calpe and Penon Ifach

Towards the end of the winding pathway is a tunnel that allows hikers to pass through the Penon de Ifach so that they come back out at the north-east side. Trainers or hiking boots are the best choice because the rocks can often be slippery and rough on unprotected feet. Once you pass through the tunnel you will be treated to a small vantage point that allows you to look out over Fossa Beach. Take a minute to look out over the beach and catch your breath because the trail is going to alter greatly and become much more narrow and slippery.

Guard Post vantage point

Once you are out of the tunnel the trail splits at a place that is accurately called the Fork. One of the paths at this point will lead to the Guard Post vantage point where you can look out over the sea and pretend to be from an ancient civilization on the lookout for pirates. This trail leads to a small lookout platform and is a shorter and easier way to still receive panoramic ocean views. If you are already winded this is likely the best choice for you or anyone in your group that may be lagging a bit behind. However, those who are ready for a challenge will want to continue up the path that leads to the summit. This is the toughest part of the trail but it comes with the best reward: views that reach from Calpe to Serra Gelada and even to the Punta de Moraira. It is an experience that you will never forget.

Penon climb hike

Obviously the spring, and autumn months are the best time to walk up Penon de Ifach, but it is a good idea to plan a walk for the morning or evening hours so that you do not have to contend with the midday heat especially in the summer months. The lush trees cause the heat to be very humid and suffocating at times if you hike up it during the midday. This is even truer during the summer since Calpe in general can reach very high temperatures well into the thirties and even more on the exposed rock.

Clouds seen from top of Penon de Ifach Calpe Rock costa blancaPhoto kindly supplied by Outbound Adventures

Those with an adventurous side can also choose to ascend the mountain by taking one of the many sport routes that Penon de Ifach offers to climbers. There are several different grades found on the mountain and the most popular routes are well geared since they are frequently climbed by tourists. However, there is loose rock from time to time so climbers are told that it is a good idea to proceed with caution and always climb with a helmet on.

Climbers Paradise

Climbers often consider the Penon de Ifach paradise, and with good reason. The edges do not disappoint and there are a variety of routes so that you can scale the rock several times for a completely different experience. There are two main climbing areas on the rock. The South Face of the Penon is considered the more difficult of the two as it is a huge orange wall that rises way up above the sea. The South Face is covered in overhangs, caves, and groove systems and therefore is a very engaging climb. A lot of the longer climbing routes traverse over this face and then wind through the rock architecture until they complete at the summit.

Torre_campanar_de_l'església_penon_d'Ifach

Those that are not quite up to the same challenge usually turn to the North Face area. Here are many lower grade challenges that require some gear and an early start to complete. Of course, there are also sport routes and these are also found on the North Face.

Penon Calpe's Rock view from basePhoto kindly supplied by Outbound Adventures

The North Face looks out over the inland and hangs over the visitor centre of the park. The only thing about the North Face is that it cannot be climbed from April 1st to June 30th because this is the period when birds nest on the rock.

calpe birdwatching _peñón

Overall the Penon de Ifach offers variable quality rock, but there is loose material to be careful of, that is found in more abundance towards the lower pitches. As mentioned earlier, due to the loose rock it is a good idea to always have a helmet on while climbing. The best way to get around rockfalls while climbing is to get to the cliff during the morning hours since there will be less people above you. Of course, if you are on the top you need to be careful and aware that teams will be climbing under you.

Penon Calpe view of calpe from summit

Photo kindly supplied by Outbound Adventures

For a leisurely ascent you should plan on spending at least five to six hours on all of the climbing routes. Some people who choose tougher routes such as the Gomez-Cano can spend as much as 11 hours on their ascent.

Javea to Ifach Calpe 35 minutes, 25 Km’s

It is very easy to get to the Penon de Ifach via the A7 motorway or the N-332 trunk road. The mountain route from Javea on the N332 via Benissa and the CV-745 leads you to a sudden and spectacular view of the rock from high above Calpe town. As soon as you actually reach Calpe you will have no problems finding Penon de Ifach as there are plenty of signs that will direct you to it, and if you cant see a sign just look up. A large car park is found at the base of the rock, but during busy times of the year you may need to go to the overflow parking lot near the harbour.

View from summit Penon de Ifach Calpe costa blanca

Before leaving to walk or climb the Penon de Ifach there are a few things that you should know. First of all, you should always follow marked paths or climbing routes to ensure that you do not get lost on the rock. You also should always wear hiking boots or at least trainers because of the difficulty of the trail. If you are not wearing proper footwear then you should not go any farther than the tunnel.

Man Walking cliff edge Penon de Ifach CalpePhoto kindly supplied by Outbound Adventures

The Penon de Ifach is carefully protected so there are no facilities on the rock. Therefore, you need to take some time to plan before you begin your ascent. In addition to your hiking boots you will want to make sure that you pack sun cream, drinks, and snacks. Young children and those in wheelchairs will not find the mountain accessible. There are also guided tours that are offered for those who are hesitant to tackle the mountain on their own. Plan to spend at the very least an hour to reach the top.

Leave the Plants Alone

As you walk along the climbing routes or paths be respectful of the animals and plants. Do not disturb them and do not feed them even though it may be tempting to do so. There is no camping, smoking, fire, or bicycles allowed within the nature reserve. If you choose to take your pet along with you then you should keep it on a lead at all times and clean up after it. Be aware that that path can also be strenuous for a pet so if your pet does not often go on treks it may be best to leave him or her at home.

Calpe stunning rock

Finally, remember that the Penon de Ifach is part of a nature reserve. Therefore, you need to pay it the same respect you would any other protected nature area. This means that you should not litter and use the waste bins if you need to dispose of trash. Also remember to be respectful to all of those in the park that includes people and animals. Appreciate the silence and natural sounds that dot the park as you climb up to the summit. Also, for your own safety follow the opening times of the park and do not enter after dusk so that you do not end up injured.

Be Careful

I once spent three hours watching a man cling to the rocks a couple of hundred meters above the ocean. A rescue helicopter approaching the rock, and hovering, and flying away again and again, as the up-drafts tried to throw it into the rock-face. Eventually the climber was rescued, but you need to take the accent of The Ifach seriously to avoid a helicopter trip to hospital. If you are careful, and take your time, and stick to the designated paths, all will be well.

Strangely this was not the guy I saw being rescued

Strangely this was not the guy I saw being rescued

While in Calpe you may consider spending an extra day or two exploring the area. The lovely old Spanish village has plenty of villas that can be rented and a local beach that you can easily relax at after your vigorous climb. Calpe also offers plenty of shops, bars, and old Spanish churches to wander through. Make sure to try some of the local food and mix with the locals while there to get the full experience.

 

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