Spain | Peñon de Ifach - Is climbing Calpe Rock safe?

Calpe is a Mediterranean town on Spain's Costa Blanca, approximately a 30 minute drive North of Benidorm. The nearest airport is Alicante, but it's not much farther from Valencia in the opposite direction. It's popular with tourists and expats, thanks to it's pristine sandy beaches, and probably most visited by people climbing Calpe Rock, which dominates the coastal skyline.

Woman with plaited hair sat on the rocks at Penon de Ifach's summit, looking out over Calpe

What is Calpe Rock? Known as Penon de Ifach in Spanish, or Penyal d'Ifach in Valencian, this giant limestone rock emerges from the sea, and towers above the town's beaches at 332 metres high. Established as a natural park after a campaign in the 1980's, it's home to a multitude of rare flora and fauna, as well as over 300 animal species. Seabird colonies, and even peregrine falcons, are known to nest here.

When we visited in August 2019, access was free and unrestricted. However, I've recently read that booking is now required to hike to the rock's summit. There's now a limit of 300 people per day - possibly due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, but also to protect the natural environment.

Looking up to Penon de Ifach from sea level

Is climbing Calpe Rock safe? I'd read a bit about climbing Calpe Rock before our visit, and the route to the summit was often described as dangerous due to narrow, crumbling ground. The first part of the hike, which is signposted from the visitor centre, is fairly straightforward, with an easy to follow and reasonably wide path. This leads to a viewpoint, which takes in the town of Calpe, it's beaches, harbour and the salt lake in the centre. If you're not suitably prepared with good sturdy walking shoes, and plenty water, this is as far as I'd recommend going.

Soon a tunnel through the rock leads you to the other side of the Penon de Ifach, where the more strenuous walk begins. The ground in the tunnel is notoriously slippy, so chains are attached to the walls to provide support. I recommend using them!

Once through the tunnel, the path narrows dramatically, and becomes rockier as it climbs steeply. Red painted dots mark the route, and ropes are provided to hold onto at the most precipitous parts. It's not recommended to take children this far. We were prepared to turn back at any point, but honestly, we personally felt quite safe climbing Calpe Rock, and the breathtaking panoramic view from the top was well worth the effort! Of course this doesn't mean to say you'll feel the same, so always trust your gut and use your common sense if attempting this hike yourself. It's safety could be impacted by the weather, as well as your own health and abilities. 

It takes around 2-3 hours to complete the walk to the summit of Penon de Ifach and back. I'd recommend wearing proper hiking boots or trainers, carrying at least a couple of litres of water, and avoiding the hottest part of the day. Do not undertake this hike unless you have a reasonable fitness level, as well as some hillwalking and scrambling experience.

Red and yellow Spanish steps of Calpe

Are there more things to do in Calpe? There's lots of things to see and do in Calpe itself. The town is a reasonable size, with many shops and tourists facilities to make use of. Here are my top picks:

Playa del Arenal-Bol - The beaches are of course one of the main attractions of Calpe. This particular one has great views back towards the rock from the sands. Along the attractive promenade you'll find restaurants and cafes, souvenir shops and boutiques. There are paddleboards and jet skis for rent, and the beach has toilet facilities too.

Spanish steps - Somewhere in the midst of Calpe's Old Town you'll stumble across these vivid striped steps, painted the colours of the Spanish flag. Complimented by the white stone planters, traditional tiles and street art which line the walkway, they provide an excellent photo opportunity. They can be quite difficult to find, but you're looking for Carrer de Puchalt on Google Maps.

Old Town - Speaking of the Old Town, it's well worth heading here to explore the charming cobbled streets. Due to a constant threat of pirates reaching Calpe from the coast, the original fishing village was built on the hilltop surrounded by defensive walls. You can still visit the 15th century "Torreo de la Peca" defence structure today as it now houses a museum. Other attractions include the weekly Saturday market, the parish church of Nuestra Senora de las Nieves, and an impressive mosaic mural designed by artist Gaston Castello on the facade of the tourism office.

Salinas de Calpe - Set against a backdrop of high rise buildings, the Calpe salinas (or salt flats) sits right in the centre of the town, providing the perfect environment for flocks of migratory birds, namely flamingoes. The lake was of huge importance in Calpe up until the 18th century, with the salt being used to preserve food. A walkway around the salinas gives you the chance to admire the tall, pink birds.
Banos de la Reina - Once an ancient Roman fish farm, the "Queen's baths" are now an important archaeological site and tourist attraction. You can take a guided tour in the summer months, where you'll learn how these channels carved into the rock were used, and admire the well preserved mosaics of the Roman palace. I've heard you can take a dip in the pools but it's not clear if this is considered acceptable! 

Where to eat in Calpe?

Cacao - Passing this bright, welcoming restaurant on our way to the marina, we knew we'd be returning for lunch. Cacao serves a selection of Caribbean inspired tapas, and we enjoyed the most delicious crispy flautas with nachos and guacamole, whilst relaxing in the sun.
C. Isla de Formentera, 18, 03710, Calpe

We didn't have the chance to eat anywhere else in Calpe, but other recommendations included Maui Beach Bar at Levante beach, and Casa Mola Mola in the Old Town for seasonal tapas using the finest local ingredients. 

Gordon standing at the top of Penon de Ifash (Calpe Rock)

Whether your goal is specifically climbing Calpe Rock, or just visiting an authentic Spanish town, I highly recommend going to Calpe. It makes a great day trip from Benidorm or Alicante, with the nearby towns of Altea and Javea also being worth a visit. Let me know if you've climbed Penon d'Ifach in the comments below!

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