Walking to the majestic Tibi dam

Duration: about 90 minutes if you go to both the top of the Tibi dam and the bottom (recommended). The road to the base of the dam is tarmac and easy walking, if a little steep on a hot day. To reach the top of the dam, the footpath is narrow and stony – take good trainers or walking shoes. Directions and a map at the end of this post.

The men who built the Tibi dam clearly meant their work to last. And it has, for almost 450 years and counting. El Pantano de Tibi, up in the mountains behind Alicante, is one of the oldest working dams in Spain – in fact one of the oldest in the whole of Europe. Everything about it is immense.

The huge wall of stone that is el Pantano de Tibi (the Tibi Dam)

The gently-curving dam wall is wide enough to run a three-lane highway across the top if you had a mind to. And it’s a beautiful walk to get there through gorgeous mountain scenery, your path lined with fragrant rosemary bushes in flower in early summer.

The massive structure has survived more than four centuries – it’s about 20m wide at the top and even thicker at the base

You can get quite close with your car (see directions below). Park up off-road, dodge around the double gates that stop traffic going any further and head down the hill. After about ten minutes, you’ll reach a tarmac vehicle-turning area. Here’s where you decide whether to head for the top or the bottom of the dam.

Walk around the double gates which stop cars going any further and head downhill
Decision time – go up the hill to the left for the top of the dam, or follow the road straight on down to the bottom

Reach for the top!

I’d say go for the top first – so head off uphill to your left, past a half-ruined stone structure and follow a stony path which takes you over the ridge ahead.

Head past this ruined stone structure and follow the zig-zag path up the hill behind it.
Head up over the ridge ahead of you on this stone path. You can see the turning circle below in this photo.
Follow the paint!

There are no signs, but you’ll see white and yellow splashes of paint on the rocks from time to time to keep you on the right route.

After about 15 minutes you’ll see an abandoned building, which is where you’ll get your first good look at the dam and the huge lake behind it.

The first view of the dam and lake – full in spring 2022

It is truly impressive, especially if the lake is full, as it was after heavy spring rains in spring 2022. The immense effort in manhandling those massive blocks of stone into the narrow gorge, using nothing more than basic construction machinery and human sweat, is something to marvel at. Those 16th century engineers clearly knew what they were about.

Follow the path from the ruined building down to the side of the dam wall

The first stone was laid in 1580. To put that in perspective, Queen Elizabeth 1 was on the English throne, the USA didn’t exist for a further 200 years – and it took 14 years to construct.

But why was it built in the first place, and who was all that water for? Certainly not for the handful of villages in the hills around the dam. Nobody was that thirsty back then!

Who or what was all this water for? Read on…

Fascinating fact!

The customers for Tibi’s water were actually down on the coast, around Alicante. Just inland lay a fertile zone known as ‘la huerta (the garden/orchard) de Alicante’, because it was so productive.

But it needed a reliable source of water for irrigation, and the little river Montnegre wasn’t delivering enough. So King Philip ll authorised construction of the Tibi dam. By 1594, the waters were flowing, transforming the agriculture of the area.

These days, much of the old ‘huerta de Alicante’ is covered by modern high-rise blocks around Playa San Juan and Albufereta. Let’s face it, real estate is a lot more profitable than agriculture – but the dam still provides water for irrigation after more than four centuries.

On the dam wall

Head down to the side of the dam, alongside the spillway which takes overflow water out of the lake in a spectacular waterfall.  There’s a little chain across a rickety bridge that officially bars your way, but it doesn’t really stop anybody walking onto the top of the dam.

This bridge, with a chain across it, leads on to the top of the dam. If you do decide to cross, take extreme care

If you do decide to go past this point, be very careful. There’s a deep lake on one side and a 46 metre (150 ft) drop on the other, with a distinct absence of safety barriers. If there’s water on top of the dam wall, it can be slippery too. Not good for little kids or vertigo sufferers!

Water overflowing onto the top of the dam, spring 2022

If you do walk across the top of the dam, there’s a little platform cut into the rock on the other side which gives you a view across the sparkling blue lake. There’s also a very steep set of steps that will take you down the side of the dam to the bottom. Personally, I’d give them a miss. They didn’t look too safe to me and the long way round is a better walk anyway.

The steep stone stairs that lead down to the foot of the dam. My advice – avoid! No handrails!

Take in the views of the gorge below and the mountains surrounding the embalse (lake). When you’re done, head for the bottom of the dam for a very different perspective.

Below the Tibi dam

Retrace your steps until you find yourself back at the turning circle. Then simply follow the tarmac road downhill and across the Carlos IV bridge at the bottom of the valley.

Head downhill and cross the Charles IV bridge – the inscription on the plaque reads ‘Charles IV, Father of the Nation, had this bridge and road built, 1795’

There’s a no entry (in Spanish) sign next to the abandoned Ermita (chapel) de Divina Pastora. But there’s no-one to stop you following the narrow path to the foot of the dam for a neck-craning view of the sheer stone face of the dam wall. 

The 46 metre (150ft) high dam with overflow water cascading down the spillway and the narrow walkway to your right.

Alongside you, the water crashes down into the valley from the spillway high above. Maybe I have an over-active imagination, but you do get an eerie sense of the massive weight of water held back by the man-made stone cliff towering over your head.

The enormous stone slabs used on the face of el Pantano. The dam has had a few technical problems in its time – it was out of service for 3 years in 1601 and for 40 years in 1697

The water flows out into the Rio Montnegre/Monnegre (Black Mountain river), so called because the sediments in the valley below the dam turn the water a dark colour. It’s called Rio Verde – Green River – above the dam.

The Montnegre meets the sea at El Campello, but by that point it’s a dry barranco for most of the year. All the water has been used up by farming on the way down.

The lake behind the Tibi dam wall has a capacity of 4 cubic hectometres of water. If my maths are right, that’s 4 billion litres. But the lake has silted up over the centuries, so it’s probably a lot less than that now.

How to get to the Tibi Dam

From Alicante: about 40 mins inland by car. Head north on the A-7 toll-free motorway towards Alcoy, take exit 482 and turn right into the Mesón Maigmó service area.

Follow this sign out of the rear of the Mesón Maigmó service area

You’ll see a sign saying Pantano de Tibi. Follow the road past Finca Ronesa (an upmarket hotel/events place) for about 15 minutes until you can’t drive any further, as a pair of double gates bar your way. There’s a limited amount of off-road parking nearby.

Off-road parking just short of the double gates on the service road down to the Tibi dam

More dam walks!

Dams are great for mountain views and a hike round the lake – so try these other walks on the Costa Blanca:

© Guy Pelham

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