Walking up to the spectacular Elche Dam

Duration: about 20-30 mins each way from the car park to the foot of the dam. Mostly easy walking on dirt footpaths, some steep steps. Climb the staircase alongside the dam wall for a longer walk along the lake shore. Some shade by the river bank. Water and good walking shoes recommended. Directions and map at the end of this post – jump right to it here.

Water spills over the top of the Elche Dam, even after a drought-filled summer

Perhaps the best thing about the walk up to the Elche Dam (El Pantano de Elche) is the sound of water. In a parched landscape like the Costa Blanca in high summer, it’s a real treat to hear cool, fresh water burbling happily alongside the path as you walk.

And when you get up to the dam itself, there’s a spectacular curtain of water cascading over the top and crashing into the valley of the Rio Vinalopó below.

Even in the bone-dry summer of 2022, when reservoir levels all over Spain were shrinking by the day, the lake behind the Elche Dam stayed full. The water continued to spill over the top as per usual.

A little history

The Elche dam has been holding back the waters of the Rio Vinalopó for the best part of four centuries. Construction work began in 1632; apparently it was the first dam of its type to be built since the Romans ran Spain. Civil engineers call it an arched dam, which relies partly on its curved shape to hold back the water.

Among other things, the dam helped irrigate El Palmeral de Elche, the biggest grove of palm trees in Europe. Well worth a look if you have time to spare in Elche.

A ceaseless curtain of water!
Check out my video highlights here!

El Pantano de Elche has had a few problems in its time though. A major flood in 1793 put it out of action for more than 50 years.

And in 2008, vandals destroyed the sluice gate. The result – 450 million litres of muddy water behind the dam came flooding out and made a fair old mess of the landscape. See a news story from the time here.

The river also used to generate hydro electricity; you can still see the installation just below the dam.

The old hydro-electric plant at the base of the dam

The route to the Elche dam

The trail follows the valley of the Rio Vinalopó and it’s a relatively easy walk to the base of the dam. There are a few steep and rocky bits – I’d guess it gets a bit muddy and slippery in places during wet weather.

You’re never far from the sound of cool, fresh running water on your way up to the dam

There are handrails in the tricky sections and wooden bridges where the path criss-crosses back and forth over the river. Posts with arrows keep you on the right path.

New-ish wooden bridges take the path back and forth across the river
A tranquil section of the Rio Vinalopó. Cool running water is a rarity in high summer!

The dam itself is spectacular. A 22 metre sheer wall of stone built around an enormous rock formation slap bang in the middle. You can get right up close to the dam wall to see (and hear!) the water crashing down from above.

Your first view of the dam – spectacular or what?

Head up the steep stone staircase to your right which takes you up to the top of the dam itself.

The steep stone staircase that takes you up the side of the dam to the lake above

Walking around the lake

Once you’re at the top of the dam, there’s a floating platform which gets you started on a walk along the lake shoreline.

Take the walkway to start your stroll around the lake
The top of the dam with water cascading over the wall into the valley below

The lake is now a nature reserve, with thick banks of rushes lining the shore and plenty of bird life.

The thick banks of rushes growing along the shoreline of the lake

Full disclosure – I only went part of the way around the shoreline path, as far as the multi-arched Viaducto de Prospero Lafargo. It’s a peaceful stroll, spoilt only by the regular drone of aircraft taking off from nearby Alicante airport.

The viaducto carries the Canal de Desviación (Bypass Channel), built in the early 20th century. The water supply from the Elche dam lake had become brackish and wasn’t as good for irrigation. So the Canal brought water from the river Vinalopó higher up the valley, bypassing the dam altogether.

The Viaducto de Prospero Lafargo – named after the engineer who built it in the early 20th century.

How to get to the Elche dam

Head for the Explanada del Pantano de Elche a few kilometres north of Elche city. Explanada sounds a bit posh, but it’s really just a huge dirt parking area.

If you’re driving, leave the car here and it’s about 20-30 mins stroll to the dam.

Car park at the Explanada de Elche. Your path to the dam starts on the far side of this photo.

A longer walking route takes you from el Molí del Real in the centre of Elche along the river Vinalopó up to the dam. We haven’t done this one yet!

More dam walks

Dams are great places for a walk – beautiful blue water and spectacular mountain scenery. Try these:

© Guy Pelham

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