Commonly known as the Malaga or Ardales "Lake District", these are three stunningly beautiful turquoise lakes bordered by lush green pine forests: a tranquil retreat where you can swim, boat, fish or picnic on the shores.
The Ardales Lakes lie between El Chorro and Ardales and are made up of three artificial lakes, or reservoirs, created by a dam 200 metres high. The Guadalhorce River is host to an impressive and dramatic gorge at El Chorro, which is where the dam was built.
The lakes were created as reservoirs known as Embalse del Guadalhorce, Embalse del Guadalteba and Embalse del Conde de Guadalhorce. They are nestled in this stunning area of outstanding beauty close to El Chorro and the Caminito del Rey, and within the boundaries of the Natural Park area called Desfiladero de los Gaitanes. Only one of the reservoirs, the Conde de Guadalhorce, is actually in the municipality of Ardales – the two others are in the municipalities of Teba, Campillos and Antequera.
These reservoirs ("embalses") were hugely important as sources of electricity and were built as demand in the Malaga region increased.
Any time of year is a good time to visit the lakes - the climate here is good all year round. When it's hot you can cool down in the crystal clear water and it's a sheltered spot when the weather is cooler. There are plenty of walks, bars and restaurants nearby.
You can hire kayaks, paddle-boards and pedal boats at very reasonable prices and there are plenty of picnic tables and places to sit if you just want to relax and watch the world go by.
Motorised water sports are banned, so it remains quiet and peaceful even in peak seasons.
You can see signs to The Lakes from the roads north and south of El Chorro (the A357, the A7286, the M5403).
Conde de Guadalhorce Reservoir
Work began on this reservoir in the autumn of 1914 under the direction of the famous engineer Rafael Benjumea. It was initially called Pantano del Chorro and was completed in 1921 when it was inaugurated by King Alfonso XIII, giving rise to the naming of The Caminito del Rey (The King’s Walkway). In 1953, the reservoir’s name was changed to Conde de Guadalhorce.
Guadalhorce – Guadalteba Reservoirs
Work on these two new reservoirs began in the spring of 1966 and was completed in 1971 and 1973 respectively. These two dams were built to regulate the water flow of the rivers Guadalteba and Guadalhorce. At the same time as the dams were being constructed, a new railway line and three road sections were being engineered, as both a large stretch of the railway line and local roads had previously been flooded by rising waters. The residents of the village of Peñarrubia and its neighbourhood, Gobantes (where the railway station was) had been evicted and their homes lost under the water.
House of the Engineer and the Kings Chair
One of the most iconic artefacts from the construction days of the reservoirs is The King’s Chair, located just before the dam wall of the Conde de Guadalhorce, very close to the Parque de Ardales. There are two benches, a chair and table carved out of stone and this is where King Alfonso XIII sat and signed the completion of the construction document for the Conde de Guadalhorce reservoir.
From The King’s Chair, looking across to the shore of the reservoir, you can see the Casa del Ingeniero, or Casa del Conde, the impressive chief engineer’s house, and one of the most famous picture-postcard scenes of the area. If you walk along the dam wall from The King’s Chair, you will come to the small church which was also used as a school. A stroll across the dam is lovely and if you continue along a few hundred meters more you will come to the hotel and restaurant La Posada del Conde which serves food, drink and snacks as well as providing accommodation.
The Three Reservoirs Viewing Point ("El Mirador de los Tres Embalses")
Another of the attractions of the reservoir is the viewpoint ("mirador") located a little further up the hill from the restaurant “El Mirador”. From this point you get a bird’s eye view of the whole reservoir system and panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. It can be reached from the road which runs between the reservoirs and Campillos. After leaving your vehicle parked by the information sign, you have to go up some steps to reach this panoramic balcony. If you time it right, you can catch some spectacular sunsets from here.
Facing the shore of the Guadalhorce Reservoir, next to the El Kiosco restaurant, there is an old tunnel. It is also now used as the part of the North entrance to El Caminito del Rey. It is one of the tunnels which were made for workers who were building the Conde del Guadalhorce Reservoir. To go through this passageway, which is about 200 metres long, it is a good idea to take some type of artificial light such as a torch or even a mobile phone. Anyone who has a phobia about dark places is not advised to use this passageway.