The Cares Route is one of the most beautiful and impressive that we can do in the Picos de Europa. Called the ‘Garganta Divina’ (Divine Throat), it covers 12 kilometres (24 round trip) between the Asturian town of Poncebos-Arenas de Cabrales and the Leonese town of Cain.
It is a relatively affordable route as long as we know the details of it, since, not in vain, the gorge created by the river Cares, which divides the central massif of the western part of Peaks of Europe is surrounded by mountains of more than 2,000 meters of altitude, so depending on the time of year, we will be more or less bearable.
How to get to Poncebos and Cain?
If we want to start the Cares Route from Cain arriving from Asturias, we will take the N-625 road in Cangas de Onis direction Riaño. There we will find a detour to Posada de Valdeón and from here to Caín. From León we will do the same, arriving to Riaño and following the previous indications.
If our intention is to start in Poncebos, our first stop will be Arenas de Cabrales, where we will arrive by the AS-114. In the village there is a descent where we take the road that takes us to Poncebos (it is almost five kilometres).
Which way do I start the Cares Route?
The difficulty of the Cares Route is its length. There are 12 kilometers one way, which will take us about three or four hours, so if we are not used to walking or we are not very sporty, maybe we should consider doing only the outward journey, as 24 kilometers could become very heavy. If we decide to do only the outward journey, the recommendation is to start from Cain because from the Asturian side we are going to find ‘the slope’, about two kilometers of ascent that, without a doubt, is the hardest part of the route.
It is also true that the area of Cain, if we are not going to do the route of 12 kilometers and we just want to know a part of it, is more spectacular. Let’s not forget that we will be ‘wedged’ between a wall and a cliff, with the Cares River below, along a path between one and three meters wide. If we want to do the 24 kilometres, the ideal is to start at Poncebos.Taking into account that in high season (July, August or Easter it is very busy) it is going to be very difficult to park in spite of the parking lots in the town itself and in Arenas de Cabrales where there is a bus service that makes it easier to get to Poncebos.
12 tips and recommendations to do this route
1. Choose the right time of year.
Autumn and spring are ideal for the temperature and because the road is not so crowded. In summer, especially in July and August, and at Easter, it can be overwhelming.
2. Bring food and water.
There are no fountains or restaurants along the route so take plenty of water, especially in summer, and if you are doing the route slowly or going back and forth, don’t forget food. Remember to pick up trash and keep the route clean.
3. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes suitable for the time of the year when you do the Cares Route.
Don’t forget that you are in the mountains and a raincoat and warm clothes should always be with you.
4. Carry your mobile phone charged.
In some areas there is no coverage but it is convenient to carry a working phone in case anything happens.
5. Children, yes or no?
Depends. There are no handrails on the Cares Route, so it is recommended that children are of an appropriate age and have sufficient physical resistance. From 10 years old it is a good route to do with them but if they are younger they can get too tired or put themselves in danger if they get loose. It is recommended that children go without a backpack, hand in hand and close to the side of the wall, if they are small in baby carriers, and always controlled by the narrowness of the path, stopping if we cross with other hikers and having a lot of patience.
6. It is not possible to do the route by bicycle.
It is forbidden because we could endanger hikers and there are areas where it would be very annoying, for example in the tunnels.
7. Keep an eye on the weather.
If we go in winter, we must be very careful with the snow. It is rare that it falls in Poncebos but it does fall in Posada de Valdeón, a situation that would make it impossible to access Cain. On the other hand, let’s not forget that we are surrounded by large massifs and their summits will be snowy in winter, which means that snow may fall or later, when spring approaches, the thaw may play a trick on us. Both the thaw and the rain can drag stones and we must be cautious if the weather is not favourable.
8. Dogs, yes or no?
It is allowed to take our dog if it is properly leashed.
9. If you have vertigo, don’t do the Cares Route.
Narrow paths, precipice on one side and no handrails and bridges over the river Cares, are not great allies for people with vertigo. The route has no ‘shortcuts’ and cannot be abandoned until you reach your destination, so it is advisable not to start it if you are not going to be able to finish it.
10. Watch out for mountain goats.
Along the route we are likely to come across mountain goats, queens of the peaks in the Picos de Europa, so we must be careful with possible rock falls that may cause. It is also preferable to leave them alone as they are wild animals.
11. Start the route early.
Especially in summer, as temperatures are rising and it is advisable to get up early, not only to park, but to avoid crowds of people on the road and heat overwhelm us.
12. Organize the Cares Route in advance.
It is true that there are hotels and restaurants in the surroundings of Poncebos, as in Arenas de Cabrales, and in Cain but, if we are going to stay or eat in these areas, especially in the busy season, it is better to do things in advance to avoid surprises.