Aliva Circuit

  • Aliva, Picos - © By Flickr user jroblear
  • Refugio de Aliva - © By Flickr user jroblear
  • Picos, Aliva Niebla - © By Flickr user jroblear
  • Puertos de Aliva - © By Flickr user jroblear
  • Aliva Panorama - © By Flickr user jroblear
  • Cantabria - © By Flickr user ramon_casares
  • Aliva Panorama - © By Flickr user jroblear

Key information: Aliva Circuit

  •  A fascinating and varied walk in this jagged mountain range running along Spains northern coast.
  •  This walk starts with a thrilling cable-car ride and passes through ancient high grazing land with unrivalled flora and fauna. Superb views of the spires and cliffs of the central Picos.
  •  This is high country, exposed to Atlantic weather; trails can get cut off by snow in Winter, and the area is famous for sudden and dramatic mists.

Walkopedia rating

  • Walkopedia rating90
  • Beauty34
  • Natural interest16
  • Human interest8
  • Charisma32
  • Negative points0
  • Total rating90

Vital Statistics

  • Length: 10km upward
  • Maximum Altitude: 1,900m
  • Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
Aliva Panorama - © By Flickr user jroblear


This walk is an easier (mainly downhill) variant of the day walk that is the first day of the Central Picos Traverse.

This 10-14km circuit gives a fine taste of an ancient way of life, as well as exceptional scenery and wildlife. The rugged high plateaux of the Picos, largely snowbound in Winter, provide grazing land for cattle, sheep and goats in Summer, and their middle reaches are dotted with tiny, pantiled summer villages linked by easy tracks in pasture and forest. All is surrounded by towering peaks and jagged ridges.

The walk starts with a thrilling cable-car ride rising nearly 800m in under three minutes over the natural amphitheatre of Fuente Dé, and works its way slowly back down the valley (and on to the cable-car station again).

Enjoy a wide range of landscape and scenery. You will have a good chance of seeing the delightful rebeco, the local chamoix, huge vultures and much other wildlife.

See our Picos de Europa page for further information.

Other accounts: share your experiences

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.


See also expedition planning, including our universal expedition checklist. Walkopedia encourages responsible travel.

Guidebooks/maps/background reading

Suggest books and maps


Books on this Walk

Picos de Europa Car Tours and Walks – Teresa Farino/Sunflower Landscapes. Exhaustive step-by-step route summaries

Walks and Climbs in the Picos de Europa – Robin Walker/ Cicerone: Essential, good background information, but it has a heavy focus on rock climbing and is a bit “hair shirt” and a bit laborious to use.

Picos de Europa - Cordula Rabe/ Bergverlag Rother


Other Books

If you read Spanish:

Guia del Parque Nacional de la Montana de Covadonga – E. Rico and others.

Picos de Europa – P. Pidel and J. Zabala


Picos De Europa, Macizos Central y Oriental (Central and East)

Picos de Europa National Park – Editorial Alpina



Best times to walk/weather


Best times to walk

Mid-June to late September, the latter probably being the best time overall, with generally good weather and fewer people. May and June have wonderful wild flowers, but less predictable weather.

The main thing to bear in mind is the queue for the cable car, which is a tourist attraction in itself. At peak times, this can be well over two hours. Midweek, and/or off-season, recommended.


The Picos’ maritime climate makes rapid weather changes, rain and sudden, thick mist quite frequent occurrences; afternoon thunderstorms are common in summer. The thick sea of cloud that can blanket lower ground is a common and (from above) beautiful feature – but is not a sign of bad weather. A lot of rain all year, particularly in winter (when it often falls as snow) and spring. Bring waterproofing and warm layers, even in summer, and stick to paths. Trails can get cut off by snow in winter.


Getting there/transport/permits

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There is an airport at Santander, and buses (run by Palomera: run from there to Potes, on the south-west of the region. The mountains’ deep rural communities are spread over three administrative regions, so buses are both scarce (aimed more at the locals’ work commutes than visitors’ convenience) and not-joined-up. The other main bus company is ALSA (

Bus: Palomera (Potes to Fuente Dé route; there are only three a day high season, one in Winter) or park at the Fuente Dé car park.

People also fly to Bilbao.

Travelling by car is much the most feasible option.



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A wonderful Alpine circuit starting with a dramatic cable-car ride. Take the cable car from Fuente Dé (note: in Summer this can involve a wait of up to two hours – starting early helps), which rises nearly 800m in three minutes, and decant onto the plateau. Take a moment to stop at the viewing platform (possibly peaks jutting out from a sea of cloud) then follow the vehicle track, north, towards the vast cliffs of the Peña Vieja, Cantabria’s highest mountain at 2613m. At 20 mins, fork right at the junction to the top of a col where you can see most of your route ahead of you. Descend past a former royal hunting lodge, reaching the Refugio de Aliva (refreshments) at 1hr. Fork right on the track leading through the refuge complex, then turn right to descend when you emerge from the buildings and follow the track, taking the right-hand option at every junction, across lush mountain meadows. At 1h45, cross a cattle-grid and enter a narrow pass marked by two columns on the track (the Portillas de Aliva), emerging to a great view of the Nevandi river valley and the Corsicao peak. Zig-zag down through a series of barns and meadows, reaching the Fuente Dé road at the village of Espiñama after 2h30 (10km). If you do not stay at Espinama (recommended), you can either take a taxi back (or if you’re lucky, a bus) to the Fuente Dé car park or walk back along tracks through the meadows and woods of the southern sloes of the valley.


Possible problems, health, other warnings

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Mountain weather: Rain and thick sudden fog are possible at any time of year. Heavy snowfalls can cut off trails and roads, into May. Wear appropriate clothing, carry a compass and stick to paths. Rock falls can be a hazard; always follow posted advice.

Heights: can be dangerous; some walks are not for those who have difficulties with heights.

This is remote country: It may be Spain, but some areas of the Picos are true wilderness.


See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Make sure you have appropriate insurance.


Guided or independent?

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You can do this walk independently.



A number of excellent operators run walk-stay holidays here. See Picos de Europa.



See Picos de Europa.

Espiñama is the obvious base for this walk.

Hostelbookers usually has a good selection of cheaper-end accommodation.


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Other information and tips


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Useful websites and information

There are many websites with information on these walks. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.


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Other things to do in the area

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Other walks

Many. See our Picos de Europa page for ideas.


Other activities

Canoeing/rafting: lovely river routes here, from the doddle to the daring.

Caving: the peculiar geology of the Picos has left it riddled with caves and potholes; it’s described as “the caver’s Everest”. Do not attempt without a guide unless very experienced.

Eating: Superb, sustaining bean-based peasant grub in every corner café. The area is also famous for its cheeses.

Picos, Aliva Niebla - ©By Flickr user jroblear

share your experiences

Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

Puertos de Aliva - ©By Flickr user jroblear...

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