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Raise your hand if you’ve gone hiking? Just about everyone? Right. Now let’s see all those who have used a climbing harness, ropes and the other safety equipment involved in clambering up the side of a mountain? Not nearly as many, obviously. Via ferratas are an ingenious bridge between the former, much larger group and the relatively tiny and exclusive club of hardcore mountain climbers.

Via ferratas in Andorra take a country already filled with rewarding hiking routes and stunning vistas and add an exceptional new layer to both.

Those who are visiting Andorra from somewhere less mountainous might not have seen a via ferrata. They’re an easy concept to master and not very much preparation is required for a vacation that involves visiting them. All the same, we’ve prepared a primer that will make Andorra’s via ferratas more accessible for first-time visitors and expert climbers alike.

What is a Via Ferrata?

The name “via ferrata” translates as “iron way” from Italian. The idea of installing semi-permanent climbing aids on alpine routes was, the story goes, first popularized in the Italian Alps during the First World War.

Via ferrata are named after the metal hardware, like these colourful rungs, that make the route easier to manage.
Via ferrata are named after the metal hardware, like these colourful rungs, that make the route easier to manage. Image: Wikimedia

The “iron” part of the name refers to the steel cable that is fixed to the rock face at standard intervals. Climbers connect themselves to this metal rope using a shock-absorbing system that attaches to their climbing harness. Pegs and ladder-like rungs along the route are also made of metal. Hanging bridges and three-cable systems for crossing gaps are constructed from heavy-duty metal.

A via ferrata makes it easier to scale a steep rock face (compared to regular mountain climbing) because the route is set and the safety guide is pre-installed, but it is still important to pay careful attention to your welfare.

The Italian Dolomites are the home of the via ferrata concept, but it has spread to other parts of Europe (and the world), including Andorra, over the last few decades. In total, there are 16 via ferratas in Andorra.

Who Will Enjoy Visiting a Via Ferrata in Andorra?

Since they open up the opportunity to experience so much of Andorra’s impressive beauty, it’s easy to say that via ferratas are for everyone. But some visitors, in particular, should consider planning a trip that includes a via ferrata:

  • Hikers who want to get off the more crowded routes.
  • Those who have tried indoor rock climbing and want a gentler introduction to the outdoor version of the activity.
  • Anyone for whom photography is a preferred travel activity – via ferrata allow access to some of Andorra’s best views.
Via ferrata are an attractive activity for all levels of climbers.
Via ferrata are an attractive activity for all levels of climbers. Image: pxhere

A willingness to get outside and engage in a bit of physical activity is the main thing. The general (and slightly joking) rule is: If you can manage to climb a ladder, you can handle a via ferrata. You do need to keep your wits about you, so Andorra’s via ferratas aren’t for those who are afraid of heights or often experience vertigo.

Why are Via Ferratas Particularly Attractive in Andorra?

In some parts of the world, a special fee is charged to use a via ferrata or a paid guide is mandatory. But, in Andorra, they are open for everyone to use for free.

Andorran via ferrata are well managed and clearly marked.
Andorran via ferrata are well managed and clearly marked. Image: Wikimedia

The Andorran government collaborates with commune governments to maintain the via ferratas here to a high standard. Some sources say that in Andorra a via ferrata is more likely to have more of the iron rungs that make scaling heights easier, even compared to popular via ferratas in the Italian Dolomites.

The Best Via Ferratas in Andorra

Andorra counts 16 via ferratas in total and they span over a variety of the lengths and levels of difficulty. (This is usually judged based on how long a particular via ferrata takes to finish; how much elevation is gained; and other factors that aim to measure the exertion and expertise needed to complete the route.)

Via ferrata open access to some of the best vistas in Andorra.
Via ferrata open access to some of the best vistas in Andorra. Image: pxhere

When choosing which via ferrata to attempt, keep these favourites in mind:

  • The wide variety of via ferratas in Canillo including Canal de Mora (I and II) for beginners to the high-difficulty Canal del Grau with its suspension bridges and other horizontal elements.
  • The moderately difficult Roc de la Coma in Erts, will take two hours to climb to the finish and then a half hour on the footpath back down. It is located conveniently close to us at Apartaments Sant Moritz.
  • Across Andorra, via ferratas are widely dispersed in almost every part of the country, including the Sant Vicenc d’Enclar via ferrata, only a short distance from Andorra la Vella.

Practical Considerations to Take into Account Before Attempting a Via Ferrata

A small amount of careful planning and basic equipment is necessary to make an excursion on one of Andorra’s via ferrata run smoothly.

Equipment for a Via Ferrata Trip

For climbing a via ferrata in Andorra, some equipment is necessary. This list includes:

  • A special via ferrata set that is designed to keep you attached to the steel cable and absorb the shock if you fall.
  • A standard climbing harness.
  • A safety helmet designed for climbing.
  • Sturdy gloves to protect your hands from burrs in the via ferrata cable and from rough handholds.
  • Hiking boots.
Handholds snake their way up a via ferrata in Andorra.
Handholds snake their way up a via ferrata in Andorra. Image: Wikimedia

This important safety gear can be rented in Andorra. As well as those mandatory basics, we also recommend:

  • Dressing in layers (or taking extra layers on warm days) because the temperature can change quite drastically with the altitude.
  • Carrying a lightweight backpack to safely stow everything.
  • Bringing at least a litre of water and snacks such as a protein bar or energy gel.

What Via Ferratas Are Not…

To some extent, authorities vary on the minimum age for using a via ferrata, with some saying nine is old enough to attempt certain routes. Via ferratas are meant to be fun and accessible, but they are not a playground for children to play on. As well, their linear nature means that all users should be cognizant of the people around them and careful not to put them in danger.

How Weather Can Affect a Via Ferrata Excursion

Via ferratas absolutely do make remote mountainous routes more accessible for those without a ton of mountaineering expertise. But they are not a sheltered theme-park experience. In particular, keep in mind that:

  • You will be more exposed than usual to the elements – that means cold breezes, but also a greater chance of sunburn from spending hours in the sun.
  • Metal handholds and cables will be cold during chilly months, especially earlier in the morning. Gloves are important.
  • Never attempt a via ferrata in a lightning storm – that’s absolutely not when you want to be attached to an exposed metal cable.

Let Sant Moritz Help you Experience a Via Ferrata in Andorra

At Apartaments Sant Moritz, we are conveniently located for travellers who want to experience Andorra’s via ferratas. Roc de la Coma d’Erts via ferrata is close enough to walk to in 20 minutes, or 3 minutes by car. Excellent via ferratas in Ordino and Canillo are only slightly further away.

Our experienced staff is always happy to help guests plan their via ferrata trip, find a via ferrata guide, or rent the necessary equipment.

Between our location, staff, and roomy accommodations (perfect for sorting out your climbing gear), Sant Moritz is the ideal base camp for your Andorran vacation. Visit our site to book your stay with us today.

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