The Tajo International natural park is a relatively recently registered park in Extremadura which was initially partly covered by an area of special protection for birds ZEPA in 2000.
The area is predominantly waterways with steep banks and therefore a haven for wildlife. Two birds in particular that need this tranquility are the Black vulture and Black stork, both of which are endangered species in Spain.
Mediterranean woodland covers the hills with rich vegetation along the water courses.
There are three peaks over 2000m within the Sierra Mágina park. The highest is Mágina which stands at 2,165m and dominates the limestone terrain. This area is part of the Cordillera Subbetica range and along with other mountains in the area has a selection of highly specialized plants that are endemic to the park.
The exposed rocky peaks, vertical cliffs, shaded woodland, river banks and extensive Olive and Almond groves each offer a different habitat.
The “Pinar de Cánavas” is a natural monument south of the village of Jimena. It is a small woodland of exceptionally large, centennial Aleppo pines (Pinus halepensis).
The sierra Magina contains many limestone caves, several of which are open to visitors. Neolithic cave paintings and Paleolithic tools date back to the 4th and 3rd century BC. (Ask about them in your hotel or one of the information centres.)
The Sierra de Castril, a limestone massif, is part of the Sierra Bética mountain range. Altitudes vary between 855 and 2138m with spectacular scenery holding caves and cliffs shaped by water erosion. The main river, Castril, flows from the north to south of the park added to which there are many natural springs, streams and waterfalls.
There are two outstanding cave formations, both in the Sierra Seca area of the park. The Cueva de Don Fernando is Granada’s largest cave and the second biggest in Andalucia. This 2.5km long cave drops to an amazing 241m below sea level. The Cueva del Muerto has spectacular stalactites and stalagmite formations. (Visit the information centre in Castril to fiond out more. See below)
The Sierra Cazorla, Segura y las Villas offers a great array of very well conserved ecosystems, each of high natural value with many endemics. Spectacular landscapes including waterfalls, deep valleys and lakes make this park unique. The important Guadalquivir and Segura rivers both begin in the park. Large pine forests clothe this limestone mountain range whose highest point is Pico Empanada at 2,107m. It is a very accessible park with many old donkey routes crisscrossing the mountains.
Despeñaperros is a natural mountain pass connecting Andalucia with Castilla la Mancha through the Sierra Morena mountain range. The rock structure forms a dramatic landscape with vertical cliffs and unusual rock formations. Los Organos is one such formation of quartzite rock taking the form of giant organ tubes.
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The river has cut a deep, spectacular gorge in the eastern part.
Just a few kilometres from Despeñaperros and close to the village of Aldeaquemada is the Cascada de la Cimbarra Natural Area. This is a beautiful place with rugged terrain where the Guarrizas River flows into a narrow gorge to form a series of waterfalls. La Cimbarra is the most beautiful and spectacular of them, and the local people give this name to the whole section of waterfalls.
An impressive exposed vertical wall made up of rocky strati that are highly resistant to erosion. This rock is called Armorican quartzite and is also visible in other parts of the natural area. On the surface of the rocks you can sometimes see fossil remains and spectacular ripples produced by the action of waves. These marks belie the marine origin of the rocks, going back 500 million years.
Other waterfalls famous for their unique beauty are El Cimbarrillo, on Martín Pérez river, and María Antonia, on La Cimbarrilla river.
The naturally forested areas have a selection of oaks: Gall oak (Quercus faginea) Holm’s oak (Quercus rotundifolia) Cork oak (Quercus suber) and Pyrenean oak (Quercus pyrenaica). Many pine trees have been planted and consist of Stone pine (Pinus pinea), Maritime pine (Pinus pinaster), and Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis). The typical scrub is made up of Strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo) Tree heather (Erica arborea), Mastic tree (Pistacia Lentiscus), Rockroses (Cistus ladanifer), Myrtle (Myrtus communis), Wild olive (Olea europea), and Sloe (Prunus spinosa).
Numerous species of birds live in the park, from the Griffon vulture to the smaller Rock thrush, Blue rock thrush and Black wheatear. Five eagles can be seen here; Booted, Short-toed, Golden, Imperial and Bonelli´s.
Iberian lynx is thought to be here in small numbers as is the wolf although rarely seen. Other more common carnivores are the fox, ichneumon (mongoose), genet and the wild cat. Wild boar and red deer also inhabit the quiet areas.
Also in the Despeñaperros area
In 1212 the Christians fought the Muslim Almohads in the battle of las Navas de Tolosa. This was an important step in the re-conquest.
Important archeological remains within the park are at the Muñecos cave in Santa Elena which contains extremely valuable Neolithic sculptures. In the Las Vacas del Retamoso ancient cave paintings can be viewed.
This protected area is also outstanding for its rich cultural heritage, with some twenty major prehistoric remains. Interesting examples are the Tabla de Pochico panel of rock art, on La Cimbarra Hill, and those at Monuera and Desesperada. Valuable examples of prehistoric art have been found at these sites, and they have received the UNESCO World Heritage designation as a result.
Centro de Visitantes: Llano de las Américas Address: Ctra. JA-7102 Santa Elena – Miranda del Rey, km 2.
The interpretative material on display highlights some of their most emblematic places to visit and there are knowledgable staff on site who can provide visitors with any information you may need so that you can get the best out of a visit to the area
The Sierra de Andujar natural park lays in the central part of the Sierra Morena and is a semi-mountainous area with peaks ranging between 500 to 1290m, the highest peak being Burcio del Pino.
The densely wooded areas maintain their natural Mediterranean vegetation. The northern edge borders with Ciudad Real, a province of Castilla la Mancha. To the west is the Cardeña y Montoro natural park, the two parks only being separated by the river Yeguas. There are two reservoirs in the eastern side of the park, Embalse del Jándula and Embalse El Encinarejo.
There are also two game hunting reserves that connect with the parks borders.
The park holds four threatened species, Pardel lynx, Wolf, Imperial eagle and Black vulture.
Holm (Quercus ilex) Gall (Q. faginea) and Cork oaks (Q. suber) with a natural thicket of Strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo), Lentisc (Pistacia lentiscus), Myrtle (Myrtus communis), Wild olives (Olea europaea subsp. oleaster), Kermes oak (Quercus coccifera), Thyme, Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and Calamint (Calamintha nepeta) form the native undisturbed Mediterranean tapestry. The Sierra Quintana has an excellent area of Atlantic oak woodland (Quercus atlantica).
Willows, Poplars, Oleanders and Alder trees are part of the selection seen on the rivers banks. Stone pines (Pinus pinea) also form important woodlands here and edible pine kernels are still harvested in this area.
There are several unusual plants in the park to note, such as Frangula alnus subsp. baetica, Digitalis purpurea subsp. heywoodii, Coincya longirostra and Jasione crispa subsp. Mariana.
Finda a place to stay in the Sierra de Andujar
This is one of the few remaining habitats where the endangered Pardel lynx and Wolf can roam.
If you are really interested in seeing Iberian lynx then get in touch with Mick Richardson for Granada Wildlife.
Important species for game hunting in the area are the Wild boar, Mouflon, Red, Fallow and Roe deer. Mongoose, Remember that hunting is strictly controlled in this area and is a part of the conservation strategy for thenatural park
Wild cat and Fox are amongst the nocturnal mammals with elusive Otters on the river banks.
At the high rocky crags to the north of the park are Griffon and Egyptian vultures, Golden and Imperial eagle plus Red-billed chough. There are Azure-winged magpies and near to the water are Golden orioles, Nightingale, Purple and Grey herons.
Also in the area
The town of Andújar, south of the park, has a Roman bridge of 15 arches spanning the Guadalquivir river.
There are wonderful views from the 13thC sanctuary built on a towering crag, La Virgen de la Cabeza. There is a pilgrimage which makes its way to the sanctuary from Andújar on the last Sunday of April each year. “La Romería de la Virgen de la Cabeza” is the largest festival of Andújar with around half a million participants.
The Viñas de Peñallana visitor centre is at the entrance to the Nature Park is on the J5010 Andújar-Santuario Virgen de la Cabeza road.
It offers visitors an introduction to the different types of landscape to be found in the area and to the numerous animal species they support.
The Iberian lynx is perhaps the Park’s most emblematic species. Visitors can follow its tracks to discover its habitat and learn about its behaviour and about the problems which have made it the most threatened species of feline on Earth.
The centre also provides information about the lifestyles and history of the Park’s human inhabitants, explaining how their respectful exploitation of the area’s natural resources has contributed towards the conservation of important environments in places like the Sierras de Andújar.