Los Alcornocales is a forest of Cork oak trees, the largest in Iberia

Los Alcornocales

  • Region: Andalucia
  • Province: Cadiz/Malaga
  • Declared a Natural Park: 1989
  • Park surface area: 167.767 hectares
  • Villages and Towns in the area: Alcalá de Los Gazules, Algar, Algeciras, Arcos de La Frontera, Los Barrios, Benalup-casas Viejas, Benaocaz, El Bosque, Castellar de La Frontera, Cortes de La Frontera, Jerez de La Frontera, Jimena de La Frontera, Medina-sidonia, Prado del Rey, San Jose del Valle, San Roque, Tarifa, Ubrique

Points of interest

Los Alcornocales is a forest of Cork oak trees, the largest in Iberia and therefore important to the worlds cork supply. The park, which also embraces mountains, creates a green corridor from the Sierra de Grazalema natural park through to the coastal zone at Tarifa.

The harvesting of cork is done on a 9 to 12 year cycle. The bark is stripped from the tree by hand, packed onto mules and taken to forest tracks where it can be loaded onto a vehicle. The cork collection is only carried out for 3 months in the heat of summer when it separates easily from the tree.

Therefore, the fauna and flora are left undisturbed between these harvest times, giving an important refuge to many plants and animals.

Recent research has discovered a wealth of animal and plant forms that exist here because of the humidity. The heavy tree canopy and many deep water channels (canutos) combine to create a subtropical micro climate in a normally very dry part of Spain.

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Flora

Cork oaks (Quercus suber) dominate the landscape with smaller numbers of other oaks Algerian (Q. canariensis), Gall (Q. faginea), Pyrenean (Q. pyrenaica), Holm (Q. ilex) and Wild olive (Olea europaea subsp oleaster).

The undergrowth and areas too exposed for the oaks include Tree heathers, Spanish lavender, Spurge flax, Lentisc, Rockroses, Needle-leaved broom (Teline linifolia), Yellow-heart iris (Iris filifolia), Hawthorns, Spanish heather (Erica australis) and Umbel-flowered heather (E.umbellata).

In the steep sided river ravines grow Rhododendron (R. ponticum ssp. Baeticum), Alder buckthorn, Holly and Laurustinus.

The Portuguese sundew (Drosophyllum lusitanicum) can only be found in low-altitude sandstone regions of south west Iberia such as this.

There are over 40 species of fern in the area and they can be found tucked into damp rocks and draped from rough bark of the huge oaks. One is the rare fern psilotum nudum along with Hare’s foot fern (Davallia canariensis), Hard fern (Blechnum spicant) and two species from the Canary Islands, which are Pteris incompleta and Culcita macrocarpa.

Fauna

Roe, Red and Fallow deer have been introduced as game for hunting as well as Spanish ibex on the higher terrain. Other mammals include Wild boar, Mongoose, Fox, Badger, Genet, and Dormouse. In the rivers are Terrapins and Otters.

Birdlife is varied with Kingfishers, Dippers and Sand martins near the water courses.

Among the raptors are Short-toed, Bonelli’s, Spanish imperial, and Booted eagles, Sparrow hawk, Goshawk, Peregrine, Kestrel, Tawny owl, Eagle owl and Common buzzard. Egyptian and Griffon vultures can be seen in more open areas.

Smaller birds include Golden orioles, Hoopoes, Bonelli’s warbler, Long-tailed Tit, Bee-eater and Nightingale.

During spring and autumn migrating birds pass through or rest in the forest which is close to the Strait of Gibraltar. (See below Huerta Grande Information center)

Of the twenty two species of bats listed in Andalucia, twenty are recorded in the park.

Also in the area

The Archaeological Site of Baelo Claudia (Bolonia/Tarifa area) has been declared a National Historic Monument. This Roman city-factory is surprising due to its excellent condition and was important at the time due to its canned and brine foods and was the origin of the garum sauce exported to the entire Roman empire. (Website here)

Information/Visitors Centers

El Aljibe in Alcalá de los Gazules, on the road to Benalup at Km 1

Thi visitor centre is in the principal village in the area, Alcalá de los Gazules, mid way between the fertile farmland plains and the highlands.

The centre illustrates all the uniqueness of this part of the province of Cadiz. The themes addressed include the way in which the present appearance of the mountain ranges is the result not only of environmental conditions but also of the human activity which has taken place there throughout history.

Another exhibition room focuses on the ecological and scenic uniqueness of the area’s fertile campiña plains and its woodland, highlighting the characteristic features of woodland masses, their associated fauna, the resources obtained by Man from the environment and present day tourist activity.

The El Aljibe botanical garden has an interesting and well laid out selection of plants from the area. (Read more here about the Aljilbe Botanic garden in Alcala de los Gazules)

Information centre Cortes de la Frontera (In the village of Cortes de la Frontera, Calle Jacaranda, 1)


The visitor centre in Cortes de la Frontera acts as a gateway to the nature reserves of Los Alcornocales, Sierra de Grazalema and Sierra de las Nieves.

The centre offers visitors the chance to learn more about the landscapes, nature, history and people so they can enjoy these nature areas to the full.


Other information centres in the area of Los Alcornocales

Huerta Grande near Algeciras on the road to Tarifa at Km 96

An old military residential complex has been converted into what is now the most important visitor centres on the Cadiz coast. The centre offers a fascinating insight into the diversity and landscapes of the Campo de Gibraltar area: seabeds teeming with life, beaches and cliffs in constant transformation.

Huerta Grande also offers a wide range of activities including observation points with spectacular views of the Strait and of migrating birds. There are also some walking trails taking the visitor through the scenic and botanical richness of the area.

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