Category Archives: Natural Parks in Spain

Doñana National and Natural Parks

  • Region: Andalucia
  • Provinces: Sevilla, Huelva, Cadiz
  • Declared a Natural Park: 1969 reclassified in 1978
  • In1963 WWF and the Council of Scientific Research bought land (6,794ha) and set up a research station
  • In 1994 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site  
  • Natural Park surface area: 54,200
  • National Park surface area: 50,720 hectares – Total area: 77,260ha:
  • World Heritage and Special Bird Protection Areas: 50,720ha.
  • National Park and Ramsar site; buffer zone 26,540ha.

Towns and Villages

  • Huelva: Almonte, Hinojos, Bollullos Par del Condado, Rociana del Condado, Bonanes y Lucena del Puerto, Palos de la Frontera, Moguer, La Puebla del Río and the Isla Mayor
  • Sevilla: Aznalcázar, Pilas y Villamanrique de la Condesa.
  • Cádiz: Sanlúcar de Barrameda

Points of interest

The Doñana National and Natural Parks occupy the northern area of the Guadalquivir river where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. Six thousand years ago it would have been a wide estuary, but this has mostly been closed off by a long, natural sand bar. This in turn created a large saline lake which gradually collected silt leaving a huge wetland area with lagoons, marshlands and semi-permanent sand dunes.

Some lake areas are saline and others are supplied by freshwater streams. Pine and oak woodland plus scrub or maquis further enhance the diversity of one of the most important habitats in Europe. This accumulation of varied ecosystems is capable of sustaining an incredible assortment of wildlife.

Used as hunting grounds for royalty from the 14th century, it was made a reserve in 1963 and a national park in 1969, and it remains the largest protected area in Europe.

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A diverse collection of around 750 species of plants exist through the different habitats. There are four main types of vegetation: marshland/aquatic, salt-tolerant, open forest and heathland.

  • Marsh land types; Glasswort (Salicornia ramosissima), Seablite (Suaeda sp) and Perennial glasswort (Arthrocnemum perenne).
  • Brackish lagoon types; Reeds (Juncus maritimus) and Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora)
  • Dunes type; European beachgrass (Ammophila Arenaria), Portuguese crowberry (Corema album), Buckthorn (Rhamnus) and Juniper (Juniperus macrocarpa).
  • Inland dunes; Wild olive (Olea europea subsp oleaster) and Ash trees (Fraxinus angustifolia).
  • Forest; introduced stone pine (Pinus pinea) and Eucalyptus sp.
  • Heath lands; Tree heather (Erica scoparia), Heather (Erica ciliaris) Strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo) Thyme (Thymus tomentosa), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and Lavender (Lavandula stoechas).

Four national endemics occur, each a protected species, Linaria tursica and grasses, Micropyropsis tuberosa, Gaudinia hispanica and Vulpia fontquerana.


Mammals include the highly endangered Iberian Lynx (the closest to extinction of all the big cat species) Wild boar, Red deer, Fallow deer, Egyptian mongoose and European badger.

Reptiles, which are found especially in the dunes, include Spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca), Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon), Lataste’s viper (Vipera latasti) and Spiny-footed lizard (Acanthodactylus erythrurus).

Common fish are carp (Cyprinus carpio) and Eel (Anguilla anguilla) plus a threatened species, the Iberian toothcarp (Aphanius iberus).

The Doñana National and Natural Parks are on the main migration routes between Europe and Africa making it a favorite with ornithologists with as many as 250 species found in the reserve each year.

This huge list includes resident Greater flamingos, Spoonbills and summer breeding Little bittern, Purple heron with wintering Black stork and Osprey to name only a few. The park is also home to one of the world’s largest colonies of the Spanish Imperial Eagle.

The best times for birdwatchers are considered to be

  • Spring; to see the influx of migrating birds arriving to breed, or rest before continuing their journey.
  • Autumn; to see the selection of migrating birds that collect to rest and feed before their crossing into Africa.
  • Winter; when the reserve is topped up by rain water and vast flocks of wildfowl – geese and ducks arrive in Doñana.
  • The summer months see the wetlands begin to dry and many of the spring visitors depart with temperatures hitting 40 degrees Celsius leaving only the summer residents. Amongst the numerous species are Griffon Vultures, Booted eagles, Red-necked nightjars, Bee-eaters and Hoopoe. Spanish Imperial eagle (Aquila adalberti), Marbled Teal (Marmaronetta angustirostris), White-headed duck (Oxyura leucocephala) and Red-knobbed coot (Fulica cristata) are some of the rarities to look out for.

As well as the National Park of Doñana there is also a buffer zone (or pre-park area) around it, which is a designated Natural Park of Doñana (known in Spanish as Entorno de Doñana).

The National Park is under very tight protection, with public access restricted to its official visitor centres and some marked footpaths around them.

The Natural Park is less strictly protected with more open access but being a natural continuation of the National Park it is also of great importance for migratory and breeding birds, wildlife in general and tourism for the area

Research in the Park is of international scientific importance. Ornithological research has been carried out since the 1950s and studies have since been carried out on vertebrate zoology, botany, ecology, plant ecology, entomology, limnology, geography, ethnology, pesticides and diseases.

Also in the area of Doñana National and Natural Parks

Wood gathering, charcoal production, cattle-grazing, beekeeping and fish farming are traditional practices that occur within the park.

Market gardening forms a part of the agricultural land uses in the surrounding area. Rice farming covers over 38,000 hectares of former salt marsh areas with water from the Guadalquivir used for irrigation.

Intensive fruit farming (Strawberries) and illegal wells have caused issues over the years creating clashes between local farmers and ecologists

El Rocio is a small, sleepy lake side village of wide sandy streets whose focal point is the “Santuario de Nuestra Señora de el Rocio” Church. There is a religious festival at El Rocio each year coinciding with Whitsunday which brings approximately a million pilgrims from every part of Spain. There is an explosion of music, dance, traditional dress and flower adorned wagons, drawn by mule or oxen.

For the rest of the year the village remains virtually unihabited in comparison.

Information/Visitors Centers

Remember that the Doñana area is huge and has quite a few “official” interpretation centres. Most towns and villages also have their own municipal information centres. Your first resource for guides and leaflets for the area would also be your hotel reception.

La Rocina (Information Centre, walks and hides)

In the village of El Rocio, this visitor centre has a nice and accessible, easy hike with a few observation points overlooking the marshes. The path also takes you through some other ecosystems such as the scrubland.

El Acebuche (Information centre, café, walk-ways and hides)

Close to El Rocio on the road to Matalascañas this Center (OBLIGATORY VISIT IF YOU ARE IN THE AREA) offers an excellent information service to visitors. There is normally a live TV feed showing the current captive breeding area of the Iberian lynx. There is also an audiovisual room and well marked footpaths to hides and areas of marsh and scrubland.

El Acebuche is also the start point for guided visits to the National Park of Doñana in all-terrain vehicles, accompanied by guide-driver, on a route of around 70 kms. This guided route takes you through the different ecosystems of the National Park.

Palacio del Acebrón

(On the A-483 take the turning for La Rocina and El Acebrón. Once you have passed the La Rocina visitor centre continue for 6 kilomtres on the H-9021)

Once a private hunting estate the an ethnological museum inside in very interesting with lots of detail and is free to enter

José Antonio Valverde (water side café/hide and great information)

Road access not well marked and from Villamanrique de la Condesa, Puebla del Río and Isla Mayor it is about 25 km. Access is through unpaved tracks. Ask in your hotel or other visitor centre to double check opening times before you make the trip!

This Visitor Centre is located on a small hill known as Cerro del Palo, from which there is a great view of the Laguna de la Fuente de Piedra. (Not to be confused with Fuente de Piedra in the province of Malaga.) Inside there is a fantastic view from the large windows that looks out onto the lagoon. There is also an excellent exhibition of photographs of the lagoons and other wetlands of Andalusia.

Ask about guided tours for wildlife watching.

The center was named after Jose Antonio Valverde. A biologist and ecologist born in 1926 in Valladolid who was one of the pioneers of the conservation of wetlands in Andalusia. He died in Seville
In 2003.

Fábrica de hielo (Ice Factory).

At the southern point of the Guadalquivir estuary. (Av. Bajo de Guía, S/N, 11540 Sanlúcar de Barrameda)

This interpretation centre offers an overview of the area from the flora and fauna that make up the landscape to the richness of the marine ecosystem associated with the mouth of the Guadalquivir.

Dehesa Boyal near Villamanrique de la Condesa. Camino del Bujeo in front of the sports ground.

The excellent Dehesa Boyal visitors centre is in the village of Villamanrique de la Condesa. It offers visitors general information about the Natural Park of Doñana and the fauna and flora of the area and an exhibition detailing traditional uses and exploits of nearby populations such as coal production, pineapple harvesting, beekeeping, cork mining and cotton are also part of the sample.

This centre also arranges guided visits, hiking, horseriding and is a popular destination for schools for education courses. (See the website here.)

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Bahía de Cádiz

  • Region: Andalucia
  • Province: Cádiz
  • Declared a Natural Park: 1989
  • Park surface area: 10,522 hectares
  • Towns and Villages: San Fernando, Chiclana de la Frontera, Puerto Real, Puerto de Santa María and Cádiz

Points of interest

This 5km bay area (Bahía de Cádiz) is a wintering ground and summer breeding area to 200 different aquatic bird species.

This Atlantic tidal area consists of sandy beaches, river estuary, marshlands, salt pans, dunes and rocky inlets.

Extensive pine groves once covered a large part of this area.

The tidal marsh of Sancti Petri, which is situated in Chiclana de la Frontera, to the south of the Bay of Cádiz and which forms a part of this natural park, is an area of high scenic value, given that is one of the few marshes that has not been altered by its use as a salt mine. In addition, the condition of the island and the existence of a large stone pine forest (Pinar del Coto de la Isleta) at higher grounds clearly contributes to an image of what the natural landscape of the Bay of Cádiz must have been like many years ago.

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Flora in the Bahía de Cádiz is made up of plants that have adapted to living in sand with saline atmospheres and tidal flow. Cord grass, glasswort or maritime purslane, among others, have an important presence, whilst in the transition of the marshland into dry land there are grasses such as rostraria and barren brome.

On the intertidal plains, rich in nutrients, there are submerged meadows of gracilaria and algae, such as ulva linza and the sea lettuce. These seafloors, rich in food, half way between The Strait and the Doñana marshes, play an important role in the migratory movements of birds, enabling many birds to winter on the coast

In the area and endemic to Andalucia are Armeria gaditana, Taraxacum gaditanum and Hymenostemma pseudoanthemis, the latter two are recorded as vulnerable on the list of endangered plants.

Enclaves of Stone pine, (Pinus pinea) including a woodland of 6 hectares at Sancti Petri. Edible pine nuts are collected from this species. These forests are a sanctuary for birds such as blackbirds, robins, owls and kestrels, as well as for chameleons, amphibians and mammals like the European hedgehog and the dormouse.


There are a great amount of aquatic birds like grebes, cormorants, gulls and gannets. White stork, herons and avocets nest here. Flamingo and osprey can also be observed. Invertebrates such as shrimps, crabs, clams, cockles along with the fish sole, sea bream, grey mullet and sea bass are abundant. It is an important breeding ground for many commercial species of fish and crustaceans.

Also in the area

Phoenician and Roman remains. Numerous galleons sunk off the coasts.

The site is surrounded by urban centres of around 400,000 inhabitants and the Cádiz port. This of course creates urban, tourism and leisure environmental pressures on the protected area.

Information/Visitors Centers

Parque Natural Bahía de Cádiz visitor centre. (Calle Buen Pastor, carretera de Campo Soto (opposite camposoto beach))

The Visitor Centre of the Bay of Cadiz Nature Reserve is in San Fernando (Cádiz). The recently built facilities, a model with regards to sustainability, are located at the Salina of La Leocadia, opposite the camposoto beach. The ideal place for a visit to this Nature Reserve, as its facilities offer you diverse information on the area and the activities possible there.

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La Breña y Marismas de Barbate

  • Region: Andalucia
  • Province: Cadiz
  • Declared a Natural Park: 1989
  • Park surface area: 5.077 hectares (3.925 land plus 1.152 marine.)
  • Declared a Zone of Special Protection for Birds: 2002
  • Towns and Villages: Barbate, Vejer de La Frontera

Points of interest

Halfway between The Bay of Cadiz and El Estrecho between Mediterranean and Atlantic waters is the La Breña y Marismas de Barbate Natural Park.

Although one of the smaller parks in Andalucia it has 28km of marked pathways and covers both land and marine areas. 100 metre cliffs drop vertically into the powerful Atlantic ocean. Above the cliffs is a dense woodland of Stone pines (Pinus pinea) which create a naturally rounded canopy of shade. As well as the pine woods and marine zone there are moving dunes and wetland where the Barbate river reaches the Shore.

Freshwater cascades fall from the cliffs and when the tide is out you can walk across the sand to see the caverns and waterfalls. (Be careful and always check tide times! )

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Guide walking in the area of La Breña y Marismas de Barbate


Rosemary, European dwarf fan palm, Buckthorn (Rhamnus lycioides) and Phoenician junipers can be found as well as Stone pine and some Aleppo pines. At the cliff edge plants have formed dense cushions to cope with the Atlantic wind and salt spray. Seablite (Suaeda sp) and perennial glasswort (Arthrocnemum perenne) are plants that have adapted to survive these harsh conditions.

Also found here are European beachgrass, Sea Daffodil and Maritime Juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus ssp. Macrocarpa), the latter is in danger of extinction.

Marine environment

Seagrass beds are important nursery areas for juvenile fish and the plants help to stabilize the sediment. The offshore Kelp forests harbor many species of flora and fauna that find shelter, food and surfaces for attachment on the kelp and the surrounding rocky sea bed.


Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis), Little egret (Egretta garzetta), Audouin’s gull (Larus audouinii) Herring gull (Larus argentatus), Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) and Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus).

Many small birds live in the pine trees including Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Woodlark, Dartford Sardinian, Orphean Warblers, Hoopoe and Serin. Spoonbills, Night heron and Osprey may be seen at the marsh areas. Jackdaws and common starlings form colonies in the walls of the ancient watch tower and in cracks and ledges in the cliff.

This is one of the few remaining habitats for the Chameleon.

The Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is making a home for itself here. It is a large colourful butterfly that is a well documented migratory species through America. (They have also been recorded in Los Alcornocales and Marbella areas.)

Marine life includes, Cockles and Fine Clams also fish such as Sole, Eels, Mullet, Bass and Gilthead Bream.

Also in the area of La Breña y Marismas de Barbate

The Phoenicians caught their fish, salted the catch and exported them from this coastline. There are two watch towers, Torre del Tajo which looks out over the highest cliff and the second is close to Caños de Meca. These were built in the 17th and 16th century respectively.

Information/Visitors Centers

In the town of Barbate. ( Avenida del Mar. Puerto de la Albufera, dársena deportiva, s/n)

At the Parque Natural De la Breña y Marismas del Barbate information center you will find an exhibition with a large selection of articles relating to the natural environment: maps, books, souvenirs, etc.

In addition to this, the information centre organises all kinds of activities involving ecotourism: hiking, horse riding, guided tours to the manufacturers of preserved fish, birdwatching routes, yoga sessions and lots of other activities of interest.

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El Estrecho (The Strait of Gibraltar)

  • Region: Andalucia
  • Province: Cadiz
  • Declared a Natural Park: 2003
  • Park surface area: 18.887 hectares (9,640 terrestrial and 9,247 marine)
  • Towns and Villages: Algeciras, Tarifa

Points of interest

El Estrecho (The Strait of Gibraltar) natural park covers the southern most tip of Spain, containing within it environs a richness of history, vegetation and especially bird and marine life.

The coast of Morocco is just 14km away and this offers the shortest span for birds migrating from Europe to the African continent. Birds funnel into this area throughout the year with spring and autumn offering the most amazing sights. More than a million birds of over 200 species congregate in the area each year, this natural phenomenon is observed by many keen birdwatchers and researchers.

For birdwatching, general nature and also marine trips for whale and dolphin spotting, get in touch with Inglorious Bustards

Located near Tarifa in Andalucia and putting you right at the epicentre of birding in The Strait of Gibraltar. With Inglorious Bustards you can experience the incredible event of bird migration.

El Estrecho is also where the Mediterranean sea connects with the Atlantic ocean, the latter has a lower salinity and the meeting point creates a unique zone of high diversity. Research on the marine environment has found more than 1900 species of plant and animal life with some being new discoveries.

The park protects oak woods inland, coastal pine groves, cliff habitats, beaches and the coastal waters.

Due to the exposed site, strong winds are a common occurrence, making this (especially Tarifa) a popular area with windsurfers.

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Note worthy plants in the park are Green-flowered narcissus (Narcissus viridiflorus), Portuguese sundew (Drosophyllum lusitanicum), Genista triacanthos and Chamaespartium tridentatum.

Inland on high ground are natural Cork oak woods with Kermes oaks, Lentisc, Dwarf fan palms and Wild olive trees. There are also some planted areas of Pine and Eucalyptus. Stone pine woods form on the coastal cliff tops with an under story of Prickly and Phoenician juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus and J. phoenicea). Under the pines of Punta Palomas are low growing Annual Valerian (Centranthus calcitrapae) and Scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis).

More open scrub land away from the coast consists of Mastic tree, Rockroses, Portuguese Crowberry (Corema album) and Osyris (Osyris quadripartita).

Growing on (therefore preserving the sand dunes) are Sand couch (Elymus farctus) Southern bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus creticus), Marram grass (Ammophyla arenaria) and Sea spurge (Euphorbia paralias).

Cliff faces that hold vegetation contain Rock samphire (Crithmum maritimum), Marigold (Calendula suffruticosa) and Yellow sea-aster (Asteriscus maritimus).

Marine Flora

In the shallower coastal strip of sand are coverings of Cymodoceion nodosae, whereas deeper water, from 22m, holds kelp beds (Laminaria ochroleuca) these plants that can grow to around 3m in length.
In clear waters there are many forms of sea weed with the most outstanding being Cystoseira.

Terrestrial fauna

Among the reptiles and amphibians are Ocellated Lizard (Lacerta lepida/Timon lepidus), Large Psammodromus (Psammodromus algirus), Iberian Tree Frog (Hyla meridionalis), Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) and Stripe-necked terrapin (Mauremys leprosa).

Mammals include Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Otter (Lutra lutra) and Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon).

Raptors that stay through the year include Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) Spanish Imperial eagle (Aquila adalberti) and Bonelli’s eagle (Hieraetus fasciatus).

Booted eagle (Hieraetus pennatus), Black kite (Milvus migrans) and Short-toed eagle (Circaetus gallicus) arrive in spring to breed during the summer months.

White storks (Ciconia ciconia) give an amazing display when they collect in spiraling thermals by their thousands.

Along the shores can be seen Audouin’s, Mediterranean, Slender-billed, Lesser black-backed and Yellow-legged Gull. Grey, Ringed, Little ringed and Kentish Plover may be viewed on the beaches.

Marine fauna

The marine zone of the park aims to protect various species, some of which are rare and endemic to the Mediterranean sea. Jellyfish including Merona ibera, Cervera atlantica and Scleranthelia microsclera and Sponges (Axinella estacioi) Elephant ear (Spongia agaricina).

Also molluscs and crustaceans such as the giant Mediterranean limpet (Patella ferruginea), which is one of the most threatened marine species in the Mediterranean Sea, Mediterranean fan mussel (Pinna nobilis) and Date mussel (Lithophaga lithophaga).

In rocky areas Mediterranean red coral (Corallium rubrum) grows, it is a protected species, orange coral (Astroides calycularis) can be found growing on rock walls and on the many shipwrecks in the area. Enclaves of Phymatolithon calcareum and Lithothamnion corallioides form in areas protected from strong currents at around 20m deep.

Turtles recorded in the area include the Leather back (Dermochelis coriacea), the critically endangered Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and the vulnerable Loggerhead (Caretta caretta).

Resident species of Dolphins are Common (Delphinus delphis), Bottlenose (Tursiops truncatus) and Striped Dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba), the latter is in danger of extinction.

Also resident are several groups of Long-finned pilot whales plus there are regular sightings of Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus). Other species such as Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus) and Orca (Orcinus orca) regularly occur in the area. Minke (Balaenoptera acuturostrata) and Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are more rare visitors but have been seen in the past.

Fish of special interest include Golden grouper (Epinephelus alexandrinus), the beautifully coloured Mediterranean rainbow wrasse (Coris julis), Scorpion fish (Scorpaena porcus), Senegalese and Common sole (Solea senegalensis and Solea vulgaris), Thornback and Undulate ray (Raja clavata and Raja undulata), the Angler fish (Lophius piscatorius), White bream (Diplodus sargus), Gilthead seabream (Sparus auratus) and the huge Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola).

Also in the area

  • The Roman Ruins of Baelo Claudia are situated in the west of the park. The town developed about 2000 years BC centered on a fish salting and fish paste “Garum” industry. By the sixth century AD it was abandoned. The ruins feature a forum, temple, an amphitheatre and the large fish salting pits. (Website here)
  • Tarifa, a small fishing town, was the first point of the Moorish invasion of Southern Spain in 711 AD. The castellated walls were built over different eras, largely the ancient Tarifa medina and the 18th century. The 8th Century Jerez Gate has recently been restored and the Arab Castle of Guzman El Bueno, built in 960 AD, is open to visitors.
  • To the west of Tarifa is the “Necropolis de los Algarbes” which is an important Bronze Age site covering an area of 2 hectares. (Found alongside Camping Paloma). Also at the same site is the ‘Cueva del Moro’ which is the most important cave in Tarifa. The Palaeolithic carvings of this cave, discovered in 1995, originate from the Solutrean civilisation more than 18,000 years ago. Large figures, mostly equine, are carved into the rock. These findings are Europe’s most southern Palaeolithic art. Within the local mountain ranges there are over 49 caves and shelters with prehistoric art belonging to the Superior Palaeolithic ages and later.
    On the site “Silla del Papa” are foundations of a great building, made with stone blocks that could be Visigoth place of worship. (Sadly, telecommunication towers have been erected within this site).

Information/Visitors Centers

Both Algecirus and Tarifa have municipal tourist offices.

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, and conveniently located trails along which visitors can enjoy all the scenic and botanical richness of the area.

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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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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.

Los Alcornocales Natural Park with Explore la Tierra


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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Sierra de Grazalema

  • Region: Andalucia
  • Provinces: Cadiz, Malaga
  • Declared a Natural Park: 1984
  • Park surface area: 51,695 hectares

Points of interest

The Natural Park of the Sierra de Grazalema has also been declared a Biosphere Reserve, this is due to the diverse geography with high limestone mountains and deep gorges such as Garganta Verde, (Green Gorge) that is 400m deep and filled with lush vegetation. In addition, it offers a great diversity of species- animals and vegetation.

Many species are represented in the Botanical Garden of El Bosque, which is a good place to see the more rare flora of the area.

Numerous species of birds live in the park, the Griffon vulture being the most recognizable by its sheer size and tendency to fly in numbers.

For more in depth information about this area please have a look at the Grazalema Guide. This is our Tourist Information Portal for the Sierra de Grazalema, The town of Ronda and the Caminito del Rey. You can find out everything you need for a visit to this area of Andalucia (Where we live) 🙂

Find a hotel in the Sierra de Grazalema


The mountain range conserves an important mass of typically Mediterranean natural vegetation including evergreen oaks, cork oaks, strawberry tree, carob trees and wild olives. Pine woodlands have been planted for a crop and land stabilization in the past but have now naturalized. In the shade of the mountain

El Pinsapar is a magnificent forest of rare Pinsapo trees. There are three areas of this exclusive fir tree in the mountainous area of Ronda showing that it once covered more ground. Grazalema park has the largest area of them.

Mediterranean scrub including Lentisc, Cistus and Gorse cover the hillsides which in spring are also host to a huge variety of wildflowers, some of which only grow in the Ronda area, such as Linaria platycalyx. Those endemic to Grazalema are Papaver rupifragum, Phlomis margaritae, Echinospartum algibicum and Erodium recoderi. Ornithogalum reverchonii grows in the Sierra de Grazalema and North Africa.


The Griffon vulture has large resident breeding colonies here as does Red-billed chough. Eagle owls are resident but uncommon. Egyptian vulture, Booted eagle and Short-toed eagle arrive in spring to breed. There is a breeding colony of Lesser kestrels in the village of Zahara de la Sierra. Blue rock thrush, Rock thrush and Black wheatear can be seen on the higher ground with occasional Alpine accentor and Ring ouzel sightings in the winter. Warblers include sub-alpine, Dartford, Sardinian and Orphean.

Cabra montes or Spanish ibex is the most visible mammal. Red deer, Mongoose, Fox, Genet, Otter and Wildcat are much more elusive and can be hard to spot.

Also in the area

  • Cueva de la Pileta is a natural cave system near Benaocaz which holds some of the most important cave paintings in Spain.
  • Hundidero-Gato Complex is a natural caving system that connects a sink hole to a cave river outlet traversing 5kms underground, caving here is for professional teams only. But you can visit the Cueva del Gato. (very refreshing in the summer.)
  • There are Roman remains close to the town of Ubrique (Ocuri.) If you are visiting the town of Ubrique then ask in the tourist office for times and prices for the guided visits.
  • The gastronomy of the region constitutes another important cultural wealth. Many of the villages survive today by producing goats cheese and Iberian pork products.

The number of people visiting El Pinsapar, as well as other enclaves of the park, are restricted. Permits should be sought at the Information Centre at El Bosque. (The park headquarters). From 1st July to 31st September (approximately) some areas can only be visited with a registered guide and organised group.

Click here to find out how to get a permit

Information/Visitors Centers

The visitor centre in the village of el Bosque is the main and official information centre for the natural park of the Sierra de Grazalema.It contains multipurpose room where an audiovisual presentation on the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park can be seen

At the reception you can find information about trails and get your permissions for restricted walks in the park area, attractions. There is also a shop with very different items (clothing, handicrafts, souvenirs, food, maps, guides, etc.).

The nearby botanical garden El Castillejo has examples of the most representative plant species in the reserve. Read about the Botanic garden in El Bosque here.

Most villages in the park also have their own municipal information centre or infomation point.

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