The lands of southern Spain have a very rich and vast artistic, cultural, historical and above all natural heritage. Andalusia has 24 Natural Parks of great diversity and ecological importance. From the rugged mountains of Sierra Nevada to the most important wetland on the European continent, Doñana. Today we show you nine natural gems of Andalusia that you cannot miss.
Desfiladero de los Gaitanes
The Desfiladero de los Gaitanes in the province of Málaga is an impressive natural gorge opened by the Guadalhorce River through the limestone and dolomites. With an extension of three kilometres, this gorge has heights of up to 300 metres and widths of less than ten metres. Through erosion, the Guadalhorce River has carved out a large number of caves and chasms, among which we can find the Ardales Cave, which houses a significant sample of rock art with more than 1,000 artistic motifs, along its 1,600 meters of galleries.
The gorge is open to the public and can be walked along the so-called Caminito del Rey, a narrow hanging walkway, which in some of its sections is suspended up to 100 metres high. The Desfiladero de los Gaitanes has a great wealth of animal and plant life adapted to the steep walls. In addition, the area has been declared a Special Protection Area for Birds, so it is possible that during the tour different birds of prey can be observed, such as the Bonelli’s eagle, the peregrine falcon or the eagle owl. Likewise, just half an hour away by car, you can visit the small town of Ardales, an important bastion of Muslim resistance in the Middle Ages.
Among the natural gems of Andalusia is the protected area of the Rio Tinto in Huelva, unique in the world. Its waters run with different reddish tones, a characteristic that is due to the high content of iron salts, a product of the mining extraction in the region. In the high section of the Rio Tinto is located the largest opencast mine in Europe. Gold, silver, copper and iron have been extracted from its deposits in large quantities, contributing to the region’s mining fame. This deposit is one of the oldest in the region and has been exploited by Phoenicians, Tartessians and Romans.
Today we can visit the site, the Mining Museum, the short Peña del Hierro and a great number of infrastructures and elements that tell the history of the mining and economic development of the place. In addition, only six kilometres away we find the small town of Niebla, which has an imposing castle and walled complex, as well as a very well preserved Roman bridge on the outskirts.
The maritime-terrestrial Natural Park of El Estrecho in Cádiz converges disparate landscapes formed by the intense winds and climatic conditions that concur between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The Strait of Gibraltar Natural Park extends along a coastline of more than 60 kilometres long and one mile out to sea, where we can find large cliffs, underwater caves, Mediterranean forests, fine sandy beaches and tidal wetlands. Its seabed is of great historical and natural importance and is a suitable place for diving and active tourism in the region.
Among its beaches, it is worth mentioning the Lance beach in Tarifa, from which you can see the Strait of Gibraltar, the African coast and the coastal mountains of Tarifa. El Lance beach is a natural area of great ecological importance due to the large concentration of birds in their rounds during the migratory cycles. Likewise another natural gem of Andalusia that we can find in the Natural Park of the Strait is the Dune of Bologna. An active dune with more than 30 meters high in the isthmus of Punta Camarinal. The group of dunes is known as barjanal, a name that has been given by the shape of its dunes that form a crescent perpendicular to the wind with uneven slopes.
Sierra de Cazorla, Segura y las Villas Natural Park
The Sierra de Cazorla, Segura y las Villas, declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1983, is one of the most important natural gems of Andalusia. Located in the north-eastern corner of the province of Jaén, it has an area of almost 210,000 hectares of dense forests, peaks and ravines, peaks that exceed two thousand metres in height and deep valleys. The Guadalquivir and Segura rivers are born in its entrails and flow through the valleys.
There are dozens of natural areas to visit within the Natural Park on pleasant routes on foot, by bike or on horseback. The Closed Route of Elías where we can visit the many waterfalls formed by the Borosa River, among which the Calaveras Waterfall stands out. Or the Closed route of the Castril river that besides the beautiful walk is very near the Cave of Agua, one of the first natural caves known in Spain, also known as the Cave of Wonders.
El Tornillo del Torcal is the largest example of the impressive geological formations to be found inside El Torcal Natural Park, to the south of the city of Antequera. More than 150 million years ago, with the retreat of the sea, an infinite number of underwater sediments arose which over the centuries have moulded extravagant shapes in the rocks through the erosion of ice, air and wind. El Torcal Natural Park has labyrinthine passages, cavities and curious shapes carved into the limestone rock in which the millenary marine sediments can be observed.
El Tornillo del Torcal has been declared a Natural Monument, being one of the most important natural sites in the whole region of Málaga. El Tornillo is made up of a series of six slabs that seem to have been placed one on top of the other, but have actually been drilled into the rock by the effect of erosion. The El Torcal Natural Park is one of the natural gems of Andalusia that you cannot miss.
Sierra Norte de Sevilla Natural Park
The Sierra Norte de Sevilla Natural Park is a site carved by common agreement between nature and the people who have inhabited its surroundings over the centuries. Included in the European Geoparks Network, its gentle hills of slate slabs combine with extensive forests of holm oaks and cork oaks, mixed with Mediterranean forest. There are many routes among which we find the Green Route of the Sierra Norte where we can see the impressive natural monument of the lapiaz del Cerro del Hierro. The park as a whole is a perfect terrain for hiking and climbing. You can also visit the El Robledo visitor centre, where you will find the park’s botanical garden, which houses a collection of the most characteristic plant species of the Sierra Morena.
In the Sierras Subbéticas Natural Park in Córdoba there is the Cueva de los Murciélagos Natural Monument. A system of caves and galleries that was inhabited from the Palaeolithic period until the conquest of the Roman Empire. This cave in the town of Zuheros contains an important sample of cave art from the Upper Palaeolithic period, which has led to its being declared an Asset of Cultural Interest. The cave can be visited in a tour of two kilometers, where you can admire both its limestone formations and small lakes and spectacular karst formations, highlighting the Asparagus stalactite in the Hall of the formations.
The Odiel Marshes on the coast of Huelva are one of the most important tidal marshes in the Iberian Peninsula and have therefore been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO and a Special Protection Area for Birds. They include the Natural Reserves of the El Burro Marsh, with 597 hectares, and the Island of Enmedio, with 480 hectares. Through a boat tour, visitors will be able to enjoy its botanical and animal richness, to pay special attention to the many birds that fly over and feed in their migratory passage towards Africa.
Between the cities of Jaén and Ciudad Real is the La Cimbarra Waterfall Natural Park. The Guarrizas River flows quickly through it, giving rise to numerous waterfalls, the most famous of which is the La Cimbarra Waterfall, with a drop of more than 20 metres. The rocks of this place are very resistant and it is possible to observe in them fossil traces or spectacular curling caused by the waves, which reveal the marine origin of these rocks 500 million years ago. Among its rocks and caves have also been found important archaeological sites that have been declared by UNESCO as World Heritage Site. Furthermore, this park is very close to other important natural sites, such as the Despeñaperros Natural Park and the Los Órganos Natural Monument.