Andalusía, in Southern Spain, is known for many things: it’s home to amazing monuments like the Alhambra of granda and the Mezquita of Crdoba, it’s the birthplace of flamenco and bullfighting and the region is world-renowned for its laid-back fun-loving spirit. But, Andalusia has other “tricks up its sleeve”. The region also enjoys a unique natural beauty that sometimes gets overlooked: Doñana.
From the spectacular, pristine beaches, the Sierra Nevada mountain range Andalusia has some truly breathtaking natural gems, none more spectacular than the Doñana national park, located mainly in the province of Huelva, though parts spill over into Cádiz and Seville as well. Doñana is one of Spain’s 15 national parks and perhaps the most spectacular.
Doñana is one of the most unique natural environments in the world. The park spans over 543 square kilometers and contains several different and distinct ecosystems within. Marshes, streams, sand dunes, and Mediterranean forests, all can be found within the same park. This microcosm is created due to the peculiar location of the park.
Doñana National Park is a mosaic of unique Spanish ecosystems since you can find, only a few kilometers away the swamps, the beach, dunes, shrub land, pine and oaks forests. This park has been a biosphere reserve since 1980 due to its large biological diversity, and has been a UNESCO patrimony since 1984. Dona Ana is meant to be the best area to enjoy bird watching in Spain.
The Doñana National Park is spread out on three Andalusian provinces, Cadiz, Huelva and Sevilla in the birth of the Guadalquivir, and the usual accesses are made from Matalascañas by 4×4 that leaves the El Acebuche reception center with a guide. You can also leave by sea going up the course of the river from Sanlucar of Barrameda on the Real Fernando boat that also includes guides to the nature, the park and its species. Another option would be to enjoy one of the many hikes in Doñana or by bicycle on the designated paths that arrive to different bird watching facilities.
Doñana National Park
Doñana: The Largest National park in Spain and in Europe!
Doñana is located at the delta of the Guadalquivir river (one of the longest in Spain) that runs all the way up through the city of Seville, located about 70 km north of the park. This meeting point between the fresh waters of the Guadalquivir and the warm salty waters of the Mediterranean generates creates an unparalleled level of biodiversity in the continent.
The park features a great variety of wildlife including thousands of European and African migratory birds, fallow deer, Spanish red deer, wild boars, European badgers, Egyptian mongooses, and endangered species such as the Spanish imperial eagle and the elusive Iberian lynx.
The Doñana nature reserve includes both the Doñana National Park and the Natural Park, created in 1989. The park has been in constant danger due to the agricultural exploitation of the area, but thankfully the area has been under the protection of the Spanish government for decades and has been classified (in its entirety) as a natural landscape.
Its location between the continents of Europe and Africa and its proximity to the Strait of Gibraltar, make Doñana’s large expanse of salt marsh a perfect breeding ground and resting point for thousands of European and African birds. Over 200,000 individual migratory birds show up in the winter months, and over 300 different species of birds may be sighted there annually.
Doñana is the largest nature reserve in Europe, with several different scientific monitoring stations within its boundaries that are there to ensure the appropriate development of the ecosystems and the conservation of threatened species that call Doñana home. The area was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994.
Doñana park map
How to get to Doñana from Seville?
The best way to get to Doñana from Seville is by car, and there really isn’t any other way because of the protection of the reserve. The drive takes about 40 minutes, check out the map below:
Bird watching at Doñana
The northern area of Doñana, that all visitors have to cross before reching the parks visitor center is a wonderful area for birding especially in the wet season. Several species of waterfowl can be spotted here, including Marbled and White-headed Ducks, resident species like the Glossy Ibis, and the Spoonbill, Red-knobbed Coot, Red-crested Pochard, Little and Cattle Egrets, Night and Squacco Herons and thousands of Flamingos can easily be spotted in this area of the park.
In summer, Short-toed Lark, Purple and Night Herons, and Gull-billed Tern, can all be found as well as Short-toed Eagles, Black Terns and the rare Rufous Bush Robin all show up in nothern Doñana.
In the parks south, at least 2 days are needed to properly experience everything. The Asperillo, a scrubland within the old dunes are home to a wide variety of warblers.
La Rocina, closer to the river is one of the parks best birding spots during the wet season. There are several hides and nice footpaths where you can observe many species of waterfowl and aquatic birds.
Summer residents of this area include, among others: Savi’s Warblers, Bee-eaters, Gull-billed Terns, Booted Eagles, and Whiskered Terns. Harder to spot, but also a resident of this southern slice of Doñana is the Spanish Imperial Eagle, one of the parks endangered species.
In winter, the area really comes alive: Great White Egrets, Osprey, Black-tailed Godwits and a large number of waders visit Doñana. During migration, Garganey and Temminck’s Stint are also seen regularly.
How to visit the park
If you want to go across Doñana in 4×4, you’ll need to reserve in advance since the protection of the National Park limits the number of visitors in a day. The visit in 4×4 takes about four hours and there are only two departure times, one in the morning and one in the evening.
The vehicles used are small buses with big wheels and traction to all four wheels that enable the car to circulate through the sandy areas, beaches and dunes. There are about 20 spaces plus the driver on the bus, who on top is the guide that will explain the different ecosystems, the traditional uses of the park, the old mines, the still existing towns and the different species spotted.
In the northern part of the Doñana National Park you’ll find the swamps closest to the Rocio village where you will see a large variety of birds. On top of pine and oak forests, you’ll find the Iberian Lynx, considered the most endangered feline of the planet, this is why it was declared as a protected species in 1966. In this same northern part of the park you’ll also be able to observe deers, mongooses and wild boars: a real adventure!
The more southern part of the park occupies the zone of the mobile dunes, the border and the bank of the Guadalquivir until its estuary and the part of the beach that boarders the municipality of Matalascañas. This all can be visited in the 4×4 on the sea next to the dunlin birds playing in the waves. On this courses you’ll be able to visit the border, the pens of vegetation formed by the dunes and a few pine and oak forests where you will be able to spot another emblematic animal of this park: the Spanish imperial eagle.
You can also visit the Doñana National Park by using two modes of transportation. You can start by crossing the Guadalquivir on a barge from Sanlucar, and once you reach the other end of the river, you can continue the rest of you visit in a 4×4 until the Plancha town which is right next to the pier where the Real Fernando ship docks. Back on the river before heading back to Sanlucar, you’ll sail to a few bird spotting areas, near wetlands and salt lakes where you can observe spectacular flocks of flamingos, ducks, egrets…since nearly half a million birds pass through the Doñana National Park per year.
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