It is fact that almost a fifth of Andalucia is unspoiled nature and beautiful countryside. Together with a sun shining so bright, stunning flora and diverse fauna, Doñana National Park is one of the most important protected natural areas in Europe.
‘Parque nacional y natural de Doñana’ (in Spanish) is one of the largest heronries (a place where heron birds nest and breed) in the Mediterranean region and a refuge for many endangered species. Doñana is notable for it’s biotopes; lagoons, marshalands, dunes, woodland and maquis… just endless beautiful nature really.
Doñaña is most famously known to be home to threatened bird species. It’s also a crucial crossroad for bird migration routes between Africa and Europe. Over 300 species inhabit in this region, 130 of which breed regularly. With plenty of mudflat land, lots of aquatic birds (waterfowls) inhabit well in this territory.
If you’re a bird watcher and lover, your must visit Doñana, it is considered a bird watcher’s paradise.
Doñana is home to another 37 species of mammals, 11 amphibians, 20 species of fresh-water fish, countless insects, arachids, annelids and endless beautiful flora.
Here’s a map of Doñaña National Park:
The specific specie that many go to Doñana searching and admiring is the so called ‘King of Doñana’ – the Iberian Lynx.
This wild cat is the world’s most endangered, and enjoys living on flat and sea-level land. The Iberian lynx’s typical characteristics are tufted ears, long legs, short tail, and a ruff of fur that resembles a “beard”. A pro rabbit hunter which knows how to skilfully catch and kill small prey.
Fiesty little beauty, don’t you think?
Other endangered species and sought for in Doñana Park are the Spanish Imperial Eagle (only 10 of these live in the park) and the Spur-thighed tortoise, a small vegetarian reptile that lives on the sang patches of Doñana Park.
Doñana Park is home to some amazing vegetation, a large variety of virgin habitats you may not find just anywhere else. Stone pines, cistus heather, mastic tree, cistus scrub, glasswort, rosemary, red lavender and thyme. Forests of cork oaks, gladioli, irises, rock roses, tree heaths and marhslands covered in flowers of all sorts. You may not recognize some of the names listed above, but you get the idea — there’s a lot of vegetation. These take large and important part in the ecosystems and endangered species that inhabit in Doñana. If you have keen curiosity for these various types of vegetation, you may find it interesting to know that cork oaks are called “las pajareras”, which translates to ‘pajaro’ (which mean ‘bird’) holders. They are called bird holders because they have so many birds nesting and resting on these trees.
Mediterranean pine wood and sandy soil scrubland and huge (and we mean huge) salt marshes are the major ecosystems in Doñana.
Stone pines — Most pines in Doñana are of this specie, pines with great collection of nuts.
Salt marshes — Dry in summer, these freshwater plains are often used by numerous waterfowls (aquatic birds) for feeding and breeding.
Mediterranean forest — This scrub forest soil is home to rockroses, rosemary, mastic trees, native palm trees and mammals such as the famous Iberian lynx.
Some history about Doñana National Park
Doñana National Park was created in 1969 and was titled a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1980. Originally a territory used by royalty and nobility for hunting and lodging, it was in the early 1960’s when Doñana areas were measured and taken seriously. It was Spanish scientist José Antonio Valverde who convinced the authorities about the importance of preserving and protecting the lands. This natural and national treasure has more than 100,000 protected hectares of land.
Doñana is one of the 8 biospheres in Andalucia, another title depicted by UNESCO that is meant to demonstrate a balanced relationship between man and nature, encouraging sustainable development.
Historically is has been found out that inhabitants of the Doñana region, before it was put under protection, were Phoenicians, Tartessos, Romans and Arabs. The name “Doñana” comes from the most famous resident, Doña Ana de Mendoza. Doña Ana was Duchess of Franvilla, a Spainish beauty, who lost an eye in a mock duel with a page when she was young. She retired to live in these lands in the 16th Century.
Where is Doñana?
Located in the southwest of the Spanish peninsula, between the rivers Tinto and Gualdalquivir. Andalucian provinces that contribute to Doñana’s territory are Huelva (mostly), Sevilla and Cádiz, bordering sea and mountain regions.
The village of El Rocío, which sits right next to National Park, serves as a gateway to it is another attraction of the area. There are multiple information spots in all entrances to the National Park, which are controlled, evidently, due to the restriction and protection programs enforced in the park.
What to do in Doñana?
Footpaths lead to visitor’s centers El Acebuche, La Rocina and El Palacio del Acebrón, where you will find all the information you need about walks, tours, maps and so on. As you may understand, the core of the park is off-limits to independent walkers.
There are multiple bike routes for cyclists and tours that you can ask for at information spots.
Other World Heritage sites in Andalucía
- Alhambra and Generalife in Albayeín (Granada)
A stunning arabic architecture palace and fortress complex located in Granada.
- Alcázar Palace (Sevilla, Andalucías capital)
Is a royal palace, originally a Moorish fort. It is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe.
- Mosque ‘Mezquita de Córdoba’ (Córdoba)
Is a medieval Islamic mosque that was converted into a Catholic Christian cathedral. Beautiful Islamic architecture, shapes and forms of the Mosque still preserve.
- Cave art (Almería)
Rock and cave art dating to the Upper Paleolithic or (more likely) Mesolithic periods of the Stone Age. The art consists of small painted figures of humans and animals.