When many people think of Andalucía, they will often picture the Costa del Sol, historic cities, and brilliant beaches. While all this is certainly waiting for you in this most wonderful of Spanish regions, Andalucía is also home to a plethora of incredible nature parks. That’s right, this area of southern Spain is a nature lover’s paradise, featuring vast protected areas of unspoilt natural beauty. To give you a taste of what to expect when your trip is possible, we have highlighted some of the best nature parks in Andalucía, all perfect to visit with a convenient car hire in Malaga. So, if you enjoy hikes, animal watching, or just getting lost in nature, take a look and discover the many natural beauty escapes of Andalucía.
Montes de Malaga Nature Park
Malaga Mountains, also known as Montes de Malaga Nature Park, is the ideal wilderness escape for those visiting the city. After exploring the delights of the town and relaxing on its beautiful beaches, a change of pace can certainly be found in Malaga Mountains. Lying in the heart of Malaga’s coastal mountain range, the park features pine forests and valleys with the Guadalmedina river crossing through it.
The area is home to a lovely mix of wildlife and bird watching is particularly popular, with eagles and sparrow hawks frequently spotted. Montes de Malaga is also the ideal location for cycling – something that many choose to take advantage of. Describing the scenery during her time biking in the park, blogger Stefania van Lieshout said: “The Montes de Malaga is a protected natural area, where almond trees blossom. Oaks, olive trees and pines ensure beautiful greenery throughout the year.
“These mountain passes are not only popular among cyclists, motorists also enjoy driving here because the route is truly spectacular, on the first part to the Puerto de la Bolina you have fantastic mountain views and from the Puerto del Leon there are sweeping views overlooking the infinite blue of the Mediterranean.”
Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas
At a vast 2,099 sq km, Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas is Spain’s biggest protected area. Situated north of Jaén, visitors to this special park can look forward to incredible mountain scenery with beautiful valleys, picturesque villages and a host of wildlife.
Ian Rutter, from the Spanish-based blog Two South of Granada, has spent time at the park and shared with us what he thinks makes it so special: “As with many of the other natural and national parks in Andalucía, a visit to the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas takes the traveller back to a time when wildlife dominated, and not mankind. To be surrounded by such natural beauty, wilderness, vast skies and dramatic mountain-scapes is both breathtaking and humbling.
“Although we had unfortunate weather when we visited between Christmas and New Year, this area is gorgeous regardless. Take time to plan as many hikes as you can to embrace the variety of the surroundings. Prepare by popping into the visitor centre at Torre del Vinagre and learn something about the wildlife that inhabits these mountains and gorges, and pick up maps and leaflets.”
Rachel, from the aptly named all things Andalucía blog Andalucía Explorer, is also fond of Sierra de Cazorla, sharing with us what she thinks makes it stand out: “The Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas Natural Park is a stunning, vast area of wilderness, Mediterranean forest, gentle streams and the peaceful Tranco Reservoir with its solar-powered boat that drifts along. If you´re lucky and can get an early morning or dusk sailing you might see deer, wild boar and mountain goats drinking from its shores.
“Being the largest natural area in Spain, and second-largest in Europe it is also within my ´home´ province. This biosphere reserve takes the breath away and restores the soul. This is not an area to rush through but for ´slow travel´ to appreciate its diversity and beauty.”
Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park
With the sun of southern Spain beating down so consistently, the coast becomes a natural retreat. But is it possible to combine Andalucía beaches and nature parks in one? It certainly is with Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park, a 70km stretch of dramatic coastline. This park is Andalucía’s largest coastal protected area, featuring wild landscape, that imbues one with the feeling of total isolation. This part of Spain features Europe’s only hot desert climate and also boasts ancient geological features such as high volcanic heads that separate the beaches.
Due to its coastal flavour, water sports and lazy beach days are the name of the game. The beach known as Playa de los Genoveses is 1,200 metres long and is unspoilt by buildings or manmade features of any kind. There are also plenty of coastal trails in Cabo de Gata to explore as well for those who fancy stretching their legs.
Yet another majestic nature park in Andalucía is the Sierra Nevada. This mountainous area (the second highest in Europe), located in the province of Granada, provides truly staggering scenery and an epic backdrop for your holiday. Not many people will link snow and Southern Spain in their heads but in the Sierra Nevada this is what you can expect with a brilliant ski season to look forward – we have written about why you should ski in the Sierra Nevada in a previous piece. There are also myriad hiking trails to enjoy in the park, allowing you to escape into nature, becoming immersed in Andalucía’s wildlife, and on clear days enjoy spectacular views of the coast from your elevated position.
The strength of Andalucía’s nature parks is their geographic diversity and the Sierra Nevada is a perfect example of this. But even if skiing or hiking isn’t your thing, with the area’s natural beauty and the fun activities that can be enjoyed like caving, kayaking, and mountain biking, there’s plenty to look forward to.
Doñana National Park in Huelva is home to a gorgeous expanse of wetlands, also well known for its migratory birds, coastal dunes, and towering pine forests. Doñana is an important refuge for migratory birds, seeing half a million flock to its confines. As such, it’s a bird lover’s paradise, with a chance to spot the likes of flamingos and stalks. Comprised of two parks in total, Doñana contains a 542 sq km national park with a 538 sq km natural park acting as a protective buffer.
Discovering Doñana are experts in the area, offering tours for those wanting to get the most out of their visit. Speaking to us about what you can look forward to at the park, the team said: “No other park in Spain features such a large variety of ecosystems and landscapes. Beaches and mobile sand dunes, pine and cork oak forests, lagoons and marshes. Derived from this, Doñana offers a very rich collection of wildlife. The Spanish Imperial Eagle and the Iberian lynx stand out of it as two of the emblems of the park which supports some of the most important populations of these two endangered species.
“Red deer, fallow deer, wild boar, red fox, badger and many other smaller mammals abound in forests areas. Doñana is well known for supporting one of the most important populations of Iberian lynx, considered as one of the most endangered species of feline in the world. The forests in the north of the Park we go through, offer the highest density of them.
Beach lovers also have a lot to look forward to, as the team describe: “A 30 km long sandy beach along the Atlantic Coast is considered to be the largest undisturbed and unspoiled beach in Spain. The mobile dune complex associated with it produce landscapes of outstanding beauty that you will see nowhere else in our country. A succession of dune lines move inland, being pushed by the wind along with small pine forests, keeping an amazing natural balance.
“The ecosystem that covers most of the Park and gives its most important character is the marshland. The Guadalquivir Marshes are the second-largest wetlands in Europe and offer refuge to a long list of aquatic species that use Doñana as their wintering quarters or to reproduce.
Nature parks to visit in Andalucía
- Montes de Malaga Nature Park
- Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas
- Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park
- Sierra Nevada
As you can see, there is far more to Andalucía than sun and surf. The region is replete with vast unspoilt landscapes, beautiful protected areas, thriving habitats, and a geographical diversity that is truly unique. Whatever type of holiday you are looking to enjoy, Andalucía can certainly provide.
For more tips, guides, and advice on all things Andalucía, head to our blog.
Image Credit: E. Crespo