Doñana site guide
Doñana has an immense protected area… roughly similar to Greater London, for example. In this mini guide we indicate the main sites of interest that should be visited to get to know the park. They are grouped into five geographical areas, following the cardinal directions and above all the access possibilities.
The heart of Doñana (technically, Entorno Natural de Doñana) is none other than the Doñana National Park, an almost impenetrable surface of 543 km² surrounded by peripheral buffer zones (Pre-parc; Natural Park) which host the facilities accessible to visitors. As for the lands of the Biological Reserve of Doñana, they are dedicated to scientific research carried out mainly by the Biological Station of Doñana.
In the heart of the marshes: El Rocío & the Doñana Biological Reserve
El Rocío is the ecological and spiritual center of the National Park… and an obligatory passage for any visit to Doñana worthy of the name. Hamlet among the most picturesque in Spain, it was built around a hermitage dedicated to the Virgin and her multitudinal procession and houses in particular: the Sanctuary of the Virgin del Rocío built in the 1960s; the adjacent marshes of La Madre (one of the best birdwatching spots in Europe); sandy alleys that never leave you indifferent and an Andalusian Sevillian atmosphere with a touch of folklore. The village has few inhabitants, most of the buildings housing the pilgrims who congregate during the Procession del Rocío, an event of national importance celebrated at Pentecost. As for the Saca de las yeguas (celebrated on June 26), the Almonteño ‘gardians‘ gather the ‘marismeños‘ horses and lead them from the marshes to Almonte. From El Rocío, unfortunately, we can only regret the galloping urbanism.
El Rocío: the Mother of the Marshes
One of the most iconic landscapes of the park and whose importance is reflected even in the multitude of its toponyms: Charco de La Boca, Marisma del Rocío, Marisma de La Madre, Madre de Las Marismas… The hamlet is entirely dedicated to the ‘White Dove’… and to the contemplation of nature. At the end of the promenade overlooking the marshes stands the ornithological center of SEO/Birdlife. SITUATION MAP.
Wild olives in El Rocío
Natural Monument located on the ‘Plaza del Acebuchal’ in El Rocío and counting about ten oleasters (Olea europaea var. sylvestris), the wild variety of the cultivated olive tree. A dozen specimens several centuries old conform the vestige of an ancient Mediterranean forest adapted to the conditions of high heat and drought.
La Raya Real – Coto del Rey
At the far end of Rocío, the Ajolí Bridge crosses the temporary Partido stream and opens onto a sandy public road, the Raya Real, where walking is quickly slowed down. We enter a renowned pine forest, the Coto del Rey, a former royal hunting ground and refuge of the Iberian Lynx and the Imperial Eagle. Explore the Coto on foot or by 4×4 (on the Raya and pine forests outside the national park to the north), or by taking the (controversial) Villamanrique road. About 10 km from the bridge is the Palacio del Rey. SITUATION MAP.
La Rocina – El Acebrón
La Rocina stream is the main tributary of the Marisma del Rocío and captures rainwater from the Abalario watershed (Western Doñana). Two interpretation centers close to El Rocío are worth a visit and allow you to observe the marshes of Charco de La Boca (C.V. La Rocina) SITUATION MAP and to fully immerse yourself in the gallery forest of La Rocina (C.V. El Acebrón) SITUATION MAP.
Main interpretation center of the national park where marked trails facilitate access to ornithological observatories overlooking freshwater lagoons typical of the dune mantle. To be noted: the official shop with good quality souvenirs and a room with live transmission of images of Iberian lynxes from the breeding center in captivity. SITUATION MAP.
El Puntal – Palacio de Doñana
Restricted area only accessible to the public via 4×4 minibus tours departing from El Acebuche. A huge spit of mobile dunes protects a vast expanse of salt marshes fed by the estuary; the transition zone between these two ecosystems is home to the famous ‘pajarera de la Vera’.
Western Doñana: coastline and hinterland
An impressive fauna crossing bridge located near El Acebuche announces the imminent arrival at the seaside resort of Matalascañas and symbolically marks the passage on the coast of the Natural Space of Doñana which extends between the mouth of the river (to the east) and Mazagón (not far from Huelva). In the little frequented Doñana Occidental, a fossil dune, several kilometers long and culminating at more than 100 meters, runs along a preserved beach and dominates the pine forest of El Abalario. This is home to a multitude of temporary ponds heavily impacted by excessive water extraction from Matalascañas and strawberry growers. Rare passages through the dune provide access to the beach.
Playa de Castilla – Torre Carbonero
Little frequented by bathers, the beach extends over more than twenty kilometers to the south-east of Matalascañas and is accessible on foot by passing the large hotels. It is used by the 4×4 vehicles of the visit del Puntal on the way back. Wild coast showing all the dune fascies and hosting abundant marram grass and old lookout towers (Torre Carbonero).
El Asperillo sand cliff
Monumento Natural accessible from the Laguna del Jaral trail near Matalascañas. A system of ‘fossil’ dunes extended along the coast as far as Mazagón for about twenty kilometres. It is sand brought by the wind 15,000 years ago and compacted in the form of sandstone (sandy loose rock) not very compact, today subject to erosion phenomena and forming impressive coastal cliffs. SITUATION MAP.
Cuesta Maneli and beach
Wooden walkway that allows you to comfortably cross the dune belt of El Asperillo and access the sea. Observation points on the pine forest of El Abalario and on the Atlantic Ocean. SITUATION MAP. Path allowing to visualize the effects of the fire of 2017. In the direction of Mazagón, several rather discreet and poorly marked paths follow facies eroded by mini-wadis and facilitate a picturesque access to the beach. Notably Rompeculo and Parador.
Fossil footprints on Asperillo beach
Recently a great storm discovered an impressive deposit of fossilized traces on clay deposits on the beach of Matalascañas. They can be observed in particular conditions of low tide and when the currents remove the sand that the tide then deposited. These fossils include human footprints of Neanderthals (106,000 years old) as well as many mammals, for example elephants (Palaeloxodon antiquus).
Mazagón centenary pine
Natural Monument located near the ‘Parador de Mazagón’: a monumental example of an stone pine (Pinus pinea) estimated to be 400 years old. This tree is the dean of the great pine forest of Doñana resulting from important forest plantations throughout the sector.
Very little frequented route, close to the abandoned hamlet of Abalario, and which runs along several small connected lagoons, where organic matter accumulates, thus forming small Mediterranean peat bogs.
Laguna de Moguer
One of the very many temporary Mediterranean pools located in the immense pine forest which develops on the dune mantle of the western Doñana (El Abalario). These ponds, which are highly dependent on rainfall, do not form every year and dry up at the end of spring.
Northern Doñana: birdwatching spots within reach of Seville
Southwest of Seville, the villages of Coria del Río and La Puebla del Río are located on the banks of the right bank of the Guadalquivir and mark the historic gateway to the Marismas del Bajo Guadalquivir. The marshes transformed into cultivated land during the 20th century allowed the installation of important rice fields around Isla Mayor. To the north, the first elevations of the land host ancient Mediterranean forests and recent pine forests that delimit the Natural Space (pre-park) and form an excellent habitat for the Iberian lynx.
Cañada de los Pájaros
Concerted Nature Reserve. La Cañada de los Pájaros is an atypical and pioneering private installation for the restoration of an old gravel pit into a specialized refuge for aquatic avifauna. You can observe a collection of wild species in captivity and wild birds that visit the permanent lagoon.
Concerted Nature Reserve, the Dehesa Abajo is a rare example that has succeeded in reconciling nature tourism and private management. Privileged location of a semi-wooded hill overlooking the marshes and home to the largest natural colony of white storks. And to top it off, a deep semi-natural lagoon attracts water birds.
José Antonio Valverde visitor center
Natural area of floodable salt marshes in the heart of the national park, with among others the Lucio del Lobo and Cerrado Garrido, the latter hosting the José Antonio Valverde interpretation center, an isolated and inaccessible building, seat of a colony of herons and Glossy ibis. A track runs along the Caño del Guadiamar, the old channel of the river of the same name before its rectification. High places of ornithology.
Rice fields at Isla Mayor
The ‘Big Island‘ bounded to the east by the main channel of the Guadalquivir (Brazo de Enmedio) and to the west by the Brazo de La Torre (western channel today fed by the Guadiamar river). Huge rice field of nearly 40,000 ha harshly transformed by political prisoners and settlers, and recent setting of the ‘Isla minima’ movie (2014). In the south of the island, the Finca Veta La Palma (12,000 ha), a quarter of which is dedicated to aquaculture, offers refuge to water birds.
Dehesa de Pilas
Towards the west, towards Villamanrique, crossing the river junction of Don Simón / Los Pobres (successive crossings of the Caño del Juncal, Brazo de la Torre and Guadiamar river) allows access to a new area of humid depressions: the Dehesa de Pilas, bounded by the retaining wall of the La Cigüeña stream.
To the north of the marshes extend more or less large extensions of pine forests on sandy substrate. This whole area receives the name of Aljarafe and hosts a small and growing population of Iberian lynx. Dehesa Boyal near Villamanrique. Pinar d’Aznalcazar: eponymous pine forest to the south of the village. Déhésa de Torrecuadros near Hinojos along the Arroyo de Pilas (head of Cigüeña stream).
Southern Doñana: en route to Cádiz…
The southern Doñana is located near Sánlucar de Barrameda and is home to the Doñana Natural Park on the left bank of the river, near the mouth. Its visit allows you to carry out a naturalistic itinerary of the province of Cádiz while enjoying the Doñana effect, without having to cross the Guadalquivir and the city of Seville. Rich avifauna and presence of typical habitats. Only sector where it is really possible to drive along the bank of the Guadalquivir river in the estuary. Fortunately, the specter of a highway linking Cádiz to Huelva and passing through the national park seems to have dissipated today.
Sánlucar de Barrameda: the mouth of the river
Views of the estuary proper and the ocean. Very dangerous gateway for Spanish galleons returning from the New World to the river port of Seville. From the Fábrica de Hielo interpretation center it is possible to cross the river by boat and visit the dunes of the national park.
Bonanza salt pans
Bonanza salt pans (salinas) are unique in the Doñana Natural Area. The Atlantic marsh regime has favored the establishment of numerous saltworks on the Andalusian coast: Bay of Cádiz, Marshes of Odiel and Saltworks of Bonanza. Important concentrations of water birds, waders and flamingos.
Laguna Tarelo and Pinar La Algaida
A permanent freshwater lagoon established in place of an old gravel pit providing a perfect complementary habitat to that of the salt flats for observing water birds such as the White-headed Duck. Nearby, there are almost 700 ha of Stone pines (Pinus pinea) characteristic of Doñana and which shelter beautiful specimens of Phoenicia juniper (Juniperus phoenicea).
Trebujena salt marshes
Marismas de Trebujena is a natural area where you can observe salt marshes, halophilic meadows, brackish natural lagoons, gravel pits and the banks of the Guadalquivir. Great diversity of landscapes and avifauna with views on the other side of the river… the inaccessible and mysterious border of the national park which extends over hundreds of square kilometres.
Guadalquivir East bank
A vast expanse of agricultural land stretches between the southern and eastern Doñana (Lebrija). The Práctico track runs along the (Brazo d’Enmedio) of the Guadalquivir and the polders, a territory deserted by tourists. The ornithofauna is representative although not abundant. Nests of White Storks and resting Osprey.
Eastern Doñana: the transformed Guadalquivir polders
An area that does not bear the label of the Natural Space of Doñana… and yet so rich in biodiversity! One of the best spots in Doñana for ornithology with concentrations of thousands of birds. To the west of Los Palacios, the former eastern channel (left bank) of the Guadalquivir river is now located in the center of a polder (transformed marshland) of more than 40,000 ha dedicated to agriculture (cotton, etc. .). It is an immense flat surface, where the rivers of the Guadalquivir plain converge, and a veritable maze of drainage canals and tracks. This site produces strange sensations because wild life mixes with it (impressive concentrations of birds) in a highly artificial environment.
Los Palacios’ polder
Access to the Brazo del Este necessarily crosses the agricultural land of the Los Palacios polder. Large birds (ibis, storks) and terrestrial waders are distributed according to their diet, and somewhat mysteriously, on concrete plots, most often recently plowed and marshy.
El Brazo del Este
Listed natural site. The aquatic avifauna is clearly concentrated in the protected wetland of Brazo del Este which has a curious morphology: the sinuous profile of the old channel (Madre Vieja del Guadalquivir, ‘the Old Mother’) is crossed by slender dykes (Wall of the Portuguese ) of almost 10 km.
Dehesa La Atalaya
A municipal public finca dedicated to agriculture and environmental education. One of the best sites for Mediterranean temporary pools in Andalusia, with an exceptional density of pools and aquatic organisms (large branchiopods).
Corta de los Olivillos and Guadalquivir river
Los Olivillos, a large river island wedged between the Guadalquvir and Guadaira rivers, dedicated to intensive agriculture, is home to a large permanent water reserve. Access is very limited, further protecting abundant and endangered waterfowl. Nearby, the Guadalquivir River is navigable from its mouth to Seville.