Spain: Wildlife Destinations
Coto Donana's star species: Spanish lynx • Greater flamingo • Imperial eagle • Marbled teal
Struggling against ongoing threats such as drainage, urban development and pollution, the Coto Doñana is a resilient wetland wilderness on the Guadalquivir river estuary in Andalucía. Long exploited by humans, it now receives protection not only as a national park, but also as a Ramsar site, biosphere reserve and world heritage site. Why all the fuss? Put simply, birds love the place. Doñana is home to five threatened bird species, including the Spanish imperial (or Adalbert’s) eagle and marbled teal. One of the Mediterranean’s largest heronies is found here, while 500,000 waterfowl touch down in the reserve’s lagoons and marshes each year to overwinter. Palaearctic migrants also use the wetland as a vital refuelling stop as they fly between Europe and Africa. Top ticks for birders include the purple gallinule, crested coot, whiskered and black terns, little egret, spoonbill, bittern, greater flamingo and slender-billed gull. In the park’s drier areas of dune, woodland and maquis, you can expect to see azure-winged magpie, great spotted cuckoo, larks, pipits and nightjars.
But there’s more to Doñana than birds. Anyone who visits this internationally significant wildlife reserve is constantly on the alert for a possible sighting of an Iberian lynx. Following a census in 2010, only 265 of these critically endangered cats were recorded – 30% in the scrublands of Doñana and the rest in the cork oak forests of Sierra Morena to the northeast. To increase your chances of spotting one of these elusive predators, you will need to be out and about at dawn and dusk when they are more likely to be active, hunting rabbits, ducks and deer fawns.
Getting there Directions Take the A483 south of Almonte to the main visitor centre at El Acebuche or head towards the village of El Rocío.
Getting around Access to the national park is strictly controlled, with official guided tours leaving from El Acebuche (0830 and 1500). You can explore nature trails at the visitor centre near El Rocío and go birdwatching along the edge of the park from Centro de Visitantes Antonio Valverde (30km south of Villamanrique de la Condesa) and along Playa de Castilla, east of Matalascañas. A boat operates along the Guadalquivir from Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
When to go Park open year round.
Things to do Guided tours, walks, boat trips, birdwatching.
Places to stay Nearest accommodation is in Matalascañas.
Further information andalucia.org/en/natural-spaces/national-parks/donana/
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WHEN TO GO
Try to avoid the heat and tourist crush of mid-summer. Spring and autumn are also the best periods to witness bird migrations, wildflowers etc.
GMT+1 (Spain), GMT (Canary Islands).
Further information: spain.info