6 Must-Know Facts for Visitors to Doñana
The Doñana National Park occupies 2,700 square kilometres of land on Spain’s south western tip.
It was once the hunting ground of Spanish kings and nowadays its treasure trove of flora and fauna acts like a magnet for lovers of nature. But if you’re thinking of visiting this beautiful, unspoiled piece of land, here are a few things you should know first…
1. It’s tough out there
Mosquitos are active 24 hours a day and Doñana is their territory. These mosquitos are unpredictable; they don’t always come out to play. If you visit Doñana in Winter you will be more covered up but even at that time of year it’s wise to take mosquito repellant. In Summer you would be mad not to have cans of the stuff!
Aside from the mosquitos, Doñana’s weather is not always predictable, at least away from the hot and dry Summer months. Doñana is flat and totally exposed. There is no shelter from the weather!
2. The famous Iberian lynx
The Iberian lynx – there are five types of lynx in the world – is one of Europe’s classic endangered species and it’s the symbol of Doñana.
The biggest Iberian lynx weighs 15 kilos or more, but even so, baby deer are beyond its feeding capabilities. The lynx needs to eat one rabbit a day and this means that to save the lynx there needs to be a stable population of rabbits in Doñana. But disease among rabbits is a problem and, besides, there’s not enough young vegetation for them to feed upon. Quite how this problem is to be resolved remains to be seen.
All visitors to Doñana have hopes of seeing the lynx but there’s much more chance of a lynx seeing you than the other way around! On the plus side, if you do see one it will probably allow you more than just a glimpse – it’s a noctural animal so it moves faster at night. The again, that’s also why you probably won’t see one in the day!
3. Not as exotic as you might think
So much for the evasive lynx.
Take binoculars because the fauna is not always where you want it to be. Doñana is not a zoo so you won’t see exotica. If you are lucky you will see flamingos but that spectacle lasts about 3 seconds!
4. Extraordinary biodiversity
Doñana is blessed with the most extraordinary biodiversity with species specific only to the park.
It’s on the meeting point of a large river and the sea so it receives both river and sea sediments. A mix of permeable (sand) and impermeable (mud) means vegetation and corresponding fauna are so different.
Doñana is a very seasonal park which undergoes dramatic changes during the year. You are advised not to go in Summer because it’s just too dry and the park does not look at its best.
5. Know what you want to see
Birdwatchers! There is a little-known ‘buffer’ zone – classified as natural park rather than national park – which is open to the public, is free to access, and has the same specifications as the national park. The marshlands are the same marshlands as those in the zone classified as national park. In fact these edges in the buffer zone get more water in Summer because of the river which runs alongside, so they are more flora and fauna rich.
You can access Doñana from Sanlúcar by crossing the Guadalquivir river, or go across land from the Huelva side. You’ll find there are more free areas if you access from the Huelva side, and of course you’ll be saving on the price of the river crossing.
If you already know what you want to see in Doñana, you can save yourself both time and money.
6. Man’s misconception
The marshes are not necessarily pleasing to look at but let us not miss the point. Man has tended to destroy marshlands to make way for something more ‘beautiful’; at a time when malaria was a distinct problem, dictator Franco was going to plant eucalyptus trees to dry the marsh and rid it of mosquitos.
The trees were also to be used to make paper, making more ‘use’ of the space available. Fortunately for Doñana’s future as an outstanding area of natural beauty, in the end the eucalyptus trees were never planted.
The beauty of the marsh is in the eye of the beholder. It has great ecological value which Man sometimes struggles to appreciate.
Until next time readers,
Jim Porter is a co-founder of Speekee®, home of the most comprehensive Spanish learning program for children ever to appear online
Jim began his Spanish learning journey in 1990. He has been a language teacher since 1994 and he lives in sunny southern Spain with his two bilingual children. Loves it! More…