Photo: Rounding up wild mares in El Rocio, Spain

Mares are rounded up during a festival in El Rocio, a town at the edge of Spain’s Doñana National Park.

Photograph by Marcelo del Pozo, Reuters/Corbis

Name: Doñana National Park

Location: Spain

Date Established: 1969

Size: 209 square miles (542 square kilometers)

Did You Know?

• Estuary The marshes, lagoons, scrub woodlands, and sand dunes of Doñana National Park in southwestern Spain sprawl along the Guadalquivir River at its Atlantic Ocean estuary. Unlike many large European estuaries this area remains largely unmarred by development or agriculture.

• Protected Area The park is one of Europe’s best known conservation areas and has been designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve, a Ramsar Wetland Site, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. One of World Wildlife Fund’s first projects was the 1969 purchase, in partnership with the Spanish government, of a large area of Guadalquivir Delta wetlands to help create the park.

• Bird Haven More than half a million birds winter in the park each year, and perhaps half of Europe’s bird species can be spotted here at one time or another.

• Beaches Doñana boasts 24 miles (38 kilometers) of pristine beaches on one of the few large stretches of undeveloped coastline remaining in Spain.

• Royal Retreat The park’s past includes a well-chronicled human history stretching back 700 years. Spanish kings once enjoyed Doñana as a private hunting ground. In later years parts of the park’s wetlands were drained for farming and grazing.

• Rare and Threatened Doñana's wildlife includes many rare and iconic species, including the Iberian lynx and the Spanish imperial eagle, as well as threatened birds such as the marble teal, the white-headed duck, and Adalbert’s eagle.

How to Get There

The two main visitors centers are La Rocina, near El Rocio, and El Acebuche, off the A483 south of Almonte. The northern part of the park can be entered from the José Antonio Valverde visitors center about 19 miles (30 kilometers) south of the town of Villamanrique de la Condesa.

When to Visit

The cool, wet months of November to January find the park’s marshes well-stocked with ducks, geese, and other waterbirds. When spring begins, North African spoonbills return along with dozens of other species passing through on migrations or stopping over to breed. In the heat of summer, water levels drop and the park becomes a bit less welcoming for much wildlife—though many species like vultures, kites, nightjars, and warblers remain in residence.

How to Visit

Doñana National Park is heavily protected and visitor access is limited beyond the beaches and trails, bird hides, and lagoons found in the general vicinity of the numerous visitors centers. Trips into the larger park must be arranged with official guides, but these four-wheel-drive vehicle jaunts or boat trips are worth the extra effort. In peak season it pays to book these excursions well ahead.

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