I stayed overnight in the funky little town of El Rocio, which could easily vy for its own place on the World Heritage List. In El Rocio a yearly pilgrimage takes place in the week before Pentecost. The town is full of houses of the Brotherhoods coming from all over Spain. Sand covers its streets, which has the fortunate side effect that it slows down the cars. In the evenings, locals go for a ride on their horses. This is real cowboy country, more so than the American Southwest which it resembles. More authentic than Santa Fe, and with an even more ‘oasis in the desert’ pilgrimage church than San Xavier del Bac (near Phoenix, Arizona).
The next morning I went to the visitor center of La Rocina, just outside El Rocio. It has the same kind of trails as Acebuche, but I liked these even more. Highlight is the ‘Arroyo de la Rocina’, a stream where you can see lots of birds when you’re very silent. Or where you can see and hear lots of birds fly away if they just hear you move. The ibises and the egrets are the easiest to spot, as they are big and not too easily scared.
A bit further on the surroundings change into the ‘cotos’, the most characteristic ecosystem of Doñana. It consists of scrubland, with heather and aromatic species such as rosemary and lavender. This area is inhabited by small birds and reptiles and very pleasant to walk in. Both the bees and me enjoyed all the wonderful smells.
Jorge Sanchez (Spain):
I bought a ticket to Doñana National Park for 29 Euro in a hotel in Matalascañas. At 3 PM I was in the place where a bus would pass to pick up several passengers. I had the opportunity to talk to them. They had paid from 30 to 35 Euro per ticket, so I guessed that every hotel charges what they like.
The bus came and picked us all. It was a big jeep. The guide was at the same time the driver and could only speak Spanish as he said when presenting to us. Fortunately we all were Spanish.
The tour would last 3 and half hours. We would have two stops of about twenty minute each, to walk around and take pictures or going to the toilets. The first one was soon, on the dunes besides an oasis where the pines were being covered by the sand.
We saw many animals, from horses to deers, apart from hundreds of birds, but not a single lynx. I asked to the driver and he told me that they never promise to see lynxes, since there are only about 50 living in the whole park and it is hard to sight them.
We reached the Guadalquivir River, where we had another break.
We met another group of tourist who had come to Doñana by boat along the Guadalquivir, from sevilla. You can also visit the Doñana Park from San Lucar de Barrameda.
We even saw a cortijo or residential place where our kings, from Alfonso XIII to Juan Carlos I, used to rest and even to hunt (although today it is forbidden to hunt) and Spanish presidents invite special guests from time to time.
During the last 30 kilometers our jeep ran along the shore of the River Guadalquivir until its delta in the Atlantic Ocean. On the way we saw a turtle dying. The driver said that it was due to the plastics bags thrown by the tourists that the turtles eat believing to be medusas.
In the whole it was a fine excursion.
Date posted: September 2013 John Booth (New Zealand):
As reported elsewhere, this is a difficult site to access. I reached the entry point at La Rocina by bus from Seville via the sand dunes of Matalascanes. From this entry I follwed the boardwalks to hides along the Madre de las Marismas.
I returned from El Rocio to Seville via Almonte, but another time I would avoid the summer weekends when the buses are full of people going to the beach.
Date posted: March 2010 Ian Cade (England):
We visited on a boat trip from Sanluca de Barameda, (I think this now means that all the main routes into the park are covered in reviews here) it was an enjoyable trip that gave a good over view of the importance of the park. It landed once in the National Park (WHS) for an hour tour and it landed once in the Natural Park (WHS buffer zone) for a spot of bird watching.
Like I said I enjoyed the day out but I could only really guess at the importance of the site. From the various hides in the national park we only managed to see one horse and a deer from a great distance. I guess that this is what is normal for visiting wildlife destinations, being brought up on David Attenborough documentaries you sometimes get spoilt and assume you will see the main attractions every time. In the natural park we managed to see quite a variety of birds: Herons, Spoonbills and Flamingos. This was nice although ornithology would not be one of my big passions so I perhaps didn’t get the most out of it.
The boat trip lasted about 3.5 hours and cost €17 (2008), it runs from the Donana Visitors centre in Sanluca which has some interesting exhibits on the park as well as some on the local sea faring traditions, Columbus and Magellan both set sail from here. Sanluca is also famous for its seafood and Manzanilla wine, though the town itself was nothing particularly special.
This was an enjoyable trip, mostly for the boat journey along the river. I am sure that the National Park is of great significance and is a key spot for many animals especially birds.
Date posted: October 2008 David Berlanda (Italy / Czech Republic) David Berlanda (Italy / Czech Republic)::
In our travel around Spain we have been to the National Park of Doñana, situated on the right bank of the river Guadalquivir at its estuary in the Atlantic Ocean, important above all for its population of birds, with 5 endangered species. It is also one of the largest heronries in the Mediterranean region and the most important wintering site in Spain for waterfowl.
The first thing to say is that if you want to enjoy fully your visit to the park, you have to book one of the guided tours, starting generally from the Visitor Centre of Acebuche (the most important of the five), with which organized companies bring you with a bus to explore the inner parts of the park and to watch birds. There is one tour of the northern part of the park and one of the southern; there is also a boat trip on the Guadalquivir from Sanlúcar de Barrameda that shows you the right bank of the river, included in the park, staying outside of it. But we couldn’t do that because we didn’t know before our travel in Spain in which date we could arrive to the national park, because our itinerary wasn’t based on precise time planning.
If you want to visit places similar to those included in the National Park, you might visit the Natural Park (it surrounds the National Park in 4 sections and acts as a kind of Buffer Zone) that has 2 Visitor Centres and 7 Trails and you can access it without problems; however it is not part of the WHS, so it isn’t the best thing to do for WHS collectors.
The main problem in visiting this WHS is that it is entirely surrounded by a fence (situated exactly on the boundary of the WHS) and it is forbidden to go inside the park because of the protection of animals living there. Only one small traffic road runs inside it going to a place called Palacio de Doñana, but it is closed.
If you haven’t booked a guided tour you can view the WHS only from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, a town situated on the left bank of the Guadalquivir, and from the road A 483, that starts in Almonte (in the municipality of which the western part of the park is located), running along the western border of the park. We chose this road and first went to El Rocío, a small vernacular village with a nice sanctuary situated on the north-western boundary of the park, from which, staying outside of it on some terraces arranged along a path (looking a little bit like a lakeside), you can see one of the marshes (or salty lagoons) of the park. It is quite a pleasant walk and the only place from which you can see a marsh on your own, although it is not the best way to watch birds. A very picturesque image is that of horses grazing on small “islands” surrounded by water.
From El Rocío you can also have a walk along two of the only four paths that let you go inside the park: the Raya Real Trail, 15 km long, of which 6 in the WHS along its northern border and 9 in the Natural Park, and the La Rocina Trail, 12 km long running in the narrow strip (that isn’t included in the WHS) of the National Park comprising the stream La Rocina. However we decided not to do this trails because of the lack of time.
After the visit to El Rocío we continued with our car along the western border of the park and its fence. From here you can see on your left the typical and very particular vegetation of the park consisting of scrub woodland and maquis.
Finally we arrived to Matalascañas, a coastal resort full of modern buildings, even very big hotels, and of people going to the sea; this modern scenery certainly damages the authenticity of the park because the buildings are situated only few meters from the fence of the park. In the middle of this village, outside the National Park, there is a Dunes Park, in which you can walk on some paths. However, it is much better to go to the eastern end of the village, where are the other two paths going inside the park: the Dunes Trail, a short walk 1,5 km long, with much more authentic fixed (stabilized by vegetation) and mobile dunes, and the Beach Trail, running along the southern coastal border of the park for 32 km. We have been at the beginning of the two routes: it is a pleasant walk.
My review of the can sound a little bit complicated, so if you want to know more, go the web pages http://www.discoveringdonana.com/Doñana.htm. However this is really the complicated situation you will find if you would like to visit the park.
I quite liked the National Park because of its variety of biotopes but certainly with the guided tours our visit could have been better and however there are not really spectacular natural features. It doesn’t deserve a long travel specifically to visit it but if you are in Andalusia it is really worthy to be visited, especially with the tours. I can’t say if the Park deserves its inscription on the WHL because I haven’t visited the inner parts of it, but they are certainly beautiful. However I think that the National Park and also the WHS could be larger and include also the Natural Park, that is similar.
In the photo you can see the marshes viewed from the terraces of the village El Rocío.
Have you been to Doñana National Park? Share your experiences!