Sierra Nevada National Park

Sierra Nevada National Park

The Sierra Nevada National Park is home to two of the Iberian Peninsula’s highest mountains - the Mulhacén (3,482m) and the Veleta (3,392m).  Much of mountain range is covered in snow all year round – providing a dramatic and rugged backdrop to the lower sections of the park. The park covers 86,208ha and stretches between the provinces of Granada and Almería.  It has glacial lakes, rivers, sheer-sided gorges and scree slopes, along with the foothills of the Alpujarras.  Thus making it the perfect place for an immensely diverse number of animals and birds.

There are more than 20 peaks over 3,000 metres, with the highest being Mulhacén (3479 metres), Veleta (3396 metres) and Alcazaba (3371 metres). The rivers that rise on the north face of the range feed the Guadalquivir basin, the most important ones being the Fardes and Genil. Meanwhile, the rivers that rise on the west and south faces run down into the Mediterranean. These include the Dúrcal, Ízbor, Trevélez and Poqueira, which are all tributaries of the Guadalfeo, which itself rises in the Sierra Nevada, and the Adra and Andarax, with their tributaries. The south and west faces are where you will find the majority of the almost 50 high-mountain lakes that exist in the Sierra Nevada, many of which are also the sources of streams and rivers. Much of the landscape, particularly above 2,400 metres (which was the perpetual snow line prior to the Holocene period) was shaped by the action of glaciers, resulting in characteristic U-shaped valleys.

The park is located between the Sierra de Huetor, Sierra de Baza and the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas Natural Parks.

There are two centros de visitantes (visitors' centres), in the west of the park is El Dornajo and in the east is Láujar de Andarax.  Both have exhibitions relating to the flora and fauna.  El Dornajo in particular has a lot of information relating to activities in the park, ie hiking, horse riding, cycle hire and paragliding.  You can also purchase maps and guide books here.

There are many signposted walks, however it is imperative that you have a good map and compass before embarking.  Many of the walks are very challenging but are extremely rewarding such as the climb up the Mulacén which is around a 16km.  The Sendero Siete Lagunas is another challenging route but rewards the walker with spectacular views of valleys and peaks.  It is possible to stay overnight in two mountain refuges, however it is advisable to book as certain times of the year can get very busy with long distance walkers.


Within the Sierra Nevada National Park there is a natural spa called Balneario de Lanjarón.  

The foothills of the Alpujarras are home to many beautiful towns and villages.  Bubión, Pampaneira and Capileira are three such places which are popular with tourists due to their stunning locations in the steep and narrow Poqueira gorge.

The area was successively settled by Ibero-Celtic peoples, by the Roman Empire, and by the Visigoths. In the 8th century the Moors conquered southern Spain and the region remained in their hands for over 800 years but it was in the last 150 years of that period that it became heavily populated as the Reconquista conquered all Muslim controlled lands in the mid 13th century, except the Emirate of Granada. The region became a refuge of the Moors, where, as Moriscos, they maintained a distinct culture for nearly 150 years after the fall of Granada in 1492.

During the sixteenth century there were several uprisings in the area after the Moors were forced to choose between conversion to Christianity or expulsion. One of the Spanish expeditions against the Moriscos was led by Philip's illegitimate half-brother Don John of Austria. As a historical curiosity, the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, residing in Spain after the Spanish Conquest of Peru, took part in that expedition.

The influence of the Moorish population can be seen in the distinct cubic architecture (reminiscent of Berber architecture in Morocco's Atlas Mountains), the local cuisine, the local carpet weaving, and the numerous Arabic place names.

The park is particularly well known for its diverse birdlife. Birds of prey found in the Sierra include golden eagles, Bonelli's eagles, peregrine falcons, griffon vultures and kestrels. Also found here are northern wheateaters, rock thrushes, rock buntings and red-billed choughs. The woodland areas are home to hoopoes, short-toed treecreepers and green woodpeckers to name but a few. Other native bird species include the Golden Eagle, Bonelli’s Eagle, Common Kestrel, Little Owl, Eurasian Eagle-owl, European Goldfinch, Serin, Ortolan, Dartford Warbler, Wheateater, Red-legged Partridge and Common Quail.

Spanish ibex are a common site.  Other mammals include weasels, wild cats, wild boars, foxes, badgers, beech martens and genets. There is a huge variety of butterflies – over 120 species have been recorded.  The rare endemic rhinoceros beetle and the grasshopper chorthippus nevadensis are both found here along with many other invertebrates.

The Sierra Nevada National Park is home to the largest number of endemic plant species in Europe. Out of the thousands of species of plant recorded here, 120 are very rare and approximately 70 species are only found in the Sierra Navada.


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