Despeñaperros Natural Park

© Despenaperros the entrance To Andalucia
Despenaperros the entrance To Andalucia

Despeñaperros Natural Park

The Despeñaperros Natural Park is a magnificent sheer-walled rocky river gorge that forms the backdrop of the most dramatic gateway into Andalucia. As the only natural break in the 500km-long Sierra Morena, it used to be one of the main routes into Andalucia from the north and Madrid. Today it is occupied by the A4 motorway and the Cadiz-Madrid railway line.



Its 7,649ha covers mostly rugged terrain and includes the spectacular Los Órganos Natural Monument, a rock shaped like a giant church organ, as well as caves, waterfalls and precipitous slopes.

Archaeological evidence indicates a long history of human occupation in the park. Neolithic remains have been unearthed in the Collado de los Jardines and there are primitive cave paintings in the Cuevas de las Vacas del Rematoso, hidden in the Órganos cliffs, and the Cueva del Santo. The Iberians established a religious site at the Sanctuario del Collado de los Jardines, where archaeologists have discovered votive offerings in the form of small bronze statues.

Despeñaperros has been the site of several fierce battles, the most famous being the Navas de Tolosa battle fought between the fierce Muslim Almohads and the Christians in 1212. It was one of the most decisive battles in the history of Andalucia, since the Christians' overwhelming force paved the way for the reconquest.

Some believe that Despeñaperros was named after this battle, since Despeñaperros could mean the throwing over a cliff (despeñar) of the dogs (perros, or the Moors). For others, the name comes from the cliffs themselves, the despeñaderos.


The park's visitors' centre, Centro de Visitantes Puerta de Andalucía, is on the A4 at Km 257 near Santa Elena, 953 664 307. It has a permanent exhibition on the park and can provide maps and information on walks, which start from here.

It's open daily from 9am-2pm and 4pm-7pm April to September (3pm-6pm October-March).


The A4 cuts through the Despeñaperros gorge. It is easier to access the park from the southbound carriageway, since there are more entry points from the A4 than the northbound side. To reach the protected area to the east of this road, you can take the road for Aldeaquemada. This minor road gives access to Los Órganos Natural Monument.

A magnificent sheer-walled rocky river gorge that forms the backdrop of the most dramatic gateway into Andalucia © Michelle Chaplow
A magnificent sheer-walled rocky river gorge that forms the backdrop of the most dramatic gateway into Andalucia


There are several hotels and self-catering cottages in Santa Elena. A basic mountain refuge is at Collado de la Aviación, on the Sendero Valdezores. Take everything you need.


Camping Despeñaperros, on Calle Infanta Elena in Santa Elena, is a shady campsite with a pool.


West of the gorge is an extensive Mediterranean woodland of cork, gall and holm oak, with an undergrowth of strawberry trees, Kermes oaks, myrtle, lentisc, wild olive trees and rock roses.

In the Collado de la Estrella are gall oaks and Pyrenean oaks. Other areas have been reforested with Aleppo and Austrian pines.


Among the raptors nesting on the rocky crags in the park are golden eagles, booted eagles, griffon vultures, sparrowhawks, kestrels and buzzards. Blue rock thrushes and rock thrushes also inhabit the stonier, higher slopes. Along the rivers are kingfishers.

The highly endangered lynx is thought to still inhabit this area, along with the rarely sighted wolf. There are also foxes, Egyptian mongooses and, although less common, wild cats. Roe deer and wild boars are among the game in the park.


The main rivers are the Despeñaperros, Magaña and Campana and the Arroyo del Rey.

The Despeñaperros Natural Park © Michelle Chaplow
The Despeñaperros Natural Park


There are four signposted footpaths in the park.

Sendero Cueva de los Muñecos is an easy 2km walk to an ancient Iberian shrine in the Collado de los Jardines. The route starts from the Aldeaquemada road, off the A4, and ends at the cave named after the votive statues (muñecos) discovered at this ancient Iberian religious site.

Sendero Barranco de Valdeazores is a 13km walk that leads to some of the most attractive places in the park. It starts at Km 246 on the A4, on the southbound carriageway, 200m from the Restaurante El Jardín de Despeñaperros. The path follows the Valdeazores ravine (barranco), through woodland of pine trees and holm oaks, up to a viewpoint with superb views of the barranco.


The park is sparsely populated with only 1,000 inhabitants, concentrated in the area's only settlement, Santa Elena.

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