Extending northwest from sunny Málaga and southeast from the popular white town of Ronda, in far-southern Spain, Andalucía’s serene Sierra de las Nieves has been on the cusp of becoming a national park for over six years. Now, after much anticipation (not to mention a few COVID-19 delays), and thanks to dedicated, hands-on campaigning by local communities, it’s expected to finally receive official approval in 2021. The future Parque Nacional Sierra de las Nieves will be Spain’s 16th national park, the third to arrive in Andalucía and the very first for Málaga province.
Often dusted with snow in deep winter, this sparsely-populated mountain wonderland has been a protected 201-sq-km parque natural (natural park) since 1989, and half of it a Unesco Biosphere Reserve for 25 years. The natural park is home to around 1000 ibex, as well as roe deer, otters, various raptors (including golden eagles) and rippling oak and cork groves, but is particularly special for its forests of rare, ancient pinsapos (Spanish firs) – relics from the Iberian Peninsula’s Ice Age found only in three pockets of southern Spain and in northern Morocco. Around 65% of Spain’s pinsapos stand within the Sierra de las Nieves, where some have been around for 500 years.
Andalucía’s much-awaited third national park will take in 230 sq km of rugged Málaga mountains, with funding put towards visitors centers and other infrastructure to develop responsible tourism that will also benefit the local community. Adventures for visitors include thrilling hikes such as summiting the Sierra de las Nieves’s highest peak, Torrecilla (1919m), or weaving through pinsapo forests, along with cycling, mountain biking, climbing, caving, kayaking and canyoning. And among the tranquil whitewashed towns – Tolox, Monda, El Burgo, Yunquera, Istán – you’ll find crumbling fortresses and other historical remnants tracking life in this area as far back as Phoenician times.
The Sierra de las Nieves joins two other beloved, fiercely protected Andalucian national parks: Granada’s Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada, which centres on mainland Spain’s highest peak, Mulhacén (3479m), and Cádiz’s Parque Nacional de Doñana, famous for its glinting Guadalquivir wetlands and its population of endangered Iberian lynx (happily slowly growing). With this new addition, Andalucía will come second only to the Canary Islands in number of national parks per Spanish region.
In 1918, Spain’s first national park, the Parque Nacional de la Montaña de Covadonga, was established in the jagged, lake-sprinkled Picos de Europa mountains, which span Cantabria, Asturias and Castilla y León in the north of the country. As of 2020, there are ten national parks in mainland Spain (including the now-renamed Parque Nacional Picos de Europa), four in the Canary Islands and one in the Balearics, which together protect 3850 sq km of wild terrain and welcome over 15 million visitors each year. The most recently-created (apart from the Sierra de las Nieves) is the Parque Nacional de la Sierra de Guadarrama north of Madrid, declared back in 2013, while the most visited is Tenerife’s Parque Nacional del Teide, with more than three million annual visitors. Follow the Sierra de la Nieves’s journey through its official website and the Junta de Andalucía’s protected parks page.
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