Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park

Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park
 

Overview
The Sierra de Grazalema was the first natural park in Andalucia. It covers 51,695 hectares and is home to a magnificent landscape of rugged limestone cliffs, gullies, caves and gorges. Thanks to the area’s high rainfall (the highest in the Iberian Peninsula), the rocks have been eroded over many thousands of years.  This is turn has created a huge cave system.  The Hundidero-Gato is the largest cavern measuring 4km long and with an entrance of 60m tall. The area is rich in flora and fauna and has many species which are endemic and some unique to the Sierra.

 

Walking
There are some strict visiting restrictions in force.  Permits are required (obtained from the El Bosque information office).  Most of the stricter restrictions apply to an area of the park called the Área de Reserve – this is where conservation is of upmost importance due to the delicate ecosystems in the area.  During July and September this part of the part is often closed due to the greater risk of fires. If you want to walk in the rest of the park, you must go with an authorized Turismo Activo company.

Sightseeing
The sierra is home to many white villages (pueblos blancos), which are nestled into the dramatic scenery.  The beautiful village of Grazalema is one such village.  It lies between the two jagged peaks of Pico del Reloj and the Pico de San Cristóbal. Near Montejaque is a burial site called Dolmen de la Giganta, also known as the Tumba or Necrópolis de la Giganta.   

The La Cueva de la Pileta is a prehistoric cave that is home to rock paintings dating back to the Paleolithic period. There are tours into this cave which are suitable for tourists and no special equipment is required, although a pair of shoes or boots with non-slip soles are recommended as the floor of the cave is smooth and wet in places. These tours take place throughout the year and are restricted to groups of no more than 25 people at a time, this is done on a first come, first served basis. The best time to arrive is either 10am or 4pm because even if you miss the first tour you will be able to get a place on the second one after a short wait.

To reach Cueva de la Pileta head for the village of Benoajan on the Gaucin-Ronda road. South of the village, heading towards Cortes de la Frontera, a side road leads off on the right serving as a car park.It is quite a steep climb up some roughly hewn steps to the cave entrance.

There is no artificial lighting in the caves but you will be given a parafin lamp which is designed to help preserve the cave paintings as well as add to the general ambience of the trip. Please note that there is absolutely no photography allowed inside the cave.

There is another cave worth visiting called Cueva del Gato near Benaoján. It is not possible to go inside this cave unless you are part of a caving group with the necessary equipment, expertise and permissions. There is however a particularly picturesque area in front of the cave with a small waterfall and lake. This does get busy at weekends in the summer, so it is best visited during the week if possible. There is a hotel and bar where you can park your car and maybe have a drink when you have seen the cave.

Two interesting museums are the Ecomuseo del Agua in Benamahoma and the Ecomuseo in BenaocazThe first mentioned is dedicated to the history of water use in the Sierra de Grazalema.  The second covers the history of the Sierra, from prehistoric times to the present.

 

Animals/Birds
The park has a particularly high number of birds of prey. These include griffon vultures, booted eagles, golden and Bonelli’s eagles and Egyptian vultures.  It has one of the largest colonies in Europe of griffon vultures. Other birds which inhabit the area are rock buntings, red-billed choughs, rock thrushes and black wheateaters. The largest cavern, Hundidero-Gato is home to thousands of Schreiber's bats. Other mammals found in the park are Egyptian mongeese, badgers, genets, roe deer, Spanish ibex and otters and water voles.

Plants
The Sierra de Grazalema natural park protects an outstanding forest of the rare Spanish Fir (dating back to the Tertiary Period). This is found on the slopes of the highest peak El Torreón in the Sierra del Pinar. The Spanish Fir (Abies pinsapo) is a species of fir native to southern Spain and is considered the 'Andalusian National Tree'. It is an evergreen tree growing up to 30 metres in height with a conic crown. The pine cones are smooth, cylindrical, 9-18 cm long, greenish-pink to purple before maturity. When mature, they disintegrate to release the winged seeds. The 'Pinsapo' can also be found in the Sierra de las Nieves natural park near Ronda.

Cork and holm oaks, wild olive trees and pine forest cover the valley. sides, as well as Mediterranean scrubland.

 

 
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