Sierra María-Los Vélez Natural Park

Sierra María-Los Vélez Natural Park

The Sierra María-Los Vélez Natural Park is located at the eastern end of the Cordillera Subbética in the north of Almeria province and covers over 20,000 hectares. Despite the aridity of Almeria, the Sierra María has a spectacular beauty of its own, especially in winter when the rugged mountain summits are covered with snow in winter. The south facing slopes of the Sierra are barren and dry, whilst the north facing ones are covered in woodland.

The area was inhabited in prehistoric times, and archaeological remains from Paleolithic and Neolithic times have been excavated. Sites include the Neolithic hilltop fort at Cerro de las Canteras, near the Corneras river , the Cueva de los Letreros (“Cave of the Signboards”), near Vélez Rubio, is famous for its cave paintings, and La Cueva del Gabar near Vélez-Blanco which also has cave paintings.

The diversity of habitats present in Sierra María (forest, scree and rocky, cliffs) allows the presence of a rich and varied fauna which includes more than one hundred species of birds In the mountainous areas you can find nesting golden eagles and peregrine falcons and in the cultivated areas the crested lark and meadow pipit.

Among the main economic activities in the park are the use of forest resources (wood, charcoal and resin). Agricultural activity is low and the main crop is rain-fed cereal followed by irrigated fruit and almonds. There is also some small scale sheep farming and the extraction of essential oils from aromatic plants.

The park is located to the south east of the Sierra Castril Natural Park and the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas Natural Park.

There are two visitor centres. The Almacén del Trigo is found in Avenida Marqués de los Vélez and the 2nd is at at the Mirador de la Umbría de María. Both have plenty of information about the marked footpaths and information about the park. The Sendero Pinar de la Alfahuara is an interesting and easy 9km route. It takes the visitor through pine forest and former hunting estate and to the Agrio river and ending at the hamlet of La Alfahuara, whose name means fountain in Arabic.


Several of the caves within the park are well worth visiting. The Cueva de los Letreros is the most famous and is home to some of Europes most important rock paintings.

The Ermita de la Virgen de la Cabeza is an important place of pilgrimage and is located in a beautiful position in the Sierra de María.

Vélez Blanco has a 16th-century wonderful hilltop castle. It still provides outstanding views over the town and its winding streets.

The Sierra María-Los Vélez Natural Park is home to many raptors that inhabit the higher peaks of the Sierra. These include short-toed and golden eagles, as well as alpine swifts and alpine accentors. Further down above the pine forest, other birds of prey such as Goshawks, sparrowhawks and common buzzards are found. Many other bird species inhabit the forest along with hedgehogs, shrews, voles, squirrels, garden dormice, wild boars, badgers, weasels, polecates, genets and the occasional (although rarely seen) wild cat, while among the 12 species of reptiles are ladder snakes and ocellated lizards.

There are 100 bird species, including 17 species of birds of prey, and the park was declared a Special Protection Area in 2002. There is a butterfly subspecies of parnassius apollo, which can only be found in this area.

The limestone rock of the Sierra María-Los Vélez Natural Park has fissures and crevices which provide an idea microclimate for many plants including some endemic species. The rare knapweed (centaurea mariana) and the purple-flowering cat’s tail (sideritis stachyioides) are two such plants. Both are only found in this Sierra. The seemingly bare mountain peaks (over 1800m) are home to shrubs like hedgehog broom, white-flowered crucifer (hormathophylla spinosa) and the yellow-flowered vella spinosa. Below the peaks there are junipers, maples, Spanish barberries and hawthorn. Aleppo pine and native laricio pines are common, along with holm oaks, prickly and Phoenician junipers, genistas, rock roses and aromatic plants like thyme, lavender and rosemary.


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