After decades of near-extinction, the Iberian Wolf is at last making a comeback and Picos de Europas is one of the best places in Europe to observe them. © Ignacio Yuféra
Somiedo Natural Park consists of jagged rock formations and pristine valleys. It is also home to one of Europe’s largest populations of wild bears.
Characterized by the yellow coloring at the points of its hair and by its black paws, the Cantabrian Brown Bear is the smallest of the brown bear family.
Pine Martens, native to Northern Europe, have small, rounded, highly-sensitive ears and sharp teeth adapted for eating small mammals, birds, insects, frogs, and carrion.
The largest and stoutest of the accentors, the Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris) is found throughout the mountains of southern temperate Europe. © Gerald Broddelez
Spain Wildlife Tours
Prime wildlife viewing is not what comes to mind when one considers a trip to this great and storied country. But, in fact, Spain is the last stronghold of several large mammals that have all but disappeared in the rest of Europe. Begin this 15-day journey visiting two remote regions of Northern Spain, staggering in their pristine beauty. Here, the Iberian Wolf and Cantabrian Brown Bear still run wild. Once hunted to the brink of extinction, their numbers are creeping back, and these are the best spots on earth to see them. Stop in at Gredos National Park to feast your eyes on the massive-horned Ibex, before heading south to Andalucia, to the last two bastions of the rarest cat in the world, the Iberian Lynx. The wetlands of Coto Doñana are also a birder’s dream, harboring 500 resident and migratory species, including the endangered Spanish Imperial Eagle. Get to know the unknown Spain on Apex’s thrilling journey into its most remote and untouched corners.
- Travel by Air
- Travel by Road
- Travel by Boat
- Travel by Bullet Train
- Travel by Rail
- Travel by Dog Sled
Tuesday, September 19: Madrid
Arrive in Madrid and transfer into the heart of the city to your hotel, located inside a restored palace. Meet your fellow travelers and expedition leader this evening for a welcome dinner and briefing. Overnight at URSO Hotel & Spa.
Wednesday, September 20: Picos de Europa
After breakfast, drive north through the high, dry plains of Castilla y Léon and into the spindly peaks of the Picos de Europa Mountains. Picos de Europa is Spain’s oldest National Park with dramatic limestone mountain scenery, Atlantic forests and meadows that are home to a rich diversity of fauna and flora. Your base for the next three nights is in the southwest end of the park, an area with several packs of Iberian Wolf. The goal is to have time to watch the wolves while they engage in their social activities such as playing, territory marking and feeding. Dinner and overnight at the charming Hotel Presa.
Thursday and Friday, September 21 & 22: Picos de Europa
Spend two full days appreciating the astounding beauty of the Picos. Through a combination of 4×4 vehicles, used to access the various mountainous areas in the park, and hiking, you’ll reach viewpoints where the search for the wolf packs begins. Keep watch for the variety of wildlife to be found in the area, including Chamois and Red Deer. Griffon Vultures soar overhead, Booted, Short-toed and Golden Eagle are also occasionally seen, whilst at your feet the meadows dazzle with flowers and a range of butterflies. Enjoy a short but spectacular journey on the Fuente Dé cable car. Here among the spectacular scenery, search for high mountain specialists such as Alpine Accentor, Snow Finch, Wallcreeper and Citril Finch. In the late afternoons and evenings, search for the shy and elusive Wildcat that can be seen hunting for rodents on the freshly cut hay meadows. Dinners and overnights at Hotel Presa.
Saturday, September 23: Picos de Europa / Somiedo Natural Park
After breakfast, drive west into the Cantabrian Mountains in the verdant province of Asturias. Here, Somiedo Natural Park consists of 150 squares miles of jagged rock formations, pristine valleys, ancient beech and oak forests, rivers and crystalline lakes, and wildflower meadows. It is home to one of Europe’s largest populations of wild bears, and the next two days will be spent looking for the Cantabrian Brown Bear, among much other wildlife. In the late afternoon, stretch your legs with a short trek and acclimate to the crisp mountain air and the tinkling of cowbells. Dinner and overnight at the charming Casa Miño.
Sunday and Monday, September 24 & 25: Somiedo Natural Park
You have two full days to take in the astounding beauty of Somiedo and watch for its prolific wildlife. See the native goat antelope, or Chamois, and Red and Roe Deer ambling in the meadows on morning and evening game drives. Watch for some of the area’s more than 100 bird species, including Alpine Accentor, Wallcreeper, the exceedingly rare Grey Partridge and Black Woodpecker. Wild Cat, Pine Marten, Genet, Broom Hare, otter, boar, and several species of bats all live here, and are commonly seen by visitors. In the late afternoons, watch for the park’s most famous (and hardest to spot) inhabitant, the Cantabrian Brown Bear, from special vantage points. Search the streams for the shrew-like Pyrenean Desman and the endemic Golden-striped Salamander. There will be time midday to explore the rest of the park on foot and look for butterflies and reptiles like the beautiful Green Shreiber’s Lizard. Dinners and overnights at Casa Miño.
Tuesday, September 26: Somiedo Natural Park / Sierra de Gredos
After breakfast, head to the colossal granite Sierra de Gredos range in Avíla Province, due west of Madrid. Its highest peak is the 8,200-foot Almanzor, set amidst sheer gorges and Europe’s southern-most glacial valleys. Wildlife abounds here—almost 1,400 plant species are represented, including 11 unique to Sierra de Gredos, and an estimated 60 percent of Spain’s animal species, most notably the endemic Western Spanish Ibex. Long the hunting grounds of Spain’s kings and dictators, Gredos is now a protected Regional Park and the once-scarce ibex is plentiful again. After settling into your hotel, trek along the park’s main trails and watch for heavy-horned ibex. Also endemic to the park are the Almanzor Fire Salamander and Gredos Toad. Birders, keep an eye out for Black and Griffon Vultures, eagles, Western Honey-Buzzard, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Great Spotted Cuckoo, and more. Dinner and overnight at the stunning El Milano Real.
Wednesday, September 27: Sierra de Gredos / Coto Doñana National Park
Enjoy another hike in the Gredos this morning before heading south with a stop in Sevilla for a guided tour of Spain’s most charming city. Arrive in Coto Doñana National Park this afternoon. The 209-square-mile park is one of Europe’s most important wetland reserves, consisting of salt marshes, shallow streams, and sand dunes in the Guadalquivir River Delta. These varied ecosystems shelter a biodiversity that is unique on the continent. Thousands of European and African migratory birds, Fallow and Red Deer, Wild Boar, European Badgers, otters, rabbits, Egyptian Mongoose, and endangered species such as the Spanish Imperial Eagle and the Iberian Lynx, the most endangered of all wild cats, call Doñana home. Get settled into your hotel, then venture out to the marshes to watch for water birds. Dinner and overnight at El Toruño Hotel.
Thursday, September 28: Coto Doñana National Park
Access to the park is strictly controlled to limit impact. After an early breakfast, enjoy a ranger-guided 4×4 tour inside the protected portion of Coto Doñana. Explore the park’s three ecosystems and watch for signs of Iberian Lynx (there are 25-35 in the park), along with many marsh birds, including herons, sandpipers, snipes, and wagtails, and raptors such as osprey, kites, and eagles. The tour ends with a visit to the park’s main headquarters at Acebuche, with a variety of boardwalks linking several bird hides that look out across the lagoons. Spend time here watching the smart and beautiful Azure Magpies that frequent the area. After lunch, explore the wetlands outside the park, and head to the Atlantic to see shore birds and watch for whales as the sun sets. Dinner and overnight at El Toruño Hotel.
Friday, September 29: Coto Doñana National Park
Today, visit different birding areas to the west and north of the park. See lagoons teeming with flamingos, egrets, spoonbills, and wild horses. After lunch, take the short trip to one of the best-preserved wetlands in Iberia, Marismas del Odiel, which provide a fantastic collection of habitats—saltpans, lakes, forest, sandbanks, tidal channels, rivers—for over 200 bird species. Though the spoonbill is the historic emblem of Odiel, another bird has taken center stage here in recent years—it is Spain’s principal wintering site for Osprey, with around 30 individuals represented, half of Andalucia’s entire population. Before returning to the hotel, explore the remarkable village of El Rocío. Its dusty, sand-blown streets and sweeping verandahs evoke the American Wild West more than southern Spain. Dinner and overnight at El Toruño Hotel.
Saturday, September 30: Sierra de Andújar
Drive today to Sierra de Andújar Natural Park with a stop to explore the ancient cobblestone streets of Córdoba. The gently rolling 18,500-acre Andújar, part of the vast Sierra Morena range, is densely wooded and boasts one of Andalucia’s best-preserved expanses of Mediterranean forest and scrubland. It is inhabited by an impressive number of endangered species, such as Iberian Lynx, Iberian Wolf, Black Vulture and Imperial Eagle. Check into your hotel and freshen up. The gardens of the hotel are often alive with butterflies—look especially for the beautiful Cardinal Butterfly. Acquaint yourself with the park with an introductory drive this evening. Dinner and overnight at Los Piños.
Sunday and Monday, October 1 & 2: Sierra de Andújar
Two full days will be spent viewing the area’s wildlife. For the best chances of spotting Lynx, curly-horned Mouflon Sheep, Wild Cat, and otters, be prepared to hunker down at dedicated vantage points and scan the open woodland for long periods. The area is also incredibly rich in birds of prey. Spanish Imperial Eagle has its largest density here. Both Griffon and Black Vultures are common, as are Southern Grey Shrike, Stonechat, and Red-legged Partridge. The rocky outcrops are good for Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting and Short-toed Eagle. Walk through a small tunnel that is home to Greater Mouse-eared and Geoffroy’s Bats. Depending on the first day’s success, explore the same area or visit another part of the park, to the north, the following day. Optional night drives offer a different view of the park, and up your chances to see Genet, Egyptian Mongoose, badger, Lynx, and Wild Cat. On the last night, toast to your journey and the animals seen at a farewell dinner and overnight at Los Piños.
Tuesday, October 3: Sierra de Andújar / Madrid
Enjoy a full morning drive back to Madrid with late afternoon arrival to the airport for your flights back home.
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Oso Pardo Cantábrico
Characterized by the yellow coloring at the points of its hair and by its black paws, the Cantabrian Brown Bear is the smallest of the brown bear family. After mating in the spring, females give birth in December/January to such tiny cubs that it warranted further investigation. What was discovered is a natural delay in the development of the fertilized eggs. The eggs only become implanted in the uterus five months after mating. This is attributed to the fact that the female doesn’t eat during the latter stages of pregnancy as her metabolic rate slows down during winter hibernation. To compensate for this her milk is extremely rich in nutrients and the young grow quickly.