Guadalhorce river estuary natural area, Malaga

The Guadalhorce River Estuary Natural Area (Paraje Natural Desembocadura del Guadalhorce) is situated on a naturally formed island just where the Guadalhorce river flows into the Mediterranean. 

The river branches off into two sections just before joining the Mediterranean, creating a swathe of land that is one of the most ecologically varied in Andalucia. 

Over the years, it has become one of the most important bird breeding and migration sites in eastern Andalucía. 

Malaga's birdwatching paradise

During the late 1970s, the Junta de Andalucia was building several large social housing projects. The delta area was used primarily as an excavation site. 

Gravel and sand extraction created huge pits and craters. Subsequent flooding created several large artificial ponds and scrub land. The flora and fauna that was attracted amazed conservationists. 

In 1998, a restoration project was set in motion. The area was subsequently granted natural area status and offered protection. 

Today, the estuary is an authentic natural paradise, with marshlands that are brimming with life. 

Its hard to believe you are near one of Europe’s busiest airports and a mere stone’s throw away from the centre of Malaga. The estuary is an authentic green oasis. 

The mix of sweet river and salty sea water has created a unique environment for bird watchers, with a combination of waterfowl and seabirds. 

Coupled with the fact, that the Guadalhorce river estuary is on one of the main Mediterranean-crossing routes between Europe and Africa. You can never be sure what you are going to see. 

Of the 350 species that have been recorded in Andalucia, 260 have been found here.   

The flora is also of particular interest, the varying saltiness of the soil within such a short space has created a wide variety of aquatic plants, reedbeds and scrubs. Some of which, are endemic to the area. Along the river banks are willows,eucalyptus and poplars. There are also tamarisks and palm trees.

Bird species

The estuary is a stop-off for many hundreds of different species of birds and a permanent home to many others. The time of year when you visit determines the type of birds you’ll see. 

The migratory seasons during spring, autumn and winter are particularly interesting. 

Kentish plovers, ospreys, sea hawks, audouin's gulls, marbled teals, bluethroats, little bittern, booted eagles, kingfishers,  black-tailed godwit, northern gannets, black-winged stilts, redshanks, sacred ibis, lesser crested terns, moorhens, water rails, cetti's warblers, crested larks, yellow wagtails, reed warblers, nightingales, different types of ducks, crested larks, flamingos, monk parakeets, honey buzzards and white-headed ducks are all regularly seen. 

The white headed duck, classified as an endangered species, has been successfully breeding in the estuary since 2003. It is estimated that during drought years, the natural area is home to over 30% of all reproducing females in Andalucia. 

Weasels, foxes, snakes and chameleons are also common. 

Getting around

The natural area is easily accessible and has numerous well marked paths and tracks criss-crossing it. There are several large lakes, smaller ponds, two stretches of river and five observation points. 

It is a popular place for mountain bikers and people looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a few hours. 

There are two set routes with the estuary itself; the Rio Viejo (the old river route) and the Laguna grande (large lake route). 

They are both very straightforward and clearly marked. 

The Rio Viejo route is a 1.6 km route that will lead you alongside the Laguna de la Casilla and Rio Viejo observatories and ends at the Aves Marinas (marine birds) observatory. 

The Laguna Grande (large lake) route takes you to admire the birds in the Laguna Grande and Laguna Escondida (the hidden lake) observatories and past some unique vegetation. 

Getting there 

If coming from east of Malaga's centre take the N340 towards Torremolinos/Fuengirola. Do not take the exit for the Guadalhorce industrial estate. 

Keep going and keep your eyes open for the exit to Guadalmar, the same exit for Leroy Merlin and Decathlon. Come off here and follow the roundabout leftwards - towards the beach - going into the Guadalmar housing urbanisation. There's a church on the left hand side, just before the road becomes one way and forces you to take a right deeper into the urbanisation. I suggest parking here - map

You can get closer to the entrance of the natural park, many people park just beside the barricade to the park. However, this particular spot has also been the scene of a spat of recent car break-ins (one of which, we saw). 

It is too secluded, too easy to get away from quickly and is commonly known that people birdwatching usually have camera equipment, binoculars and tend to be foreign. Parking next to the church seems to be a far safer option. 

There is also a regular bus service from the centre of Malaga via the EMT Number 10 bus. 

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