The Sierra Nevada National Park is situated in the Granada and Almeria provinces in south eastern Spain. It was declared a national park in 1999 and is the largest of its type in Spain, covering a total protected area of 1,748 km2 (~675 mi2). Its vast size means it’s easy to walk for miles without seeing anyone.
The landscape ranges from gentle slopes to steep cliffs. There are more than 20 peaks with heights of over 3,000 m (~9,843 ft), including two of the Iberian Peninsula’s highest mountains, the Mulhacén (3,482 m / 11,424 ft) and the Veleta (3,392 m / 11,129 ft) – which are also the highest in Europe after the Alps.
The scenery shows a distinctive contrast – the high, glacially-formed peaks are nearly always snow-capped and vegetation is sparse, while the lower peaks enjoy a more Mediterranean climate and are strewn with flora and fauna.
Because of its isolated location and position in the far south of Europe, the flora and fauna are unique, and it was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1986, recognising the exceptionally diverse plant, bird and wildlife. 2,100 plant species have been catalogued in the park, 116 of which have been classified as threatened and over 60 are unique to this area. The snow star is the most famous of these endemic plants.
There are around 15,000 Spanish Ibex (a type of mountain goat) roaming around, so it’s almost inevitable that you’ll spot one or more. There is also a chance of seeing other wildlife, though, such as badgers, foxes, wildcats and a wide variety of snakes and lizards.
Activities available in the park include, of course, hiking, but skiing is also a popular feature in winter. Because of its high altitude, the skiing season is long – from late November to the start of May.