National parks in Spain under pressure from mass tourism

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national parks

It has been known for some time that popular city centres in Spain such as Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Valencia and Málaga are under great pressure from mass tourism. However, now national parks in the country also appear to be succumbing to an increasing flow of visitors.

Protected areas and vulnerable ecosystems are therefore at risk. Technicians responsible for the public use of the Network of National Parks in Spain are therefore raising the alarm. They speak of “obvious problems of overcrowding” that these areas are experiencing. In the past ten years the number of visitors has increased significantly. This raises serious concerns about the sustainability and conservation of these crucial nature reserves.

At a recent meeting, representatives from 11 of the 16 national parks reported serious problems with tourist overload. That is why they have prepared a document identifying the main problems of the most affected areas. Alejandro González Domingo is responsible for projects on tourism and climate change at the environmental organization Eco-union. He emphasized to that the increase in visitors is one of the main impact factors and pressure points on the national parks.


For example, in the Picos de Europa National Park there have been problems with access to the glacial lakes of Covadonga for years. the park welcomes almost 1.8 million visitors annually. This massive influx has been managed somewhat by only offering access by public buses. Another park that struggles with massive visitor flows is the Sierra de Guadarrama in Madrid. 2.1 million visitors come here every year. The highest mountain in Spain, the Pico del Teide on Tenerife, welcomes no fewer than 12,000 visitors per day. The problems in the parks mentioned are mainly caused by the fact that all those visitors come by car.

Cogesa Expats

Also read: Serious accident involving bus full of tourists in Picos de Europa

30% more visitors

According to data from the Ministry for Ecological Transition, the average annual number of visitors has increased by 30% in the last ten years. While this was still 10.4 million visitors per year until 2012, this has increased to 13.5 million since 2013. González Domingo criticises this trend. He points out the conflict between conservation and economic development. In that context, he indicates that in theory visits should be for environmental education and not for financial gain.

Complex problem

In 2014, a special National Parks Act came into effect in Spain. It states that the purpose of a national park is to “preserve the integrity of its natural values and landscapes”. This purpose takes precedence over the social use and enjoyment of these areas. The law emphasises the promotion of environmental awareness, scientific research and the sustainable development of communities involved in the parks. “It is a very complex problem,” Gómez Domingo adds. “But tourism policy is crucial and is currently more about promotion than adapting to the demands of climate or environmental crises. “It’s a matter of priorities and Spain is a tourist country.”

Also read: Quick guide to national parks in Spain

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