An Andalusian Experience


The Secrets of Despeñaperros
The dramatic gateway to Andalusia is a wild region just waiting to be explored.

La Cimbarra waterfallDespeñaperros is familiar to many as the dramatic gateway to Andalusia for those arriving by car or train from northern Spain, but only a few adventurous travelers are privy to its inner secrets. Flanked by towering rock faces, the Despeñaperros Pass slices through the 20,000-acre Despeñaperros nature park. Of the four such parks that exist in the province of Jaen this is the least known, an unspoilt natural wilderness just waiting to be discovered.

Despeñaperros translates roughly as "the place where the dogs fall off rocks". The origin of the name is something of a mystery, but it is a graphic illustration of the area’s rugged landscape, with sheer cliffs plunging hundreds of feet. The sparsely populated region is home to deer and wild boar, eagles and vultures. It is also home to one of Andalusia’s most striking natural wonders, the La Cimbarra waterfall which plunges 130 feet, an especially spectacular sight during winter and spring.

To see it, you have to leave the main highway and travel fifteen miles along a mountain road to the village of Aldeaquemada. From here, experienced guides take you to La Cimbarra, which is easily accessible on foot. Other, equally dramatic waterfalls in the vicinity can be visited by more serious hikers.

As testimony that men have been attracted to these mountains since earliest times, the area has an unusually large number of prehistoric paintings, which adorn rock shelters all over the region. Archaeologists are especially intrigued by the fact that realistic paintings depicting large animals are to be found alongside more schematic symbols, an art form which developed much later. Two of the most important sites, the cave paintings of the Cueva de los Muñecos (Cave of Dolls) and the pre-Roman Iberian settlement of Collado de los Jardines, are to be found near Santa Elena, the main town in the park.

The village of Aldeaquemada itself is an example of the communities established throughout the Sierra Morena mountain range in the 18th century, as part of a plan to repopulate a region drained by immigration and plagued by bandits. Settlers from central Europe were encouraged to move here, which accounts for the large number of un-Spanish sounding surnames in Aldeaquemada and other similar communities.

Today, their descendants live from forestry management, animal husbandry and crafts. With a population of around 700, few places can boast such a bucolic, timeless atmosphere, but an increasing trickle of curious visitors is slowly nudging Aldeaquemada into the 21st century. The town hall is promoting guide services for visitors as well as encouraging an offer of rural guest houses to complement the existing camp area, administered by the Andalusian environmental agency.

Patronato de Promocion y Turismo (Jaen Tourist Promotion Board)  [email protected] Website:

Nearest airport: Granada (125 miles, 200 km)


Copyright © 2000 An Andalusian Experience. Text by Mark Little. Photography by J. D. Dallet  - A Freelance Spain production

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Copyright © 2000-2006 Mark and David Little & J.D. Dallet