Nature On Malaga’s Doorstep

The Guardalhorce River Estuary Natural Area

Image     An urban wetland under the flight path?

Yes, it’s possible – even to being one of the most important breeding and migration sites in Andalucia.

The Guardalhorce River flows south through a wide agricultural valley in Malaga Province before finally running into mud flats between Malaga and Torremolinos, just at the southern end of the airport. Although construction encroached either side of the river before the recession, this soggy wilderness managed to fend it off. The more visitors coming to enjoy it, the more likely it is to be preserved.

Image             Image

Wildlife, as has been found in other urban wetlands, is not easily put off by the hurly-burly of modern urban life and the Guadalhorce River Estuary Natural Area is a case in point. It attracts a huge variety of birds – over 200 of the 350 species that have been recorded in Andalucia have been found here. Being on one of the two Mediterranean-crossing routes between Europe and Africa (the other being Turkey) you never know what you might see there. Cameras at the ready, please.

The mudflats and pools are man-made, the result of the increased extraction of sand and gravel for the social housing programme between 1950s – 1980s, leaving behind the kind of wetland loved by birds and other  wildlife. The housing boom might have threatened it, and its preservation isn’t helped by proposals to widen the estuary to prevent flooding in the agricultural areas further inland. In addition the beach is a popular haunt of bathers from both Malaga and Torremolinos.

Let us hope that the drainage costs make the area undesirable to developers, so that we can expect to enjoy the birds for some years to come.

How do you get there?

Remember, the Guardalhorce is between Malaga and Torremolinos south of the airport.

Car:   Follow the main road (N340) between Malaga and Torremolinos. Take the turn-off for Guadalmar / San Julian. Drive through the Guardalmar urbanisation towards the hotels and cross the river at the dam. If bird-watching is the main purpose of your trip, you might find the Tryp Hotel handy.

If the dam breaks during flooding, the area is inaccessible, unfortunately.

Bus:  From Malaga

Take No.10 bus – stopping all along the road from the centre of Malaga towards the airport. Get off by the Tryp Hotel in San Julian/Guardalmar.

From Torremolinos

You can get No.10 from Plaza Mayor and come into Gardalmar from the opposite direction. The golf course and the Parador de Golf back onto the beach.

What can you find there?

The scrubland is mostly aquatic plants, though there are innumerble trees along the river bank – eucalyptus, poplars, palm trees, tamarisks and willows.

The seasons ring the changes in the cycle of bird life. And in the migration seasons almost any kind of bird can be seen.

The following is a list (not exhaustive) of birds that have been recorded at Guadalhorce Natural Area.

Bittern:  little




Duck:  white-headed, marbled, Ferruginous

Eagle:  booted

Egret:  cattle, little



Grebe:  black-necked, great-crested

Gull:  Audouin’s, yellow-legged, laughing, Franklin’s, ring-billed

Harrier:  marsh

Heron:  western reef, grey, purple, cattle, little, squacco,


Lark:  crested




Plover:  kentish, ringed



Sandpiper:  Terek, marsh, spotted


Starling:  spotless


Tern:  blue-winged, little, common, sandwich

Tit:   penduline

Wagtail:  yellow

Warbler:  Cetti’s, reed

Water rails:


Yellowlegs:  lesser

Various caged birds that have managed to escape didn´t have to go very far to recognise this estuary as a safe sanctuary.

The following are other excellent bird-watchng sites in Andalucia.

Casares      Castellar de la Frontera      El Chorro      El Torcal      Es Pinar del Rey, San Roque      Fuente de Piedra      Laguna Dulce, Camillos      La Janda      Montes de Malaga    Palmones estuary      Punta Carnero      Ronda      Rio Genil valley      Sierra Crestellina    Sierra de Camarolo      Tarifa