Watching brown bears and Iberian wolves in Spain

The dramatic and hard terrain in the far north of Spain has become a godsend for wildlife. Perhaps, the two most iconic animals that have come to embody this landscape are the Iberian wolves and the country’s rarest inhabitant-the wild brown bears.

Here is an outline of an itinerary that will take you to some of the wildest corners of northern Spain for watching brown bears and Iberian wolves.

Brown bears and Iberian wolves in Northern Spain

Asturias is one of the four autonomous regions of Spain and an enclave that is home to as many as seven Biosphere Reserves. The combination of scientific research, water-tight conservation measures, and outreach among local communities have given a new lease of life to the last remaining 400 or so brown bears that still roam the mountains of Asturias and Cantabria.

Wildlife lovers, both local and foreign are now traveling in numbers to Asturias for the bears and the Zamora for the wolves. The best time to see brown bears and Iberian wolves is in the months of May, September or October when the weather is perfect, the days are sunny and the light conditions are just about ideal for photography and wildlife observation.

You will need the services of an experienced travel operator and knowledgeable local guides from reputed firms like Naturetrek in order to make this a successful wildlife watching tour.

Itinerary for watching Brown bears and Iberian wolves in Northern Spain

Day one-Madrid to Riano

Catch a high speed train from Madrid to the city of Leon, where on arrival a guide will whisk you away to the remote mountain village of Boca de Huergano in the Riano region of the Cantabrian mountains.

The quiet and little-known Riano range will be the mountain base of your excursion inside the secluded valleys in quest of the elusive Iberian wolf and the equally stealthy European wildcat as they actively hunt down montane water voles in the freshly cut meadows of hay.

Enroute your journey will take you across the plains of Zepa de los Oteros which are home to the largest population of great bustards in the country. Other varieties of steppe birds you may encounter on the way could be stone curlew, European bee eater and lesser kestrel among others.

Day two – Riano Mountains 

Go on an early morning excursion to the remote mountain valley where wolf dens have already been staked out by the locals, thanks to their painstaking and constant monitoring efforts.

A number of wolf packs are active in the region and depending on the time of your visit there will be plenty of opportunities for superb sightings not only of the striking adults but their boisterous cubs as well close to their den sites.

Wolves are particularly wary creatures and rarely allow people to come close to observe them in the wild, therefore good quality scopes and binoculars are a must to have in order to watch them from a respectable distance and view their interactions undisturbed.

The entire trip is repeated in the late afternoon for three to four hours just as in the morning.

Day Three-Riano Mountains

Another exciting day of early morning and afternoon drives for wolf watching. During the trip there is every possibility to chance upon wildcats, sounders of wild boar and roe deer on the edges of the forests.

Day four- Riano Mountains

Take this day as an opportunity to relax and do some self exploration around the area yourself. If you wish to go on another wolf and wildcat excursion, that is also possible.

During your independent search in the middle of the day, explore the gentle woodlands for some exceptional birdlife and a possible sighting of the stunning Schreiber’s green lizard. Iberian wall lizards and geckos abound in the village.

brown bear on green grass
Photo by Esteban Arango on

Day five-Somiedo National Park 

Check out early in the morning for the scenic five hour drive to arrive in Somiedo National Park by lunchtime. Spend some time relaxing after the long drive to prepare yourself for the late afternoon trip in search of wild brown bears.

Somiedo National Park is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve with towering mountain peaks and dense forests rich in wildlife, other fauna, amphibians and butterflies amidst one of the wildest landscapes in Europe.

In September, the brown bears emerge from the dense forests of the Cantabrian Mountains to feed in the open on cranberries, hazelnuts and blackberries in the sub-alpine slopes making sightings of these rare animals a distinct possibility.

Day six-Somiedo National Park

On this day you have the option to go on a full day wild bear watching excursion using local help to trace out the best spots and spend a couple of hours watching the bears with help of optical accessories from a distance of minimum 200m, as bears are highly sensitive to humans.

The areas where these bears are confined are some of the wildest and remotest in the whole of Spain, but they provide a stunning backdrop to observe one of the rarest bear species in the world.

Day seven-Somiedo National Park

This will be another day of bear watching, both in the early morning and late afternoon like the day before. Additionally, the middle of the day can be spent exploring the other species of wildlife which are found in this area notably birds, reptiles and butterflies. Some local birds which can be spotted are honey buzzards, Griffon Vultures, goshawks and short-toed eagles.

Day eight-Madrid

After breakfast, an early morning departure to Madrid to arrive at the airport by twelve noon.

So this is a typical week long itinerary for watching brown bears and Iberian wolves in Northern Spain, but you can create your own or discuss with your tour operator. I hope this inspired you!

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