Visiting the Bardenas Reales desert: tips and information

It could almost be mistaken for the American West, but it's actually in Spain that you can discover and visit the Bardenas Reales desert!
visiting the Bardenas Reales desert

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The article in brief:

Explore the Bardenas Reales desert, a Wild West landscape in Navarre. Divided into four zones – Blanca Baja, Blanca Alta, El Plano and Negra – this natural park is ideal for roadtripping, hiking and exploring. Admire the Castildetierra and follow the Piskerra and El rallon trail.

Where is the Bardenas Reales desert located?

The landscapes of the Bardenas Reales desert are reminiscent of the American Wild West: cracked soil, abandoned shacks, plateaus, ravines and peaks as far as the eye can see ….

It’s all about roadtrips, adventure and discovery. And the good news is that you can do it in Europe. The Bardenas Reales desert is located in the South-East of Navarre. It is located just 1h30 from Zaragoza and 1h15 from Pamplona.

Nearby towns and villages include Tuleda, Carcastillo and Arguedas (the village through which the desert is usually accessed and where you’ll find the information centre).

You can also read: 5 deserts to discover in Spain

voiture fille bardenas reales

A protected area

The Bardenas Reales desert is a semi-arid area covering 42,000 hectares (so there’s plenty to do!).

In 1980, the desert was recognised by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve. In 1999, it was classified as a Natural Park, and visits are now strictly regulated.

Only marked paths are authorised (some for cars and bikes, others for pedestrians) and it is strictly forbidden to enter other areas. This would risk damaging the fragile landscape formed by erosion.

In the middle of this desert, there is a military zone to which access is forbidden. So don’t be surprised to see and/or hear a few military manoeuvres during your visit.

Visit the Bardenas Reales desert

The desert is divided into 4 parts:

  • Blanca Baja: the “tourist” part. This is where most of the tour takes place.
  • Blanca Alta: a great hiking area.
  • El Plano: meaning the plain, a flat area that can be seen in the distance.
  • Negra: the “greenest” part of the desert.

Not to be missed

In the Blanca Baja part of the desert lies the symbol of the desert: Castildetierra. This is a large rocky peak, known as the “head”, the result of millions of years of erosion. It is reached by a semi-asphalted road from the information centre. There is a car park next door. Leave the car there and a path of around 2km (round trip) takes you around this landmark, descending into the canyon.

In the Blanca Alta section, you can follow a 3-hour hike called La Piskerra and El rallon, which takes you through a canyon of many orange colours, as well as another “head”, the Cabezo de las Cortinillas.
Note: this part was not accessible at the time of my visit – take the time to visit the information centre first to make sure it is accessible.

For a one-day roadtrip (the 2 main stops being those mentioned above) follow the “Vuelta al poligono” route. This is a road of around thirty kilometres that circles the military firing range. Don’t hesitate to take your time, stop and take in the scenery!

Personally, I really liked the little abandoned cabins, which are very Far West in style! They were once shepherds’ huts.

Finally, to observe the Negra part of the desert, we decided to go to a viewpoint about 40 minutes’ drive from the information centre: “Balcón de El Buste“. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Practical info

  • The first thing to do when you arrive in the desert is to go to the information centre (in Arguedas). A map of the desert with its roads is available, and you’ll be given information on how to get to the different areas.
  • The desert can be visited from 8am to 1am after sunset and the tour is free.
  • Don’t forget to bring water and a picnic.
  • The climate is arid: hot in summer and cold in winter, so make sure you wear appropriate clothing.
  • Allow a day to visit the Blanca section and the area’s main points of interest. An extra day will be needed to explore the Negra area or for a longer hike.
  • You can stay in the nearby town of Tuleda or opt for a night at the Hotel Aire Bardenas (an unusual hotel in the heart of the desert).
  • The desert can be visited by foot or by car, but you can also opt for a more sporty tour by 4×4 or on horseback with Bardenas Aventure.

Q&A : The Bardenas Reales desert

The Bardenas Reales desert lies in the South-East of Navarre, around 1? hours from Zaragoza and 1? hours from Pamplona.

The desert covers a semi-arid area of 42,000 hectares.

It is essential to stay on the marked paths. Access to certain areas is prohibited to protect the fragile landscapes formed by erosion.

The main points of interest are Castildetierra, the symbol of the desert, and the Piskerra and El rallon hike in the Blanca Alta region.

We recommend that you visit the information centre in Arguedas first, bring water and a picnic, and dress appropriately for the arid climate.

One day is enough to visit the Blanca area. An extra day may be needed to explore the Negra section or for a longer hike.

You can stay in Tuleda or opt for a unique experience at the Aire Bardenas hotel in the heart of the desert.

The desert can be explored by foot, by car, or via special excursions by 4×4 or on horseback.

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