Located in south-east Navarre in northern Spain the Bardenas Reales or Desert de Bardenas spans an impressive 100,000 acres of land. Following a route that took us 43 kilometres through a unique luna-esque landscape not only impressed us visually but also boasts, through its inescapable signs of erosion, this semi-desert’s story of formation throughout time.
Discover the exact route that we took, in our motorhome, through this awe-inspiring Natural Park including a Bardenas Reales map to help you in plotting your journey. You’ll also learn how history & nature has shaped this unusual environment, must-see spots within the park (bonus here for you Game Of Thrones fans looking to visit the Dothraki Sea) as well as the essentials for planning your Bardenas Reales Desert road trip.
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Post updated by The Wilder Route on 22nd March 2021.
History Of The Bardenas Reales
Navarra (or Navarre) began its story as the medieval Basque Kingdom of Pamplona in around 700AD & over seven centuries was absorbed into larger entities forming the Kingdom of Navarra. Reales – literally translated means Royal – with these lands once being the legacy of the Kings of Navarre.
The tale of this wild area, however, goes much further back than the Kings that reigned here. This semi-desert or ‘badlands’ were formed around ten million years ago when the basin opened to the Mediterranean Sea & drained, leaving what is now the Ebro Basin. The soils of the Bardenas Reales comprised of clay, chalk & sandstone, have been eroded by water & wind forming quite the twist of nature.
Semi-desert : an arid area that has some of the characteristics of a desert but has greater annual precipitation.
Areas Of The Natural Park
An Unesco World Biosphere Reserve, the park itself is split into three main areas.
• Bardena Blanca (White Bardena) right in the centre, feels the most desert-like. It takes its name from the presence of salt on the surface of its soil. Here is where you’ll discover vast plains & deep gorges which have been formed by rivers flowing over the centuries.
• Plano (plane) once an inland sea enclosed by the Catalan Coastal Range, when the Bardenas Reales formed, it left this part of the land relatively flat. The alternating soft & hard materials caused by erosion have created swirling layers, with hills dotted throughout the horizon.
• Bardena Negra (Black Bardena) is located at the South Eastern tip of the Bardenas Reales bordering Aragón. The soil here is darker (hence the name) & is covered in vegetation. You’ll find plateaus of different altitudes here with Mediterranean forests on one side & grainfields on the other.
Bardneas Reales Map & Route
Our half-day route took us through the Bardena Blanca & Plano area of the natural park, exiting through the Bardena Negra. Following a 43 kilometre loop, the journey took us around 3 hours in total. You could shorten the journey time to as little as 2 hours if you wish (although that would leave a very small amount time to stop & take it all in) or you could easily extend this to a full-day road trip marking & following your customised route on maps.me.
Below shows the exact route that we took in our (7.5 metre long) motorhome, for which we encountered no problems at all. The park is fully accessible for motorhomes, cars & campers. It is also accessible by foot or bike with many routes & trails to choose from.
Essentials For Your Bardenas Reales Spain Visit
1. Park Restrictions
The park does operate under various restrictions such as large areas being off limits from March through September to protect nesting birds (among them Egyptian vultures.) Up-to-date information & restrictions can be found on the Bardenas Reales de Navarra – official website (which also includes lots more info on the area).
2. Where To Start
The main entrance to the park sits on the N-134 or ‘Calle Bardenas’ (approximately 3km) from the town of Arguedas – this is the road that we took to access the park. The Bardenas Reales information centre is located at this entrance, making it the perfect point from which to start your trip. You can, however, take any road that leads into the park, depending on which direction you are coming from & of course park restrictions that are in place at the time (see point 1).
3. Park Opening Times
You can visit the park from 8am up until one hour before sunset. We have been asked about the posibility of astro photography in the park (astro shots here would be so awesome) – if this is something you’d like to do the only recommendation we have is to get in touch with the park via the official website (again see point 1) & if you do manage to get some shots, please tag us in them on instagram @the.wilder.route as we would love to see!
4. Military Zone
As the scenery opened up we had an army bomber fly right above our van, which is not uncommon. Upon later research, we found there is an army base located within the Bardenas Reales with many drills & exercises being regularly practiced. Try not to be alarmed if some aerial drills are going on whilst you are visiting – the more dangerous exercises are practiced when the park is shut & where it is not safe to enter certain areas of the park you’ll find it fenced off behind warning notices (you guessed it, back to point 1 if you’d like to double-check what & where!)
The climate is comprised of hot summers, cold winters & long, dry periods interrupted by heavy rain. There is a particular wind that blows through the area, called ‘cierzo’. We visited at the end of February, when the weather was pretty warm & on that particular day there was hardly any wind.
6. What To Bring
Everything you’ll need for the day (yes, everything!) This gorgeous scenery is thankfully not dotted with places to buy stuff. Make sure, if driving, you’ve got enough fuel to get your vehicle through & if going it by foot, bike, or other means you’ve got all the fuel you need to keep yourself going.
We’d also recommend sunscreen & plenty of layers to keep yourself protected from the elements. Looking for some new cozy layers? Check out our organic clothing range Nature Threads, shipped worldwide in plastic-free packaging with a tree planted for every item purchased.
If you love to take photos then the Bardenas Reales will be a playground for you, countless photo ops are not only beautiful but will likely be very different from anything you’ve photographed before. Getting up high wherever possible will add that extra awe to your shots, just be sure to wear sturdy shoes when climbing up on any of the tabular structures or isolated hills – they might not look too high but they can get a little narrow & slippy in places.
Driving Through The Bardenas Reales Desert
As far as road trips go, this one certainly isn’t tough going. The roads, quite large & open are in pretty good condition & there are so many opportunities when driving the Bardenas Reales natural park to just jump out & take in the gorgeous panoramic views.
Blessed with the feeling of being relatively alone in a vast desert, we came across few vehicles & other people whilst we were exploring the park. For us, this is the best way to experience nature, to just be & take time to connect with our surroundings.
Points Of Interest In The Park
1. Panoramic Viewpoint
Point C on our Bardenas Reales Map
This viewpoint located a few kilometres drive inside the park from Arguedas offers a large map with all the names of landmarks around the park coupled with a spectacular view. It’s a great place to get your bearings at the start of your Bardenas Reales journey.
2. Castil de Tierra
Point A on our Bardenas Reales Map
What we’d call the must-see of the whole park the extraordinary looking Castil de Tierra is a sight to behold. Nicknamed Cabezas (which translated means head) these isolated hills are dotted throughout the park with this one exuding a character all of its own (we think it looks a little like Jabba the Hutt but each to their own hey).
3. High Viewpoint & El Rallon
Point B on our Bardenas Reales Map
This spot, just up from Castil de Tierra is perfect to park up & gain access to some higher-up views. From this vantage point, which is pretty much in the middle of the Bardenas Reales you’ll gain an insight into the shape & story of this land. From here El Rallon mountain sits directly behind where we’ve marked point B & at 493 metres can (dependent on capability & adventurousness) be hiked, biked or climbed.
5. Abandoned Houses
On the road to the Castil de Tierra stands an old abandoned house, complete with a chimney that seems to resemble some of the rock formations that surround it, we’re not sure what this house was used for but have to say that the mystery of the unknown made wandering around it all the more magical. Other houses, similar to this one, can also be found around the park.
6. Bardenas Reales – Game Of Thrones
The Natural Park has been amongst many Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Spain & after driving through the Bardenas Reales we can certainly understand why this was one of GOT’s chosen locations. The geology of the landscape is a real spectacle & a special experience to hold. Once inside the park, it’s hard to believe that you are still in Europe! It’s also great fun to see if you can recognise any spots around the natural park from the series, & even if you’re not a fan it’s really cool to witness the terrain of the famous ‘Dothraki Sea’.
Aire de Bardenas
Where to stay in a motorhome…
The aire de service or area de auto caravanas for the Bardenas Reales is located right on the edge of the park & is the perfect place to stop before driving into the desert. Situated on the edge of a small town called Arguedas, the aire is also right next to the Cuevas de Arguedas or cave dwellings in the mountainside. The caves which are free to explore are great for a look around & insight into how people used to live inside the mountains.
You’ll find the location of Bardenas area de auto caravannas on google maps.
The town of Arguedas has a real desert town feel with restaurants, cafes & a few small supermarkets (from which jetons can also be purchased for the services, such as water etc. at the
Note : The cave dwellings are called, on a lot of maps ‘Troglodyte’ dwellings. A Troglodyte is a human cave dweller, & comes from the Greek trogle “hole, mouse-hole” & dyein “go in, dive in”. This word is a derogatory term to describe a member of a prehistoric race of people who lived in caves & is a term that we feel should be removed from these maps altogether, however, as the term remains, for now, we feel an explanation of why we have chosen not to include it when referring to this point of interest is at least an acknowledgment of how improper the use of this term is.
Our Trip Summed Up
We loved exploring the Bardenas Reales in our motorhome & would highly recommend stopping if you are in the area & are looking for some amazing views & a great day of exploring. The natural park is a truly remarkable place & unlike anything we have seen in Europe before.
It is a must visit if you are exploring Northern Spain. With the option to hike, bike or take a car, motorhome or camper to drive through the park the choice is yours.
Kelly & Adam x
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