Europe in My Region

The Cabárceno Natural Park is a tourist and nature conservation area located in the Pisueña valley, in the municipality of Penagos in Cantabria, Spain. It is home to more than 150 animal species cohabiting in a semi-freedom regime across an area of over 20 km which can be covered either by car, bicycle or on foot.

This is a repost of El Parque de la Naturaleza de Cabárceno, ¡Una de las primeras acciones financiadas con fondos europeos en Cantabria!, originally published in Spanish by Cantabria Europa intern Andrea González González (@regglez, on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn), and translated into English by the European Commission as part of the Europe in My Region 2016 blogging competition.

Antelopes, donkeys, ostriches, bison, water buffaloes, horses, camels, zebras, deer, roe deer, dromedaries, elephants, chickens, bucks, gorillas, cheetahs, hyenas, hippos, jaguars, giraffes, lions, bobcats, llamas, wolves, monkeys , bears, porcupines, rhinos, tigers, several breeds of cows, wallabies, wildebeest… are just some of the species that can be found there.


Visiting the facilities takes about a whole day. The website is very interactive and allows a 360 degree virtual tour of the park, planning the route and an overview of the animals that live there among other things. Click on the link below to download the brochure of the park:

The facilities are an international benchmark, not only for the services offered to visitors – two restaurants, cable car, lookouts, self-catering, cafes, shops, parking area, lake area, picnic area, playground and infirmary – but also by the natural features of the location of the park and the area available to the animals (just the area where elephants live at Cabárceno is over 201,300 square meters – see picture).


The Elephant enclosure

The inhabitants of the 20 precincts of the park are served a very healthy diet and their quality of life is undeniably high, considering they live in captivity. For example, all animals are located close to a lake and the roofed compartments were they sleep are heated. Although the area is very large, visitors can admire the animals up close, always in compliance with very strict safety standards.

Among the many activities that take place at the Cabárceno Natural Park, the following are the most famous:

  • FOCAS-e1462435908670The conservation of endangered species and their reintroduction into their natural habitats. The following species stand out among African wildlife; elephants, white rhinos, leopards or giraffes; among Asian wildlife; the Siberian tiger and the Bengal tiger; among European fauna; brown bears and European bison; and among American wildlife; the jaguar.
  • The botanical trails allow you to observe different types of unique plants, strategically located in the most visited parts of the park.
  • The daily birds of prey and sea lion shows in which vultures, kites, eagles, buzzards, falcons, seals and sea lions participate (sea lions and seals stage show, above right).
  • The research and reproduction of species programmes. Thanks to which giraffe, tiger, jaguar, and especially African elephant offspring in 1995 – the first of its kind in Spain! – were born.


African elephants

  • The environmental education activities taking place in the environmental classroom. Which are intended for young people aged 13 to 18 and consist of raising awareness about respecting the flora, fauna and nature in general. Schools normally make an appointment and bring whole groups of students.


On the map above you can see the location of the brown bear area (the largest brown bear sanctuary in Spain) in front of the areas for giraffes, wildebeests and ostriches, etc. It is one of the most accessible areas in the park where you can also stop to rest and have something to eat. Here are some pictures:

Panoramic photo of grizzly bears enclosure.
Panoramic photo of grizzly bears enclosure.
Campus giraffes, wildebeests, ostriches and antelopes.
Campus giraffes, wildebeests, ostriches and antelopes.
Vehicle only access zone, animals in freedom.
Vehicle only access zone, animals in freedom.

In the picture on the right you can see the area where the animals live in total freedom and which can only be accessed by car, with locked doors and windows.

This area has plenty of deer, bucks and adorable Gibraltar monkeys that play with visitors all the time hoping to steal some food (Beware! Do not forget that it is strictly forbidden to feed the animals!).

Park History and European funding

The origin of these impressive facilities dates back to over 2,000 years ago, when mining began in the Sierra de Peña Cabarga mountains. Cabarceno’s iron was extracted until 1989, when the mine was no longer profitable, and the conditioning of the Natural Park started. Precious landscapes such as those in these panoramic pictures were recovered:
c29 c23

The recovery of the land began in 1989 and the park opened in June 1990. The work was not easy: removing tons of soil, closing deep mining cavities, recovering the medieval or even Roman roads of the area, building appropriate facilities for animals (huts, dens), growing plants and trees, building the whole road network of the park…

Financing all this work was possible largely thanks to the ERDF European funds. At that time, the per capita income in Cantabria was 75% higher than that of the EU average, and objectives 2, 3, 4 and 5b for the 1986 – 1993 period were set for ERDF-ESF-EAGGF financing in the region. It is worth mentioning that Spain joined the European Union in 1986 and these objectives correspond to the first actions financed with European funds in Cantabria. The objectives are the following:

  • Objective 2, which focuses on the redevelopment of the regions affected by industrial decline for those municipalities with an unemployment rate above the EU average, a manufacturing employment percentage also higher than the EU average and a registered decrease in industrial employment. (ERDF, ESF funds)
  • Objective 5b, to foster development of rural areas in those municipalities that recorded low levels of socio-economic development, a high level of agricultural employment and a low level of agricultural income. (ERDF, ESF and EAGGF funds).
  • Objective 3, aimed at fighting against long-term unemployment (ESF)
  • Objective 4, to stimulate an increase in employment of young people (ESF)

Objective 2 concentrated a total of 25,446,946 EUR from executed ERDF-ESF funds from a total of 161,235,180 EUR of total EU funds invested in Cantabria for that period (15.78%). Out of these 25,446,946 EUR, 2,383,781 EUR from ERDF went towards the construction of the Cabárceno Natural Park. The park had a total cost of 4,767,561 EUR in that period, although its programmed spending was 8,609,372 EUR. The ERDF funds co-funded 50.01 % of the upgrading works of the park.

Today, at the Cabárceno Natural Park wildlife unfolds in the most natural environment possible and its facilities are among the best rated by agencies and associations which monitor the living conditions of animals. Moreover, it has become one of the greatest tourist attractions of northern Spain.

It is so successful than more than 5 million people have visited it since its opening and it has become one of the main tourist attractions of CANTUR, the Regional Cantabrian Tourism Society under the Government of Cantabria, to which it belongs. However, its objectives are not only centered around tourist entertainment or bringing people closer to nature: its many scientific purposes, such as the conservation of species, the study of animal behaviour or captive breeding are also worth noting.

Nowadays, many other interesting projects such as this one receive European funding in Cantabria. For more information on ERDF actions such as that in the Cabárceno Natural Park, you can visit the Directorate General on EU Funds in the Cantabria section:


  • Data source on European funding at Cabárceno Park: Directorate General of Economics. Ministry of Economy and Finance of the Government of Cantabria.
  • Source for animal names and history of the park: “Parque de la Naturaleza de Cabárceno, Guía didáctica 7″. Ministry of Culture, Education and Sport. 1993. Santander.
  • Entry made by Andrea González González. Santander, 5 May 2016.
  • Photos taken by Andrea González González on 10 April 2016 at the Cabárceno Natural Park.
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