About 400 brown bears live in Spain, the largest land animal in the Iberian Peninsula. Despite having been seriously threatened, now, and with all precautions, the conservation of this animal is an example of success, according to NGOs such as the Brown Bear Foundation.

Where do brown bears live?

The brown bears in Spain live in the Cantabrian Mountains (about 330) and in the Pyrenees (about 70 specimens, which also move through the French area).

What provinces do they travel through?

The bears move in the Cantabrian Mountains through the interior provinces of Lugo, Ourense, a large part of Asturias, the north of León, part of Cantabria and the north of Palencia. In the Pyrenees, they move through Huesca and Lleida and points in Navarra.

What are the best places to see them?

As explained on the website of the Aquae Foundation, an entity that defends sustainability and nature, ” the brown bear is difficult to see since it lives freely in different areas of the Cantabrian Sea and hibernates from January to March , although this depends on the winter harshness and food availability.

In this regard, they add: “It is very characteristic that Cantabrian brown bears come out of their torpor (a light hibernation) so hungry that they even proceed to turn over stones to look for food. It is a behavior much more typical of summer.”

Asturias, possibly the best place to see them

Lake La Cueva in the Somiedo Natural Park

Lake La Cueva 

The best place to spot brown bears in Asturias, according to the Repsol Guide, is the Somiedo Natural Park. In Somiedo there are more open spaces and you can see them better. However, patience is needed. It is advisable, at least on the first occasions, to hire local companies, since they are the ones who best know the places that bears frequent. In addition, they have good telescopes or binoculars, which are essential to see the animals in the distance.  

From the Príncipe viewpoint, at 1,373 meters above sea level, you can see the entire valley of the Somiedo Natural Park and, with luck, see brown bears.

The Muniellos Integral Nature Reserve , which is located within the Fuentes de Narcea, Degaña and Ibias Natural Park, is another ideal place to see the brown bear, given the scarce human presence. In fact, only 20 people a day can access it after reserving their visit well in advance on the Asturias government website.

Cantabria

Liébana is one of the most famous holiday destinations in Cantabria.

Liébana is one of the most famous holiday destinations in Cantabria. 

The border between the regions of Liébana (Cantabria) and the Montaña Palentina is the best place to see brown bears in the region. Of course, as in Asturias, a telescope, binoculars and also 4×4 vehicles will be needed to be able to approach the biodiversity of this border environment, highlights from the Repsol Guide.

It is about having patience, spotting a point of passage for animals and waiting. Depending on the time of year, the bear usually crosses the slope in search of wild fruits. Unlike Asturias, there are no specific viewpoints here, it depends on the experience of the local guides, the great connoisseurs of the terrain… and the bears.

Galicia

A specimen of brown bear.

A specimen of brown bear

The recovery of bears in Asturias and León is causing their presence in Galicia to be greater and more frequent. This has been confirmed by the biologist and project coordinator of the Fundación Oso Pardo, Fernando Ballesteros: “The presence of the bear is now permanent and constant” in the areas of Os Ancares and O Courel. It also highlights the expansion of the brown bear to other places in the province of Lugo and “to large areas of Ourense”.

Lion

A bear cub, in a file image.

A cub, in a file image

The municipalities of Páramo del Sil, Palacios del Sil and Villablino include most of the Cantabrian brown bears of the western populations in León. “Watching brown bears in Alto Sil and Laciana can be a unique experience, thanks to the good conservation of their habitat,” they indicate from the company specialized in watching brown bears TheBearOutdoor. 

Pyrenees, harder to see

La Forcanada, in the Aran Valley.

La Forcanada, in the Aran Valley

The ideal places to contemplate them are in the western valleys of Aspe and Ossau , in forest areas in Andorra, the Roncal Valley (Navarra) and Cerdanya, between Lleida and Girona, emphasize the Rural Club.

About 15 brown bears live in the Alt Pirineu Natural Park (Lleida). From the official website Catalunya es tu casa they explain: “An animal can be identified by the trail it leaves in its wake: tracks, droppings, food scraps… The Pyrenean brown bear is one of the least observed species, because there are Few, due to their elusive nature and because they live in very difficult habitats. The steep areas where they live are their best hiding place during the day. It is only possible to see them at first and last hour of the day, and that is with a lot of luck”. 

What do I do if I meet a grizzly bear?

Image of a brown bear submitted by USC

Image of a brown bear 

From the Brown Bear Foundation they emphasize that “unlike American grizzly bears, Cantabrian bears, and European bears in general, are not aggressive. After many centuries of coexistence with human activities, they have learned to avoid contact with people and, with their excellent sense of smell and hearing, they usually detect the approach of a walker well in advance and discreetly move away from the place, without the person realizing it in most cases”.

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