Bahía de Cadiz Natural Park
Encompassing a 10,522ha flat landscape of sandy beaches, marshes, salt pans, freshwater lakes and tidal inlets, as well as the two natural areas of Isla del Trocadero and the Marismas de Sancti Petri, the Cadiz Bay supports a surprising wealth of wildlife, given the built-up areas that are in and around it, which make up a population of around 400,000. This number swells considerably in summer with the popularity of resorts such as El Puerto de Santa María, Chipiona de la Frontera and Puerto Real with summer visitors.
Salt has been extracted from the bay since Phoenican times. The Romans used the salt for preserving fish and producing their garum sauce, while in the 15th century sailors used it for preserving food on their transatlantic voyages to the Americas.
The height of the bay's salt pan industry came much later, however. By the late 19th century more than 10,000ha of marshland had been turned into around 150 salt pans, but these went into decline with the increasing use of refridgeration, which superceded salting as a way of preserving food. Few salt pans are in operation today.
The salt pan industry has had a major impact on the bay, but the worst damage to the marshes was caused in the 1970s by the infilling the abandoned salt pans to make land for construction, to build houses, factories or tourist complexes.
These threats to the environment were halted in 1989 with the creation of the natural park and the wetland area is today one of the most important in Europe, supporting a rich variety of plants and birds.
Cadiz, El Puerto de Santa María and Chipiona de la Frontera are full of bars and restaurants selling some of the best seafood in Andalucia, while El Puerto de Santa María is also renowned for its fino (sherry), the perfect accompaniment to the region's fish and shellfish dishes.
The Guadalete river empties into the bay at the Puerto de Santa María.
San Fernando Botanical Gardens in Avenida Pery-Junquera has 600 species of plant from Cadiz Bay and the whole province, as well as some from the Canary Islands and North and South America.
There is a park office at Calle Coghen in San Fernando, 956 590 405, which can provide information on the park, including maps and walks.
The main road through the park is the N443 Puerto Real/Cadiz road and the NIV that goes round the east and south parts of the park. But much of the park is hard to reach, including the privately owned salt pans. There are four signposted walks that traverse abandoned saltpans, beaches and pine forest. Alternatively, there are canoeing and boat trips in the bay.
There are lots of places to stay in Cadiz city, Chiclana de la Frontera and El Puerto de Santa María. Make sure you book in advance in August, when hotels fill up quickly.