Urdaibai: The green lungs of Bizkaia
Urdaibai is a must for nature lovers coming to Bizkaia. It is a green treasure and a natural paradise, featuring fine-sand beaches, leafy wetlands and lots of amazing birds.
Urdaibai – from Basque ur, water, and ibai, river, is the 230km2 natural area around the estuary of the river Oka. It was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1984.
Rivers, seas and mountains come together at Urdaibai to create an explosion of nature, giving rise to a unique environment. A show of nature that is too overwhelming to take in at first sight.
Most people in the area are farmers. Moved by the love of the land, they work hard to protect their environment and make visitors feel welcomed. But there are other residents in the area: Indian peafowls, herons, common pochards… They know they will find no better place than Urdaibai along their long migratory routes!
There is room for art and history in Urdaibai as well. Top attractions include the Oma Forest, painted by Agustín Ibarrola, and the cave of Santimamiñe, whose paintings date back to 13000 BC, both in Kortezubi.
Seaside of Bizkaia
A 150-kilometre coastline and lots of things to do
Urdaibai marks the coexistence of various ecosystems: coast, mountains, wetlands and sandbanks, thanks to the convergence of the freshwater of the river and the saltwater of the sea. The result is biodiversity: a wide variety of animal and plant species.
In Urdaibai you will find the greatest wetlands in Euskadi, in terms of both size and diversity. Also, the area is a major stop for migratory birds.The wetlands play a key role in the Urdaibai ecosystem. It has been a Special Protection Area (SPA) for the conservation of wild birds since 1994, and it is a member of Natura 2000, the network of protected sites across the EU.
From the wetlands in Gernika to the rocks that plunge into the Cantabrian Sea, there are lots of things to see in Urdaibai. So you had better plan your trip in advance, to make the most of your visit to this amazing natural area.
Urdaibai is the perfect place for environmentalists and birdwatchers. Natural resources are used in efficient and sustainable ways, based on a socio-economic model that is aware of the environment. In Urdaibai you can do lots of outdoor activities: hiking, mountain biking, sailing, kayaking, birding…
Not to be missed
Bird’s-eye view. Seahawks, swallows, spotted flycatchers and storks are some of the birds you can spot in the vicinity of the Urdaibai Bird Centre. In this wonderful place for birdwatchers, you will learn a lot of facts about the more than 200 native and migratory bird species in the area. Located in Gautegiz-Arteaga, in the heart of Urdaibai, it also doubles as monitoring centre of the wetlands and research centre of the Aranzadi Science Society. The Urdaibai Bird Centre is becoming increasingly popular with visitors: From 5379 in 2013, their number rose to 34,280 in 2016.
In addition to the beautiful coast, Urdaibai offers an amazing mountainous hinterland, whose top attractions include Oma, an enchanted forest painted by local artist Agustín Ibarrola, and Santimamiñe, a cave featuring paintings that are about 15,000 years old.
From the wetlands to the sea. From April to October, in the vicinity of the campsite in Laida they organise kayaking expeditions in the waters of Urdaibai. The whole tour (about 8.5 kilometres) takes about half a day, beginning in the wetlands in Gernika and returning to the campsite up the river Oka. You will paddle your way amidst the wetlands, past ancient mills and old shipyards, and spotting lots of different birds along the way. It is an easy trip for all ages, and a perfect plan for families or groups of friends.
Hiking. There are lots of paths and trails to hike around in Urdaibai, cutting across holm oak forests, unfolding along the banks of the river Oka and Mundaka, or affording great views of the wonderful beaches and cliffs in the area. The Fish Path (GR-38), for instance, will take you from Bermeo to Ondarroa, past an array of changing landscapes.
Mountain biking. Urdaibai can easily be explored by bike. You can also hike your way around, but it is a big area, so it is a lot to walk. There are lots of mountain trails to be negotiated on two wheels. For a panoramic tour of the estuary, follow the bidegorri (cycle path) from Mundaka to Gernika and the quiet road from Gernika to Laida.
Painted Forest of Oma. There is a magical place for you to discover in inland Urdaibai. It is the Painted Forest of Oma, where local artist Agustín Ibarrola painted the tree trunks back in the 1960s. Located in Kortezubi, Oma has become a major tourist attraction in hinterland Bizkaia.
The forest can be explored in a two-hour loop walk. It is a great family plan. Leave your car at the car park next to the cider house in Lezika. The first stretch, going uphill, is the toughest. Then go down the trail into the woods. Once you are in the forest, follow the information boards on the trees. Iberrola’s paintings have a meaning. They should be understood as a whole. Seen from above, the trees make complex images. Moreover, visitors are part of the whole picture as a result of perspective.
When you finish the route, follow the panels leading to the Oma road, past the districts of Basondo and Elexalde, and back to the cider house.
Santimamiñe’s underground treasures. Located in the district of Basondo, in Kortezubi, on the slopes of mount Ereñozar and by the starting point of the Oma Forest route, Santimamiñe is a cave that formed around 13000 BC.
In 1961, they found cave paintings inside: bison, goats, bears, horses… It was a shocking finding, indeed. In 2006, the cave was closed to the public. Now, you can only visit it on a guided tour (cave entrance at 40m and site). Then you can go to the visitor centre, housed in a chapel, where they show a 60min 3D film recreating the interior of the cave.
How to get there
Most towns in the vicinity of Urdaibai are well-connected to Bilbao by road or rail. Check Bizkaibus and Euskotren timetables online when planning your trip.
The Euskotren line running from Bilbao/Atxuri to Gernika to Bermeo will take you to Urdaibai.
Several Bizkaibus lines will take you to Urdaibai from Bilbao: A-3514 (Bilbao-Amorebieta-Gernika), A-3515 (Bilbao-Amorebieta-Gernika-Bermeo), A-3513 (Bilbao-Hospital de Galdakao-Gernika-Lekeitio), A-3523 (Bilbao-Hospital de Galdakao-Gernika-Aulestia-Lekeitio), and A-3527 (Bilbao-Mungia-Bermeo).
There are four ways of getting to Urdaibai: the Corredor de Amorebieta from Gernika to Bermeo (roads BI-635 and BI-2235); the Corredor de Amorebieta from Gernika to Lekeitio (roads BI-635 and BI-2238); the Corredor de Bilbao to Mungia and Bermeo plus road BI-631; and the Corredor de Getxo to Mungia and Gernika (roads BI-634 and BI-2121).
Where to eat
There are plenty of bars and restaurants in Urdaibai where you can have breakfast, lunch or dinner. The largest town in the area is Gernika – a good place to try the typical dishes or buy the specialty foods the region is known for: peppers and cheese. Pintxos are good option too, as they are made with top-quality, fresh ingredients. You can even go on a pintxo tour.
In Mundaka, Laida, Ajangiz, Forua, Ea and Ereño, you can also have great meals at reasonable prices. If you are visiting Nabarniz, you should try the local beans.
Where to sleep
The most common types of accommodation in Urdaibai-Busturialdea are country hotels, lodges and campsites. In the nearby towns you will find hotels as well, with room rates for all budgets.
You do not need to spend the night in Urdaibai, though. It is only 30 kilometres from Bilbao.