Alcázar de San Juan is located in the center of the plains of La Mancha, where the landscapes of cultivated land sown with cereals and vines are dotted with small hills and wetlands.
The municipality is punctuated by different wetlands such as the Lagoon Complex composed of 695 hectares that are part of the Biosphere Reserve of La Mancha Húmeda (declared by UNESCO), as well as a Special Protection Area for Birds, Wildlife Refuge and Protected Area of Castilla – La Mancha.
The Laguna de la Veguilla, the Laguna del Camino de Villafranca and the Laguna de Las Yeguas, are the habitat of numerous animal species and birds of passage that can be observed at different times of the year such as storks, herons, ducks, flamingos or cranes; as well as invertebrates and unique plants in the Iberian Peninsula such as some beetles and the limonium plant.Show more content
Spring and autumn are the most appropriate seasons to visit the natural areas, where you will find bird observatories accessible in the Lagoon Complex, being advisable to wear comfortable clothes and bring binoculars for observation.
Another very interesting option is to make by bike the route to the Tablas del Záncara, also called natural space of the Junta de los Ríos Záncara y Gigüela. The different nature of the rivers, one with fresh water and the other with salt water, give rise to a wetland of very peculiar characteristics, of great botanical interest and diversity of birds.
In the town center you can also enjoy the natural wealth of the Alces Park, green lung of Alcazar where you can observe more than 300 species of plants and animals, including a blue cypress cataloged as the only unique tree in an urban park throughout Castilla – La Mancha or the diversity of butterflies that can be observed in different seasons. Another natural urban space is the Cervantes Park, known as the “old park”, built in the 1920s. XX where nature is intermingled with Don Quixote, as there are benches decorated with historical tiles that narrate different passages of the book.
Three lagoons make up a Natural Reserve of 695 hectares belonging to La Mancha Húmeda, populated by unique species in the world that make the Alcázar de San Juan Lagoon Complex a fascinating place to visit.
Of a seasonal and saline nature, the lagoons have their origins in the blockage of ancient riverbeds -due to the steepness of the terrain- during the Miocene. There are still visible remains of these paleochannels in the form of rañas and boulders between the Gigüela River and the Laguna de Las Yeguas.
The salinity of the soil and the way they receive water will determine the existence of three different lagoons:
Laguna de la Veguilla: A recovered place that has gone from being a dump for more than half a century, to become one of the wetlands of La Mancha where we can observe more species of birds throughout the year. It receives a supply of treated water from the sewage treatment plant, which allows the site to have water practically all year round and therefore the presence of birds is permanent. From the observatories we can enjoy not only the emblematic flamingos, but also grey herons, cranes, the spectacular Purple Gallinule, ducks such as the red-crested pochard or the tufted duck and the striking blue-billed duck: the white-headed duck. The freshwater supply in turn allows the lagoon to be surrounded by emergent vegetation: the reed beds.
Laguna del camino de Villafranca: It is the largest of the lagoon complex. It is surrounded by halophilic vegetation (adapted to saline conditions) such as Limonium or salt chard, salicornia or the famous barrilla or Salicor de La Mancha, from whose ashes stone soap or hard soap was extracted. The silt beaches that flank this lagoon make it possible for visitors to see waders such as avocets and stilts just a few meters from the public road. The lagoon is also home to the so-called Isla de las pagazas, a breeding refuge for the black-billed pagasa. These three species breed in Alcázar, which forms a Criterion of International Importance to justify the lagoons being included in the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
Laguna de las Yeguas: whose water supply depends exclusively on rainfall, has salt concentrations one hundred times higher than those of the Mediterranean Sea. Surrounded by albardines, almajos and the peculiar coralillo, the presence of unique and endemic arthropods give us an idea of the uniqueness of these environments. It is not uncommon in summer to see the Dulcinea tiger beetle, enjoy the colorful wasp beetle on the mad marshmallow, listen to the silver rattlesnake cricket or observe the habitat of the rare Broscus uhagoni or the Poecilus (Sogines) zaballosi, unique species in the world.
The Interpretation Center located in La Veguilla also allows visitors to learn about the historical use of wetland resources, which are recorded from the Bronze Age to the middle of the twentieth century. The lagoon complex is accessible on foot and by vehicle. It is advisable to park motor vehicles in the areas designated for this purpose.