The Best Things to do in El Rocio, Spain

This post is about the best things to do in El Rocio, Spain. El Rocío is a small village located in the province of Huelva in the Andalusia region of southern Spain. It is a charming and picturesque village with narrow streets and whitewashed buildings. While the village itself is small, there are a number of interesting and unique attractions to see and experience.

Why visit El Rocio Spain

El Rocio in Spain is a beautiful white village in Andalusia at the outskirts of the beautiful Doñana National Park. It is one of the most important wetlands in Europe. The area is home to a wide variety of plant and animal species, many of which are endangered or rare. 

The Doñana National Park alone is a good reason to visit El Rocio. But the town itself is also a very interesting place to visit. There are many picturesque white villages in Andalusia such as Zuheros and Olvera. But El Rocio is quite different from the rest. This small pilgrimage town has a number of peculiar traditions and a unique culture that comes from its rich history.

El Rocio in Spain
El Rocio Spain

The history of El Rocio

The history of El Rocío Spain is closely tied to the Virgen del Rocío, or Nuestra Señora del Rocío. The Virgen del Rocio is a religious icon that is the patron saint of the village. According to legend, in the 13th century a hunter found the statue of the Virgin in an olive tree. He saw a bright light and, upon investigating, discovered the statue of the Virgin Mary hidden among its branches.

The hunter took the statue to the nearby town of Almonte, where it became an object of veneration for the local people. Over time, a small chapel was built to house the statue. Later, in the 17th century, hermits established a monastery that began to promote the cult of the Virgen del Rocío. The monastery became an important pilgrimage site, attracting thousands of devotees from all over Spain.

Today, religious devotees come to El Rocío throughout the year to pay homage to the Virgen del Rocío. It is most famous for the annual Romeria del Rocio festival when thousands of pilgrims from all over Spain come to see the procession of the Virgen el Rocio.

The Viregen del Rocio, or the Paloma Blanca in El Rocio Spain
Virgen del Rocio

The brotherhoods of El Rocio

El Rocio in Spain is home to a number of brotherhoods. A brotherhood (hermandad) is a religious and social association made up of members who share a common devotion to the Virgen el Rocio. They play a key role in organizing and participating in the annual Romeria del Rocio festival.

Each brotherhood is responsible for organizing its own group of pilgrims, who travel to El Rocio on foot, on horseback or in horse carriages. The pilgrimage can take several days and it involves traveling through the countryside and stopping at various towns and villages along the way.

During the pilgrimage, the brotherhoods provide food, drink, and shelter to their members and other pilgrims who may be in need. They also participate in the various religious ceremonies and processions that take place in El Rocio, including the famous “Romeria” in which the statue of the Virgin Mary is carried through the town by the different brotherhoods.

The different brotherhoods in El Rocio have their own traditions and customs, which reflect the diversity and richness of Andalusian culture. Each brotherhood has its own distinctive costume, which is worn by all members during the pilgrimage. Music is an important part of the pilgrimage, and brotherhoods have their own bands, which play religious hymns and traditional songs during the processions.

In addition to their religious activities, the brotherhoods also play an important social role in the communities they serve. They organize cultural events, charitable activities, and other initiatives that promote the values of solidarity, cooperation, and mutual support.

One of the brotherhoods in a procession through El Rocio Spain
One of the brotherhoods in a procession through El Rocio

Hermandades de la Virgen del Rocio

Each brotherhood has a community building in El Rocio where the members gather to celebrate and promote the cult of the Virgen del Rocio. Throughout the year there is a festive atmosphere in El Rocio. Especially during the weekends and holidays when members stay overnight. These gatherings often include music and lots of foods and drinks. 

Some of the most well-known brotherhoods in El Rocio include:

Almonte: This is the oldest and most important brotherhood in El Rocio. It is responsible for organizing many of the events during the pilgrimage.

Triana: This brotherhood is based in the Triana neighborhood of Seville and is known for its distinctive green and white costumes.

Huelva: This brotherhood is based in the city of Huelva and is known for its colorful costumes and elaborate processions.

Hermandad de Emigrantes: This brotherhood was founded by Andalusians who had emigrated to other parts of Spain or abroad. It is known for its international character and for bringing together people from different countries and cultures.

One of the brotherhoods gathering in El Rocio during the weekend
One of the brotherhoods gathering in El Rocio during the weekend

The best things to do in El Rocio Spain

El Rocio Hermitage

The Hermitage of El Rocío is the main religious site in the village and is home to the Virgen del Rocío, the patron saint of El Rocío. The hermitage is a simple, whitewashed building that is decorated with colorful flowers during the Romería del Rocío festival.

Throughout the year, the Hermitage of El Rocío is a popular destination for tourists and pilgrims who come to admire its beautiful architecture and to pray to the Virgin Mary. It is also a symbol of the deep religious and cultural heritage of Andalusia, and it continues to inspire devotion and reverence among Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

El Rocio Hermitage
El Rocio Hermitage

Romeria del Rocio

It is famous for its annual pilgrimage, known as the Romería del Rocío, which attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over Spain and beyond.

The Romería del Rocío is a religious festival that takes place over several days in late May or early June, and culminates on the Sunday of Pentecost. Pilgrims dress in traditional flamenco costumes, ride horses or travel in decorated carts, and travel from their hometowns to El Rocío to pay homage to the Virgen del Rocío, the patron saint of the village.

During the festival, the streets of El Rocío are filled with music, dancing, and the sounds of bells and castanets. Pilgrims camp out in the surrounding countryside, and the atmosphere is festive and joyful. On the final day of the festival, the statue of the Virgen del Rocío is paraded through the streets, accompanied by a procession of horses, carts, and thousands of pilgrims.

The Romería del Rocío is one of the most important religious festivals in Spain and is renowned for its unique blend of Catholic and Andalusian traditions. It is a colorful and lively celebration that showcases the rich cultural heritage of the region and is an unforgettable experience for those who participate.

Ethnographic museum

The Ethnographic Museum in El Rocío is dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of the region and has exhibits on local traditions, customs, and crafts. You can learn about the history of the village and the Romería del Rocío festival, and see traditional clothing and artifacts.

Laguna de El Rocio

The lake near El Rocio is known as the “Laguna de El Rocio” or the “Laguna de Santa Olalla”. It is a shallow seasonal lake that is fed by rainfall and groundwater, and it can fluctuate greatly in size and depth depending on the weather conditions.

During periods of heavy rain, the lake can fill up and create a large body of water, which is home to a variety of waterfowl and other aquatic wildlife, including flamenco. However, during dry spells or droughts, the lake can dry up almost completely, leaving only a few isolated pools. Without water it is actually a sad sight.

Due to climate change and more frequent droughts the lake has now almost disappeared and you will be very lucky if there is any water at all. Unfortunately droughts also have a big impact on Donana National Park with fears that the wetlands are shrinking and eventually disappearing.  

Deers in Donana National Park
The wetlands are shrinking, but there is still lots of wildlife around El Rocio

Doñana National Park 

El Rocío is located near the Doñana National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Doñana is one of the largest wetlands in Europe with a diverse ecosystem. It is home to more than 300 bird species, 37 mammal species, and countless reptiles, amphibians, and insects. It is also home to rare and endangered species such as the Iberian lynx, the Spanish imperial eagle, and the white-headed duck.

Doñana National Park is a popular destination for birdwatchers. You can see flamingos, herons, storks, and eagles. The best time to see birds is during the spring and fall migration seasons (March to May and September to November), when many species pass through the area. If you want to see other animals, such as the Iberian lynx or Spanish imperial eagle, then the cooler months of winter (December to February) may be a better time.

You can arrange a jeep safari into the park in El Rocio. The best time to see animals is early morning or afternoon just before sunset. I spotted lots of deer and wild boar as well as lots of birds, including flamingo’s. 

Flamenco at Donana National Park
Donana National Park

Horseback riding

Horses are important in El Rocio and are the main mode of transport within the town itself.  You can experience the joy of riding one yourself. There are several local companies that offer guided horseback rides through the Doñana National Park and the surrounding countryside.

Horseback riding is very popular in El Rocio
Horseback riding is very popular in El Rocio

El Rocio Spain travel tips

Where to stay in El Rocio

I stayed at the Casa Rural Arenas de El Rocio that is very close to the El Rocio Hermitage. It’s a nice place to stay with clean rooms. The same owners run the Hospederia El Cazadero Real that is very similar and also a nice place to stay. 

What to eat in El Rocio

El Rocio is a small town with only a few restaurants. Most of the restaurants specialize in the traditional dishes of Andalusia as well as local cuisine.

El Rocío is close to the coast, so you can enjoy some delicious fried fish. Pescaíto frito consists of small fish, such as anchovies or whitebait, that are lightly battered and deep-fried until crispy. It’s usually served with a squeeze of lemon.

Almonte is a nearby town to El Rocío, and it’s known for its delicious almond cake. The Tarta de Almonte is a moist and dense cake made with ground almonds, sugar, eggs, and sometimes flavored with lemon or orange zest. It’s a popular dessert in the region.

It is important to note that during the annual pilgrimage to El Rocio, many restaurants and bars may be closed or have limited hours due to the large influx of visitors.

Virgel del Rocio
Virgen del Rocio

How to get to El Rocio

El Rocío is located about 87 km southwest of Seville. The nearest train station to El Rocío is in the town of Huelva.

There are several bus companies that operate regular services to El Rocío from nearby cities such as Seville, Huelva, and Almonte. Some of the most popular bus companies include Damas, Los Amarillos, and Linesur. The journey time varies depending on the departure point, but it typically takes around 1 to 2 hours.

How to get around El Rocio

El Rocío is a small village with a rustic atmosphere, so getting around on foot or by horse is the most common and traditional way to explore the town.

Horse-drawn carriages are also a popular way to get around El Rocío. You can hire a carriage at one of the many rental stands around the village, and a driver will take you on a tour of the town and the surrounding countryside.

If you want to get into the nearby Doñana National Park, you can rent bicycles in the village. There are several cycling routes that lead to the park and its beaches.

El Rocio Spain
You can rent a horse carriage to get around in El Rocio

When to visit El Rocio

El Rocio has a Mediterranean climate with hot summers and mild winters. The best time to visit is during the spring (March to May) and fall (September to November). This is when temperatures are pleasant and there is less chance of rain. Summers can be very hot and crowded, while winters can be cool and rainy.

El Rocio is known for its annual festivals, which attract thousands of visitors each year. The most famous festival is the Romería de El Rocío, which takes place in May or June. If you want to experience this festival, then you should plan to visit during this time.

Do take into account that it will be very crowded in El Rocio during the annual pilgrimage festival. Restaurants might be closed and the hotels will be fully booked months in advance. 

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