The National Park of Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici has some of the most spectacular and magical landscapes of the Pyrenees.
Declared as a National Park in 1955, it is administered by the counties of Alta Ribagorza, Pallars Sobirà, Vall d'Aran and Pallars Jussà (Lleida). It extends a total of 40,852 hectares, it's the only national park located in Catalonia and the fifth largest of Spain.
At the beginning of the twentieth century the hydroelectric exploitation of the Pyrenees began, which together with tourism and cattle raising remain as the most important human activities in the Park.
The geography of this park is, in general, classified as upper montane, since most of the area exceeds 1.000 m in height, with some peaks reaching the 3.000 m, such as the case of Comaloforno (3.033 m).
Due to its large slopes a great variety of ecosystems can be found. From meadows, crops and deciduous forests in the lower montane, to evergreen forests in the middle heights, and upper montane meadows and rocks at the highest levels.
About the wildlife in the park, although they are not easily spotted, there are about 200 species of vertebrates inhabiting the Park: from mammals such as the chamois, the wild boar, the stoat, the marmot or the roe deer; birds such as the black woodpecker, the capercaillie, the Tengmalm's owl, the crossbill, the rock ptarmiga, the Alpine accentor, the snowfinch, the yellow-billed chough, the griffon vulture, the golden eagle or the bearded vulture, among many others; amphibians such as the Pyrenean brook salamander, the asp viper and the European smooth snake; and fishes like the brown trout.
The centre of the Park is formed by granite rocks of more than 300 million years (which can be found in the Peguera valley, Amitges, the head of the Vall Fosca, the Besiberri massif, Colomèrs or in the Gerber valley) and surrounding it, in the margins of the Park, we can find rocks of sedimentary origin like slate, limestone, etc. (in summits like the Encantats, in the Montsent of Pallars and the Montorroio). This natural site is characterized by the presence of glacial cirques (accumulation points of snow and ice of ancient glaciers) separated by crests with sharp pointy peaks (such as Amitges, Colomèrs, Peguera, etc.). Most of the cirques also contain, among their walls, spectacular lakes that offer some of the best scenarios of the Park. The valleys, wide and deep due to the passage of glaciers, and with a characteristic U-shape, have spectacular waterfalls. Most lakes, perhaps one of the most characteristic elements of this natural space, are at the base of the cirques, only a few are at the bottom of the valleys, such as Llong or the popular Sant Maurici.
Another great symbol of this site, that gives name to the Park, is the plateau of Aigüestortes. The river of Sant Nicolau, which had previously been a lake, runs through this area creating very pronounced curves between marshes, meadows and mountain pine, hence the name of this spectacular place "tortuous waters".
Nowadays the Park offers different kinds of activities. From a quiet stroll through the Aigüestortes area, through wooden walkways that cross the river, or a walk to the Lake of Sant Maurici, points that can also be reached by 4x4 vehicle (note that it is forbidden to enter with a private vehicle). A cable car connects the Sallente reservoir with Lake Gento, starting point of different excursions. Hiking is one of the main activities, and there are quite a big number of routes in. Although camping in the Park is not allowed, there are several refuges where the visitor can spend the night surrounded by nature.
Depending on the season, you can find a bigger accumulation of ice and snow, both the weather and the physical conditions of the place and the visitor are important aspects to take into account when selecting the activities to perform.