King Juan Carlos has apologised to the Spanish people for going on a hunting trip in Africa while his country was in the midst of an economic crisis.

His trip to Botswana, which was widely criticised, emerged after he was flown home for treatment for a fractured hip.

"I'm very sorry, I made a mistake. It won't happen again," he said, as he left San Jose hospital in Madrid.

It was widely reported that he had been hunting elephants, which the royal house has neither confirmed nor denied.

He broke his hip falling on a step and was flown home by private jet. He underwent hip replacement surgery on Saturday.

After news of his visit to Botswana was revealed, many Spanish newspapers published a photo of the king dating back to 2006, in which he is seen standing with a gun beside a dead elephant.

The king, 74, is honorary president of the Spanish branch of conservation group WWF and an online petition calling for his resignation had accumulated almost 85,000 signatures by the time he made his public apology.

Spain is the fourth biggest economy in the eurozone but has seen its debt crisis worsen and its borrowing costs increase. It currently has a 23% unemployment rate and there are fears it could return to recession.

This is just UNBELIVABLE!