Caves of Nerja – Simply Phantasmagorical
Before coming to Spain on this trip to Andalusia I had never heard of the caves of Nerja. I certainly knew that Spain was quite famous for the Altamira caves with their Paleolithic cave art drawings, but they were far up north, just back of the Bay of Biscay. We were in the resort town of Nerja on the Costa del Sol, about as far away from Altamira as you can get and still be in Spain. I learned of the Nerja caves on the internet when looking up things to do in Nerja area. Turns out the caves of Nerja were only discovered in 1959 which may explain why they are not on the radar screen like Altamira. The discoverers were a group of teenage boys and one of them still runs the El Chiringuito de Ayo paella place on Burriana beach I wrote about in the first post on Nerja.
Visiting the Caves of Nerja
This morning Alison and I are headed the short distance up into the mountains to visit the caves of Nerja. If you don’t have a car you can get here quite easily on the little tram that runs regularly between the town and the cave entrance. If you are interested in making it an entire day’s excursion you can walk there – its just over 5 kms. (3 miles) from the Balcon de Europa in the centre of Nerja.
It’s kind of hard to believe that something of this apparent magnitude this close to a major town could remain undiscovered for as long as it did. Actually that’s a bit incorrect. The caves were actually occupied over 25,000 years ago and right up until the Bronze Age, so the proper term should be ‘rediscovered’. We are both big fans of visiting caves whenever we can and are not quite sure what to expect of the caves of Nerja. Writing this post after the visit I can assure the reader that it was of the magnitude and beauty of any cave system we have visited in Europe. The caves of Nerja blew us away.
The entrance fee is 9.75 € if you buy them on site, but only 9€ if you buy them online here and that includes an audio guide as well. During our visit the audio guides were not available for reasons unknown. We took a self-guided tour starting from the entrance down through the Show Gallery in the Upper Gallery and then the lowest point accessible to the public, the New Gallery and then back up again. Also they don’t give you a map. In fact, I can’t find a map of the cave system anywhere on the internet. There were a number of guided tour options during our visit, but they all started at 5:00 PM or later. By then I expected to be sipping wine or beer on a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean where the only important decision to be made was what type of tapas to order.
UPDATE: With the pandemic guided tours have been suspended and I presume will resume when the world returns to some semblance of normalcy. Also the Cave of Nerja app that was launched in 2014 seems to have disappeared.
Some practical information you might want to know is that by the usual standards, the caves of Nerja are pretty dry and surprisingly warm. Sensible footwear is, well sensible, but you don’t need hiking boots and on the day we visited I just wore a short sleeved shirt, with a sweater in reserve that I didn’t need. You are allowed to take photos, but unless you have almost a pro-quality flash you won’t get shots that show the immensity of this cave system. Still you can get good shots of the various stalactites, stalagmites and other natural features. The caves have enough lighting that you can see where you are going, but not enough to take away the creepy ambience which is one of the reasons we love caves in the first place. Expect to spend about an hour inside the cave system.
If you want to get a decent idea of what it’s like visiting the caves watch this video.
OK, so what was it about the caves of Nerja that I found, to use the title word, phantasmagorical? Well that word is usually defined as “having a fantastic or deceptive appearance, as something in a dream or created by the imagination” per Dictionary.com. From the moment you step into the gigantic cavern you are almost overawed by the size and fantastic shapes. If M.C.Escher or Hieronymous Bosch specialized in painting caves they would have come up with something like the caves of Nerja. Just have a look at these photos and tell me they don’t have the quality of dreams, nightmares maybe in some cases.
This is the Hall of the Cataclysm which is claimed to be the largest cave column in the world at almost 100 feet tall.
Here’s looking down or is it looking up? Look at it long enough and you will see fantastic shapes. Is that a triceratops’ head? Is there a face looking at me from the upper right?
As you can see from the photos and video they have done a great job of designing a way through the caves that takes you from the lowest to the highest parts and back to the entrance.
When I was younger I was enrapt by the horror tales of the H.P. Lovecraft who imagined a world that was part real and part illusory, only you couldn’t tell which was which. Looking around the caves of Nerja I can see shapes that are straight out of Lovecraft’s Cult of Cthulu mythos. Here what Cthulu supposedly looked like – a creature out of nightmares for sure.
This is what I see in the caves.
And here’s another Lovecraftian type figure struggling to emerge from the cavern face.
And finally to add something a little more macabre, how about these two creatures straight out of The Blair Witch Project.
We have a friend who is a geologist and has visited both Carlsbad Caverns and the caves of Nerja and he preferred the latter. I haven’t been to Carlsbad, but I’ll certainly put the caves of Nerja against any I have seen. Why don’t you visit and find out for yourself?
UPDATE: I too have now visited Carlsbad Caverns which I describe in this post. It is like comparing apples to oranges – Carlsbad is simply immense while the Caves of Nerja are smaller, but I think has formations as interesting as those at Carlsbad. Do yourself a favour and visit both sometime in your life.
Next we’ll visit one of Andalusia’s pueblos blancos, Frigiliana to find out why they are so revered.