There is hardly a place more mysterious and alluring than the Caves of Nerja. These karst formations are just 4 kilometers away from the city of Nerja in the province of Malaga and they are worth paying a visit.
A closer look at the Nerja Caves
The Nerja Caves is a five-kilometer cave system that is used for excursions and considered to be one of the main attractions in Spain. The venue consists of two parts – Nerja I and Nerja II, of which only the first one is open to public.
Nerja I consists of several main chambers. One of its chambers resembles an amphitheater, which traditionally hosts the International Festival of Music and Dance every July and is called the Show Gallery. The local people also call it the natural cathedral of the Costa del Sol. It is easy to get and move there.
Another chamber, the Ballet Hall, has been home to the first Festival, which included a ballet performance and was attended by such world celebrities as Julio Bocca, Maya Plisetskaya, Estrella Morente and others.
About five million years ago, an underground cave was formed due to the water that permeated the cracks and widened them. During the seismic movement, stalactites, stalagmites and stalagnates of huge sizes began to form and, of course, you can find them in the Nerja Caves today. About 800 thousand years ago, there was an earthquake in the cave, which caused some evident damage.
Initially, the caves had two original entrances, but after their official opening, the third one was created with the aim of providing an easier access for tourists. The total area of the Nerja Caves is 35,484 m², and the total volume is 264,379 m³.
The accessible part of the cave has an area of 9,371 m² and a volume of 106,286 m³ that is approximately 1/3 of the cave system. Constant temperature in the cave reaches 20oC. On June, 1961, the Nerja Caves were declared a historical monument.
The Nerja Caves’ miraculous discovery
There is an interesting story behind the accidental discovery of the Nerja Caves. One day, five teen friends decided to catch bats. They knew that the considerable quantity of these animals could be found in familiar surroundings, so they decided to go to the mine, which was known as La Mina.
The young men entered the mine through a narrow well and found themselves in the cave. They immediately noticed that a certain amount of humid air was coming out. They lit the place with a small lamp and saw that the air was coming out of a small gap between two stalactites, which did not allow them to go further.
The next day, they returned there with tools and cleared their way. After they had got inside, they were startled and scared. They saw skeletons in the cave. The teenagers returned home and told their parents, friends and teachers about their great find.
As a result, on May 12, 1959, the Nerja Caves became known to the public. After that, other people began to visit the cave. The local doctor took many pictures, and after a while they were published in a local newspaper, so many more people learned about the Nerja Caves. On June 12, 1960, its ceremonial opening took place.
In 2009, there was a great celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Nerja Caves’ opening, and all the five discoverers took an active part in it.
Tourist galleries and special offers inside the Nerja Caves
The Caves of Nerja have a lot of halls, and each of them reveals something absolutely outstanding. For example, the Ballet Hall is also called the Hall of the Waterfall because of several huge dry basins, which were formed due to the strong flow of water. Next to this hall, you can find a gallery with a frightening name.
The Hall of the Phantoms is called so because of interesting spots on the walls. They resemble strange figures and ghosts. You can also find rockfalls of impressive size here. Each gallery has several halls.
They are connected by long stairs, so you can move freely from one to another. The skeletons that were found in the Nerja Caves, are located in the Hall of the Nativity. The Tusk Hall serves as a passage to other halls.
The Entrance Hall is the place of excavations, so you can see some of the most important findings there. Research is still conducted in the Mine and Sink Halls even nowadays.
The Hall of the Cataclysm was dubbed so due to the earthquake. Many stalactites collapsed and are now lying at the bottom of the cave. This hall is about 100 meters long and is known thanks to the giant natural column in the center of it. You can enjoy the view of the Phantoms and Cataclysm Halls at the same time, when you go up to the observation deck.
There is The Organ Corner Hall downstairs. Its distinctive feature is an echo, which seems to revive the voices of the ancient inhabitants of the Nerja Caves. You might think that the relief columns were created on purpose, but they were formed naturally. There is a small channel in this hall, through which you can get to the Upper and New Galleries.
In the first one, you can find the Columns of Hercules and the Hall of Immensity. Next, you can see the Lance and Mountain Halls in the New Gallery. Rock paintings are located in both halls, but ordinary tourists are rarely allowed to go there. Mostly there are researchers and cavers, who do their job there.
Stunning records that the Caves of Nerja hold
When the Nerja Caves were discovered for the first time, they revealed to the young explorers just a few skeletons and some ceramics. Later the site proved to be one of the most stunning geological finds of our time that holds a few records.
250 thousand years ago, this cave was inhabited by humans for the first time. The Nerja Caves are thus believed to contain the world’s oldest paintings. Their six seal paintings are unparalleled Paleolithic artworks executed by the Neanderthal man, who was believed to be incapable of such an achievement.
The paintings (589 rock paintings in total) are from 42,300 to 43,500 years old. A wide variety of animal species were depicted using red and black pigments, including horses and birds. Previously, the amazing findings of the Chauvet Cave in France were considered to be the oldest paintings, but the Nerja Caves have beaten this record.
The rock drawings showed that prehistoric people were engaged in hunting goats, deer and other animals.
The Nerja caves boast having the world’s largest column which resulted from the merge of a stalactite and a stalagmite. The column entered the Guinness book of records about 30 years ago due to its height of 32 meters and the diameter of 13 meters at the base.
The Nerja Caves, which were discovered during the Paleolithic age, are extremely rich on ceramics, pottery, wall paintings, and prehistoric tools. Over one million pieces – unprecedented numbers! – have been found there since the 1960-s.
Small groups of Paleolithic men must have inhabited this place seasonally from 25,000 BC to the Bronze Age.
In the Bronze period, the caves became the humans’ permanent dwelling as witnessed by a larger amount of animal and fish bones as well as more findings of pottery and tools. This might as well be the oldest permanent homeplace of the prehistoric man.
Planning an ideal trip to the Caves of Nerja
Whatever you hope to do on the Costa del Sol, you should undoubtedly find some hours and plan a visit to the Caves of Nerja. It will give you a pleasant escape from the sun and an unforgettable retreat into the unique underground world of stalactites and stalagmites.
To get to the Caves of Nerja, you need to drive out and three kilometers away from Nerja until you see a sign post near the Maro village. From there, heading for Motril along the E-15 A7 motorway, take junction 295 to come off the highway and follow the sign posts saying Cuevas de Nerja. Alternatively, you can take the old national 340 road.
Mind that the opening hours are from 10 am to 7.30 pm in summer and from 10 am to 2 pm and from 4 pm to 6.30 pm in winter. The Caves of Nerja are open 363 days a year, except January 1 and May 15. Admission tickets cost €8.50 for adults and €4.50 for kids aged 6-12. Children under six can enter the caves for free.
The cave infrastructure is developed to the level expected. Inside, there is a restaurant, viewing platforms, numerous benches, souvenir shops, a picnic area and a children’s playground.
You can also see Nerja II on special visits to the caves, when they are closed to the general public. To do this, you need to join a speleological group of up to 10 people. Even though no particular experience is required, the minimum age of a visitor is 14 years.
Special tours are arranged on demand and offer extra information about the secrets of the caves and the first on-site excavations in the caves. On top of everything else, there are thematic nighttime visits with a headlamp, in total darkness and silence. This is perhaps the most authentic experience of the iconic Nerja Caves.
If you rather enjoy a day trip without worrying about how to get to the Nerja Caves, in Costa Excursions we offer a private day trip to Frigiliana, the Nerja Caves and Nerja
A few tips to consider before going to the Nerja Caves
If you want to make your afternoon activity in the Nerja Caves enjoyable, be sure to follow a few tips that experienced cave visitors always give to newbies.
Firstly, you need to wear comfortable shoes. The interior of the caves is damp and cool, the surface of the caves may be uneven and slippery, and some chambers are quite dark. Flip flops are unwanted and unsafe. Now that you have good shoes, take care about the rest of your outfit and think about layered clothing.
In comparison to the heat outside, some parts of the caves are chilly. In other places, you will have to do some exercise and move up or down the stairs. The blood in your veins will surely circulate faster, making you warmer than you initially intended. Therefore, taking on or off some clothes may be a good option to stick to your body’s best temperature regime.
Secondly, plan you time properly not to arrive at opening time because this is the exact time when there might be queues. Admission tickets are sold at the entrance, so you may waste some precious time before you get into the Nerja Caves. Inside, it is not going to be crowded, if you don’t hurry and let the line disappear.
Another thing you will want to predict is the duration of your visit. This proves to be difficult to accomplish since visits are normally self-guided and you never know how impressed you will get by what you see there. One can cover the whole distance in 20-30 minutes, but you will hardly understand what makes the Nerja Caves special then.
This is truly not the destination to be ticked out and forgotten. The Nerja Caves have a unique value for the whole human race. Just think about everything mother nature has lovingly created for you, imagine the prehistoric paintings on the rocks! You will try to figure out their meaning and admire the awkward attempts of unknown artists to depict scenes of common (though very primitive) life. This takes some time, so be ready to spend at least an hour inside.
In addition, have respect for the rules and the people around you! Tourists sometimes have problems with the authorities and other travelers, if they do not abide with the rules and keep their camera flash on. The reason is that flash photography is not allowed inside the caves, and the eyes may be hurt by sudden light after they get used to darkness.
If you want more information about the Nerja Caves, audio-guided visits are available in Spanish, English, Italian, French, German and Russian. The recording embraces all of the main chambers and lasts for 45 minutes.
There is one more tip to consider. Experienced travelers recommend visiting the Caves of Nerja on a Sunday. The explanation is simple: not many venues are open on Sunday in Spain, so you can schedule other activities for weekdays and secure the weekend for the Caves. By doing so, you will plan your time more effectively.