Exploring the Nerja Caves in southern Spain

As if Spain’s small town of Nerja weren’t pleasant enough for a family getaway—with its pedestrian-friendly quarters, Andalusian character, and great Mediterranean beaches—it also happens to be home to what many call the most spectacular caves in Europe. At 5 km long (just over 3 miles), it is a vast complex of enormous rooms and stalactite-studded passageways, including a naturally carved performance hall where concerts and ballet performances take place.
 
Above: To give an idea of the scale here, that’s a staircase at the very center of this photo, and to the bottom right are some of the seats in the balcony of the theater, which overlook the performance “stage” you can just glimpse a portion of at the far left of the photo. This is just one chamber in the network of the Nerja Caves.
For most visitors to the caves, the greatest spectacle of all surfaces in the “Hall of the Cataclysm,” where the world’s largest natural column. At the center of a vast chamber, this column measures 42 ½ feet wide and 105 feet tall (or 13 x 32 meters). As you follow the path around the chamber, it’s possible to view it from all sides. For us, we had encircled it part way before realizing what we were seeing. (Catch a glimpse of it this Friday as my next Photo Fave.)
 
The Nerja Caves, as you might imagine, have some interesting history and lore, and there are good exhibits to help put it into context as you enter into the subterranean realm. Sure, the geological formation of the caves and subsequent creation of the spectacular stalagmites and stalactites is interesting, but for us the place really came to life as we imagined the people who lived in it long ago—beginning around 25,000 BC. Skeletal remains, pottery shards, tools, textiles, and food debris found in the caves all tell the story of a group of people that evolved from a group of seasonal hunters and gatherers into a small society with domesticated animals and its own burial chamber.
 
Nerja Caves artifacts in SpainIt was interesting explaining this to our girls, who for a moment were concerned we would be stepping over “dead people” farther into the caves, but they quickly became as fascinated as we were with the idea that people made this their home so long ago—and without flashlights.
 

Eventually, the caves were vacated, probably in favor of more comfortable and better-lit accommodations, if not improved sanitation. Modern man had no idea they existed until 1959 when a group of boys dared each other to drop down into a sink hole at the edge of town. As you might imagine, they came home with some stories to tell that day. I was told that one of the boys grew up to open this restaurant on Burriana Beach (look for the “AYO” on the roof).

You will notice some cave paintings on nearly all the marketing materials representing the Nerja Caves, and we were particularly excited to see these before our visit. After an hour of working our way up and down several staircases and along the pathways in awe of the caves themselves (you may move more quickly without small kids on foot), we realized we still had not seen—or at least noticed—any cave paintings. We stopped short of the exit, turned on our heels, and retraced our steps, checking the signs along the way. Nothing clearly led to a cave painting. But just before our final exit, we realized that what might, at first glance, be rusty stains on the natural rock wall, was some sort of an antelope! Well, there it was. A little anticlimactic after the world’s largest column, but we had indeed seen a cave painting.Practical tips for your own visit follow.

 
Practical tips for your family’s visit to the Nerja Caves:
  • Plan for at least 45 minutes of exploring on foot, longer if you have young kids walking with you.
  • There are several steps throughout the cave, so if you’ll be visiting with a young child who will need to be carried all or at least part of the way, do yourself a favor and bring a child carrier, backpack, or sling.
  • Use the restrooms before you enter the caves for your tour.
  • It’s not terribly cold inside the caves, so don’t overbundle or you may end up carrying extra jackets.
  • Like most businesses in Spain, the Nerja Caves observe an afternoon siesta beginning at 2 p.m., so get there well in advance or don’t bother arriving until after 4 p.m.
  • There is a full-service restaurant with a sea view, and during our visit they were promoting a buffet where kids under 3 could eat free and kids 4-7 were half price between noon and 4 p.m.
  • Snacks and ice cream are also available to eat outdoors.
  • Parking is 1 Euro, paid by coin as you exit through the automated gate.

Related posts and pages:
Review of Carabeo 2000 apartment in Nerja
Photo fave: Nightfall at Nerja
Thanksgiving in Andalusia

Safe journeys,

Shelly Rivoli
Author of Travels with Baby and the new Take-Along Travels with Baby http://www.travelswithbaby.com/   Travels with Baby on Facebook
All content of this blog (c) Shelly Rivoli

3 Comments

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  3. Nick Mills

    Another great article about Nerja Shelly. The Nerja caves are fantastic but I wasn't aware that there was a cave painting in the public areas. That is a bonus. Access to the 'halls' with the cave paintings is not allowed for general visitors but there are special tours available, for want to be speliologists (perhaps not baby friendly!), with restricted numbers, safety gear and a guide.

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