I've been to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands more times than I can remember. I've done all the touristy sights more than a few times over the years. Therefore, a heavy schedule of visiting all the island attractions was not on our schedule during our most recent sejourn there last autumn. I just wanted to relax and recuperate in the sun. I did, however, make an exception from spending a morning lounging in a sun chair in favour of another visit to Cueva de los Verdes, in the North of the island. Cueva de los Verdes is a complex of galleries and caves at varying levels, which form part of one of the longest lava tunnels in the world, the Tunél de Atlántida. I'm a bit of an enthusiast for visiting caves, and if there are some underground caverns, catacombs or strange rock formations somewhere near my holiday destination, you can bet I've been there. There is something very magical about wandering around underground looking at the strange, almost mystical workings wrought by nature over the course of thousands of years....well that's my excuse, anyway.
~~ History ~~
Cueva de los Verdes (literally translated as "Green's Cave") have been around since the year dot. They were formed around 3000 - 4500 years ago from an eruption of the nearby Volcán de la Corona (Corona volcano). When the lava flowed out of the volcano, the outside dried and formed into volcanic rock. Inside the lava was still fluid and formed many kilometres of tunnels underground. At the entrance to the caves, there is a "jameo" or huge hole, which was caused by the land surface collapsing through a gas explosion. This forms the impressive entry point to the caves.
Not much is known about the caves from the history books until the 17th century. The caves were used by the natives of the island, the Majoreros, to hide from pirates or slave traders. At first sighting of any of the tall masts or ships sails, the local population would run away and use the caves as a hiding place. The pirates were known for not only pillaging, murdering and raping, but also taking men, women and children in order to sell them into slavery, so the natives had very good reason to hide.
The caves came to be known as "Cueva de los Verdes" or "Green's Cave", because a shepherd family called Los Verdes (the Green family) owned the land in the area during the 18th and 19th centuries. Obviously, the land wasn't worth much as it was covered in solidified lava, and thus not easily farmable.
In 1964, an architect called Jesus Soto transformed almost two kilometers of caves into a tourist attraction. He tried to respect the existing structure of the caves by not making too many drastic changes. He did, however, install a subtle, yet efficient, system of lighting, which really does enhance the wonders of nature and the different hues and colours of the rock.
~~ The Tours ~~
There is one tiny kiosk hewn into the volcanic rock from which to buy the entry tickets (costing 8.00Euro per person). You have to sit and wait at the top of the cave entrance for the next tour to commence. In all, we waited no more than 15 minutes to start the tour from when we arrived. There is a large area of flat-topped rocks on which to sit and wait in the sun.
Although there are around seven kilometers of caves, galleries and tunnels underground, the tours only actually cover two kilometers of ground. Inside, the caves the tunnel heights range from a few metres in some parts to over 200 metres in others. All the tours are done the old fashioned way and accompanied by a guide. There is no audiovisual headphone or tape apparatus like you get at some caves. Any visit to the cave has to be on an accompanied tour, as there are many different turnings. There is even a rumour of a bottomless abyss, which you really wouldn't want to come across without a safety net!
The tours are made up of large groups of around 60-100 people, which makes them rather slow moving, especially in the narrower parts of the caverns. The tour is about 2 kilometres long and lasts for roughly one hour. The tours are conducted in Spanish and English, with the Spanish narration being considerably longer and more detailed than the English version. If you don't speak English or Spanish then you're rather stuck I'm afraid.
The tour does take you through lots of dark and narrow passages, and you have to climb a fair few steps, as well as crouching down in some areas with lower ceilings. The pathways meander through the tunnels, climbing down and then going back up as high as 40m in some of the galleries. The caves are fairly well lit, but they can be dark in places, so it's best to watch you step. Any stairwells do tend to have handrails though. The tour meanders on through the tunnels for approximately one kilometre until it all opens up into rather impressive underground auditorium. The auditorium is often set up with rows of chairs around a stage, as 3 or 4 times a year, Cueva de los Verdes host live concerts. The auditorium evidently has outstanding acoustics and can seat up to 500 people.
The best bit of the tour comes towards the end, and it really is rather spectacular. It often results in a spontaneous round of applause for those that have never seen it before. Obviously, I don't want to give away what occurs as that would be like revealing the ending of a book or film! Suffice it to say, that it is a rather good optical illusion, and it really does make a superb conclusion to the tour.
I would imagine that a lot or people would find these caves rather boring. Compared to many other cave tours I've been on, these caves house no stalactites, columns or stalagmites. The tunnels are far too young and dry, and there is just not enough water around to encourage their growth. They're certainly not as impressive visually as Cheddar Gorge with its stunning stalactite and stalagmite formations. Similarly, there are no interesting legends or creepy looking rock formations to make you spooked like they do at Wookie Hole in Somerset. There are no historical drawings gracing the cave walls like the cave formations at Nerja in Spain, or an exciting boat trip like at the Blue Grotto in Malta. What you do get, however, is a stunning example of nature in all its magnificence, which has been barely altered, and certainly not marred by its discovery from man. In this case, nature is definitely still winning, and that's good to see in this day and age.
All in all, the ambiance of the caves is still very special. The human intervention has been kept to a minimum - just the steps, handrails and lighting really. However, the lighting definitely compliments the rock formations - it's subtle and in keeping with the environment. It really pinpoints the solidified flow of lava in places. There is no signage showing you where to go - just the guide and his/her torch. It would be fairly easy to imagine yourself back in the mists of time, seeking refuge from the marauding pirates were it not for your fellow tour members.....and the constant clicking of their digital cameras. Personally, I think they should ban cameras below the surface, as the noise of their whirring and clicking often drowned out what the guide was talking about. Flashlights abounded as well, causing temporary blindness, which could easily have resulted in misplaced footing. To be honest, it's hard to imagine what sort of images the average tourist is going to produce in a nearly pitch black venue. Surely, you'd need very artful lighting and professional flash equipment to produce anything remotely worth looking at afterwards?
~~ Opening times and Facilities ~~
Visiting hours are from 10:00 to 18:00 with last visits at 17:00. The caves are open all year round.
Do ensure you have some comfortable and strong shoes for the walk underground - the terrain can be quite uneven in places. However, it's surprisingly warm underground and there is not much need for a coat or warm top. The temperature down there never drops much below 18°C to 20°C. Very young children would probably find the terrain a bit hard going and it's not really somewhere a parent would be happy to take a push chair in. Similarly, Cueva de los Verdes is not really suitable for the infirm or elderly, and definitely not for the disabled. There are a fair few steps and you have to duck down in a lot of places for some length of time due to low ceilings. It goes without saying, that anyone suffering from claustrophobia would definitely not enjoy the enclosed spaces and ceilings of some of the caverns.
There is really not much on site in the way of facilities. There is no gift shop and no catering outlet. There are some very clean and tidy toilets. They are, however, rather small and its difficult to see how they would cope with large crowds if they were deluged by several coach tours all at the same time.
The whole area from car parking, toilets and cave entry point is extremely clean, tidy and well laid out. It's all beautifully landscaped to fit in with the surrounding volcanic environment. The car park is surrounded by dry stonewalling fashioned from the area's natural reddy brown volcanic rock. There is one very small wooden sign telling you you're at "Cueva de los Verdes", but that's it. No garish, colourful signage, no neon lights and certainly no ice cream or hot dog outlets with gaudy pictures. It's all very in keeping with the environment, and rather pleasantly done.
~~ How to get there ~~
The best way of visiting the caves is by car, as walking would just not be possible. The caves are situated in the extreme North of the island of Lanzarote. The area is rather desolate and empty to be honest. To get to the caves you will need to drive, or take a package tour. The car park is free and very well laid out. Once you've parked up, it's only a short, easy walk to the cave entrance, although the signposting is rather subtle.
From the capital Arrecife, take the LZ2 travelling around the city via the ring road. Follow the LZ1 towards Órzola, and before getting to Órzola, you will see a sign that indicating the way to La Cueva de los Verdes.
You can join an organised coach tour, but most of the organised tours will be for a full day and will include most of the other attractions in the north of the island. For example, you could join a full day tour at an approximate cost of 50Euro (15Euro for children) and see La Cueva de Los Verdes, Jameos del Agua, Mirador del Río, Jardin de Cactus and Fundación César Manrique. Tours can be easily booked in any of the main resorts on the island. Indeed, it is difficult to avoid finding out about any tours in Lanzarote as there are tour touts handing out leaflets in all the major resorts.
~~ More details ~~
The cost of entry to La Cueva de los Verdes is 8.00Euro per person.
Telephone: 928 84 84 84 Fax: 928 84 84 61
Interesting websites giving further information can be found at:-
~~ Whilst you're in the area ~~
~ Jameos del Agua ~
Only 5 kilometres from La Cueva de los Verdes, Jameos del Agua is another cave formation. Jameos del Agua is part of the same underground volcanic tunnel as La Cueva de los Verdes. This one was converted into a rather stunning feature by an island born artist called César Manrique in 1968. Jameos del Agua, is an underground grotto with a lagoon housing indigenous blind, albino crabs. There is also two rock hewn bars, a restaurant, a dance floor, a concert hall/auditorium and gardens featuring a really beautiful swimming pool (which is only allowed to be swam in by the King of Spain!). Rita Hayworth described it as the 8th wonder of the world, which may be just a little ambitious, but it is a truly stunning spectacle and well worth a visit just to appreciate how man has worked in harmony with nature, if nothing else. Entry fee per person is 8.00Euro.
~ Mirador del Río ~
Mirador del Río is located not far away at the most northerly point of the island. It's a lookout set 479 metres above sea level and on a clear, sunny day provides wonderful views across the Atlantic sea to the tiny island of La Graciosa. It used to be an artillery post and was transformed into a stunning look out point by César Manrique. It really does provide some stunning vistas - you feel like you are looking over the edge of the world in places. Best avoided if you don't like heights or suffer from vertigo though. Entry fee per person is 2.70Euro.
~ Jardin de Cactus ~
This is a cactus garden with a restored windmill planted in the site of an old quarry. It's another César Manrique creation and it's situated between Guatiza and Mala. I have never been to this attraction, so I cannot honestly say how good (or bad) it is, but most reviews seem to be favourable. Entry fee per person is 5.00Euro.