Visiting the Nerja Caves
One of the “must see” sights in Nerja are the Nerja caves (Cuevas de Nerja).
The Nerja Caves are very, very impressive. The immensity is mind-blowing – it’s important to know while walking around this hugeness that the space open to the public only constitutes about one third of the total caves. The caves go much further, a total of 4 km of underground caves including caves containing Neanderthal cave paintings dating back about 42,000 years (these are closed to the public). That makes them one of the oldest works of art in the world. The paintings also dispelled the myth that Neanderthals were ape-like and too simple to create art.
History of the Caves
The Caves were discovered in 1959 by five young people looking to see bats. They had entered a small cave and noticed a draft coming from within. Curious, they came back with tools and broke some stalactites to find the larger caves behind. It was when they came across some human skeletons that they told authorities of their findings.
The caves are estimated to have been formed approximately 5 million years ago when water penetrated the fissures of rock and dissolved it, creating a huge tavern. Over time, seismic events shifted the flow of water, creating other caverns and creating the formation of huge stalagmites and stalactites.
The skeletal remains found indicate that the caves were seasonally inhabited from about 25000 BC up to about 2000 BC. Cave drawings from the period show that the inhabitants survived by hunting and food gathering. As humans evolved so did the uses of the caves: by 4500 BC domesticated animals were being kept in the caves and the area around the caves was being used for agriculture and pottery. By 3800 BC textiles and more advanced types of pottery was being produced. Parts of the cave were at this point also being used to bury the dead.
Highlights of the Nerja caves
You can’t help but be impressed by the Nerja caves. It’s all impressive, from the small caves and passageways between caves to the huge “halls” you come upon when doing the tour*.
*When I say “tour”. The Caves have a predefined path to follow which takes you on a circuit of the caves. You’re not rushed and you can walk back if you want to get a second look at something – maybe that’s a problem in high season but it wasn’t when I visited.
But if I had to tell you what impressed me the most, 2 highlights come to mind
- The Entrance Hall (Sala de Vestibulo) which you’ll see minutes upon entering the caves. The views from the top of the stairs before descending are phenomenal and shows off the enormity of the cave system.
- The Hall of the Cataclysm (Sala del Cataclismo). In the center of this enormous hall is the a huge Stalactite joining the roof and floor of the cave (measuring 32 meters), it was formed by seismic activity over the centuries. It looks otherworldly.
Note: there are a lot of superlatives thrown around when it comes to the Nerja Caves. I’ve seen posts claiming that the cave paintings are the “oldest art in the world”. That’s contestable (many say the oldest art in the world in fact comes from cave paintings in Sulawesi, Indonesia which date back 45,000 years). The column in the Hall of the Cataclysm is cited to be the highest column in the World and some say that this is stated in the Guiness Book of World Records. Again, I haven’t seen this anywhere but in posts written on Nerja websites. I’ve read of a cave column in a cave at Tham Sao Hin, Thailand which is 61.5 meters tall. So while the Nerja Caves are incredibly impressive don’t believe everything you read…
Nerja Caves – Practical Information
Getting there. There are several ways of getting to the Caves if you don’t have a car. Walking, you can get there in 45 minutes from Nerja. You can take the Alsa bus from the bus station. It’ll cost you about 1.25 euro and you’ll get there in 15 minutes. Or you can do as we did, taking the little tourist train. Cost is 6 euros (return) and you’ll also get there in 15 minutes. The stop is on Plaza Cangrejos, near Torrecilla beach.
Buying your ticket. The best option is to buy your ticket on the official website: It’ll cost you 16 Euros with the Cave ticket only OR 20 Euros if you get the train/cave combo. Just be careful because you have to choose your time slot, meaning you have to make it to the Caves on time. Note: prices updated July 2023.
Free Audio Guide. You should download the free audio guide before entering the caves. You can actually do it at home before going to the caves (that’s what I did). You can download the app here for Android or here for iphone. When you get into the caves you open the app and play the number corresponding to the different stations along the route (well indicated). It will give you a detailed history of what you are looking at.
Time required: We spent an hour at the actual site, including about 45 minutes inside the caves. We took the tourist bus at 12:00 (it actually left 10 minutes late) and arrived at the caves at 12:25. We came out of the caves at about 1:20, just in time to catch the tourist bus back to Nerja at 1:30. We were back in Nerja at 1:45. We had wanted to see the Museum (also included in your ticket) but didn’t want to wait another hour for the next train.
Temperature in the Caves. I think this is important to note: the caves have a pretty constant temperature of 19-21 Celsius year-round in the caves. I had brought a thick sweater thinking it would be cool down there. It wasn’t, in fact I found it a bit warm and humid.
You won’t be disappointed. The Caves are definitely worth a Visit.
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