A visit to the Nerja Caves, or Cuevas de Nerja is a must see attraction when visiting the Costa del Sol. Located just outside of the coastal town of Nerja, the caves contain important archeological finds and have been declared a site of cultural interest. The caves of Nerja are a captivating, intricate, beautiful natural work of art. Visiting the Nerja Caves will take you through a breathtaking underworld of stalactites, stalagmites and other extraordinary rock formations. They are definitely one of the top things to do in Nerja.
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Discovery of the Caves in Nerja
The caves in Nerja were accidentally discovered on 12 January 1959 by 5 young friends who were chasing bats and found a hole in the rocks through which the bats in large groups came out. They lowered themselves into the sinkhole after having removed rocks, debris and limestone deposits. Immediately after, archeological excavations were carried out, discovering the history of the caves as well as evidence of human occupation during the Upper Palaeolithic period.
History of the Nerja Caves
The Nerja Caves were formed around 5 million years ago through karstification, a process where rocks are gradually dissolved by rainwater through chemical weathering and erosion forming underground caves and caverns. This process takes millions of years.
During archeological excavations it was discovered that between 25000 BC up to about 3000 BC, more or less starting during the Upper Palaeolithic period up until the Copper age, the caves had various uses. During the early periods they were only seasonally inhabited, mainly during fall and winter time. At later times, the caves became more permanently inhabited as more diverse sources of food became available in the area.
Cave drawings showed that the inhabitants were hunter gatherers, living from hunting animals like deer and rabbits and gathering fruits and seeds, but also from shellfish found on the coastline. More towards the end of human use, before the caves were closed up due to natural circumstances, they were used for storage, keeping livestock as well as for human burial grounds.
Explore the inside of the caves
The Nerja Caves are a series of impressive caverns stretching for nearly 5 kilometres (3,1 miles) in length. The caves are divided into 3 galleries; the New, Lower and Upper gallery, of which only the Lower gallery is open to the public. That means only 30% of the caves are for visitors and the rest are still being researched or contain very fragile rock art.
Within the caves you can find various types of rock formations or speleothems formed by the deposition of minerals, including stalactites, stalagmites, cauliflower formations, soda straws, pine cones and many more.
The Lower gallery is divided into different halls, each revealing their immense beauty as you walk through them. It’s utterly impressive how these underground landscapes have been created by the forces of nature. The visit is conducted by following a path and various staircases that will take you through the chambers of the Lower gallery.
Each of these halls are breathtakingly striking and astonishing. One of the highlights during this visit is found in the Hall of the Cataclysm. The centrepiece of this hall is an enormous column 32 metres high by 7 metres at its base. This base was formed due to an earthquake that happened around 800.000 years ago where stalactites and other rock formations were damaged and dislodged. On top of this chaotic pile of debris new stalagmites grew over the years forming this impressive column which is listed in the Guinness Book of Records are the largest of its kind.
The caves are also famous for their Cave Paintings, however, be informed that you cannot see these paintings during your visit. It is believed that these paintings are 20.000 years old, giving an insight into the lives of the people who inhabited the region. For conservation and preservation reasons these paintings are not open to the general public as they are very fragile. Both the paintings as well as the rocks they are painted on are very sensitive to changes in their immediate natural environment, such as the extra humidity that would be generated by thousands of daily visitors.
Visiting the Nerja Caves surroundings
Hike the Nerja Cave – Almijara Trail
We also highly recommend walking the Nerja Cave Almijara Trail. This circular route starts just next to the cave entrance and is marked by signposts. It takes you high above the various chambers of the caves with signboards explaining which chambers are underneath you. It’s a medium challenging route of about 2 kilometres (1.25 miles) following a small path with some steeper uphills. Any regular type of closed footwear is suitable, such as sneakers or strap on sandals.
There are various benches to sit and relax on, to admire the wonderful views and to take time to read the boards to learn more about the area and the caves below.
The entrance of the Botanical Gardens is located behind the restaurant and lets you explore the local nature by following a path through the gardens. It’s a relaxing walk showcasing indigenous flora and vegetation of the Malacitano-Almijarense biogeographic sector. A place to relax, unwind and to enjoy the breathtaking views of the Mediterranean and the Costa del Sol.
Picnic and playground
Near the entrance of the caves you’ll find a lovely shaded picnic area adjacent to a large children’s playground. This picnic space has inviting tables and benches, perfect to relax and unwind after exploring the caves and walking the trail. You can bring your own refreshments and food, and meanwhile the children can discover and have fun at the vast playground.
Restaurant with a view
Next to the parking lot and the ticket office there is a large restaurant with a panoramic terrace, perfect to take a break while having something to eat or a relaxing coffee. The terrace offers some of the most amazing views over the Nerja and Maro area along with the dramatic, rocky coastline.
Practical information guide
Useful info for the visit
- Practical: The total length of the visit is around 550 metres or 0.34 miles by means of a narrow path at places. There are also 458 steps to take, going up and down. There are some benches inside on which you can sit and relax from the climbing. The caves are not adjusted for people with reduced mobility.
- Required time: You will need at least 45 minutes to visit the caves. However, we took much longer as we wanted to take in the impressive beauty of the caves, to take photos (without flash), to listen to the audio guide and to just admire the various rock formations.
- Temperature: The temperature inside the caves is stable all year round at 19-20ºC (66-68ºF). So perfectly cool during the warmer months and nice and warm when it’s cold outside.
- Audio Guide: There is an audio guide which provides information about the different halls inside the cave. The audio-guide can be downloaded via the free app, available in 15 languages, onto your smartphone or tablet before hand, or on the free Wi-Fi at the cave entrance. However, if we remember correctly, there is also free Wi-Fi inside the caves. We also recommend to use headphones for the audio-guide.
- Download the Audio Guide in advance: You can get the app here: Apple App Store or here: Android App Store.
- Flash Photography: Not allowed inside the caves.
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Entrance tickets to the caves can be bought either online or locally at the ticket office by the entrance of the caves. As the caves at Nerja are a must see when visiting the Costa del Sol, expect a lot of people, especially during peak season and during the weekend. To avoid disappointment, rather book your tickets online. It is also slightly cheaper when buying your ticket to the caves via their website.
Go to the official website and select the type of ticket you want and select a time slot. Be sure to be on time, or better a bit earlier as you cannot enter if you arrive late.
You can even visit the caves for FREE, also through the official website. There are some restrictions, so rather read carefully what the conditions are.
Are the Nerja Caves worth visiting?
We have visited many caves in our lives and even though the Nerja Caves might not be the most impressive caves in the world, they are certainly still mind blowing and well worth a visit. We were highly impressed with the rock formations, the stalactites and stalagmites as well as the organisation and the practical layout of the caves.
How to get there
The caves are located about 3 km (or 1.9 miiles) outside of the town of Nerja and about 50 km (or 31 miles) from Malaga. There are various options to get there from Nerja, or from the surrounding cities:
- By car: From Malaga, follow the A-7 motorway towards Almería and take exit 295 Nerja-Maro. Parking at the caves is €2 for the whole day (at the time of writing).
- On foot: If you love hiking you can walk from Nerja to the caves. From the Balcon de Europa, the trail is around 5 km (or 3.1 miles).
- By bus: From Malaga, the Alsa bus will take you to Nerja. Check on their website for more information.
- By tourist train: From the town of Nerja, starting from the Plaza Fabrica de los Cangrejos you can take a tourist train to the caves. It’s a fun way to get to the caves without having to drive there, especially for kids. The tickets are bought either on the train itself or in combination with the entrance ticket when you buy it online.
Organised tours to Nerja Caves
The easiest way to get to the caves is with an organised tour, especially when not staying in Nerja and not having a car available. Often these tours are combined with other highlights in the area, like Nerja and the picturesque town of Frigiliana which you will want to visit by organised tour as parking for your car is extremely scarce.
Both this tour and this tour takes you to the caves, Nerja and Frigiliana from Malaga, including a ‘skip the lines ticket’ for the caves. There are also various options to see the area when staying in Granada.
The following tours take you on a day trip from Granada to see the Nerja Caves and Frigiliana, including a ‘skip the line’ ticket:
- Nerja & Frigiliana guided tour
- Visit Frigiliana and Nerja Caves including a skip the line
- Granada skip the line Nerja Caves and Frigiliana day tour
There are lots of other options to take a tour to the caves of Nerja when staying in other cities or areas in Andalusia like Almuñecar, Motril or Torremolinos to the Nerja Caves and Frigiliana here or here.