We continue our series of articles about Andalusia in the south of Spain and today we share with you a post specially dedicated to the magnificent Nerja caves. Located about fifty kilometers east of Malaga (in the beautiful La Axarquia region), they have become a must-see in the region.
- Presentation of the Nerja caves
- Visit the incredible Nerja caves
- Useful information to prepare your visit to the Nerja caves
Presentation of the Nerja caves
The caves were discovered in 1959 by a group of 5 young people who were looking to see bats. They entered a small cave and noticed that a draft seemed to come from behind some stalactites. They then came back the next day with tools and decided to break the formations to see what was behind… and that’s how they arrived in the first of the galleries, the room now called the Waterfall Room.
In all, the caves are nearly 4 km long, but only the first third is currently open to the public. Declared Spanish historical heritage, the cave is still today the subject of numerous explorations and excavations in the part closed to the public. All the historical part of the caves and especially the cave paintings that are there are often the subject of great debate. According to some sources, the paintings present here would be the oldest discovered to date and would date from the time of the Neanderthal man.
Visit the incredible Nerja caves
When we arrive on the big parking lot located at the entrance of the caves, we can hardly imagine the dimension of what is waiting for us under our feet… Once past the access door, we start by going down into a first room. During the visit we follow a pre-defined and one-way path. Nothing prevents you from going back on your steps for a few meters, but let’s say that the idea is to follow a circuit. I don’t know if it’s due to the coco, but it’s relatively well done in the sense that in this way you don’t have to cross too many people.
The highlight of the show is at the bottom of the caves: the Cataclysm room. It is the largest and highest room accessible to the public and it is also here that we find the largest column in the world (the meeting between a stalactite and a stalagmite). The column of Nerja is 32 meters high and its base measures 13 m by 7 m… it is really impressive!!!
Why don’t we see the famous cave paintings during the visit?
I don’t know why I do this, but after a visit that I liked I often go to TripAdvisor to see what the negative reviews are about a place. The caves of Nerja leave a rather positive impression to the visitors but some of them seemed very annoyed not to have been able to see the cave paintings that were discovered recently…
The explanation was however given in the audio guide and personally I found it rather good that they are not visible to tell you the truth. In fact, the reason why they are not visible is simply for conservation purposes and to preserve them from the green disease that tends to develop in caves open to the public.
Green sickness is a very common disease in caves open to the public. Indeed, because of the lighting and the heat produced by the lamps as well as the higher concentration of CO2 brought by the visitors’ exhalation, micro-organisms and small algae have the opportunity to develop. In a natural environment a cave is 100% dark and the atmosphere constant… With lights and visitors the environment is automatically changed and this causes problems. The green sickness has the consequence of “smoothing” the rock, the small asperities are blurred and in the case of the paintings this leads gradually to their erasure.
Not illuminating the paintings and not allowing visitors to come and “breathe too close” therefore helps conservation.
The Lascaux caves are a very good example of this phenomenon. Discovered in 1940, the famous caves and paintings were opened to the public in 1948. In the 60’s, about 100’000 visitors per year visited the caves. Quickly, algae developed and it was noted that the paintings were under threat. The decision was made in 1963 to close the site permanently. Today, visitors can no longer see the “real paintings” but a life-size replica built a few hundred meters from the original. The “real caves” remain permanently closed to the public!
Useful information to prepare your visit to the Nerja caves
How much does it cost to visit the Nerja caves?
The entrance to the caves of Nerja costs 14€ for an adult, 12€ for children from 6 to 12 years old. Children under 6 years of age do not pay the entrance fee.
Note that it is possible to buy tickets for (a little) less online on the official website. The ticket bought online costs 12€ per adult and 10€ per child (+0,75€ / ticket reservation fee). In short, a saving of 1.25€ per ticket (and no need to queue). The tickets do not need to be printed and can be presented on a cell phone.
But be careful, buying in advance means that the schedule is fixed! We had a bit of a drive to get to the caves and preferred to play it safe and did not buy our ticket online. Indeed, on the internet you have to choose your time slot. If you indicate 10:40 am and because of a lack of parking or a traffic jam you arrive late, well… that’s too bad! In short, if you want to buy the ticket in advance, make sure to get there early.
Every day, from Monday to Friday, the official website offers 60 free tickets for residents of the European Union (yep, we’re Swiss… meaning there was no chance for us) 😉 To get these free tickets you have to go on the official website and go to the bottom of the page (obviously they don’t advertise it too much). The tickets are put online 48H before and go VERY fast. Strangely on the English version of the website they say there are 20 tickets, but on the Spanish version it’s 60. Here is the link to the spanish page
These free tickets are only valid for the 9:30 am time slot (when the caves open). If you want a ticket for Thursday morning, go to the site on Tuesday morning at 9:30 am sharp to hope to get one of the precious sesame.
Download the audio guide of the Nerja caves
Before the coco, the Nerja caves offered an audio-guide that you could rent for an extra fee. But we guess they realized that it was a bit of a hassle to disinfect all the stuff between each visitor, so they created an audio-guide in the form of a mobile application. The app is free and offers 2 guided tours (one for adults and one for kids), all in 15 languages. It is just important to download the application and the desired language before entering. Once in the caves there is obviously no more network coverage. 😉 If you want to get a head start, you can download the app here for Android and for iPhone.
We must admit that we found the idea remarkable (especially since there is a free wifi in the reception area for visitors who do not have a cell phone plan including mobile data). After, we will not hide you that we found the explanations a little long and that we regularly skipped some parts. At one point I even wondered if the children’s version wouldn’t have been nicer (I didn’t test it, but I found the adult version a bit too academic and not really “fun”). In short, it has the merit to exist and it’s free!
Opening hours of the Nerja cave
The opening hours of the caves of Nerja vary according to the season. The cave is open all year round except on January 1 and May 15 (the day of the patron saint of Nerja).
- From September to June the cave is open every day from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm (the last entrance is at 3:30 pm).
- During the Easter weekend and during the summer, the opening hours are extended until 7 pm (last entry at 6 pm)
How long does it take to visit the Nerja caves?
You can visit the caves at your own pace and the time depends on your rhythm. But to give you an idea, we spent about 1h30 inside the cave, taking our time to take pictures (and listen to part of the audio guide). The tour is relatively short and it would probably be possible to do it in 30 minutes, but believe us, that would be a shame!
What is the temperature in the caves?
There is little suspense here… whether you come in the middle of August or in December, the temperature at the bottom of the cave will be about the same: about 18°C to 21°C depending on the place. If a little sweater can be welcome if you come in summer, you will not freeze on the spot either if you are in T-shirt 😉
How to get to the Nerja caves?
The Nerja caves are located a little outside the city proper. To get to the caves you have several options:
- by car: take the A7 freeway exit N°295 and follow the signs (it’s right next to the exit). Parking is available on site. Be careful though, the parking costs 2€ and you have to pay with 2 coins of 1€ directly at the barrier, so don’t forget to bring some change (it’s not a very practical thing they did here I agree)
- From Malaga there are 2 buses per hour (one from the bus station, the other from the port) of the company Alsa. The trip takes about 1h30 and costs between 4€ and 5€ per trip. See the official alsa website. Note that if there are several of you it will be more profitable to rent a car! In Málaga you can find cars from 10€ per day on Rentalcars and this will allow you to combine the caves with another activity in the area (like a walk in Frigiliana which we will talk about in the next article).
- If you arrive from the center of Nerja you can’t miss the ads for the little red train that goes there… Very kitschy and maybe nice if you have children… but the trip costs 4€ I think. But you should know that the classic bus takes 10 minutes and costs 1,2€ (look on the alsa website mentioned above). And of course it’s free on foot 😉 It takes about 50 minutes to 1h15 walking (depending on where you start)
- On an organized tour. On Civitatis you will find plenty of tour options that combine the caves with other activities in the area (starting from Malaga). Personally, we recommend renting a car to be more flexible and to have more time in the spots you prefer… But then, if you don’t want to drive and wish to have a guide with you then it is clearly an option.
What to see around the Nerja caves?
Hmmm… in the immediate surroundings people tend to often mention the aqueduct of Aguila. Being there, we obviously came to have a look at it. Built at the end of the 19th century, this aqueduct was used to bring water to a sugar refinery. No doubt that from an architectural point of view it is original… but honestly, the view is not crazy. To see it, you have to stop at the side of the main road (very busy) and what used to be a river underneath the aqueduct now looks more like an open dump (the barranco underneath was excessively dirty the day we visited). #my2cents
We came here on foot after the cave visit, but since the way to reach the viewpoint consists in going along the main road, we advise you rather take your car and make a brief stop on the parking places which are just beside the bridge.
That’s it for today! In our next article we will tell you about the rest of our day… Because after the caves in the morning we went to Frigiliana to do a great hike! A little teasing in pictures of what is waiting for you. See you soon!
Update: Our blog post about Frigiliana is live
Note: This article contains affiliate links to Civitatis and Rentalcars. If you book a tour or rent a car via one of our links you pay absolutely nothing extra, but we will get a small commission. Thank you for your support. 🙂
Thank you for your excellent piece about the caves. Went there this morning. Got the free tickets yesterday. We’re from the UK and got the tickets no problem when I clicked through on the website. Definitely worth a visit. Thank you again!
You’re welcome! Glad you liked the visite of the cave and you could get those free tickets. Enjoy the rest of your trip!