The Cueva de Los Verdes (meaning the Green’s Cave) is the biggest volcanic cave in the world, and is in the north-west of Lanzarote, in the large volcanic area of the Monumento Natural del Malpais de La Corona; and was formed during volcanic eruptions more than 4,000 years ago. In more recent times there have been a lot of mysteries and stories about it.
The cave starts at the cone of the Volcan La Corona in the north-east of Lanzarote and goes along 7 km into the sea. It is an underground volcanic tunnel that was formed by lava during an eruption around 4,500 years ago, although some of the smaller caves may be much older. The tunnel was formed when the volcanic lava in contact with the air solidified, while the lava underneath flowed along until it drained away, so that the top part became the roof of the tunnel. The resulting tunnel is the longest in the world. At 21 places along the tunnel, the roof has collapsed and is known locally as a ‘jameo’. These places give access to the caves and grottos, of which the Cueva de los Verdes is one.
Leonardo Torriani, a military engineer from Italy, was the first person to document the existence of the Cueva de Los Verdes in 1590. He recognised its geological and defensive importance.
Most of the subterranean passages were discovered just over 100 years ago, while some of the smaller tunnels that exist have not yet been explored. A total of 6km of the tunnel have been explored, and this includes the 1.5 km which goes under the sea, which is known as ‘the Tunnel of Atlantis’.
The island council, the Cabildo, opened the Cueva de los Verdes, Lanzarote to the public in 1964, having carried out works to provide lighting, safe footpaths and ambient music. Details for the visit are:
- A 1 hour tour with a guide.
- It is open from 10am until 6pm.
- Admission: 9€ for adults, 4.50€ for children aged 7-12.
- Last visit: 5pm
- Summer (Jul, Aug, Sep): Open 10am until 7pm
- Last visit: 6pm
After reading reviews on TripAdvisor, it is a recommended place to visit, but the general advice is that you should wear strong shoes, not suffer from claustrophobia, be prepared to duck down at certain parts of the tour, be careful of the steps, and it is not recommended for the elderly or for anyone carrying a baby.
During an hour’s visit, visitors are able to walk along two subterranean kilometers, with views of the cave from three different galleries. From one of these galleries, named ‘infierno’ (hell) it is possible to see the best example of lava petrifaction in the world, as there are natural statue like forms that have formed in the interior of the cave. They were formed, by the extremely hot lava, at around 800 degrees Celcius, coming into contact with the air and then solidifying immediately.
A visit to the Cueva de Los Verdes is a unique opportunity to go underground into a natural lava tunnel. In some places the cave is 50 metres high and 15 metres wide. The multi-coloured walls are enhanced by lighting and this creates a spectacular effect. Inside there are unusual rock formations and structures. The temperature in the cave stays at a constant 19 degrees Celcius, and there is a natural air flow.
There are many mysteries surrounding the cave during the last few hundred years, and various stories. No-one is sure about the origin of the name, the Cueva de los Verdes. Some say that it is because of the colour of the cave along its 7 km length, while others believe that it was a secret hiding place of a rich family called the Greens who lived on a local estate.
There are many stories that suggest that the Cueva de los Verdes has been useful to people on Lanzarote over the years. It was used as a refuge by islanders during many attacks by pirates who came from Africa during the 16th and 17th centuries. When pirates were approaching, the bells would toll and the local people would hide in the cave and tunnels, and the pirates would find the villages deserted.
During the volcanic eruptions that occurred during the 18th and 19th centuries, local people also used to seek protection in the cave. It is also said that a group of Jews, who had been forced to leave Spain in the 15th century by the Islamists, had to hide in the cave after the Islamists had sent troops after them. Later in the 19th century, scientists and explorers became regular visitors to the Cueva de Los Verdes.