What comes to mind when you think of Lanzarote? For most people, beaches and sunshine would top the list – as well they might, given this island has both in abundance. Still, for me it’s got to be the volcanic landscape that really stands out, and one part of it in particular – the Cueva de los Verdes.
This beautiful cave is part of a 6 km volcanic tunnel formed by eruptions of the La Corona volcano. I’ll talk more about how exactly it was formed and what you can expect to see in a moment, but first I’ll run through the more practical side of things, including where you can find the cave and how visits here work.
The Cueva de los Verdes is in the municipality of Haria, which is in the north of the island. Interestingly, it’s home to quite a few other major tourist attractions, so you may well find yourself here quite a lot – or you could just book a hotel here and base yourself in Haria for your whole break.
Turning our attention back to the cave itself though, tours of the cave usually last around the one-hour mark. That might not sound like very long given how much I’m enthusing about the place, but don’t be fooled – the cave offers an absolutely amazing experience.
A major factor in this is that when preparing the cave to receive tourists, the heads of the project didn’t really change the interior. Of course, given how spectacular the cave is they really didn’t need to – but of course, since when does natural beauty stop developers? Fortunately it did in this case, with the organisers instead simply enlisting the help of an artist to implement a decent lighting scheme – one that really shows off the cave’s features and creates a dramatic atmosphere.
He did so with aplomb, and I defy anyone to come here today and not be blown away by the galleries they see, which are filled with lava channels, solidified drops of lava and much more. In fact, the colours running through the cave are just as hypnotic – think reds and ochres, caused by the oxidation of iron in the rock and reflected light hitting salt efflorescences respectively.
Formation and history
The Cueva de los Verdes is absolutely stunning, but I think it seems even more amazing when you know its history. Its story begins between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago, when a vast volcanic tunnel was formed following eruptive activity from the La Corona volcano.
I know what you’re thinking – how does volcanic activity create a tunnel? Well, in simple terms it happens when the part of the lava flow in contact with the air cools and solidifies, while the rest continues to flow underneath.
This tunnel begins at the cone of the volcano and runs for more than 6 km, until it reaches the sea (though it does, in fact, run into the sea too – a section of the tunnel known as the Tunel de la Atlantida/Tunnel of Atlantis).
Dotted throughout the tunnel are jameos, which are essentially openings in the tunnel that give you access to other caves. The jameos are attractions in themselves, so I’ll tell you more about them shortly.
And while the formation of La Cueva de los Verdes is a pretty magical story, I think the human side of its history makes the place all the more fascinating.
More than just a pretty landscape…
Indeed, part of what makes the cave such a fascinating place to visit is the stories behind it. The first reference to it in writing was in 1590, when an Italian military engineer named Leonardo Torriani. His notes don’t only talk about its physical features, but also how the population used it at the time.
It was from here that we first learned the cave was used as a place for the locals to hide out. You see, back in the 1500s and 1600s in particular, Lanzarote was repeatedly raided by pirates, including kidnappings and even invasions.
The galleries in the cave provided the perfect place to shelter, because they are so intricate and hard to negotiate – especially when unlit, when the interior is totally dark.
There were some particularly awful invasions when the caves were used to shelter a large proportion of the population. You see, during invasions like those on Taban Arraez and Soliman in the early 17th century, the island was hit particularly hard and became seriously impoverished.
When the 19th century arrived, La Cueva de los Verdes made its first forays into becoming an attraction – though it was primarily for scholars and scientists to explore. In the 1960s, it was renovated for tourists – though as I said before, little work was carried out on the actual interior. However, two of the island’s centres for art, culture and tourism are actually located within the tunnel – another good reason to visit.
The Jameos del Agua
If you’re exploring La Cueva de los Verdes, it makes sense to combine it with a trip to the Jameos del Agua, since they’re both located in the volcanic tunnel created by La Corona. As I explained above, jameos are openings in the tunnel that give access to other caves, and the Jameos del Agua are particularly interesting because artist Cesar Manrique – who was born on the island – turned them into a work of art.
The Jameos del Agua Centre of Art, Culture and Tourism is a great place to learn more about this man and his ideas, since it incorporates his core principle of creating harmony between nature, man and art. Taking a tour of the site today, you’ll walk down a spiral staircase that’s actually forged from volcanic rock, which will take you into the first jameo – Jameo Chico.
You’ll also come across a remarkable natural underground lake, before crossing a footbridge into the next jameo. This section has some amazing vegetation, including things like fig trees, palms and cactuses – quite a contrast to the rest of the tour.