Deep down in the cool
Island of caves: 3.500 have been discovered so far, five are open to tourists
Juanjo, Bernat, Peter and Xisco are adventurous young men who feel attracted to the deep and dark. They are speleologists, but you may also call them cave explorers. As such, they are lucky to live on Majorca where they can choose between 3.500 registered caves. But the four companions are interested in only one, discovered in 1974 and situated between Portocristo and Portocolom on the South coast. The cave they have been exploring during the last years is not open to tourists, but might still interest the reader, because of one fact: nobody has ever seen the end of it. Sa Gleda is the name of what might be one of the biggest subaquatic caves of the world. When last asked about it, the four men had explored a total of almost eleven kilometers, and the farest point they had reached was about 1,7 kilometers from the entrance. For the time being, this is European record. The vastness of this underground world makes the exploration a difficult task, as the speleologists have to carry several oxygen bottles. The farer they have to dive in order to reach the limits of the already investigated parts, the less oxygen is left for further exploration.
Gorgeous rock formations such as we all know from caves that are open to the public were not the only interesting finds of the expedition. Juanjo, Bernat, Peter and Xisco also came across pieces of ancient ceramics, evidently thrown into holes in the ground that were formerly used to extract water and which are connected with this extensive system, where sweet and salt water mix in different proportions.
Before you get frustrated by the fact that Sa Gleda might well be out of reach for you, let’s change subject and review Majorca’s underground attractions which have been habilitated to receive visitors. At times to an unnecessary extent, but there we get into a discussion of taste. Some appreciate colourful illumination and a music show, others like it all natural. Majorca has it both, and our rating will help you to decide where to escape on a hot summer day when you got enough of sun and beach.
Three of the five “public” caves are situated along the south-eastern coast, one on the slope of the Tramuntana mountain range in the Northern part of the island and one, surprise, opens its rocky mouth within the city limits of Palma de Majorca. To make a long story short: Only three of them can be recommended without reservations: The Drach Caves and the Caves of Artà are by far the most spectacular ones and well worth the hefty entrance fee. The Drach caves are a mass affair with at times hundreds of visitors flocking into this fascinating underground system at a time. Apart from the ever present spectacular rock formations, the Drach Caves offer a show which will impress even those who consider it tacky. At the end of the tour you arrive at a huge underground auditorium with seating for well over thousand persons. There, the spectators are stunned with the sight of one of the biggest underground lakes of the world, “Lago Martel”, which is about 177 meters long. All of a sudden, the lights are switched off and out of the total darkness appear light and music. As they come closer you can distinguish three boats, on which musicians play live some popular pieces of classic music.
No life music, but a “sound and light” show are offered in the Artà Caves which distinguish themselves by their enormous dimensions and beauty. Also worth to be noted is their wonderful situation with an entrance like a giant’s mouth right in the coastal cliffs, and you might well appreciate the scenic route leading there. Equally surrounded by a wonderful natural scenery (and near one of the oldest chapels of the island) are the Caves of Campanet, close to the Palma-Alcudia highway. They have not been “beautified” by colourful illumination systems, and no music is played to the visitors. Evidently, the owners have confidence in the natural beauty of this smaller, but enchanting cave. In addition, the “Coves de Campanet” have a curious history. Shooting for some German-spanish action movie took place there, and a relative of the owner had her wedding party set up in this world of stalactites and stalagmites.
To make the review complete, we ought to mention the Hams Caves, which offer a twenty minute walk and due to the small dimension of its lake kind of a parody on the Drach-music show, while charging a very expensive entrance fee. And the smallest and less spectacular cave of them all, the “Cueva de Génova” in a small village belonging to the district of Palma de Majorca, is interesting only if you are absolutely cave-starved and don’t want to travel as far as Portocristo or Campanet.
While tourists are being herded through those well known and much-exploited attractions, rough guys in dirty overalls explore the rest of Majorca’s underground. Four years ago, a group of Majorcan speleologists – or cave explorers – discovered what is now considered the deepest cave of the island, with a depth of 204 meters. It is situated in Escorca, not far from the famous Lluc monastry, and is mostly vertical, with one tunnel-shaped section, where the brave explorers lowered themselves on a rope straight through 156 meters.
And no, it is not open to the public.
© Thomas Fitzner, 2002