GRUTAS DE MIRA DE AIRE
I love exploring the hidden treasures of caves. I find it so magical and mystical wandering around these rock formations and natural formed wonders of the world. I’m not sure I would like actual wild caving where I would have to squeeze my bulk of a body into dirty, dark, damp and tight passages as I feel I would encounter claustrophobia and I might go into sheer panic mode. I think it would be too much of a challenge for me so for now I will enjoy the experience of visiting large caves which I can easily walk through to admire the beauty.
Mira de Aire Caves are located in the small mountain town of Porto de Mós, Leiria. They are the largest caves in Portugal and have been another firm favourite on my bucket list for some time now but we didn’t get the opportunity to visit due to Covid. It’s quite a long drive from our casa (2 hour car journey each way) so I teamed it up with a visit to Nazaré and a surfing lesson for hubby. The caves are located just 15km from Fátima so this would also be a great itinerary for a joint visit as the caves will not take you all day to view. The journey is spectacular and we enjoyed the drive through the winding mountain roads with breathtaking views. I was shocked to find that you can’t book in advance online for the tour of the caves so you just have to arrive and chance your luck. Numbers are limited due to Covid and you can’t go exploring by yourself, you need to enter with a tour guide. There was not an option for an English tour when we visited, it was delivered in Portuguese. We arrived at the car park bright and early to find a queue of approximately 10-15 families in front of us. We joined the queue and it only took 5-10 minutes to reach the ticket booth. There is a restaurant, cafe and small gift shop on site. The cost per adult is €6.80 which I thought was an incredibly cheap price for such an amazing popular attraction.
GPS: 39.54027718250609, -8.703884944167605
Pricing and Opening times
October to March – from 09:30am to 05:30pm
April and May – from 09:30am to 06:00pm
June and September – from 09:30am to 07:00pm
July and August – from 09:30am to 08:00pm
January 1st – from 10:00am to 05:30pm
The ticket office closes 30 minutes before closing time
Free – Children under 5 years old
€4,00 – Children from 5 to 11 years old
€6,80 – All visitors with 12 years old and above
€6,10 – Group with at least 20 adults (if tickets are purchased by the leader of the group)
School prices (September to June)
€1,25 – Kindergarten
€2,50 – 1st grade (6 to 10)
€3,10 – 2nd grade (11 to 12)
€3,60 – 3rd grade, high school and college
Mira de Aire Caves
The Portuguese Central region between Rio Maior, Alcobaça, Porto de Mós, Batalha, Leiria, Ourém, Torres Novas and Alcanena is occupied by Limestone Mountains, which form the Estremadura Limestone Massif. Of these the main mountains are the Aire and Candeeiros. This area is absolutely stunning and we visited Serra de Aires e Candeeiros Natural Park on a recent day trip and it was amazing. I have written a post if you want to view it. I am not going to rant on about the history of the caves so if you are interested you can refer to the official website which has multiple information on the history and details about the geological and geomorphological framework and how the caves were formed:
We nearly visited the wrong caves as hubby entered the GPS into his Sat Nav and as we were close I saw a brown sign for Grutas (Caves) so told hubby to ignore the Sat Nav and follow the cave sign which took us to a whole different set of caves so if you want to view various caves this is definitely the area to explore. After we purchased our tickets we formed another short queue which took about 20 minutes to reach the start of the caves. Initially we were very concerned as we saw a huge coach party group of elderly people and thought we might be in for a long wait. We had nothing to worry about as the large group of about 50 people did not join the queue, maybe they were having a separate private tour. What did make us laugh was the fact that about 90% of the group were wearing the same matching brightly coloured neckerchief. I can only assume this was to avoid them getting lost. I usually see this with groups of children all wearing the same T.Shirts or baseball caps. I have never seen it before on adults who were all over the age of 60. It was quite funny as there were a few that obviously were not impressed at wearing such attire and looking like an 8 year old boy scout so they refused to wear it and just tied it to their backpacks, high five to these rebels (ha ha). I once witnessed a whole group of children at Bristol zoo wearing Santa hats in August! Genius idea as they totally stood out from the crowd and those leaders were not leaving any child behind that day. No concern for all those little roasting hot heads in fleecy Santa hats (ha ha).
We were issued with plastic gloves whilst in the queue as well as hand sanitiser and face masks were compulsory. I am unsure if the gloves were a Covid safety measure or a general rule to protect the historic caves. When we reached the start of the queue we were ushered into a room to watch a short video about the history of caves. Chairs were arranged at a safe distance apart but to be honest the video was pretty pointless as all in Portuguese so I unintentionally switched off after about 5 minutes. The caves are huge and the tour lasted around 1 hour. We were a group of around 12-15 people and had 2 tour guides who delivered the talk in Portuguese. I am not going to lie, we were totally lost in translation. It would have been nice to understand what the tour guides were saying but actually I don’t think it was detrimental to the experience. We were also given a leaflet in English explaining the different chambers and areas of the caves.
Different areas to view (as per leaflet):
- Pit cave
- 1o Shaft or Main Room
- Red Room
- Stone Waterfall
- 2o Shaft
- Great Gallery
- Fountain of Pearls Stone Waterfall
- Octopus Gallery
- Small Lakes
- Old Lady’s face
- Black River
- Final Lake
- Erosion Waves
- Event Room
Some interesting facts about the caves
- The cave maintains an internal stable temperature of 17oC all year round. This warm and moist air would go up the pit cave and as it made contact with the cold air of the outside during winter, it would turn into a mist. Based on this phenomenon, 4 inhabitants of the village decided to unblock the caves entrance and to step into the unknown to look for water on July 27th 1947.
- It was only opened to the public on August 11th 1974.
- It’s total length is over 11,500 metres and the tourist area is around 600 metres.
- During the tour one descends to 110 metres and you go down 683 hand carved steps.
- The lowest part of the cave is located over 230 metres deep.
- The tourist area of the cave has over 3000 lamps.
- At the exit of the caves there are 2 lifts, each carrying 33 persons at a time. Obviously less during Covid.
- During the tour one can see 2 of the 3 stages of limestone caves, the fossil cave on the upper level and the semi-active cave near the final lake. Below the water level, the cave is still active and new galleries can be created by water even today. The limestone inside of the cave was formed 150 million years ago!
- On the way out there is a little museum and I was intrigued to find a derelict water park!
Stalactites and Stalagmites
Do you know the difference between Stalactites and Stalagmites? Hubby does and this is all down to his old school teacher and a 1980’s visit to Wookey Hole Caves. A huge thank you to Mr Want from Great Tothan Primary School who told the whole class “The MITES go up and the TITES (TIGHTS) go down! Rather inappropriate and he probably wouldn’t get away with saying such a thing today but still very hilarious and it stuck in hubby’s mind all these years (ha ha). Mr Want’s behaviour was mild compared to hubby’s secondary school teachers who in the late 1980’s took a group of young teenagers to Amsterdam, left them unaccompanied in the red light district and disappeared off to the bar to get drunk for 2 hours! 2 words spring to mind “Inappropriate behaviour”.
We really enjoyed viewing the vast earthy caves and exploring all the different remarkable crevices. My favourite area was the “Old Lady’s Face” which is a rock which resembles an old woman’s profile, I think it looks a lot like me (ha ha). I also really liked the Stalactites that look like sea creatures: Jellyfish and Octopus. Hubby loved the Erosion Waves – One of the curious geological accidents of the cave. They are the result of the erosion and polish of the rock by the water and mud’s mechanical action. They look like straight and round teeth growing between 30 and 60cm long, set on rows under the sides of the walls. This reminded me that we are well overdue a dentist visit (ha ha). The waterfall fountain and epic sound and light show made it very dramatic and beautiful. Teanna loved the Fountain of Pearls Stone Waterfall filled with perfect crystals and small rimstone dams or “Gours” resembling honeycombs. It was breathtaking and quite spooky at times when droplets of water fell on my head! It was very un rushed so we had time to stop and soak up the atmosphere. The steps are not tricky even though there are multiple. I did stumble at one point as I missed a step in the dark with my poor eyesight.
Wow, what a great visit, we had so much fun visiting the largest caves in Portugal. The descent was spellbinding and the pretty lights make the stalagmites and stalactites look really mystical. The rock and limestone formations were so fascinating to see up close and it was such a unique, enchanting and unforgettable experience to explore 150 million year old caves from the Middle Jurassic age, when dinosaurs populated this region. I can totally understand why it was elected as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal. These caves truly are a testament to how spectacular nature is. In all honesty, although it was amazing it was a little too touristy for my liking. I do enjoy visiting such famous tourist attractions and we were very lucky as it wasn’t crowded at all when we visited. I just seem to have more enjoyment when I visit less well known attractions and we get to explore all by ourselves. This is most likely because of my social anxiety around group tours and the fact that I prefer to be outside immersed within nature. I think I speak for all 3 of us when I say we had more fun exploring the Buracas do Casmilo Caves, not that one can compare the two as they are completely different. Despite saying this it really is worth visiting at least once in your lifetime.