The Grotto of Marvels, where fantasy takes shape
Right in the centre of Aracena, in the northern part of Huelva, you will find the entrance to one of the most spectacular caves in Spain: the Grotto of Marvels. This underground landscape is filled with impossibly shaped rock formations and crystal-clear lagoons that will have you thinking you’ve slipped into a dream world.
The Grotto of Marvels: the most popular attraction in Aracena
This grotto lies beneath the hill the castle stands on, and was hidden from the world for millennia before it was discovered. There are two theories behind this discovery, the first being that a group of miners were digging in the hill and broke through to the cave. The second is more folkloric in tone. A priest known locally as Uncle Blas miraculously came upon the entrance to the cave while he was searching for a lost cow.
Regardless of how it was discovered, this cave with three horizontal levels around 2 kilometres long boasts ‘rooms’ full of limestone rock formations and crystal-clear lagoons that turn the colour of turquoise in the light thanks to more than 500 million years of karstic erosion.
The cave was officially opened in 1914 – the first time a cave was opened to the public in Spain – and access to the second level was achieved in 1926. Today, despite the fact that many other caves have been discovered and opened to the public, this grotto is still considered to be the most spectacular on the Iberian Peninsula.
What to see: a tour of the Grotto of Marvels
All is quiet inside the cave except for the steady dripping of water filtering through the ceiling and creating the phantasmagorical rock formations at a glacial pace. These can be seen on guided tours through the 12 ‘rooms’ on the two levels that are open to the public (the third is not yet open). The tour begins with the Room of Shells, followed by the Room of Shining Lights. Before reaching the largest room, known as the Grand Salon, where you will find rock formations of enormous dimensions, you will walk through the impressive Room of the Manila Shawls, with its ‘colourful banderoles’ adorning the walls.
Heading up to the second floor, you will come to what is known as The Cathedral, a large room with a high ceiling seemingly supported by enormous columns. The tour will then take you through to the Lake of the Sultana and the Room of Emeralds, with stunning multi-coloured water tracks and rock formations.
You’ll need to go back down to the first floor after this, but not before catching a glimpse of the Glassware of God and the Room of Chickpeas, with tree-shaped rock formations and crystals that look like canine teeth. Before coming to the exit, you will come across the Room of the Nudes, which contains curiously phallic-shaped rock formations.
There are other rooms which are available for viewing on a different tour for ten people that lasts around 90 minutes and is specifically designed for geology lovers.
Organise your visit to the Grotto of Marvels
Groups for the guided tours gather at the ticket office but there is a limit of 1000 people per day so as not to damage the grotto in any way. For this reason, it’s highly recommendable to book in advance online. The average tour lasts around 50 minutes and they take place all year round, with the exception of 24, 25 and 31 December and the 1 and 6 January.
Information of interest
How to get to the Grotto of Marvels:
- By car. The Grotto of Marvels is in the centre of Aracena, in the northern part of Huelva province. To get there by car from Seville or Portugal you can take the N-433. If you are already in Huelva capital (or Extremadura) you can take the N-435. Put the address into your satnav so as not to leave anything up to chance: Calle Pozo de la Nieve, 21200, Aracena, Huelva.
- By bus. Journeys from Huelva capital to Aracena take around two and a half hours, whereas those from Seville will take around 1 hour and 20 minutes.
See the official website for the Grotto of Marvels for up-to-date prices. There are discounts for children between 6 and 12 years old, people with reduced mobility, groups larger than 20 people, school groups and visitors over 65.