... Tenerife’s great unknown

La cueva del viento isn’t just a cave – it’s a unique underground world and an unbeatable experience for understanding, learning about and respecting nature. It’s the fifth-largest cave on volcanic soil in the world, behind Hawaii (65 kilometres larger) and the sixth and seventh are in North Korea. It’s believed to be 75 kilometres in size.

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Tenerife Travel Secret

Farmers felt wind on their faces when they entered the mouth of the cave, hence the name.

Introduction to La cueva del viento

After we introduced ourselves, the guide talked about the geological formation of the cave. We learned about the types of lava using videos from Hawaii, because the Kilauea is quite similar to Pico Viejo. We also found out about how they preserve the condition of the cave as far as possible. The most important thing is protecting the cave and what lies above it.

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Tenerife Travel Secret

Tubes or underground caves are created by underground rivers (karst with stalactites and stalagmites) or by volcanic lava. The latter type can be found in Tenerife.

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History of the cave

Guanche burial sites that date back 2,300 years have been found in some of the entrances. However, the first document that mentions the cave is from 1776, written by Agustín de Betancourt and colleagues.

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The sima de la vieja (old woman’s chasm) is so-named because, in the early 20th century, an elderly woman fell to a depth of 8 metres and survived. Once she’d been rescued, they decided to cover the hole.

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In 1969, the first speleologists (from La Guancha) explored the cave and mapped the topography of the pink section. They announced in 1971 that the cave covered 6,181 metres, which was then the biggest volcanic cave in the world. Following that announcement, many scientists, vulcanologists and speleologists came to Tenerife. In 1973, an English group discovered an extra 4 kilometres of cave (el pozo de los ingleses – the yellow section). The cueva del sobrado (the green section) used to be considered a separate cave. On 28th November 1988 at 2:15am, Alfredo (the guide) and a colleague entered via some underground passages on level 3 and found the white section, which was 4 more kilometres. After the sima de la vieja was excavated, 3 more kilometres were added. Finally, the last kilometre and a half was discovered by Alfredo’s son.

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Formation of La Cueva del Viento

Three elements must be present for a volcanic tube to form: at least one volcano, lava, and a gradient (so the lava can run). There are 321 volcanoes in Tenerife – one of them will have spewed lava, don’t you think? 😉 To be specific, Pico Viejo erupted 27 billion years ago, spewing liquid lava at a temperature of more than 1100 degrees. It travelled down the Icod Valley to its geological outflow in the San Marcos cave 7 kilometres away. That lava (Pahoehoe) was very smooth when it cooled, and there is probably a tube or volcanic cave underneath. 1800 years ago, Roques Blancos suffered an eruption that covered a large part of la cueva del viento with cooler lava (600-700 degrees). It was a’a lava, which forms thick layers and sharp edges, under which caves are very unlikely.

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There is currently no other known volcanic cave anywhere in the world like la cueva del viento. Its geological formation is even more unusual than originally thought. That’s because it has lots of labyrinthine offshoots formed at different times by lava thrown from the Pico Viejo volcano.

It’s 3 kilometres from end to end, with an incline of 500 metres. In total, there are 17 kilometres (18.5 with the latest addition) of mapped labyrinthine tubes. The deepest point (discovered to this day) is 60 metres below the surface. The various eruptions formed the three main tiers, although there are really 18 levels. The third tier is between 20 and 80 centimetres high. The second tier (which is the one you visit) is 4-5 metres high by 4-5 metres wide. When they excavated the sima de la vieja, they found a new 3-kilometre gallery on the first tier which is 17 metres deep, 13 metres high and 5 metres wide.

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Tenerife Travel Secret

Tubes or underground caves are created by underground rivers (karst with stalactites and stalagmites) or by volcanic lava. The latter type can be found in Tenerife.

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A pine and laurel forest at the entrance to la cueva del viento

After the talk in the visitor centre, we drove to an 1800-year-old wooded area at an altitude of 700 metres. The first trees that grew around the edges of the lava channels were Canarian pines.

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Its natural surroundings set it apart from other caves. To get there, we walked along a trail between Canarian pines, with typical laurel forest vegetation and birds chirping.

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To access the cave, you have to use a natural opening or cave-in in the roof. There are seven at la cueva del viento. We used the uppermost entrance and, after walking around 250 metres, we reached the sima de la vieja. The rules include wearing a helmet with a head torch and shaking off your shoes.

The visit lasted just over an hour and a half. They explained all the preparations and studies that were undertaken before opening the cave to the public. Human presence can drastically change the cave’s ecosystem and fauna. We also learned about the measuring systems that have been used, and the animals that lived there. Of the 107 species of invertebrates, five are endemic and cause the colours within the cave: off-white, reddish-orange and greenish-yellow. The latter is caused by extremophiles, so you can’t touch the roof of the cave.

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Since the cave opened in 2008, more than 150,000 people have visited. It is supposed to remain as intact as possible, so the guide will show you where to walk.

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They explained how the cave was formed. First came the eruption and lava channels, then the reduction of lava that formed the roof and walls. Next the terraces were formed – we sat there for a while. Finally, the floor (full of peaks and ridges) was the last thing they found when it was being excavated. We heard about the forks in the cave, manholes, landslides, cracks from shrinkage, blobs of solidified lava and lava stalactites. Volcanic tubes last approximately 500,000 years and la cueva del viento is 27,000 years old. It should be around for a while 😉

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How to get to Cueva del Viento

To get to the Cueva del Viento, you have to go to Icod de los Vinos.

 

Camino los Piquetes, 51 38438 Icod de los Vinos, Santa Cruz de Tenerife
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Final Comments from the Authors about Cueva del Viento

The visit was genuine and enriching, with excellent guides that made the experience unbeatable. The atmosphere was calm and silent. There were moments when it was pitch black, although as with everything good those moments were short. I wish one day they’d allow access to 200 metres of level 1, descending via the sima de la vieja... Honestly, I think I’ll go back to see that if it’s opened to the public.

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There’s no law governing tourist caves in Spain – only those that have cave paintings or archaeological remains are protected. In the Canary Islands, a soil conservation law is taking a long time to be passed. We at Tenerife Travel Secrets ask that caves that allow visitors be better regulated. This is largely to preserve them, but also to protect visitors. We also ask that relevant geological studies be carried out underground in the valley of Icod de los Vinos. Then maybe more sections and passages of la cueva del viento can be discovered.

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