The open land and seascapes of Mallorca are undoubtedly majestic, but what many visitors are unaware of are the hidden treasures of its rich, unequaled geological subsoil. A dreamy universe that has been formed drop by drop throughout thousands of years, where stalactites and stalagmites have acquired capricious and surprising forms.
A far cry from the caves and caverns described in literary classics: the descent of Aeneas or Ulysses into hell, as told by Virgil and Homer respectively; Polyphemus’ cave also the Odyssey; Don Quixote’s venture into the Montesinos cave; or even Plato’s mythical grottoes, among others; all of the above are linked to the idea of cavernous, gloomy spaces enclosed by massive rocky formations.
With more than 200 cataloged natural caves, Mallorca is a true paradise for professional and amateur speleologists. What’s more, for the less adventurous traveler, five of these are open to the public and are some of the island’s most visited attractions.
Without a doubt, the most famous of these are the Coves del Drach in Porto Cristo, which house one of the largest underground lakes in the world.
The spectacular illumination of these caves was designed by the Catalan engineer Carles Buigas, also known as the “Lighting Wizard.” A highlight of the visit is the Martel Lake, which is one of the world’s largest underground lakes at 117m long, 30m wide, and up to 14m deep. The visitor is treated to a sound and light show: the musicians appear aboard three illuminated rowing boats, and after a short concert and “Dawn on the Lake,” the audience is invited to cross the lake by boat. In all honesty, we should point out that although the caves are stunning, the entrance price is rather hefty, and the whole experience is touristy in a somewhat archaic way. If you wish to escape the crowd it is best to book a private tour.
Also in Porto Cristo are the Coves dels Hams, named after some curious rock formations which resemble fishing hooks (“hams” in Mallorquin) and which we find more attractive. On this visit, which is guided, you really DO see the caves and can pause and admire the natural beauty of the stalactites and stalagmites, which are every bit as spectacular as those in the Coves del Drach.
Other caves open to the public are the Coves de Campanet, famous for their pale and slender ornamentation. They were discovered in 1945. The digging works brought to light a paleontological deposit probably dating back to the upper Pleistocene. This deposit has supplied abundant osseous material belonging to the endemic rupicaprine Myotragus Balearicus, a species that became extinct more than 5000 years ago. The most remarkable rock formation is that of two lovers embracing.
The Coves de Gènova near Palma, stand out for its magnesium-based rock formations called “coraloires” which are thought to be around 4 million years old.
Lastly, we come to the Coves d’Artà, some of the highest caves in Europe, which boast some spectacularly huge stalactites such as the 22-meter high “Queen of Columns .” Other features include the path to “Hell,” where a sound and light show takes place, “Purgatory,” and the “Flag Room,” where the guide beats three columns which all give off different sounds. You will also see carbon-based stones which resemble natural diamonds.
Although speleology is a science whose purpose is the exploration and study of underground cavities, these days, there are plenty of organizations that offer access to caves for athletes, adventurers, and amateurs.
Many can be explored on foot or by water, but others, well-hidden cavities can only be reached by climbing down rocks using professional equipment or by diving with the help of oxygen tanks: Cova del Cal Peso, Cova de les Rodes, Cova de Cornavaques, Cova de la Campana, Cova Morella, Cova de Cala Falcó, Coves del Drac de Santanyí, or Cova des Genet de Manacor among others.
A word of caution: no one should venture into Mallorca’s hidden caverns without expert help and guidance. Many years ago, I was involved in a frightening incident with a group of friends. Luckily for us, what remained was a fright. We managed to get through despite our lack of adequate knowledge and equipment.