Gruta das Torres on Pico Island – The Longest Lava Tube of the Azores

Gruta das Torres on Pico Island – The Longest Lava Tube of the Azores

Portugal
Portugal

When Is the Best Time

Gruta das Torres is located on Pico Island in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores. Pico is known for its unique volcanic landscapes, with Pico Mountain in the heart of the island. 

View from Lagoa do Capitao to Pico
Pico Mountain Hiking Guide - The cave belongs to the Pico Natural Park

There are plenty of caves on Pico Island. The most famous one is the Gruta das Torres, a massive cave system 5,15 km long home to fascinating geological formations. It is the longest lava tube cave in Portugal but not the longest cave in Portugal; this is Mira de Aire, located 1 1/2h north of Lisbon.

The view out of the cave from the end of the staircase
The picturesque entrance - exit of the cave.

There is no exact information about when or by whom the cave was discovered. A visit to this cave is totally different to others because the cave is not lit to preserve the living creatures inside, and almost nothing was changed inside. Only the entrance into the cave is well-developed with a staircase and protected by the visitor centre.

Short stalactites are on the entire ceiling of the cave.
The cave narrows and branches off into a side tunnel.

I will give you all details of this spectacular cave and tour and how to book your ticket in advance. I also describe a picturesque second cave with the exact location, which you can visit independently. Check out my Table of Contents and jump to the topics you are interested in.

How Was Gruta das Torres Formed?

Information board about the cave in the visitor centre
Large display panels explain the formation of lava tubes - Photo high resolution

When lava flows downhill from a volcano, a lava tube develops. Lava exposed to the air immediately cools down though inside the tube, lava remains hot (more than 1000°C) and continues flowing. The surface is solidified when the flow stops, and a lava tube or cave is “born”. Some parts are thinner than others and collapse easily, and caves get accessible. 

A smooth and huge lava formation
Highly polished, smooth formations are evidence of pahoehoe lava - fast flowing.

The Gruta das Torres cave system was formed mainly from recurrent Pahoehoe basaltic lava flows, hot and rapid-flowing, originating from the Cabeço Bravo volcano 1.500 BC. During another eruption, AA lava looking like chunks of slow-flowing lava followed.

AA lava on the floor of the cave
This kind of lava on the cave floor is like a viscous mush.

The entire underground area around Gruta das Torres is perforated, and the thin lava ceilings are extremely fragile. In some places, the ceilings of the lava tubes are only a few metres thick, therefore, the farmland around Gruta das Torres has been bought up or donated. Tractors or heavy vehicles are no longer allowed to drive here to avoid damage to the cave system and accidents.

Visitor Centre

Visitor Centre and entrance of Gruta das Torres

The visitor centre, harmoniously integrated into the landscape, is an architectural masterpiece and has won several awards. The "currais" - as the dry stone walls built around the vineyards are called - inspired the architect for this building. You access the cave through the visitor centre. 

Opening Hours Gruta das Torres

The guided group accesses the cave - lush vegetation before the entrance
The cave is protected from vandalism because it can only be entered via the visitor centre.

The cave is accessible on guided tours only. The tours are held in small groups of max. 15 people for safety reasons and last a maximum of 1 ½ hours. It is mandatory to wear a helmet, and you also get a torch provided to light your way through pitch darkness.

Peak Season Tours

  • April – October at 9.30 | 11.00 | 14.00 | 15.30 | 16.00

Low Season Tours

  • November – March, same times without the last tour at 4 pm

Entrance Fee

Visitors with helmet on the stairs down into the cave
Our small group entered the cave.
  • Adults: 10€
  • Children & retired: 5€
  • Residents: free

Ticket Booking

The cave floor and a stone free of lava
The lava flowed around the stone but did not cover it.

To reserve your tickets, you must call them or write an e-mail. They will let you know where spaces are left. I highly recommend calling them a few days before or writing an e-mail. You can just pop up and try if you are lucky, but usually, they are at least two days in advance fully booked in the peak season. During the low season, it is the opposite, and the minimum group size is three visitors.

Parking

Information sign at the parking for the cave
Entrance sign at the parking.

It is a small parking lot, but due to the limited group size, it is rarely full. From here, it is a short walk to the visitor centre and entrance. Parking Google Maps Location

7 Facts About Gruta das Torres

The ceiling of the cave in black and orange colour.
Lava stalactites formed on the ceiling.
  1. Gruta das Torres formed roughly 3500 years ago – 1.500 BC.
  2. The Grutta das Torres, or "Cave of the Towers," is named after the tall, slender towers of basalt that rise from the floor of the cave.
  3. The first scientific expedition to the cave Gruta das Torres was in 1990.
  4. The cave became the status of a Reginal Monument in 2004.
  5. Open to the public since 2005.
  6. The cave system became part of Pico Natural Park in 2008.
  7. The cave is 5.150 m long and max. 15 m high.

Is it Worth to Visit Gruta das Torres?

The long cave branches again.
A very narrow side arm of the cave - the cave is between 0.5-22 m wide.

Yes, it is definitely such an exciting place in Pico, and I recommend doing this tour at the beginning of your vacation. Why in the beginning? Before the tour starts, there is a short video presentation about Pico Island, how the volcano shaped the island and how all was created. It will give you an understanding and information related to Pico and all other Azores Islands.

Yellow bacterias at the wall of the cave.

During the tour, you get explanations about the stalagmites, gas bubble holes and walls, which are full of bacteria. The guides are lovely, and ours had a sense of humour. They explain the different types of lava formations and how they emerged. All torches are switched off during the tour, and you become one with the darkness. 

You can see the different layers of the lava tubes at this specific area.
One of the lower sections in the cave.

On this impressive tour, you walk roughly 450 m deep into the cave above the uneven lava floor. Therefore, wear at least trainers. Be careful with your head in some sections, the ceiling is low, and you must bend down. Research is being undertaken in some cave sections, therefore not accessible to the public.

UNESCO World Heritage Status

Wine bottles in a hole at the beginning of the cave.
Wine bottles are stored here because of the cool temperature.
  • Grutas das Torres and Mount Pico are part of the UNESCO Geopark since 2013.
  • Pico's vineyards have earned UNESCO World Heritage status.

Second Cave - Furna do Frei Matias

The entrance of Furna do Frei Matias - another lava tube
Above the entrance of this stunning cave - you can see the overgrown hill in my back from the road and parking.

This cave is just a 15 minutes drive away, close to the road EN 3, which leads from Madalena to the east, the heart of Pico Island. There is no parking lot but space for three small cars. Google Maps Location

The entrance is lush green - overgrown with ferns and trees
This is where the cave collapsed, and two entrances were left.

It’s 200 meters - five minutes walk from here to the entrance and a slippery climb down into the cave. You can’t see the entrance from the road. Walk directions to the strange hill on the field. This is the cave Furna do Frei Matias. The cave is located on private property, but as long as none leaves any trash, it is fine for the owner. So, please respect that you access the cave on private land. Locus Map App Parking - Walk - Cave entrance

Picture out of the cave with a woman surrounded by lush vegetation.
One of the two entrances - it is wet and slippery here.

Nevertheless, never go alone on such a cave exploration. Let someone know about your plans. Safest if you protect your head and bring at least two torches or headlamps. Wear proper shoes for the rugged terrain with sharp volcanic stones. This cave is picturesque, with the lush vegetation at the entrance looking like caves on Big Island in Hawaii. Even if you only walk 50 or 100 m deep, it is already worth the effort.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for any injuries. If you explore the cave on your own, you are doing it at your own risk.

Do you want to obtain the usage right for my images? Contact me, but I will take action against picture theft.

Best Months to Visit

Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec

Related Topics

Location and Tips

Pico Island, Azores
Portugal
Portugal

Already the descent down the stairs to the lava tube leaves the visitor in awe. Several layers of lava tubes have created different steps, and the lava ceilings have partially collapsed, thus opening up access to the main lava tube.

The view up from the entrance of the cave to the canopy
This view was personally my favourite with the lush vegetation.

Wherever daylight still reaches the floor, trees and bushes provide fascinating scenery. When you get deeper, trees give way to the mosses and lichens on the outer walls and the opening of the main lava tunnel. 
 

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Created by
Micha Herber-Bleich
Micha Herber-Bleich
I am always open, curious about new…