July 20th, 2012
How can i have been travelling Spain for ten years, and living within an hour of Nerja for seven, without having visited the famous caves there? It is a mystery to me also.
But, at last, i went there yesterday. One of many ‘first time’ visits i shall be writing about. Passing on my experience of tourist attractions. Both the famous ones, and those less well known.
And i have to write about about this one immediately. For i was very impressed.
I had read all there was to read about the caves at Nerja. And yet i was still overwhelmed by what i saw before my own eyes. It takes plenty for a tourist destination to truly impress me. This one took my breath away.
I guess i had expected a small in size tourist attraction. One that might be impressive, but one that would not detain me for too long. How wrong was I? I will have to go back simply to take it all in once more.
You will rarely find me on the coast in July. I leave that to the holidaymakers who rent lovely holiday homes in Nerja, and in surrounding towns such as Frigiliana or further along the ever popular Costa del Sol.
You would never look at this modern coastal location today and think of Neanderthal man.
But, as i write, experts in America are analysing cave paintings uncovered at Nerja which many believe will turn out to be the oldest paintings by man uncovered anywhere in the world. Ever. The research goes on to prove that these drawings are the artistic work of some very talented cavemen, maybe dating as far back as 60.000 or 80.000 years.
Researchers from Córdoba, another great holiday location with archaeological sites of its own, have been working long and hard at Nerja. They are trying to reveal if Neanderthals were much cleverer people than they had previously been given credit for.
The paintings at Nerja may well be much older than those uncovered earlier in northwestern Spain, at El Castillo. They turned out to be 40.800 years old. Extraordinary in itself and the oldest paintings on record.
Those uncovered in the caves of Nerja may well be older. It is something many a tourist attraction would boast about. Something they would guide visitors to see. Not to touch such paintings, of course. But, perhaps, to see from behind a glass screen, or provide a viewing point where the men and women working on the project could be seen in action.
Sadly this is not the case at Nerja. No special route for visitors to, at the very least, see the part of the caves where these paintings were discovered. Not even any up to date information about this exciting discovery. Nothing.
It is just as well the sights on offer in the caves are enough in themselves. For, unless you want to spend serious money on an out of date book in the gift shop, there is no information readily on offer for the visitor.
Not so much as a leaflet handed to you by the one stressed person working in the ticket office – at the height of the summer season. In a country where a quarter of the population is out of work, there is clearly room for at least a couple more people to work in the ticket office of an otherwise splendid tourist attraction which is understandably very busy in summer. But worth seeing, nonetheless.
Without any background information to go on, i simply spent my time stopping to stare at the sheer wonderment of the caves at Nerja. Jaw dropping and so much to take in. I feel sure i saw the faces of some animals and men carved into the rocks. But maybe my imagination was running away with me. It is the kind of place where that could happen.
The stalactites were the biggest and most impressive i have seen anywhere in the world. The sheer size of the caves is mind boggling.
I had to take a seat in order to try and take it all in. To stare in wonderment at the views on offer. This is not an attraction you should rush through. It was a sensory overload for my eyes and i will have to get another fix. Perhaps out of high season, when there are fewer fellow visitors there, being constantly told off for taking photographs using a flash.
How daft is that in an era when people take pictures via their mobile telephones wherever they go? I have got news for tourist attractions in Spain that try to stop people taking photos of their own, rather than buying ones from the gift shop; unless animals or people can be physically harmed by flash photography… give it up!
Let people take their own pictures so that they can remember their time in Spain with a smile on their faces. Do not spoil their otherwise enjoyable visit by talking to them as though they are naughty schoolchildren.
It is great that there is a dedicated picnic area outside the Nerja caves, a place to sit in the shade and eat the pre-packed lunch you have wisely brought with you. And credit to this tourist attraction for having a very pleasant, partly shaded outdoor play area for the children.
The current ticket price of 8 euros and 50 cents for an adult represents value for money, even without being offered nothing more than a ticket.
The attempt to get you to pose for a group photo, that you buy after your visit to the caves, belongs to an era of tourism almost as old as the cavemen who once walked this area.
The percentage take up of that offer, based on my ten minutes of research, equalled about 2% of the visitors being cajoled into buying a photo of themselves at the caves. Message to tourist chiefs: tourists have their own cameras these days!
Spain is a wonderful country to tour. There are so many special places to visit. Sadly the tourism authorities in the country don’t always go the extra mile to ensure you enjoy the experience.
From lack of information in a variety of languages, to inadequate road signage (not a problem in Nerja) through to threatening to send visitors to the naughty step for taking a picture; some tourist officials have much to learn.
But none of those issues spoiled my first impressions of Nerja caves.
Unlike the cavemen… I’ll be back.