Carlos Alberto, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Mira de Aire Caves who knows the caves inside and out and shared some of the secrets of this natural wonder.
Carlos has worked at the site for the past 52 years: “I have accompanied all the caves phases, including its preparation to open to the public, I have had many roles at the site before working my way up to administration. I feel like the guardian of this fantastic work of nature”.
The History of the Caves
According to Turismo do Centro, the Mira de Aire Caves located in the municipality of Porto de Mós in the district of Leiria, was voted as one of Portugal’s seven natural wonders. They are widely known as the largest tourist caves in the country which happen to be only an hour from Lisbon.
The Mira d’Aire Caves were discovered in 1947, with Carlos Alberto explaining that it was discovered by the inhabitants as a stream was coming out, likening it to a boiling pot of water. When the men found these pit caves, they descended with ropes and they reached a small gallery which was 20 metres deep. They gradually explored the first gallery but only two years later did they find the continuation of the cave.
“News of this discovery, that was unparalleled to any other in the region, came to Lisbon and from there came the first speleologists that were preparing to create a Scientific Society for the study of caves. The caves were only opened to the public in August of 1974 and since then up until the end of last year, the caves were visited by more than 8 million visitors.”
Visitors can now descend 683 steps with the largest staircase of the cave having 105 steps. Now 11km of the grotto has been found which reaches 230 metres but is not open to tourists as in the winter, the water inundates the cave.
Carlos Alberto revealed that “The year we had the most visitors was in 1976 in which we had 310,000 visitors. Today that would be impossible and it was not practical to do this. The cave is a living being, it is born, grows, lives, dies, and if it is not taken care of well it ends up dying early. We must have control over the humidity, over the temperature of the cave and the quality of the air for the cave to stay alive.”
They do not have specific time schedules when it comes to the tours because they are arranged as visitors arrive. The tours are one hour long, which is headed by their guides with a small presentation video, and guided tour ends at a photography exhibition about the 70 years of cave exploration in Portugal.
As the staff aren’t certified guides, the tour is done in Portuguese, however, they have available a free downloadable APP that serves as an audio guide with all the information for the cave in English, Spanish, French, German and sign language.
The events side of the caves grabbed my attention, with Carlos Alberto explaining that they host private events inside the cave’s galleries. I can just imagine it being an extraordinary setting to dine in. “Our limit is 120 people for seated and dining purposes but then we have had Fado nights and other musical performances with up to 190 people, despite it being a bit of a tight squeeze”. Some musicians also use the cave as the perfect setting for a music video, with him sharing that David Carreira, Moonspell and Pérola have all played there.
Aside from the Caves
Most wonderfully the Mira de Aire complex also has accommodation so you can stay right on site! They have 13 bungalows that are next to the exit of the caves which allows for 52 guests
They also have a small farm that is perfect for the youngest members of the family and they have a restaurant with Portuguese traditional cuisine as well as vegetarian and international dishes so the whole family can take a pause from exploring the caves. It is important to point out that they also have an onsite water park, however, it will remain closed for the 2023 summer season due to works.
Finally, they have a Fossil Museum which has a collection of fossils “rescued” from the cave's own parking area. The fossils are from a quarry nearby that used to be a shallow sea during the Jurassic Period. “Here there is an area called Jurassic beach and there are a significant number of marine fossils.”