The genesis of the Azores is found upon 1766 volcanoes, nine of which are still active. Underground, almost three hundred volcanic cavities, including caves, ravines and cracks, have been surveyed. The landscape is filled with dry calderas, craters lakes, fumaroles and thermal water springs. In the sea, there are submarine geothermal springs. The mountain of Pico, majestic and with an intact cone, appears to be protecting all this geological wealth. The volcanism of the archipelago impresses for its diversity and creates its own magnetism. It is a witness to the power of Nature, and the basis for very special experiences.
The Azores Geopark joined the European Network and Global Geoparks Network in March 2013 under the sponsorship of UNESCO. This integration aims to promote and protect the geological heritage of the archipelago, whilst promoting the sustainable development of the Azores’ environmental, cultural and socio-economic level,which is strongly grounded in Geotourism. The appreciation of geo-diversity, the richness of its natural heritage and scientific, tourist and educational advancement of the Azores’ geosites are essential pillars of this initiative.
Only a limited number of caves and ravines are open to the public. However, approximately 270 natural caves are known throughout the archipelago. These can be visited, for scientific or sporting purposes, in the company of a professional guide and with the proper equipment and gear. There are local companies working on speleology visits. The Regional Government can also be contacted via the Secretaria Regional do Ambiente e do Mar (Regional Secretariat for the Environment and the Sea) to request permission to visit the spaces that are not opened for public viewing.
The volcanology offer of the Azores can be visited all year round. Most of the caves that can be visited by the general public have fixed opening hours during a part of the year (they normally coincide with the seasons of spring and summer). In the other months, it is possible to visit the caves by pre-booking a visit. Throughout the year, open air volcanic phenomena can always be visited. However, we recommend that you pay attention to the changes in the weather, mainly during the winter months, in order to visit the most adequate lookouts and trails.
What to bring?
To walk on trails and see volcanic phenomena above ground, you only need to be prepared to learn more and to bring adequate wear to walk and to climb. Remember that appropriate shoes are very important. The same applies to volcanic caves, as in some sites the ground is not too even. The necessary gear and equipment to visit the caves, such as helmets and lights, is supplied by the interpretation centres before the visit starts.
Caves, museums and interpretation centres are also opened to field trips. In order to book the best day and time, and to obtain additional information, please contact the Regional Government via the Secretaria Regional do Ambiente e do Mar.
A family day
Visiting volcanoes is a very special event, one that pleases adults and children alike. In the Azores, it is easy to plan a route that will please the whole family. A day may start at a lookout, from where the extraordinary landscape created by the volcanic nature of the Azores can be appreciated. Then, a descent into the deep underground, into one of the caves prepared for this purpose. These are magic locations, much appreciated by children. Once above ground, walking trails allows one to enjoy and take in the surrounding landscape. Whenever it gets too hot,
there are beaches and tidal, lava pools. A visit to a Museum or to an Interpretation Centre will answer all the questions raised during a day spent in a volcanic world.
All the volcanic caves that are open to the public have an interpretation centre, offering detailed information on the place to be explored. In order to better understand the geo-heritage of the Azores, a visit to the various science centres located on the islands is also advised. The modern (Centro de Interpretação do Vulcão dos Capelinhos) Interpretation Centre of the Capelinhos Volcano, on Faial Island, offers a very attractive interpretative tour that includes films, holograms and multimedia contents. Other locations that offer further knowledge on the volcanic phenomena of the archipelago include observatories and museums, such as the Observatório do Mar (Sea Observatory) on Faial Island, the Observatório do Ambiente (Environment Observatory) and the Museu Vulcanoespeleológico Os Montanheiros (Os Montanheiros Volcanic and Speleological Museum) on Terceira Island, the Casa da Montanha (Mountain Cabin) and the Solar do Lajido (Lajido Manor House) on Pico Island, and the Observatório Astronómico (Astronomical Observatory), the ExpoLAB and the Observatório Vulcanológico e Geotérmico dos Açores (Azores Volcanic and Geothermic Observatory) on São Miguel Island.
Whenever visiting a volcanic cave, the visitor must proceed cautiously and must try to interfere as least as possible with the ecosystem. The visitors’ activities are seeing and appreciating. In order to preserve the gifts of Nature, there are some recommendations on do’s and don’ts that must be taken into account.
- Stay close to the guide so that your questions are answered and any problem that may arise is solved.
- Pay attention to the irregularities of the ground and the geological formations.
- Follow all of the guide’s instructions.
- Walk in an orderly manner.
It is forbidden to:
- Remove the helmet and the lighting gear during the visit.
- Write on the walls of the caves.
- Remove or destroy geological formations.
- Walk off track.