Enveloped in Darkness
Bring up Mallorca, the island off the southeast coast of Spain, and people usually think of cultured pearls and beaches. But this limestone island is honeycombed with more than 200 caves and home to many caving adventure opportunities. The caves range in category from those appropriate for the casual tourist who wants simply to visit a cave to more recreational caving opportunities to those caves appropriate only for those with experience in the more technical and challenging aspects of caving. No matter which category you fit into, there’s a caving adventure awaiting you in Mallorca.
The casual tourist who wants to go caving on Mallorca might be sent to the well known Cuevas del Drach (Dragon Caves) outside of Porto Cristo for a 2km (11⁄4-mile), 1-hour tour. You’ll walk to and can even ride to the underground lake. The chamber is roomy enough for approximately 1,000 visitors who are provided with a short classical music concert. Then you’re hustled out. Commercial kitsch? Yes. But it’s an opportunity to see some great formations. Try to take the first or last tour to minimize the crowd experience. The Cuevas dels Hams, also near Porto Cristo, are popular, too. The Cueva de Arta, located approximately 5km (3 miles) from Arta, on the east coast, with its large entrance and huge 7m-high (24-ft.) stalagmite, is the one of the highest caves in Europe. Arta also has some great sightseeing, including the Sanctuary of Saint Salvador and the Church of the Transfiguracio.
Those searching for a more active and recreational caving experience often opt for less-trodden caves. Some caves have been outfitted with lights and walkways among other manmade amenities so commercial companies can take tours into them. Going into a non-commercial cave is quite an exciting experience. Turn off your lights and the darkness envelopes you. There is little to compare to this sensation. (Be aware of your limits, however; some people experience bouts of claustrophobia.) In many places along this expedition you’re inching along on your back or belly and the ceiling is only inches over your head. The reward is seeing the great stalactites, stalagmites, and columns Mother Nature created over thousands of years.
Technical level caves should be left to skilled and experienced spelunkers. Caves such as the Cave of la Gleda, which is nearly 10km (more than 6 miles) under the seabed of the Mediterranean, requires rebreathers or scuba gear to explore. There are no guides for the Cave of La Gleda. Diving in this cave requires many years of specialized cave diving experience, plus equipment costing thousands of dollars. Most people exploring the cave go with a team of highly experienced divers. Though this is a high-adrenaline dive, those who undertake it must recognize that errors can result in death.
In addition to caving in Mallorca, there’s good diving, snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, and boat charters, along with trekking and rock climbing. You can play golf in Arta, go ballooning, or horseback riding. If you enjoy local markets, make your way to the town square in Sineu on Wednesday for the weekly market, which started around a.d. 1306. —LF
See Mallorca (www.seemallorca.com).
When to Go: Oct is best. Avoid the Apr–Sept high season.
Palma de Mallorca Airport.
$$ Hotel Can Moragues, C/Pou Nou No. 12 E, Arta ( 34/971/829-509; www.canmoragues.com). $ Hotel Playa Esperanza, Avda. S’Albufera No. 4, Platja de Muro ( 34/971/890-568; www.playaesperanzamallorca.com). $$$ Insotel Club Cala Mandia, Puerto Christo ( 34/902/112-345; www.insotelhotelgroup.com).