The Caves of Ortigosa: walking among stalactites, stalagmites and giant columns

The caves of Ortigosa de Cameros are the only caves adapted for tourist visits in the whole of La Rioja. They are located in the Encinedo massif, where you can see the very complicated enclave in which the town of Ortigosa de Cameros is located, where the houses have been adapted to the orography of the terrain. This mountain is more than 1,000 metres above sea level; and is the site of a quarry that ceased to be used in 1968. Opposite are the caves of Ortigosa, formed by the grotto of La Paz and the grotto of La Viña. The stalactites, columns and stalagmites inside these caves are surprisingly large.

Origin of the Caves of Ortigosa

The Encinedo mountain originated approximately 160 million years ago, during the Jurassic. At an altitude of 1,073 metres, the mountain is covered with holm oaks and is the entrance to the present-day village of Ortigosa de Cameros. There is also a quarry here, now in disuse; where the entrances to the two caves are located.

Caves of Ortigosa

Caves of Ortigosa | Photo: Courtesy of the Town Council of Ortigosa and www.espeleofoto.com

It has a calcareous composition, which together with the climatic conditions and the effect of the ancient rivers, snow and filtered rain on the limestone, dissolving it, gave rise to the capricious structures of the caves of Ortigosa. Researchers believe that the river that flowed through the caves was the same one that currently crosses the village and runs under the bridge.

To reach the entrance to the caves, walk across the Hierro Bridge from the hermitage of Santa Lucía or follow the Escalerones path from the square in Ortigosa de Cameros.

Gruta de la Paz

Caves of Ortigosa | Photo: Courtesy of the Town Council of Ortigosa and www.espeleofoto.com

Gruta de la Paz is one of the two caves prepared for visits to the caves of Ortigosa. It was discovered in 1964; when material was being extracted from the quarry for the construction of the González Lacasa reservoir. It is located in the upper part of the quarry and has two different entrances. In it, it is the largest gallery to visit, with a length of 236 metres. In order to visit the grotto, you have to descend five metres into the interior of the mountain; until you reach a horizontal path throughout the walk.

Caves of Ortigosa | Photo: Courtesy of the Town Council of Ortigosa and www.espeleofoto.com

Inside the grotto of La Paz there are spectacular examples of the karst of the surrounding area. A succession of different examples of sedimentation: large columns, stalactites and stalagmites formed over thousands of years. Thus, the grotto is crossed by an imposing structural vein through which the water filters, giving rise to the aforementioned structures, as well as the samples known as flags, flakes…

Depending on the mineral with which the water is mixed, the structures get one colour or another, causing a multicoloured vision. Brown if the material is more clayey, white thanks to the calcium carbonate and yellow and orange when iron oxide predominates. To complete the visit, it is worth taking a look at the calcareous deposits that the underground water that was stagnant has left in the different levels where it covered the cave.

Gruta de la Viña

Caves of Ortigosa | Photo: Courtesy of the Town Council of Ortigosa and www.espeleofoto.com

The grotto of La Viña is smaller than that of La Paz and has only one entrance and therefore functions as both an entrance and an exit. Also located in front of the quarry, the cave is 114 metres long and almost entirely horizontal. The cave is also notable for its white stalactite structures. This, together with the lighting and the size of the cave, attracts the attention of those who visit it, because in this silent cave time seems to stand still.

Caves of Ortigosa | Photo: Courtesy of the Town Council of Ortigosa and www.espeleofoto.com

Archaeological remains from the Bronze Age have been discovered inside the cave, so researchers believe that it was once inhabited. It was first mapped in 1912, although the existence of a cave known as La Viña was already known in 1862. The visit to this cave is fascinating, where the stalactites join the stalagmites to form columns that give the impression of holding up the ceiling. During the tour it is recommended to look for shapes in the structures such as the seahorse, the turtle, the little dog, the bottle and the popcorn.

Caves of Ortigosa | Photo: Courtesy of the Town Council of Ortigosa and www.espeleofoto.com

As a curiosity, both the grotto of La Paz and the grotto of La Viña are connected by a section that is not accessible to the public. However, some speleologists have managed to go 30 metres beyond the end adapted for visitors. They say that in the cave there is another small room in which there is a very white stalactite.

To visit the caves of Ortigosa it is necessary to take a guided tour. There are many galleries in the Encinedo massif; although only 13 are mapped and only these two are adapted for visits.

What to see in Ortigosa de Cameros

Ortigosa de Cameros with the Hormigón bridge in the background | Shutterstock

Ortigosa de Cameros is a small and charming village located in the region of Camero Nuevo, in La Rioja. The visit to the caves of Ortigosa can be completed with a walk around the town; where you can see the stone houses built into the mountain and its narrow streets. In summer it is possible to enjoy the nearby reservoir, where you can also practise water sports. It has a well-tended natural environment, with forests and crags.

Hierro Bridge in Ortigosa de Cameros | Shutterstock

The Hierro Bridge is the perfect spot from which to observe an incredible view of the town from a distance; although it is not suitable for those who suffer from vertigo. Built in 1910, the bridge links the park near the village with the caves of La Paz and La Viña.

However, one of the most characteristic images of Ortigosa de Cameros is that of the Hormigón bridge, which joins the neighbourhoods of San Martín, with its passages and slopes, and the neighbourhood of San Miguel. It is located 60 metres above the Albercos river.

Another place to see in Ortigosa de Cameros is the Casa Grande, built on a pentagonal plan. Dating from 1530, it is a building with outstanding images and inscriptions carved into its structure.

Snowy Ortigosa de Cameros | Shutterstock

To complete the visit, there are several religious temples of interest. On the one hand, the church of San Martín, from the 16th century and built in ashlar and masonry. One of its strong points is its main altarpiece, a rococo style work. On the other hand, the church of San Miguel, also from the 16th century, is located at the entrance to Ortigosa de Cameros. The hermitage of Santa Lucía and the hermitage of San Felices are also located in the village.

*Main photo: Courtesy of the Town Council of ORTIGOSA and www.espeleofoto.com


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