Cueva del Viento

Cueva del Viento is a volcanic cavity located in the district of Icod de los Vinos which bears the same name. It was formed 27,000 years ago in basaltic lavas from the first eruptive phase of the Pico Viejo volcano, next to Mount Teide (Tenerife, Canary Islands).

Tours are available to this, the largest tube in Europe. The cave has no artificial lighting, so helmets fitted with headlamps are worn on the tour. The visitable section contains numerous formations and phenomena “sculpted” by the advancing lava as its viscosity changed. Such dynamic features make the cave feel almost like a living being that has been “petrified”. And the dark silent atmosphere brings visitors into direct and natural contact with the geological phenomena.

About the cave

This lava tube, the name of which (“Cave of the Wind”) comes from the powerful draughts that flow through it, is the fifth longest in the world (18 kilometres mapped to date), behind the four that are found on the largest island of the Hawaii archipelago (United States). It is a huge labyrinthine network of underground passages, with many unexplored branches that will undoubtedly add to its overall length in the future.

Cueva del Viento is also known for its unique geomorphology: its network of galleries is arranged in three superimposed levels, a phenomenon that has not been recorded in any other place in the world. It also has a wide variety of structures of primary origin such as lava stalactites, lava cascades, side terraces and lava lakes, among others, as well as concretions of varying composition (calcium carbonate and other salts).

Of greatest interest to biology is the subterranean fauna found in this intricate volcanic cave, which is a constant source of new discoveries. The cave is home to a total of 190 known species, most of which are invertebrates. Of these, 44 are troglobites: animals adapted to underground environments. Of these species condemned to live in darkness, 15 are new to science, such as the eyeless cockroach Loboptera subterranea or the carabidae Wolltinerfia martini and Wolltinerfia tenerifae.

The fossil remains of extinct vertebrates such as the giant rat and giant lizard have been found in the cave, as well as other skeletal remains of species that have disappeared from Tenerife, such as the rook and the houbara bustard.

In order to guarantee its conservation, in 1998 the Canary Islands Government adopted a Management Plan for the Natural Resources of Cueva del Viento, prior to it being declared a Special Nature Reserve. The purpose of the Plan was to curb actions that damage the cave, such as building, soil disturbance or dumping. It also introduced improvements, such as sewers to avoid sewage spills and support for scientific research and environmental education.

History

Cueva del Viento (Cave of the Wind) was already known to the Guanches more than 2,000 years ago: burial remains have been found in the cave. But no written record exists until 1776. That year, the Bethencourt de Castro brothers and Afonso Molina mentioned it in their description of the San Marcos Cave. The main entrance to the cave is located in the neighbourhood of the same name, Cueva del Viento, which would suggest that it had already been known to the locals for a long time.

The history of recent discoveries began in 1969 with deep exploration and the publication in 1970 of the first map, of just over 6km, by the La Guancha caving section of the Montañero de Tenerife mountaineering group. In 1973, cavers from the Shepton Mallet Caving Club discovered what was later to be named, in their honour, the “Pozo de los Ingleses” (“Englishmen’s Pit”), which connects the third level with a large gallery of about 4 kilometres in length on the lowest level. Thanks to this important find, the cavity grew considerably in size, to an overall length of 10 kilometres.

Years later the University of La Laguna Department of Zoology began to conduct biological studies, and discovered a great variety of cave fauna. In addition, the Benisahare Tenerife Caving Group discovered and mapped new galleries.

In 1989, this same group connected Cueva del Viento with the Sobrado cave through narrow passages, making the total length of the complex 14 kilometres. This discovery enhanced the status of the great volcanic complex, and plans were made to remap all the branches.

In 1994 works began to prepare the lava tube for the public. These were coordinated by the Museum of Natural Sciences, part of the Independent Board of Museums and Centres of the Tenerife Island Council. One of their first actions was to clear away the rubble from the mouth of one of the tube branches. This excavation exposed a 17-metre-deep chasm, with a lava cascade, connecting to another level of the lava tube, with a length of 2.35 kilometres.

These findings give us just a hint of the rich heritage and great geological significance of this major underground complex, which is certain to hold many more surprises in store.

Caving in the Canaries is a relatively new activity that began in the late sixties and Cueva del Viento has written memorable pages of this burgeoning history. The pioneers were members of the Montañero de Tenerife Group, followed by the La Guancha Volcano Cave Exploration Section.

And so the study of this cavity gave rise to volcano caving on the Canary Islands. The two years that the exploration and mapping of the Icod tube lasted was the ideal learning environment for many of the island’s future vulcanospeleologists.

In 1978, the Benisahare Tenerife Caving Group was born. It was the first group specifically dedicated to caving in the Canaries and took over exploration of Cueva del Viento. Their work on vulcanospeleology has been presented at National and International Speleology Conferences, widely promoting knowledge of this wonderful sport/science in the Canary Islands.

Thanks to their work, the Canary Islands School of Speleology was born alongside new groups and sections of this specialised discipline in the rest of the archipelago.