008 - Grutas da Moeda - Portugal

After the romantic cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, now we make a trip underground - in Grutas da Moeda (Coin Cave).

We resume our trip from the North of Portugal - Valenca, towards Lisbon. 

As we were driving towards Fatima (our planned next stop) we came across a huge sign on the highway saying that there is one marvellous cave to be visited. 

Click on the map

008.1 And so we took the correct exit from the highway and parked ourselves at Grutas da Moeda. And we were not the only car here, actually far from it. 

008.2 We did not have to wait a lot, because there was already another group preparing do go inside. Twenty or so Portuguese and two French couples (me and my wife included) 

008.3 The guide was very kind and after finishing to talk to the 20 or so Portuguese tourists, it started again the explications, but this time in English for the remaining 4. 

008.4 I cannot really replicate what was said, but I do remember that the cave was discovered pretty recently (1971, I searched on Wikipedia) and that much of it was still not known. I remember that because in my own country, we have a story called Ciresarii and in it a group of young explorers (kids basically) go to map a cave and they discover a bunch of stuff. The book is something like Agatha Christ mixed with caver (a person who climbs and studies caves). 

008.5 Light spots were intelligently placed, making so that taking photography was pretty easy. I had no tripod, so all shots you see are made handheld. Plus all pictures are looking as close as I could to the real thing. No artificial intelligence magic here, just a few sliders, namely White Balance + crop. 

008.6 Also no flash is allowed, but this is a travel/landscape photography blog so flash is not really in the menu (plus I don't have one). This is one of my favourite shots, as there are a bunch of speleothems and they look like organ pipes (and the darker ones look like little humans listening to the concerto). 

008.7 Enough light to take great photos but is still better if the lens is one with a low f stop. I used for all pictures, a Sigma Art 18-35mm f/1.8 on a Canon 760D and I have to say that I am more than pleased with how much work I had to do in post (I don't like to edit photos...). The only thing I do not like about Sigma Art is that it is very heavy, so I actually sold it and kept a much smaller "pancake" lens.

008.8 Focus and exposure were the most difficult aspects of this photo session. We had to constantly follow the group so I was taking multiple shots with different focus shots, hoping that some were actually good for something. For instance this is a shot made in an opening, approximately at my eye level. Most shots were focused on almost nothing... My 760D could not focus on almost anything. I have to note also that soon after this whole Valenca to Lisbon trip, after 1 and a half years of that camera, I exchanged it with a Canon 80D and that one had a crazy fast focus. (so keep that in mind also)

008.9 This is one of those shots that I totally missed. The beautiful, crystal clear water is practically invisible in this picture (or the dozens others, taken from the same place). Nobody is allowed to touch anything (only walking on the path is allowed), but this was one of those places were I really wish we were allowed to touch and feel.

008.10 The cave is easy to traverse, no need to climb ladders, or walk on four! The only requirement is to have something for cold and to not be claustrophobic (much later, on this website, I will feature a French cave, where being claustrophobic is really bad. Here I would say that it could pass). 

008.11 In most open chambers, the roof is pretty high (more than 5-6 meters I should say) and the path is well made. I think I had Converse type shoes (a 5 Euro pair) and I was perfectly ok, I do not remember slipping on the path. Some wore even sandals so they did not complain. 

008.12 This is one of the many shots were I saw the advantage of shooting with Canon and Sigma Art lens, compared with Nikon paired with Nikkor lense. The later made raw images with the same User made White Balance that were far too red/orange in colour to be usable even in Lightroom. Canon/Sigma raw images were more on the orange/yellow tint so it was really much more easy for me in post to edit. Perhaps if I did not have that lens, maybe I would not have had so many pictures to share now... who knows!

008.13 Before ending the trip, we were in a room where the guide closed all the lights so it was almost 99,99% dark. He asked us for a moment of quiet in which we heard the water droplets fall on the limestone, the only sound this cave heard for millions of years (before it was discovered by humans in 1971). And because it was so dark, in just a few seconds, possibly a minute, our hearing got really powerful (one sense is dimmed, while another one intensifies). Then they had some kind of laser show that was neat, but I got to say that the dark moment was the most awe moment of that whole experience. 

008.14 And this is the end of the tour inside the cave, the guide took pictures of the groups and couples (who wished) and then he lead us outside.

008.15 Outside the cave entrance there is a souvenir shop (from where I actually bought that Guildfordia, that I still have today. From there we found out that there is a park with preserved dinosaur footprints, so yeah... we went there as fast as we could.

This trip to Grutas da Moeda was amazing. It is also the first "real" big cave in which I went (outside my country) and the best moment, like I said in the top section, is when they close all the lights and in that dead silence we hear the water droplets falling on the limestone Stalagmites. 

Price? I don't remember being expensive (like the wine cellars in Gaia) and the crew (back in 2018) were super great with us. In no other tour that I can remember (I write this in 2022) a guide translated the whole speech just for practically 3 people out of 23.

The only bad parts I can think of are:

  1. one needs a car or bus reservation (bigger the tour, less control the guide will have, less time will be allowed to stay and take photos. I won't lie... The guide does not really wait for anything, except at the exit for the group photo. 
  2. when Fatima gets crowded, many will take a bus to visit the cave, so I think it can get also very crowded so maybe visits will be even faster (maybe that 30 minute is applied in this case).

We recommend a visit here, even if there are no wall painting or human traces, because it is beautiful, and a great experience overall. 

Hope you enjoyed this article, and see you in another one.

Thank you,


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