After a delicious lunch in Praia da Vitória we continue our journey to Algar do Carvão, a lava cave in the centre of the island. As we arrive at the site its starts to rain and a dark cloud is hanging low above the island. We follow the long, dark tunnel into the cave, not quite knowing what to expect.
Algar do Carvão is just one of the many lava tunnels on the island of Terceira but this is the only one that is open to visitors at the moment. The word ‘algar’ means a natural cavity in the earth that, unlike most caves and caverns, is vertical. ‘Carvão’ is the Portuguese word for ‘coal’, as the cave walls are formed by dark, black lava.
There are 271 known volcanic caves in the Azores, spread over all the archipelago with the exception of Corvo island. This site has been declared a geological nature reserve and is approximately 40.5 hectares in length, making it the second largest on the island. The tunnels were created from an eruption about 2000 years ago and consist of many grottos.
At the end of the man-made tunnel we are surprised as we emerge into daylight. An opening in the roof of the cave provides a natural light that we didn’t quite expect and we squint as we step out of the darkness. This is one of the only places in the world where visitors can enter into the cone of an extinct volcano and as the soft, misty rain sprinkles down on us, it feels like we are entering some secret chamber in a mysterious land.
We follow the steps down into the volcano where we find a small pool of crystal-clear water. Just now the pond is quite shallow but in the rainy season it can be over 15 metres deep.
The cave is beautifully lit up by dim electric lights giving it an eerie but magical feel. Above us hang numerous stalactites, formed by silicic acid deposits which, apparently, is very unusual in the area. It can take a long time for stalactites to form as they usually only grow between 0.5 and two centimetres every century.
A few hundred photographs later we are ready to return to the real world. Slowly we make our way up the steps and follow the ray of light shining down from the opening in the roof of the cave.