Caldeira, Furna do Enxofre, Furna de Abel & Gruta da Maria Encantada
From the tourist point of view, the most interesting part of the island is doubtlessly the southeast, which is almost entirely taken up by the island’s biggest nature attraction, the Caldeira, an imposing crater comprising in its interior the Furna do Enxofre, a stupendous subterranean grotto.
The Caldeira, which has an average diameter of about 1.2 km and a circumference of almost 4 km, can best be reached on the road from Canada Longa. An about 100 m long tunnel through the crater wall leads into the crater, which is partly covered with pastures and partly with forests. Shortly after the tunnel, a road takes off to the left where a nice picnic area with barbecue facilities and a small game preserve can be found. A beautiful, about 1 hour’s walk on a partly gravelled and partly asphalted road running around the crater rim, which reaches a maximum altitude of 402 m at a peak on its eastern edge, provides splendid panoramic views across the island and its shores. On clear days, the mountain Pico on the island of the same name behind the neighbour island São Jorge can be seen from here.
After the tunnel into the Caldeira, a road leads straight down and through the crater bottom to the island’s most spectacular nature phenomena, the Furna do Enxofre in the interior of the crater. This enormous cavern, whose bottom lies about 100 m below the earth’s surface, has a diameter of 130 m, with its vaults reaching a height of 80 m. Since 1939, it can be accessed through a spiral staircase, counting 180 steps, which were partly cut into the rocks of a volcanic chimney. The stairwell is provided with small window-like openings allowing views into the interior on the way down. Best visited between 11.00 and 14.00 hrs, when the sun stands high and some more daylight reaches the interior through two funnel-shaped chimneys, this cavern holds a real treasure: an about 10 m deep and a 120 m wide subterranean crater lake with warm, sulphurous water, called Styx. With its mysterious, at some places even eerie ambiance, today, for security matters, only the upper part of the cavern can be visited and it is recommended to take a torch with you if you want to get a good sight of all the details. The path passes also a few hot sulphurous springs, which have coloured the surrounding rocks sulphur-yellow, and numerous stalactites hang from the ceiling. Open during summer months between 11.00 and 16.00 hrs, the Furna do Enxofre is an authentic trip into a mysterious underground world, not to be missed!
There are some more caves outside of the Caldeira, among which the most notable are the Furna da Abel, a volcanic corridor, which resulted from the formation of gas in the cooling lava, and the Gruta da Maria Encantada, where a 15 m long volcanic corridor makes its way through the crater wall, opening onto the wooded interior of the crater and providing stunning views. As both caves are located on the west side of the crater the Gruta da Maria on the upper level of the crater rim and the Furna da Abel a bit further off the crater wall they can best be reached from Canada Longa on the road running around the crater.