Sardinia has plenty of natural caves open to the public. These places offer a unique atmosphere and some truly unforgettable sights. If you are planning to visit the east part of the island, you absolutely cannot miss the Grotte del Bue Marino (Sea Oxen Grotto in English).
Located in the stunning Gulf of Orosei, and easily visited from Cala Gonone, in the territory of Dorgali, the Bue Marino Caves are part of the Codula di Luna karst tunnel, the largest in Italy with a whopping length of more 70 km (around 43.5 miles).
I love the area of the Gulf of Orosei, and visit almost every summer. So I have been to the Sea Oxen Grotto many times. If you want to know more about them – what’s special about them, how they were discovered, and how you can visit too – then keep reading this guide!
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The History Of The Grotte Del Bue Marino
The Grotte del Bue Marino were only discovered recently. The first visits actually date back to the 1950s, when fishermen and shepherds guided scholars or plain tourists through the caves on the Cala Luna trail.
The caves were particularly famous in the past for being a breeding place for monk seals – in fact, the larges in Italy. That’s actually what the name “bue marino” (sea oxen) refers to: the large monk seals that populated the cave, as they were affectionately called by the locals. And that’s how we learned about them in school as children – only to discover with time that the monk seals have become extinct in the 1980s, following the exploitation of the area for tourist purposes.
The presence of some ancient rock carvings are testimony of the fact that the cave was also visited during the Neolithic period. These carvings, representing a human circle around a stylized sun, suggest that the cave was considered a sacred place.
Exploring The Grotte Del Bue Marino
The Sea Oxen Grotto is divided into three Rami (branches): the Ramo Nord, Ramo di Mezzo and Ramo Sud. The Ramo Nord was open to the public from the 1950 to the 1980, then closed due to the cessation of karst activity. It is currently equipped with walkways for tours, and will probably reopen in the future.
The middle branch consists of submerged tunnels and is accessible only by authorized speleologists. A new cave was discovered in 2016 and the exploration is still ongoing.
With this in mind, at the moment the only branch open to visits is the Ramo Sud, which is equipped by walkways and lights. Upon arriving, you will join a guided tour that will last about 30 minutes and will take you through part of the cave, where you can admire the freshwater ponds, created by underground rivers, as well as the sandy beaches that separate them.
The stalactites and stalagmites offer a unique and striking atmosphere, while the light beams entering the cave create chromatic wonders worth seeing. The tour will end at the beach, which in the past was used by seals for mating and for giving birth.
Practical Guide To Visit The Grotte Del Bue Marino
Sea Oxen Grotto opening hours
The only way to visit the Sea Oxen Grotto is on guided tours, which are available only during certain hours and from April to October:
Monday through Friday at 10:00 am, 11:00 am, 12:00 pm or 3:00 pm.
Saturday and Sunday at 9:00 am, 10:00 am, 11:00 am, 12:00 pm and 3:00 pm.
If you intend to visit in the off season, you’ll have to make an appointment via the ProLoco Dorgali by calling +39078496243.
Grotte del Bue Marino tickets
Guided tours of the Grotte del Bue Marino cost €10, to which you will have to add the cost of the boat ride to get there – usually in the range of €5.
You can buy tickets for the boat ride at the Cala Gonone port ticket office; or at the harbor in Arbatax, Orosei, Santa Maria Navarrese and La Caletta di Siniscola.
How to get to the Grotte del Bue Marino
The Grotta del Bue Marino can only be reached by boat, so unless you have your own, you will have to opt for one of the many cruises that depart from the nearby harbors.
Most people visit from Cala Gonone, which is the closest hamlet, and often make a stop there during boat tours along the Gulf of Orosei that also go to Cala Luna and other nearby beaches; but boat rides also depart from Orosei, Arbatax and Santa Maria Navarrese.
There are several companies that offer transportation services and depending on your needs you can just show up at the harbor for the ride – just make sure to double check if tickets to the caves are included, to avoid any unpleasant surprise when you get there.
You can also book your boat cruise with a stop at the Grotta del Bue Marino here. Please be advised that this boat tour does not include tickets to the caves.
Make sure to wear comfortable, closed shoes for your visit, as the trail can be slippery in places. Also don’t forget to charge your smartphone and cameras, because the cave interior provides for some spectacular shots!