Gruta de São Thomé

Useful Information

Location: Alameda V.a Martins, São Thomé das Letras - MG 37408-000.
At the road between Três Corações and Cruzília. 340 km/6 h drive from Rio de Janeiro.
(-21.722986, -44.985621)
Open: no restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: SpeleologyQuartzite Karst Caves SubterraneaCave Church
Light: bring helmet wit headlamp
Dimension: Gruta de São Thomé: L=20 m.
Gruta do Carimbado: L=212 m.
Gruta do Sobradinho: L=100 m, W=3 m, H=6 m.
Guided tours: self guided.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Gruta de São Thomé, Alameda V.a Martins, São Thomé das Letras - MG 37408-000, Tel: +55-19-99267-0901.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1785 beginning of the construction of the cathedral of São Thomé das Letras.
20th century beginning of quartzite quarrying.
1991 one of the Brazil baroque style images by Joaquim José da Natividade stolen from the church.
2020 city closed to tourists during the pandemics, not a single case of COVID-19 reported.


The Gruta de São Thomé (São Thomé Cave) is named after the town São Thomé das Letras, where it is located. The town, on the other hand is named after Saint Thomas. It is a small mining town which is notable for two things, the huge open cast quartzite mines and the strange rock formations. The small cave is located at the church Igreja Matriz in the center of the village. The cave is rather small, with a quartzite staircase leading up to the entrance. The red paintings on the cave wall are hard to see, people who do not search for them will miss them.

According to local lore, the slave João Antão escaped and hid in this cave. He lived here for a long time, eating wild fruits, roots and fish. His owner was Captain João Francisco Junqueira, the owner of Fazenda Campo Alegre in Minas. One day a gentleman in white robes appeared to him and asked why he stayed at this cave. The slave told him his story. The strange man wrote a note and handed it to the slave, he said that if he delivered this note to the Captain he would be released. The Captain picked up the note and went to the cave to find an image of São Tomé carved in wood. He was a deeply religious man and took the image to his home, but it disappeared and reappeared in the cave. He tried this several times, and each time the image returned to the cave. The Captain released the slave and had a chapel built on the site.
The Captain's son, Gabriel Francisco Junqueira, was granted the title Baron of Alfenas by King Pedro II. He ordered the construction of the church Igreja Matriz (Mother Church) in 1785. After his death he was buried under the altar of the church.

So probably it's the other way round, as the town was named after the fact that inside the cave an image of São Thomé and rock inscriptions were found. And so the town was named São Thomé for the Saint and das Letras for the inscriptions, and the church built intentionally beneath the cave. The origin of the inscriptions is still not known, and so there are a number of legends. The four most accepted hypotheses are:

  1. During the apparition of São Thomé to the slave, he left the paintings as a mark of his visit.
  2. The inscriptions are remains of aliens visiting Earth long ago.
  3. The cave paintings were created by the Cataguá Indians, the first inhabitants of the mountain range.
  4. The inscriptions are natural formations, created by minerals in the rock which were dissolved by water and precipitated on the surface when the water evaporated in the sun.

We actually tend to believe they are cave paintings by prehistoric man. Actually farmers and residents of the region have found cave paintings in caves and shelters all over the region.

Just a word on all the other geotopes in the vicinity of the village. The rocks here form strange formations, towers, pillars, cracks, and gorges. There is the Pedra da Bruxa (Witch Rock) with the small cave Gruta da Bruxa (Witch Cave), the Pedra do Urso (Bear Rock), and there is the natural bridge Toca da Pedra Furada (Holed Rock Cave). There are numerous waterfalls, which are popular bathing spots.

Nearby is a small cave named Gruta do Carimbado, which is the entrance of a secret tunnel connecting to Machu Picchu. Okay, that's nonsense, one of those SmileFar Connection Legends. Machu Picchu in Peru is about 4,000 kilometers away. Some say there is Dimensional Portal inside which connects the two places. The cave was explored by Brazilian speleologists and is 212 m long, but it is closed to the public and gated.

The Gruta do Sobradinho (Cave of Sobradinho) is 10 km from the city and actually a reserve with luxurious hotel. The cave is 130 m long and visited with a guide, helmets and headlamps are provided. There are three main waterfalls, numerous smaller ones, and the access to the waterfalls is through a cave which ends in the first waterfall. For day visitors is a small fee for the preservation of the site.

But the geology is quite interesting, and a result of the weathering of a massive quartzite deposit, known as Rock-of-Saint-Thome. The name is also used for the quartzite when it is sold. The rock was quarried for building houses, and for the stone pavement of the street. Today it is used to make souvenirs for the tourists. It was also used to build a strange house on top of a hill named Casa da Pirâmide (Pyramid House), and although it is actually not a pyramid, it's a real enigma. It was built without mortar, with a flat pyramidal roof, and is a hotspot of ancient aliens, natives of the hollow earth, and telluric energies weirdos. It is strongly recommended to go with a guide, as there are several stories of vanishing people.

We have not listed each site separately, for one those are all rather small and unspectacular sights. On the other hand there are so many of them, that you can spend several days in the area. There are numerous operators offering so-called eco-tours to those spots. We strongly recommend to book such a tour, not because we fear that you will be abducted by ancient aliens, but because it's quite helpful to find the sites, which are not developed and not signposted,