Cueva de Villa Luz

Cave of the Lighted House - Cueva de las Sardinas - Cueva de la Sardina - Azufre

Useful Information

Location: Near the town Tapijulapa in southern México, District of Tabasco.
Open: Not restricted, but dangerous.
Fee: n/a
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Dimension: L=1,900 m, VR=25 m.
Bibliography: Louise D. Hose (1999): Cave of the Sulfur Eaters, Natural History (April 1999), 54-61.
Louise D. Hose, James A. Pisarowicz (1999): Cueva de Villa Luz, Tabasco, Mexico: Reconnaissance Study of an Active Sulfur Spring Cave and Ecosystem Journal of Cave and Karst Studies 61(1): 13-21. A scientific paper about the cave in pdf format. pdf.
Roger Tory Peterson Edward L. Chalif (1973): A Field Guide to Mexican Birds, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1973
Louise D. Hose James A. Pisarowicz (1999): Cueva de Villa Luz, Tabasco, Mexico: Reconnaissance Study of an Active Sulfur Spring Cave and Ecosystem, Journal of Cave and Karst Studies 61(1): 13-21.
Address: n/a
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1962 first systematic investigation of the cave by biologists Gordon and Rosen.
FEB-1987 found by Jim Pisarowicz and Warren Netherton.
1988 a larger expedition made a preliminary map of Cueva de Villa Luz.
1996-97 expedition into the cave collected for the first time snottites and other sediments.
1998 expedition into the cave, new high definition map.


The Cueva de Villa Luz is as famous for its unique environment, as it is hazardous for its visitors. Thermal sulphur springs inside the cave feed enormous amounts of sulfur loving cave life. But the hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas has the smell of rotten eggs and is toxic. So entering the cave without appropriate equipment is a deadly danger. Most important are oxygene masks. Simple gas masks do not work very well, as the cave cave air may contain very little oxygene, so filtering the hydrogen sulfide is not enough, it is necessary to take enough oxygene with you.

The cave is a river cave with some side passages and numerous openings in the roof, at least 24, which is the reason for the name Villa Luz, house of the light. There is pretty much light and fresh air in many parts of the cave.

The cave river contains many cave fishes, which is extraordinary, as they have to live on very little food in normal caves, and are typically very rare. In this cave huge amounts of sulfur loving microorganisms can be found, and so there are big numbers of those fish.

Until the 1940s, the local Zoque aka Soque people entered the cave, but only the light parts, once a year at the end of the dry season for the Ceremonia de la Pesca. Zoque elders offered prayers and requesed permission to enter the cave and harvest fish. They went about 100 m upstream and fished a certain amount of cave fish. It is easy to understand why the cave is also called Cueva de las Sardinas. (see below)

One of the strange features in this cave are the dripstone-like snottites. This stalactites are living, they consist on bacteria which produce a highly concentrated sulphuric acid, similar to battery acid. So it is not a good idea to touch them.

In the last twenty years numerous expeditions and subsequent publications by various people, but namely by Louise Hose, Department of Environmental Studies, Westminster College in Missouri and Jim Pisarowicz, park ranger at ShowcaveWind Cave National Park in South Dakota, increased our knowledge about this strange environment. Many information and several papers can be found on the net.

Cueva de Villa Luz is unique, at least as far as we know. There is only one similar cave on the world, but with much less sulfur and much smaller, CaveMovile Cave in Romania.

This is where the Domingo de Ramos, (Glorious Saturday) takes place, a prehispanic ritual of Zoque origin. It is called, The Ritual of Fishing the Blind Sardine. It is thought that this tradition connects the individuals to nature.

The inhabitants of Tapijulapa and surrounding countryside come to the cave to capture the fish and to share them at the table during that day and the following one. As many as 200 people meet in this small cave.

First the patriarch, the priestess and the town in general will carry an offering to all four points of the town before beginning the procession to the cave.

At the cave entrance, the elders of the town request permission to fish in the Zoque language. They then leave their offerings, such as flowers, candles, and incense at the entrance of the cave and then they begin fishing with the specially made baskets.

When they have finished fishing, the assistants give thanks for the food in the entrance of the cave saying goodbye to the sacred place and retiring the procession.

Text by Tony Oldham (2004). With kind permission.