Parque Arqueológico do Vale do Côa

The Douro

A group visit one of the Paleolithic rock art in the Archeological Park in the Coa Valley, or Parque Arqueologico Vale do Coa, near Vila Nova de Foz Coa. The largest site of such art work found to date the site has been heritage listed.

Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

Most visitors to Vila Nova de Foz Côa come for one reason: to see its world-famous gallery of rock art. Although the park is currently an active research zone, three sites are open to the public: Canada do Inferno, Ribeira de Piscos and Penascosa. While Penascosa has some of the most significant etchings, Canada do Inferno – which sits by the half-constructed dam – is the ideal place to understand just how close these aeons-old drawings came to disappearing.

Because the entire valley is a working archaeological site, all visitors must enter with a guided tour. Tours for Canada do Inferno depart at around 9.30am from the park museum in Vila Nova de Foz Côa; for Ribeira de Piscos at around 9.30am from the Muxagata visitor centre on the western side of the valley; and for Penascosa at around 9.30am from the Castelo Melhor visitor centre on the eastern side of the valley (which also offers €20 night tours departing from the museum).

Visitors gather at the various visitor centres, where they’re taken, eight at a time, in the park’s own 4WDs, for a guided tour of one of the sites (two hours at Canada do Inferno, which includes 1km of walking; one hour at Penascosa, with some walking; 2½ hours at Ribeira de Piscos, with 2km of walking). You can take in two sites in one day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. There are guided bike tours (bring your own mountain bike) in similar-sized groups.

Visitor numbers are strictly regulated, so from July to September book a tour through the park office well in advance or you may miss out; reservations are accepted from Tuesday through Sunday. You must book at least a few weeks ahead for bicycle trips at any time.

Make sure you bring comfortable shoes and a hat, sunscreen and water in summer months, as it gets extremely hot in the valley.