Visiting the Museum & Archaeological Park

The Côa Valley Archaeological Park

The Côa Valley Archaeological Park or Parque Arqueologico do Vale do Côa (PAVC) exists to protect Europe’s largest open-air gallery of Paleolithic art.

After the existence of some of the proto-Solutrean and Magdalenian engravings was revealed in Nov. 1994, the valley was saved by local, national and even international protests from inundation by a huge dam that was being erected. Prehistoric Art Emergency contributed to this campaign by collecting signatures that were forwarded to the president of Portugal and distributing a call to arms based on what I discovered during an incursion into the valley and dam-builders’ offices in April 1995. After the defeat of the right-wing government, which had pushed ahead with the construction, the new administration responded to the protest movement by halting the dam in November 1995.

Even though the valley was turned into Portugal’s first archaeological park two years later and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, a number of exquisite panels in the valley remain flooded both because it was already partially inundated by an older dam downstream and because of a coffer dam for the dam that was stopped - which successive governments have never seen fit to remove.

In fact, fifteen years later, the valley is still not out of danger! Every three months or so an editorial appears in the Portuguese press saying that one of the biggest mistakes of the former Socialist government was stopping the Côa dam. One of Portugal’s most esteemed archaeologist told me that the park’s adversaries may have worked against a daring proposal to build the museum in the shell of the abandoned dam itself, because that would have prevented the dam-builders from eventually resuming construction! This, he claimed, was the ulterior motive for siting the new museum away from the dam site and even above the valley. Furthermore, he believes they slyly located the costly modern museum outside of town, in a remote location - where it would be poorly served by local infrastructure - to lower its profile and the number of visitors, so they can later say that the museum - and, by extension, the art it represents - are not that important to the public and were the real waste of funds.  

So, just when one thinks that the artistic cornucopia is safe, one discovers that one can’t let down ones guard. Even after the entire world has recognized the importance of the valley’s art, the dam-builders are apparently waiting for their chance to resume the flooding.  But you can help fight them simply by proving them wrong! Every tourist who goes to Côa to see its masterpieces and museum will be literally participating in an on-going battle to save humanity’s heritage from irrevocable destruction!

Although visiting the three sites that are open to the public (Canada do Inferno, Penascosa and Ribeira de Piscos) takes a little planning, because of the need to reserve a tour with a licensed guide, it will be worth every moment. The landscapes are so magical, the art so rich, and the story so compelling, that you will be enchanted and involved in a continuing saga. 

The Park’s own small cadre of guides has received the most training - directly from archaeologists - so I can’t recommend them highly enough. If they are overbooked, though, don’t hesitate to book a tour with one of the private guides listed below. In either case, you will be taken in a small group - with a maximum of eight people - in a four-wheel-drive vehicle to at least one of the sites. It takes between one and a half and three hours to visit each location, so plan to spend a couple of days in the area. If you only speak English, you may also want to ask for a guide who speaks the language - although they all bring along plasticized interpretative documents that show where to look for the fainter engravings and explain their dating.

Finally, make sure to take advantage of the spectacular museum’s wealth of audio-visual aides for understanding the art outside.

Here’s contact info for booking tours with the Park’s own guides:

The main Park Office is at:

Parque Arqueológico do Vale do Côa

Av. Gago Coutinho e Sacadura Cabral, 19-A

5150-610 Vila Nova de Foz Côa, Portugal

- which is right in the center of the town.

Tel: +351 279 768 260/1. 

Fax: +351 279 768 270.

Emails for booking visits: &

The Park’s own e-mail is:

The park’s director is: Alexandra Cerveira Lima

  1. -Park Visitor Center at Muxagata for Ribeira de Piscos Tel: 351 279 764 298. -

  2. -Park Visitor Center at Castelo Melhor Penascosa Tel: +351 279 713 344.

Visits take place daily except Mondays when the offices are closed.

Licensed private guides (These guides are usually not authorized to take groups to as many sites as the Park’s guides):

1) Rui Reininho

Authorizations: Ravinas do Côa

2) Carlos Henriques

Authorizations: Quinta do Chão d’ordem

3) Luís Henriques

Authorizations: Quinta do Chão d’ordem

4) Karina Soares

Authorizations: Douro Total

5) Mário Correia

Authorizations: Douro Total

6) Doníria

Authorizations: Sabor Douro

7) João Mendes Rosa

Authorizations: Barroca

8) Joana Bizarro

Authorizations: Barroca

Contact information:

9) André Santos

Authorizations: PAVC

Contact information: Só Janta

Lodging and other information is available from the Tourist Information Office at Avenida Cidade Nova - Centro Cultural, in Vila Nova de Foz Coa, which is  both the largest town near the valley and the location of the new museum. Tel: 351 279 760 329. Open daily: 9 am-12:30 pm 2-17.30 pm

The Museo da Casa Grande in the nearby town of Freixo de Numao is not nearly as bold a museum as the new Côa Valley museum, but is still well worth a visit since the wonderfully baroque building is built among ancient foundations and is packed with artifacts from the Stone Age right through the 18th century. Another beautiful site is the Museu da Casa Grande, Freixo de Numao, tel: 351 279 789 117. Fax: 351 279 789 573. Open Tues-Sun 9 am-12 pm and 2-6 pm. While you are in the area, you should certainly make time to visit the ruins of a Roman villa at Prazo em Freixo de Numao, which are perched in a boulder field on the brink of a gorge. Other archaeological sites in the area include Copper-to-Bronze-Age constructions at Castanheiro do Vento and a Roman temple at Castelo Rodrigo.

Key words: Côa Valley Archaeological Park, Coa rock art, rupestrian art, petroglyphs, conservation, archaeological scandal, protecting artifacts, archaeological protection, prehistory, Paleolithic art, Paleolithic paintings, Paleolithic engravings, Where to go in Portugal, archaeology


Please click on the following icons to access associated webpages on Foz Côa, rock art & other prehistoric subjects

The new Côa Valley Archaeological Museum

Feb. 2010

May 1995 article: The Foz Coa scandal / Coa Valley prehistoric rock art scandal

Saving rock art / Prehistoric Art Emergency

Photos of Paleolithic art in the Coa Valley, including engravings at closed sites

Prehistory home page

Saving Korean Petroglyphs

Archaeological tours

World's Oldest Optical Illusion Found?” -
National Geographic article by Andrew Howley about Duncan Caldwell’s discovery of one of the world’s oldest known intentional optical illusions (Dec. 22, 2010)

The Neanderthal / Neandertal insulation hypothesis concerning Neanderthal adaptations to cold, diets, behavior & extinction

The “prey-mother” hypothesis concerning Paleolithic feminine imagery & Paleolithic venus figurines

The baby-sling hypothesis concerning immunological and fur distribution adaptations among juvenile hominids

Sept. ’95 petition signatures to save Foz Coa’s prehistoric rock art

Press clippings about Foz Côa controversies

Prehistoric Art Emergency archives concerning Foz Coa

The First Paleolithic Animal Sculpture in the Ile-de-France: The Ségognole 3 Bison and its Ramifications - Accepted for publication in the acts of the IFRAO Congress on Pleistocene art of the world, 6 - 11 Sept. 2010, France

PDF: Supernatural Pregnancies:  Common features and new ideas concerning Upper Paleolithic feminine imagery. 2010. Arts & Cultures, Barbier-Mueller Museum

PDF: The Coa Valley prehistoric rock art scandal - An investigation & call to arms (1995)