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Pedra da Mua and Lagosteiros Dinosaur Footprints and Tracks, Cabo Espichel
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Some of the best-preserved dinosaur footprints of Portugal are located on the jagged cliffs of the Cabo Espichel coastline. Along this exposed and weathered coastline are two different sets of tracks; one from the Late Jurassic (called the Pedra da Mua) and one from the Cretaceous period (the Jazidas de Lagosteiros). It is fascinating to realise that these two sets of prints are separated by a distance of less than 500 meters, but span a time of almost 50 million years.
The short hike to the footprints......
As with many fossilised features or ancient geological artefacts, the main attraction is the age of the object, not its actual appearance. Without the clear signage, both sets of footprints could be easily missed, as they just minor indentations in the exposed rocks. The Pedra da Mua and Lagosteiros footprints, are often combined with a half day trip to Cabo Espichel.
Pedra da Mua Dinosaur Tracks
The Pedra da Mua are the larger set of dinosaur tracks and are clearly visible against the flat grey rock of the exposed cliffs. The only issue is that they are on the side of 70m sheer cliff and viewing is risky at best.
The Perda da Mua footprints are on the side of a steep cliff….
The Pedra da Mua footprints date from the late Jurassic period (160ma), when the region was formed of shallow lagoons. Within the tracks are a total of nine different dinosaur pathways, with an estimate of 37 individual animals and the majority of dinosaur prints were from massive four-legged Sauropod dinosaurs.
Unique to this site are the footprints of three juvenile Sauropods, who lead the group through the muds before the adults, and this provides evidence that these enormous dinosaurs were social and formed herds. One of the tracks displayed an irregular pace indicating that the dinosaur had an injury and a limp.
The Perda da Mua footprints can only been viewed from a distance, but the huge prints are still easily seen
The prints of Perda da Mua have been traditionally associated with the 14th-century apparition of the Virgin Mary by local fishermen. The vision of Mary had her riding a giant mule, which rose out of the sea and climbed the near vertical cliffs. At the top of the cliffs the apparition vanished and all that remained where the giant foot prints of the mule.
The small chapel of Ermida da Memória was constructed on the summit of the cliffs, where the vision of Mary and her mule had vanished. Inside the chapel the Azulejo tile paintings recall the vision, and are the first human record of the existence dinosaurs (technically their footprints…..). The Cabo Espichel became an important pilgrimage destination and the Santuario de Nossa Senhora was constructed to accommodate all of the pilgrims.
The Ermida da Memória chapel on the edge of the cliffs start of the most pronounced footprints
Numerous Pedra da Mua footprints cover the entire side of the cliff (GPS:38.42122, -9.21642) but trying to get a good view is very challenging. It is impossible to see the prints from the top of the cliffs or from the Ermida da Memória chapel.
There are views from the Praia dos Lagosteiros, but it is a hazardous scramble down to the stony beach, which follows a rainwater cut channel and no real path. The most accessible viewpoint is from the headland on the which the Lagosteiros Dinosaur Tracks are, but this is almost 400m from the prints.
Lagosteiros Dinosaur Tracks
The Lagosteiros dinosaur tracks are much easier to reach, with slightly less of a chance of falling off a cliff, but are less obvious and striking than the Pedra da Mua. The Lagosteiros prints date from the Cretaceous period, approximately 130ma year ago, and are the only example of Cretaceous dinosaur footprints in Portugal. One of the tracks from a Theropods (two-legged upright dinosaur) had a longer distance between prints, which indicated the dinosaur was running at a speed of 15km/hour.
The Lagosteiros dinosaur footprints could be easily missed, and there is always the chance to fall off the edge of a massive cliff!
The Jazida dos Lagosteiros prints are on the headland north of the Santuario do Cabo Espichel (GPS 38.42613, -9.21679) and are reached by following the signed footpath. The final stage is along eroded paths and weathered cliffs, always take care and don’t stray too close to the edge of the cliffs.
The second set of Lagosteiros footprints.....could be easily missed.
Travel to the Pedra da Mua and Lagosteiros footprints
The footprints are found on the barren and wind blasted Cabo Espichel headland, which is on the south-western tip of the Setubal Peninsula. Most tourists combine their visit to the footprints with the Santuario do Cabo Espichel and lighthouse.
The headland on which the Lagosteiros footprints are locacted
The best method of travel to Cabo Espichel is to drive, and from Sesimbra it is a 30-minute journey. There is a separate car park for the dinosaur footprints (GPS: 38.42042, -9.20815) and this is the first car park which is seen along the Azóia - Cabo Espichel road.
From the car park it is a 1km hike around the cliffs to the Lagosteiros footprints, and partway round there is a very poor footpath down to the Praia dos Lagosteiros. Generally, it is better to simply park at the church (GPS: 38.419609, -9.21328) and visit all three attractions in one go.
The bus to Cabo Espichel
Public transport to the Cabo Espichel is severely limited and there is just a single suitable bus service from Sesimbra. The 205 bus service departs Sesimbra bus station at 13:50, and the 201 bus departs Cabo Espichel at 15:30 (correct Nov17).
This gives around 1 hour to explore Cabo Espichel, and is just enough time to visit the church and lighthouse or the church and dinosaur footprints (but not all three). The bus runs seven days a week but please don’t miss the connection as it is either a walk to Azóia or expensive taxi fare to Sesimbra. The latest bus timetables are displayed in Sesimbra bus station and can be seen on the TST website: http://www.tsuldotejo.pt/ver_horario.php?fx=205_Ida_20170912_20301231_lineScheds.svg.png
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