Would You Live Like This? Meet Spain’s Nomadic Cave Gypsies

Sorina the Gypsy in Spain
Sorina from Romania prepares dinner
Granada, Spain

There is a fascinating community of people living in Spain who make their homes out of abandoned caves. Join me on a photo tour through Sacromonte’s gypsy neighborhood.

In the hills above the beautiful Spanish city of Granada lies the Roma/Gitano/Gypsy cave community of Sacromonte. After the fall of the Moorish empire in the 1500’s, the Roma arrived and carved cave homes into the hillside. These days much of Sacromonte has become a tourist spot.

Visitors flock here to watch the famous Gitano Flamenco dancing shows.

But if you hike above the visible neighborhood of Sacromonte, you’ll discover a slightly different community made up of nomads, hippies, and modern gypsies who now live in the previously abandoned caves. There are about 30-40 who live here full-time, with many others passing through, staying for a few months before moving on.

It’s an eclectic mix of people from all over the world.

Most of the caves have electricity, either from solar panels or grid power wired in from outside. Some have TVs. Running water and outhouse-style toilets are often shared between a few neighbors.

I spent a couple days hanging out, taking photos of and learning about the community. Even spending one night in a cave. Please enjoy this rare glimpse into the life of a wandering cave gypsy.

Sacromonte Cave Home in Spain
A colorful gypsy cave home
Luis is a Gypsy in Spain
Luis is from the Canary Islands
Sacromonte Cave Community Spain
The hills above Granada are covered in caves
Sacromonte Cave Kitchen Spain
Cave kitchen with electricity and appliances!
Anais lives in caves in Spain
Anais from Germany is just passing through

Who Are The Gypsies?

Ok, due to the increased popularity of this post combined with random commenters claiming I don’t know what a Gypsy is, I’ve decided to go into more detail here. The neighborhood of Sacromonte in the city of Granada is a Gypsy neighborhood. Gypsy with a capital “G”.

These are people from Romani or Gitano decent. The english word “Gypsy” comes from “Egyptian,” based on a false believe they came from Egypt (they came from Northern India).

The caves above Sacromonte were originally inhabited by these people (Gypsy/Roma/Gitano).

Now, the caves are being used by modern gypsies (with a lowercase G). As in free-spirited travelers, hippies, and foreign refugees.

The neighborhood of Sacromonte and the old caves above it are two separate things. However there are also cave homes within Sacromonte owned by actual Gitanos/Roma/Gypsies. I think this is where some of the confusion comes from.

The people in my photos here are not Gitanos/Roma.

Granada Spain Views
The best views of Granada & Alhambra Palace
Tania Gypsy in Spain
Tania from Spain and her dog Wanda help plant a garden
Inside Sacromonte Cave in Spain
The view from inside a cave
Sacromonte Gypsy from Senegal
Ella is one of many cave gypsies from Senegal
Sacromonte Gypsy Cave Spain
This cave has a solar panel above the door
Irit the Gypsy Sacromonte Spain
Irit moved from New York City into a gypsy cave
Gypsy Pony in Spain
Some of the gypsies own horses and ponies
Sacromonte Gypsy Iwan in Spain
Iwan from Romania studied film in college
Sacromonte Community Toilet Spain
Saved the best for last: overflowing outdoor community toilet!


I hope you enjoyed my story about Spain’s Nomadic Cave Gypsies! Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

Would you be able to live like this? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 10 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
Matthew Karsten
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Comments (79)

  1. I love that place! One year ago me with my boyfriend we were on the roadtrip across the France and Spain, we lived in the van for 3months, when we came to Granada we was blessed ♥ we met there a lot of nice guys from Germany, Greece, France, Spain, Portugal, America and Switzerland, they aren’t live in the caves, but they are on the trip with van like us or live in the tent, we spent there one month and make a lot of friends :) ♥

  2. There are no “modern gypsies” with a lower class g. It is an act of racism to say that there are. Even if you didnt mean it. It still is. Gypsy is a racial slur, and adopting a racial slur as a name for oneself and imitating an erroneous stereotype of some free spirited, mystical, wandering, beautiful vagabond counter culture is offensive to us Romani people. You should cut that shit out and just don’t ever say it. isn’t a good look from any direction. And no, whether or not is feels or seems racist to you doesnt matter – because we are the ethnic group who bear the weight and the consequences of that stereotype that you bolster. You can’t punch somebody and then tell them it didnt hurt…I mean unless you’re a jerk or something….same so here…heeeey – no G word. Also…its sooooome kinda cultural chauvinism to think its fine and dandy to minstrel about using a racial slur for a minority group….it’s almost like you can only get away with that shit because we don’t have a loud enough political voice…yet….please….just write Gitano or Romani and be set….and school and privileged character who has enough privilege to put on a costume and name themselves with a racial slur….thanks, preciate cha :)

    • There’s no racism here. Stop being so Sensitive (with a Capital S) -and grow up already. Your comment was completely ridiculous and waaaaayyyyyy off mark. If anyone here is using a racial slur, it’s you, when you say “and school and privileged character who has enough privilege to put on a costume and name themselves with a racial slur”. -Simply assuming you know the author and his background and livelihood.

  3. I was visiting Albaicin yesterday and saw the hillside caves. There are quite a few hippies/Nomads roaming around in Albaicin endlessly or selling trinkets in front of the church to tourists taking photos of Alhambra. They all have the sun baked, dreadlocked, rag wearing unwashed homeless I see everyday where I live. Perhaps these ppl like having very little possession and barebone daily life on little money. Based on seeing them selling or roaming streets, they all seemed guarded and sullen, none looked like the 1960’s flower child hippies with that drugged out blissfulness. I personally would prefer Granada city to eradicate these hippie caves. They make the hillside look like a homeless encampment with junk and trash.

    • I spent a couple of nights in a cave there in 1974 — it was beautiful to wake up and see the fog lifting to reveal the Alhambra across the valley. Although I found a number of counter-culture folks, it seemed that the majority of cave-dwellers were still Gitanos. Gitano women set up wooden tubs at the top of the hill and gave baths for almost nothing! Not so erotic, though — they used some strong bristled brushes! If they were still there, no one would complain about the reeking homeless!!!

    • Hey hiya Megan what you said about living as a cave gypsy sounds like such an inspirational experience, for free living no boss. For the music and art and of course returning back to basics. To be construct everything we k ow and what were comfortable with. I spent a bit of time living in a cave with my musician friends in Bristol England. We learnt how to make fires to gather wood and food and we shared the experiences with other musicians as far a field as the rail yard ghosts to guys from all round the south west of England. I had a family of seven in my flat so I was homeless helping them for over a.year and so therefore it pushed me to learn new ways and find new inspiration. I want to go Granada in Spain in a couple of months in the Summer of 2018 with my guitar for new experiences over there. By all means keep in touch as a pen pal and maybe meet up. My email is [email protected] Thanks for your enthusiasm from mark

  4. Very nice shots and experience… totally worth to have it! I had recently a similar trip to Tenerife, living for three months with the Hippies in the caves. I wrote a blog during my trip and took some nice pictures!

  5. The photos are lovely. But you need to do your research before writing. As an earlier poster pointed out, most and possibly all of the people you photographed are not actually Gypsies. Gypsies are an ethnic group–called Roma in many parts of the world. However in Spain, most Gypsies are actually a subgroup called “Gitanos.” The Gitanos have very particular ethnic origins and their own distinct culture. Years ago, many Gitanos lived in the caves of Sacromonte. But massive floods in 1963 forced most of them to move out. A few Gitanos may still own caves in Sacromonte, but the people you met and photographed are not mostly Gitanos, they are alternative culture types. Once again, as an earlier post pointed out, you are either born a Gitano or your aren’t. You can’t choose to become one by changing your life style. All of this is well known and you could have learned all about the Gitanos of Spain if you had spent a few hours doing your research.

    • Thanks for the clarification Mona, I’m aware of Roma/Gitano history. However the term “gypsy” is commonly used for travelers these days too. The caves were owned by Gypsies (Gitanos), and are now inhabited by gypsies (with a lowercase G).

      Part of the definition:

      “a person held to resemble a gypsy, especially in physical characteristics or in a traditionally ascribed freedom or inclination to move from place to place.”

      I thought I made it clear with this line:

      “But if you hike above the visible neighborhood of Sacromonte, you’ll discover a slightly different community made up of nomads, hippies, and modern gypsies who now live in the previously abandoned caves.”

  6. This is very cool and I am sure some people love to live like that. This reminded of me going to visit the slab city in California where people live in the desert without anything even without portable water. I admire those people who chose to live like that. Here is how people live in Slab City California if you want to read more about them.
    Love those pictures and people seem to be very happy.

    • There are a lot of foodshops, like fruit vegetable, but actually any food, that you can pick up at the end of the day or other hours of the day that are not being sold, or else being thrown away. :)

  7. Really interesting community! The place looks somehow magical and the people look veru friendly and calm! Roma gypsies have always been really interesting to me! Thanks for sharing! The photos are amazing! I hope that soon I’ll be able to visit this great place myself! :)

  8. Sure there’s a lot of gypsies in the area but I don’t think calling them all gypsies is right, neither calling the neighbourhood a gypsy one.
    I know people living there and they’re not gypsies, just because they live their life that way it doesn’t make them automaticly gypsies, specially in Spain were their communities are strong and very protective of their culture.

  9. Hi! I lived in Granada for 5 years. A best friend of mine lived in one of the caves. It´s a beautiful place but not for everybody. Police and the government are trying to put it down so it´s not a secure place to settle. There are a lot of gipsies but also hippies, Africans, all mentioned are good people. However Hannah was right in her comment. You are a journalist so I believe you´re free to write, take photos and spread the word about interesting things like this one. But I also think it´s important to do your homeworks. This place is better to keep it in secret as Hannah said they are trying to do not call for attention. It would be good if you added that point of view in your article. That´s all. Thanks for pictures, really good.

    I´m Spaniard… please, don´t send me to China, I don´t want to go! :)

    • Funny, they were shooting a documentary movie while I was visiting. So obviously your opinion is not shared by everyone there. And no, I’m not a journalist.

      Feel free to share your opinion here in the comments though! I won’t tell you what to write about.

      • Hi Matthew, this is really interesting. I actually am a journalist and I am writing a piece for a national newspaper on people who live in extraordinary homes. I don’t suppose you know any English speaking cave dwellers who might be interested in taking part?
        Many Thanks,
        Lucy @lucybenyon

        • It’s a nomadic community, so unfortunately no. Most of these people don’t stay put for very long. There are those who live here full time, but I don’t have their contact info.

        • Hi Lucy, i know your post is long overdue, but just thought you would be interested, i am 26 lived most of my life in USA (chicago mostly) went to college in Poland, worked as a chef and now I am going to Granada for good in about a month or two… if youre still interested about doing any work in this direction let me know. God bless, Daniel.

        • Hi Lucy I am English and I’m just about to go and live in abandoned cave. I’ve not picked one yet but going this week to suss it out. Kind Regards Sarah.

  10. The caves aren’t gypsy caves, those ones are further down the hill. These caves have been developed and dug out by successive owners over the years. Their situation is also precarious, council regularly tries to evict them and even destroys caves occasionally. I think its probably not the best idea to go talking about it on the internet, as too many visitors and too much attention might lead to them being shut down altogether.
    Isn’t it nice to stumble upon things, without reading about them first? So please don’t share this article on Facebook!

    • I just love when people tell me what I can and can’t share on the internet. I hear China is looking to hire some government censors, maybe you should apply Hannah?

      • Hi Matthew~

        I think you’re missing the spirit of the messages that ask you to consider the results of publicizing this unique community.. No one is telling you/demanding that you do or don’t do anything. They’re requesting you to be sensitive to the results of publishing information about a community that may be eradicated if the authorities are made even more aware of it.. I think their concern is sincere and makes some sense given that under the radar might be best. Journalism has been the end of many special places that were then overrun with tourists who had no real understanding or sensitivity to either the ecology or sociology of the place. Just sayin…maybe something to consider.

        • If they’re worried about tourists, maybe they should move to caves that aren’t right above a major tourist attraction. Telling me or anyone else to just “not talk about it” is a completely unrealistic plan.

        • true, that the article is from a tourist’s point of view – love the photographs, some more information about the place’s history would have been nice.

          Helena – come on! you remember what age we are living in? what is there that is not under the radar? A small community like this is no problem to the authorities – oh, and this article is surely not going to attract millions, like you imagine! they may issue occasional threats to the community for it’s existence, but they have bigger things to worry about.

        • if anything we should not be mouthdead because out of fear for authorities..more so, could publicity clear out the wrongs that authorities have made in the past by trying to destruct peoples homes without having the papers to do so to try to turn it into some tourist attraction

  11. Wow, stunning, amazed, but not shocked…..I know these kinda people, we live and work amongst colourful people like this… Hippies? Why does everyone have to judge? Why do people think its ok to label…..they live in caves DUH!!!…They are just people living an open and free life…Ive lived in many communities worldwide my whole life….met millions of people from all places on this globe…..Have you heard of the caves in Azores? The island of Sao Jorge? Many a wild creature has climbed to that volcano….Set up camp and dwelled there for some time….There are people as of now, living in these unexpected, unknown delves of life….Is it something you like to do a lot, visit caves? We love caves too…We live in the mountains of Portugal, we visit medieval caves in our local mountains range..discovering lost Portugal….Good photos, like your work…ONELOVE

    • I am totally agree ..I would like to start visiting communities like this and settle there :) Would like to connect to people like you ..Greetings from Serbia:)

  12. I love my life here in Montana. I have no desire to live in those caves. I don’t believe in sentimentalizing any people no matter how exotic their surroundings. Living in the city is just as significant as living in caves. But I love that glorious light surrounding those people. I don’t care if they are hippies or gypsies or drug-addicts, for all people have tried in their own way to be free and to find their own dignity. Good work man, I love your photos. And I love those people.

  13. That’s amazing! They look like a community of really interesting people. I’d love to sit down and listen to their life stories. I wonder how they divide responsibilities within the community. So many questions!

  14. Wow, those are amazing photos and what a cool way to live life unfettered by a need to pay rent etc. Good for them!

  15. I lived in Granada for 6 months and explored Sacromonte. Your photographs are excellent and truly capture the spirit and life of the area. The photographs tell a story of each individual that lives there. Great work!

  16. I absolutely love the look of these caves. Not sure I could live there forever, but I’d love to try it out for a few weeks. Looks like a simple but satisfying life.

  17. I can’t wait to read more about your experience. The photos are gorgeous, definitely not in alignment with the images that came into my mind when I read the title. Would you call this an intentional community? Looking forward to the next article.

    • The long-term people have lived there for years. Definitely a tight-knit community. But many are just nomads who snag a free cave, staying for a month or two.

    • Some of the caves are pretty basic and disorganized, because many people pass through using them only temporarily. But others are very clean and nice — usually spruced up by their long-term residents.

  18. At first this seemed crazy….but it actually looks really neat! Very Hobbitesque. And the people all look so friendly. I wouldn’t mind hunkering down in a cave for a couple weeks.

  19. Wow, amazing photos that capture their daily lives. I missed exploring Sacromonte while I was in Granada, but I´ll make sure to experience it when I return!

  20. Wow, what an interesting post. I really like the idea of this lifestyle and would love to have a look round one of these caves. Are the people there mostly living there full-time? Or are the majority nomadic?

  21. You are right Matthew, those seem to be really rare impressions
    of a very different Granada. Unfortunately I missed the gypsy caves when I was
    passing through, but it’s also nice to participate in your experience. I am
    sure it would be a great to stay there for a bit and get to know the
    community, although I have to say the toilet does not look very inviting. They
    should really go for a squat version, it’s definitely a much better and cleaner
    solution… :)

  22. I absolutely LOVE this post! The story is fabulous and the Photos—beyond amazing! I lived in Italy for 4 years as a child (age 9 to 13) and we saw many real life Gypsies while there. I was always a little fascinated by them and their lifestyle. My Mom actually used to say that “We have Gypsy in our Blood” because of how often we moved around! I am really looking forward to your couchsurfing story because I have done it (in a house) but never in a cave (that sounds a little Dr Seussy doesn’t it)?? Thanks for bringing us with you on your wonderful adventure!

  23. Nope, not for me :)
    I like my comfort and I see this mostly as a romanticized “peace and love duuuude, I’m so close to Nature” idea.

  24. I’d love to say that YES I could live without all the trappings of society and modern life, and then I think of how I would manage having to sit on that toilet everyday and I hug my laptop close to reassure me everything is going to be OK! AWESOME photo essay, what an interesting cultural statement.

  25. this is so cool, I could read about it forever. I’d love to learn more about the differences between the real roma and the caves where the nomads/hippies passing through live- and how are they just empty for these hippies to squat? I’m surprised the real roma haven’t claimed them!

  26. Matthew, do the gypsies have a bad reputation there? I remember being in France in 97 and seeing gypsies riding around the countryside in wagons and the locals weren’t too fond of them. Mostly because they would break into vacation homes and squat during the winter months.

    • Locals in Granada aren’t super fond of these guys either. Most of the people I met were very friendly, but a few didn’t want me up there with my camera. One guy approached me with a machete (just to scare me) — others calmed him down. They’re not all law-abiding citizens (but that’s true anywhere), they are squatting in the caves, some aren’t in the country legally, there were drugs around, etc.

      The local government wants to evict them all and turn the caves into another tourist attraction, plus the area has the best views of the city. So far it hasn’t happened though.

  27. You know, I bet it’d be a really interesting experience, for a short period of time! That said, I’d probably prefer the ground to the overflowing “toilet.” Haha