Tayos is a project and expedition exploring the Cueva de los Tayos; a vast and extraordinary cave system in the south-eastern rainforests of Ecuador through art, music, photography and neuroscience.

Help us to build a global network of guardians for this fragile landscape and secure a future for the cave's rare ecology - free from the threats of mining, deforestation and human harm.

In the summer of 2018 the multi-disciplinary Tayos team descended into the caves for a four day exploration; photographing, filming, taking sound recordings and conducting a first-of-its-kind subterranean neuroscience study. Our aim was to explore the unique geology and ecology of the caves and to understand the rich place in culture and history that they inhabit; all from a creative perspective.

Drawing from the profound experience of this journey, together with the materials and neuroscience data we gathered, Tayos will tell the story of this unique place and support the bid to recognise Cueva de los Tayos as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Through collaboration, exhibition, publication and performance, we hope to reach new audiences and bring fresh insights on the extraordinary nature of this otherworldly landscape, demonstrating that the future of this place lies in its beauty, biodiversity and the experiences it offers, and not in the minerals which lie beneath its surface.


Jon Hopkins . Mendel Kaelen . Eileen Hall . Tamsin Cunningham . Eoin Carey 

Dr Theo Toulkaridis . David Villagomez . Francisco Heredia


Cueva de los Tayos

Stretching to almost 5 km of subterranean passages and vast chambers, Cueva de los Tayos ("Cave of the Oilbirds") is a vast cave system located in the south-eastern rainforests of Ecuador, on the eastern slopes of the Andes mountains. The cave lies within one of the richest areas for biodiversity in the world; home to countless rare flora and fauna and is an example of karstic cave geology including the rare presence of sandstone formations; unique within Ecuador and that region of South America.

Forming part of the territory of the indigenous Shuar people, Cueva de los Tayos has long been used as an important site in spiritual and ceremonial practices and for collection of the fledgling Tayos birds which give the caves their name. Believed by the Shuar to be home to powerful spirits, the caves also lie at the heart of intense international speculation on how ancient civilizations may have shaped this extraordinary landscape.

Accessible only via a 65m chasm, the vast chambers of the caves lie in darkness, with only one point of natural daylight penetrating the depths. Home to tarantula, whip scorpion spiders, scorpions and the iridescent rainbow boa, the cave’s geology is as varied as it is beautiful and as fragile as it is awe-inspiring.

A bid is now being mounted to designate Cueva de los Tayos as a UNESCO World Heritage site: assisting the Shuar in their guardianship of the caves and galvanising the 3D mapping, geological and speleological research being carried out. The campaign for UNESCO designation is spear-headed by Dr Theo Toulkeridis (geologist, volcanologist & Coordinator of Geosciences at the University San Fransisco de Quito) who leads the annual research expedition to Cueva de los Tayos.


“Up there with the moon”

Neil Armstrong & the1976 Expedition

Cueva de los Tayos have been the subject of intense research, exploration, speculation and myth-making since the 1970s when Erich von Däniken first published his book ‘The Gold of the Gods’. Von Däniken’s claims that explorer János Juan Móricz had discovered unusual sculptures and a ‘gold library’ within apparently artificially carved passages, sensationalised the caves and planted the Cueva de los Tayos in the minds of many readers across the world as a site of mystery, conspiracy and power.

One such reader was Stan Hall; a Scottish civil engineer, who, inspired by Von Däniken’s claims, left his engineering job on the east coast of Scotland and in 1976 set about mounting the first major scientific expedition to Cueva de los Tayos.

One of the largest cave expeditions of its time, the 1976 expedition involved over 100 people including Ecuadorean and British government officials, joint special forces, and top scientists and speleologists of the time alongside astronaut Neil Armstrong who took the role of Honorary President of the expedition. A team of experienced cavers were employed in mapping the extensive network of passages and chambers and various zoological, botanical and archaeological findings were recorded. Of Von Däniken’s gold library no evidence was discovered.

Since then many research expeditions have taken place to the place Armstrong described as “being up there with the moon”. The caves continue to reveal on each visit the exceptional nature of the subterranean landscape, its formation and the plants and animals that reside within it.

After Stan Hall died in 2008, his research and exploration work was carried on by his Scottish-Ecuadorian daughter Eileen Hall who now co-leads the Tayos creative project and expedition.




Join us in building awareness and appreciation of Cueva de los Tayos and helping to secure a protected future for this unique subterranean landscape.



Tayos is a project run by the Open Close Collective; a non-profit organization based largely on voluntary work and in-kind support. Any contribution you can make to support our ongoing work will go directly towards the production of the book, music release, exhibitions, events and installations we are working towards to raise awareness of the Tayos Caves and support the UNESCO World Heritage bid in 2020. Whether you are an individual or a company your support for the Tayos project will make a big difference. Join us in building awareness and appreciation of Cueva de los Tayos and helping to secure a protected future for this unique subterranean landscape.


Follow the Tayos story

Join us on our journey towards greater protection of the caves. Sign up to receive information on the art, music, photography and neuroscience work being produced for the Tayos project, the latest developments in the bid to secure UNESCO World Heritage status and how you can help support the campaign and scientific research on the caves.