9 most interesting caves around the world

10 of the world’s most spectacular caves open for tours

Caves have a strange fascination: they attract and frighten at the same time. In ancient times, they were considered gates to a dark underworld with monsters and the afterlife, and in prehistoric times they served as shelters for people.

This ambivalent attitude to the underground cavities, probably, explains why the journey through any small-to-mid-volume cave reminds walk on his own subconscious. Most of the interesting subterranean objects are accessible only to speleologists and other specialists, but many of them have long been turned into magnificent tourist attractions.

Forbes selected the ten most impressive caves in the world, which anyone can descend into.

Vaitomo Caves (North Island, New Zealand)

This system with an underground river was first explored in 1887 by the Maori chief Tane Tinorau and the English surveyor Fred Mays. Suspecting nothing, they traveled down the river on a raft and soon found themselves in an absolutely stunning cave: in complete darkness, hundreds of thousands of lights were shining and reflected in the water. Tane and Mace did not immediately realize that they were fireflies – or rather, as scientists later found out, the larvae of the mushroom mosquito Arachnocampa Luminosa, which live only in New Zealand.

The first guided tours here began in 1889 by Tane Tinorau himself along with his wife Huti, and today’s guides include many of their direct descendants. They take tourists by boat along the underground river, and they admire the underground beauty in complete silence (maggots are very sensitive to noise and can stop glowing) to the starry sky created by insects. By the way, in addition to the Firefly Grotto in Vaitomo there is a dry Cathedral Cave with excellent acoustics: once even the famous opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa performed there.

Cost and Duration: $46 NZ$ for a 45-minute tour.

Jeita Caves (Lebanon)

People have known about Jeita (it is near Beirut) for a long time, but never took much interest in it. In 1836, the American missionary William Thompson discovered an underground river here and decided to shoot a rifle into the void just in case. The echo was so powerful that Thomson realized: the cave is huge.

Then, 40 years later, Jeita was studied by Beirut plumbers W. J. Maxwell and H. G. Huxley: they walked almost a kilometer along the river and realized that there are many caves here (today we know that their total length is 9 km). So Jeita became one of the main attractions of Lebanon and even made it into the finalists of the “Seven New Wonders of Nature” competition recently.

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The caves are divided into two levels. In the lower level flows a river (it gives rise to the Nahr Al-Kalb River, which feeds all of Beirut) with rapids and waterfalls. Tourists are taken on boats under low vaults, from which hang thousands of illuminated stalactites, and on the banks are whitewashed columns and stone sculptures. There is a 120-meter tunnel that leads to the upper galleries of the White and Red Grottoes. The Red Grottoes are named after the color of limestone formations colored with iron oxide. And the White Grotto shows a huge stalactite of 8.2 meters, which is called the largest in the world. Of course, this is just marketing, because stalactites can be larger, but this one is still impressive.

Cost and duration of the tour: 10,175 Lebanese pounds (about $7) for a 2-hour tour

Cuevas del Drac (Mallorca, Spain).

The four large caves, called the Dragon Caves (in Mallorca he is considered not so much a villain as a guardian of underground treasure), are located on the east coast of the island, near the town of Porto Cristo.

The cave system is located at a depth of 25 m and stretches for 2.5 km. The first who has visited here was the founder of speleology, Edward Alfred Martel, in particular, he discovered one of the largest underground lakes in the world (1150 m long and 30 m wide), which then gave the same name: Martel. The water in the lake is brackish, which confirms the version that the caves were once created by the Mediterranean Sea.

In 1935, lighting was installed here, they invented an electric imitation of dawn over the water and began to organize concerts of classical music. Today, there are benches by the lake, on which the audience sits, and on three boats a quartet sails out to them and plays Chopin, Offenbach and Caballero. After the concert, which lasts only ten minutes, you can take a boat ride or walk under the snow-white stalactites, bizarre draperies of limestone and twigs and spirals of helictites.

Cost and duration of the tour: €11.5 for a one-hour tour; remember that in the summer there are a lot of tourists, so it’s better to come for the first tour at 10 a.m. or for the last one at 5 p.m.

The Kungur ice cave (Perm Region, Russia)

The world’s seventh longest system of gypsum caves is called an ice cave, because even in summer there is enough ice: the temperature in some grottoes does not rise above zero.

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It is located on the outskirts of the town of Kungur, under the mountain, which is also called the Ice Cave. The total length of the cave – 5.7 km, it has 48 grottos, 70 underground lakes and 146 “organ pipes” – large holes, reaching almost to the ground surface. Tourists are led along a much shorter route of 1.5 km, which goes through 21 grottoes.

In the Diamond Grotto, the vault is covered with a fringe of bizarre ice crystals. The Polar shows a multitude of glaciers, ice stalagmites, stalactites, and columns. In the ruins grotto, filled with scree, you can see a stone turtle and crocodile. Many fantastic sculptures and in the Sculpture grotto. In the Meteor Grotto, the illuminated vault gives the impression of a falling meteorite. And more than half of the grotto of Friendship of Peoples is a large underground lake, which is inhabited by blind crustaceans. And in the grotto the Giant (the largest of the tourist) is a cut-down Christmas tree, which remains green for many years due to the purest air without pathogens.

Cost and duration of the tour: from 500 rubles for a tour lasting 1 hour and 20 minutes

Mulu Caves (Borneo, Malaysia)

The largest grotto in the world is located on the island of Borneo, in the cave of Gua-Nasib-Bagus. It is called Sarawak and is 700 meters long, 396 meters wide and 70 meters high (for illustration: it can hold at least forty Boeing 747).

Excursion to the grotto lasts all day: only way through the underground river rocky tunnel takes three hours. At the end of the route awaits the most difficult to pass the blockage, after which – only inky darkness Sarawak, illuminated by lanterns on helmets. Only well-trained people are allowed into this grotto, who have already been to the easier routes in the Mulu Caves (which are also more picturesque).

In the Cave of the Winds there are extravagant calcite columns and stalagmites, in the Cave of Clear Water the river roars underfoot, which has made its way 108 km under the ground. And in the Deer Cave there is a place called the Garden of Eden: an area of lush greenery, illuminated through a hole in the ceiling, which appeared there thanks to the sun. The same cave is home to a huge colony of big-eared crested spiders, estimated at 3 million individuals. Every evening, all these bats fly out of the caves in long waves in search of prey. And tourists watch this meditative spectacle from a specially built amphitheater.

Cost and length of tour: from 20 ringgit (about $6) for cave tour; Sarawak grotto tour is 225 ringgit, and another 10 ringgit for entrance to Gunung Mulu National Park

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Škocjan Caves (Slovenia)

All the karst caves in the world are named after the limestone plateau of Kras (Karst) in Slovenia. The most fascinating thing about this plateau is the Škocjan Caves, which are part of the UNESCO World Heritage List.

They were once formed by the River River, which emerges from the rock, passes through two giant karst sinkholes, Velika Dolina and Mala Dolina, formed by a cave that collapsed in the past, goes underground again and emerges 34 km later in Italy, under the name Timavo.

The cave system is six kilometers long and consists of gigantic karst grottoes, thirty waterfalls, as well as a deep underground canyon 2.5 km long. Above it at a height of fifty meters above the water hangs Zerkvennikov Bridge, from which you can enjoy dizzying views.

The cave journey of the River ends in the Martel Grotto, one of the largest in the world, where the water rests in a siphon. Its permeability is not too great, so during heavy rains the river rises, sometimes as much as a hundred meters, flooding the bridge. Tourists, however, neither Martel, nor siphon do not see: there is no route there. But besides the canyon with the bridge they see a big grotto with a 15-meter stalagmite nicknamed the Giant and a grotto with a beautiful cascade of calcite terraces.

Cost and duration: €15 per excursion

Jenolan Caves (Australia)

The local Gundungurra Aboriginal people called these caves in the Blue Mountains the Binumea, ‘the dark places’, and believed in the healing power of the river flowing under the ground: sick people were brought in even from afar. Now the 11 Jenolan Caves are in demand by health tourists – a quarter of a million come each year.

To enter each cave is paid separately, and the more difficult the route – the more expensive. But there is also a hotel here, and any ticket gives a year’s discount on all other caves, so many spend several days in a row here, exploring all the caves one by one.

The most popular cave is Lucas Cave, which is also the highest and widest. A river flows in it, and tourists most often take pictures at the large Broken Column (this is a unique offering, because it is usually forbidden to take pictures in paid caves).

Lucas is also home to the Cathedral Grotto, where concerts and weddings are held. The Emperor’s Cave, with its alabaster column and cluster of crystals that looks like an ancient fortress, is not bad either. The Chifley Cave (the first in the world to be illuminated by electricity – in 1880) is not visible in its entirety, and surprises await around every turn, such as a giant dog’s mouth with teeth made of spar. The East Cave has the most beautiful Egyptian and Persian grottoes with translucent illuminated draperies of stone. And Mammoth is the deepest and one of the most difficult caves – still not fully explored, so that during the 6 hours of the tour, you can make some kind of discovery.

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Cost and duration: $28 to $200 AUD for admission to the caves

Kango Caves (South Africa)

According to legend, these caves in the Western Cape were discovered in 1780 by a local farmer Van Zyl, and the first grotto now bears his name.

Everything here is designed for tourists – every karst formation of little-to-no interest is somehow colorfully named. There is both illuminated profile of the Cave Devil and the Marriage grotto with the impressive “marriage bed”, and 10-meter stalagmite Cleopatra’s Needle, and the Land of Fairies, and even “frozen Victoria Falls. And what’s interesting, it’s all amazingly beautiful.

Kango also offers an Adventure Tour through hard-to-reach passages – you need comfortable shoes and clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty: this tour begins where the regular tour ends. Down goes a staircase of 200 steps, which leads to the Great Hall, where the entire unfortunate family of Lot is frozen. Next is the Lumbago Passage: you can only walk with a crouch because the ceiling is no more than 120 cm high. And after the Crystal Palace and the Mines of King Solomon begins the Tunnel of Love, a height of 30 cm, so that at times it seems that the cave compresses the brave man in a loving embrace. And it ends with the no less difficult Devil’s Mailbox: Tourists take turns shoving themselves like a letter into a narrow slit leading down.

Cost and length of tour: R64 (about $9) for a 1-hour tour

Eisrizenvelt (Austria).

The name of the largest ice cave system in the world (it is located 40 km south of Salzburg) translates from German as “the giant ice world”. The length of the world – as much as 42 km, but tourists are allowed no further than the first. However, even this is quite enough.

Inside a lot of bizarre ice surges and frozen waterfalls formed by melting snow (it got inside about a thousand years ago, and then froze, taking the most bizarre forms). Now in winter, cold winds blow into the cave, while in summer the ice is kept from melting by the cold air from the depths.

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The first grotto on the way of tourists (and they go down an ice tunnel) is the grotto of Posselt with a large stalagmite in the center. From the same room you can see the Great Ice Wall, an impressive 25-meter high wave of ice. Then you can see the castle of the mythological giant Gimir, the Ice Organ, and finally, the Ice Palace, which is 400 m below the surface. All of the ice formations are intricately lit, and once you find yourself here, you get the feeling that you’re in a bit creepy, but impossibly beautiful fairy tale.

Cost and duration: €19 for a 1 hour and 20 minutes tour (including a ticket for the cable car to the entrance to the caves). The Eisrisenvelt is open from May 1 to October 26.

Carlsbad Caverns (New Mexico, USA)

These caves in the Guadalupe Mountains are named after the nearby town of Carlsbad, which in turn was named after Karlovy Vary.

The most mysterious of the 116 caves in Carlsbad National Park is Lechuguilla, also the longest in the United States. But only scientists are allowed in, and the entrance is carefully hidden from inquisitive tourists. However, the main cave of the park, Carlsbad Cave, is as beautiful as Lechuguilla, and its size is also impressive. It has a grotto Bell Rope, named for the narrow stalactite hanging from a hole in the ceiling, a huge Hall of Giants with karst formations, the grotto Guadalupe with long needle stalactites and Cloud Lake with a white round rock that lies under the water.

The most beautiful grotto is the Queen’s Grotto; when it was seen by Jim White, the first man to seriously explore Carlsbad Caves, he dropped his lantern in amazement and spent half an hour in complete darkness until he could manage the light.

Nearby is the Mystery Room, so named for the inexplicable sounds heard only in it. And in the grotto of the Green Lake lurks a malachite-colored body of water. Once the military decided to build a bomb shelter in the Carlsbad Caves in case of a nuclear war, and they followed this lake during one of the nuclear tests they were conducting here in New Mexico at the time. Well, the water didn’t even move.

Cost and length of tour: $8 for a group tour; $6 for independent admission

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