The best caves for extreme travelers

The most beautiful caves, where they let tourists in

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Caves – a wonderful world, beckoning with its mystery and unearthly beauty. There is even a special direction of travel – speleotourism. It is gratifying that many of the caves of the world are accessible to tourists.

1. New Athos Cave (Abkhazia).

New Athos Cave – one of the largest caves in Abkhazia, is located near Apsar Mountain near New Athos Monastery, which it owes its name. The hole, called Bottomless hole, leads to the cave. Though it was known to local residents for a long time, but only in 1961 cave explorer Givi Smyr decided to explore this place and opened the cave. And since 1975, it has been open to tourists.

The cave includes eleven rooms, ten can be visited by all comers, and one room is closed – scientific works are conducted there. The cave has both stalactites and stalagmites, and many lakes. Unusually look stalactites in the form of jellyfish, deer and fantastic creatures. The ceiling height in some rooms is up to 100 meters. The most beautiful halls of New Athos cave – hall named after Givi Smyr, “Anakopia”, Helictitic grotto and the gallery of “Stone flowers”.

Today, there is an underground railroad in the cave, and tourists call it the Abkhazian subway jokingly. The train runs between three stations, and then you will need to walk on foot along the specially paved paths.

New Athos Cave. Author of photo: © WomEOS, www.commons.wikimedia.org

2. Reed Flute Cave (China).

This cave is located on the outskirts of the city of Guilin, in the Guangxi region. The area is full of limestone cliffs and karst caves. At the entrance to one of them, reeds grow densely. For this reason, the dungeon was called the “Cave of the Reed Flute”. It is believed that the most melodious flutes are made of the reed stems.

Even if the cave is not huge – its length is only 500 meters, but the nature did a good job on the design of the “interior. The numerous stalactites and stalagmites inside create a unique fairy-tale architectural composition. And the Chinese have decided to enhance the impression of tourists from the dungeon with multicolored illumination. As a result, the grottoes resemble the palace gardens and halls, but instead of the trees and columns here took stalagmites and stalactites.

Especially colorful looks underground hall called Crystal Palace. In its center is a giant stalactite staff of the Dragon King, which props the vaults of the underground hall. In the hall of the Crystal Palace, about a thousand people can stay at the same time.

Reed Flute Cave. Photo by: © Dennis Jarvis, www.commons.wikimedia.org

Marble Cave (Crimea).

The plateau of the Crimean mountain Chatyr-Dag is literally strewn with wells, mines and caves. The most famous place here is the Marble Cave. It became very popular thanks to its large size and charming entourage. The cave has been open to visitors since 1987.

Tourists are greeted by a whitewashed marble statue of the “Master of the Cave”, a fancifully shaped stalagmite. Visitors are told at once that it is easy to offend him with a rude word or disrespectful behavior, for which he can get very angry. Then the route winds through the “Gallery of Fairy Tales”, decorated with stalactites and stalagmites of bizarre shapes that resemble fairy-tale characters – Mamontenka, Santa Claus, Tsarevna the Frog.

In the cave tourists get acquainted with five rooms – “Hall of Roses”, “Hall of Hopes”, “Theater”, “Vernadsky Hall” and “Chandelier Hall”. The total length of all the halls is about two kilometers, and the depth is about sixty meters. Tourists can look into the gallery of the “Tiger Walk”, where the bones of the cave bear were once found.

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Marble Cave. Author of photos: © Inna Radetskaya, www.commons.wikimedia.org

4. Mammoth Cave (USA).

Back in the 19th century this cave was discovered under the Flint Range in Kentucky. At first saltpeter was mined there, but the deposits were exhausted and a certain businessman bought the place. By the beginning of the XX century the whole 5 tiers and more than 200 grottos, galleries and passages were discovered in the cave. Their total length was more than 500 kilometers. The end of this underground country has not yet been found. Today, the cave has the longest length in the world. By the way, the Mammoth Cave has nothing to do with mammoths. The English word mammoth means “huge”.

In total, Mammoth Cave has twenty large halls. Its vaults are composed of red limestone, which is practically free of siltation. The visuals are poor, but the names of the places are quite sonorous: one of the corridors is called Broadway, and the underground river is called Styx. Guides show guests a stone statue resembling the profile of President George Washington’s mother. And so that tourists do not spoil the halls of the cave, a special Hall of Records is allocated, on the walls of which those who wish can leave autographs.

Mammoth Cave. Photo by: © Daniel Schwen, www.commons.wikimedia.org

5. The Kungurskaya Cave (Russia).

Kungur Cave is hidden in the depths of the Ice Mountain in the Urals. In some remote grottoes the temperature does not rise above zero, and in winter here all -30 ° C. Such a climate caused the appearance of quite rare ornaments – crystals made of perennial ice. To make them even more mesmerizing, laser illumination is turned on.

The total length of the cave – 5.7 km, there are 48 grottos, 70 underground lakes and 146 “organ pipes” – large holes, reaching almost to the surface. Tourists are led along a short 1.5 km route, which leads through 21 grottoes.

In the Diamond Grotto, the roof is covered with a fringe of bizarre ice crystals. In the Polar grotto there are a lot of glaciers, ice stalagmites, stalactites, and columns. In the ruins grotto, filled with scree, you can see a stone turtle and a crocodile. In the Meteor grotto illuminated vault gives the impression of a falling meteorite. For tourists in the cave are located and ice sculptures, already created by man.

Kungurskaya cave. Photo by: © Vladimir Chuprikov, www.commons.wikimedia.org

6. Kango (South Africa).

According to legend, these caves in the Western Cape province were discovered in 1780 by a local farmer Van Zyl, and the first grotto now bears his name. Kango Caves are among the most beautiful caves in the world. Tours of the halls of the cave have been offered to tourists since 1891.

In Kango, every karst formation of interest has a colorful name. There’s the illuminated profile of the Cave Devil, the Marriage Grotto with its impressive “marriage bed,” the 10-meter stalagmite Cleopatra’s Needle, Fairyland, and even the “frozen Victoria Falls.

Today, travelers can choose a standard tour through the six main rooms. Or opt for a longer and more challenging itinerary, which will require climbing through secluded corners and demonstrating one’s ability to overcome obstacles.

Cango. Photo by: © Leo za1, www.commons.wikimedia.org

7. Postojnska Jama, Slovenia.

Postojnska Jama is a system of karst caves more than 20,000 meters long on the Kras Plateau, near Postojna. It is the longest system of caves in Slovenia and one of the most visited tourist places in this country, equipped with electric lights and a railroad since the 19th century.

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Detailed research and the discovery of new territories of the cave were made by Luka Czech, who prepared the cave for the visit of the first Emperor of Austria, Franz II. in 1818. In 1819 the cave was opened to the public. Emperor Franz Joseph, for example, visited it twice. A luxurious Predjamský Palace (now a restaurant) was built in front of the entrance to the cave to receive the Habsburgs.

Today the train travels underground for 7 kilometers past the unusual stalactites and stalagmites, the rest of the way has to be made on foot. The largest hall in the cave is called the Concert Hall. Not surprisingly, it was here once held a conference of speleologists.

Postojnska Jama. Photo by: © Tiia Monto, www.commons.wikimedia.org

8. Han Son Dung (Vietnam).

Han Son Dung Cave is located in Vietnam. It was discovered by a local resident relatively recently, in 1991. Since then, no one has dared to enter it, primarily because of the terrible wind seeping through the rather narrow entrance (10 meters high and 30 wide), and the noise that comes from the same underground river.

In 2009, a group of British speleologists explored the cave. And then the first miracle happened – the cave immediately went into the Guinness Book of Records for its enormous size: it is about 200 meters high and 150 meters wide, the length – about 9 km. In the underground hall of the cave Han Son Dung there is enough space even for a 40-story skyscraper. The second miracle happened in 2013, when the Vietnamese government gave permission to tour operators to sell tours to this amazing place.

The cave is located in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, near the border with Laos. Many years ago, there were gaps in the roof of the cave Han Son Dung, through which the underground halls penetrated the light, and with it came and plants. Now you can find a real jungle in the cave.

Top 10 most beautiful caves and grottoes in the world

We note at once – we choose for our top 10 only those Russian and foreign natural sites, which tourists (whether independent or organized) can access without special caving training and equipment.

If we took also those objects whose (often fantastic) beauty can see only cave explorers, our ten would look different, but would be little practical. But 10 caves from our list you can freely visit and take from there rare pictures. By the way, Russian caves and grottoes will be the subject of our separate selection.

THE EISRIESENWELT ICE CAVE

Where: Werfen, Austria.

Eisriesenwelt means “world of ice giants” in German. This naturally occurring limestone ice cave is the largest and most popular of its kind in the entire world. About 200,000 tourists visit it every year.

The Eisrizenvelt was formed by an erosion process caused by the Salzach River. The bizarre ice formations in the cave were formed by thawing snow in the cave, which flowed and froze in winter. Cold winds circulate inside the cave, so the ice formations persist and do not melt in the summer.

The cave has a length of 42 kilometers, but only the first kilometer of this cave is covered with ice and is open to tourists. The depth is 407 m.

Features. The cave is open to the public usually from May 1 to October 26. During the winter months, the entrance is closed due to the danger of avalanches.

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THE LUMINOUS CAVES WAITOMO CAVES

Location: New Zealand

This cave is the main attraction of the country and is popular with tourists around the world. Fireflies “arachna luminosa” are found only in New Zealand, and the largest number of them live only in this cave. They are the size of an ordinary mosquito, but it is worth considering that there are millions of them here. The fireflies are carefully monitored by a specialist from the scientific advisory group who uses automatic equipment to remotely monitor the cave, including temperature, the amount of carbon dioxide (needed to keep the fireflies alive) and the number of visitors who may come in daily.

The tours run on three levels and begin with a boat ride into the underground river, where the ceiling in the cave is lit exclusively by these spectacular fireflies. It feels as if you are looking at the night sky, full of twinkling stars – an amazing beauty, so even wedding tours with photo shoots are arranged here.

The cave has three levels, which are united by a 16-meter vertical shaft. The tour begins with the first level, represented by the catacombs. The second level was called the Banquet Hall, and the third level goes deeper into the so-called Cathedral, which is a large hall with a vault height of about 18 meters, which has good acoustic data.

Features. On Christmas night in the Cathedral Hall of the cave very beautifully sung a cappella Christmas carols.

KUNGUR ICE CAVE

Where: Perm Region, Russia

The Kungur Cave is located near the town of Kungur in the village of Filippovka and stretches underground for more than 5 km. The beauty of its grottoes and relatively convenient location for tourists made this cave the most visited place of interest in the Urals, and numerous magazines and portals regularly include it in the list of top-10 most fascinating caves in the world. We are no exception.

One of the most beautiful places in the cave is located right at the entrance – these are Diamond and Polar Grottoes. The mass of multi-year ice in these halls shimmers like a petrified waterfall, and the arches are covered with large crystals. In the Kungurskaya cave there are several dozens of grottoes: each of them has its own history and a unique name. The largest – the grotto of Geographers – occupies an area of 50 thousand cubic meters, and accessible on the tourist route – the Grotto of the Giant – 45 thousand cubic meters. There are also galleries, decorated with stone lace, which diligently “carved” water for 12 000 years.

It is noteworthy that tours to the Kungur cave began to organize more than a hundred years ago. To this day it is one of the most popular attractions in Siberia and the Urals.

The length of the cave is 5.6 km, of which 1.5 km are equipped for tourists.

Features. Contains 58 grottoes, 70 lakes. The cave is more than 10-12 thousand years old.

THE BLUE GROTTO

Where: Capri island, Italy

The Blue Grotto is a true hallmark of the Italian island of Capri. It is a sea cave found on the coast and has become one of the most popular tourist attractions. The grotto has the only entrance from the sea, and it can be accessed only by boat.

This cave is unique in its kind because of the blue-emerald glow of the water. This impressive glow comes from two sources. One is the entrance way to the cave, which is a small hole that only one boat can enter at a time. And in stormy weather the entrance to the grotto is closed because of the low entrance. Another source is a large hole under the entrance way, submerged in water. The entrance way, when viewed from inside the cave, looks like a bright white light just above the water line. A second opening from under the water, which is a larger source of light, gives off a blue glow.

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The grotto is 56 meters long, 30 meters wide, the vault is 15 meters above the water level and the entrance is up to 1.3 meters high.

Features. In his time in the grotto were found Roman statues – hence, the grotto was known to the ancient Romans, and it is likely that it was once a sanctuary. Until the 20s of the XIX century, the place, then called “Gradola” enjoyed a bad reputation among the local fishermen and sailors. They tried to avoid it because it was believed that the cave was home to witches and sea monsters.

MAMMOTH CAVE

Where: Kentucky, USA

The Mammoth Cave System – Flint Ridge is the longest karst cave system in the world and is likely to remain so forever. It covers 52,830 hectares, twice as long as Mexico’s Sac-Actun cave system, which is almost entirely under water.

The eponymous Mammoth Cave National Park offers several cave tours for tourists and visitors. Numerous attractions here include: “Grand Avenue,” “Frozen Niagara,” and the famous “Fat Man’s Misery.”

These sights can be seen on artificial light tours that can last up to 6 hours. There are also “wild” tours with theatrical performances where tourists have to climb muddy and dusty tunnels.

The length of the explored part of the cave system is more than 587 km. In the explored part there are 225 underground passages, about 20 large halls and 20 deep shafts.

Features. Until the early 1990s there was a boat tour along the underground Echo River. The tour was discontinued due to unprofitability and the harm visitors caused to the river fauna.

CARLSBAD CAVERNS

Where: New Mexico, USA

Carlsbad Caverns National Park sits atop a limestone cliff above the water table. It is one of the most visited caves in the United States, with a total of 41 million visitors in 2011.

The caves are open year-round, except on Christmas Day, and visitors can either walk 230 meters all the way down to the cave entrance or use a special elevator.

The main attraction of the park is a chain of 80 karst caves. The largest hall in the caves covers an area of 5.7 hectares, with dimensions in two directions of 610 and 335 m, and it reaches a height of 87 m.

The depth of the caves reaches 339 m, the total length of all the passages and halls – about 12 km.

Features. Many programs for tourists are offered here, including watching bats fly from inside the cave to outside during sunset and back to the cave before sunrise. Camping is also allowed here.

GROTTO MARBLE CATHEDRAL / CUEVAS DE MARMOL, MARBLE CATHEDRAL

Where: Coillaca, Chile

The Marble Cathedral Grotto is “cut into” a peninsula on the high glacial Lake General Carrera, which is located on the Chilean-Argentine border. The peninsula itself extends almost to the middle of the lake on its Chilean side and is composed of limestone rocks.

The way a tourist there is quite difficult: it involves an internal flight from Santiago to the city of Coyhaique, then will need to travel by car another 320 kilometers to the south to the lake itself.

But the long journey is worth it. The views and photos of the crystal-clear water framed by the whimsically wavy marble walls of the grottoes, which resemble a natural temple, are some of the most impressive.

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The Marble Cathedral grotto itself and the other grottoes of this marble cave system were formed about 6,000 years ago – the waves of the lake washed away the coastal rocks. The color of the water in the cave varies – depending on the time of day, season, weather, and water level – from azure blue to almost dark green.

Features. You can get to the caves only by boat – the locals do it for tourists (there are several settlements where you can stay). There are some beautiful natural arches on the lake near the entrances to the caves. They are also very bizarre, and somewhat reminiscent of the “flying islands” from the movie “Avatar”.

CAVES ŠKOCJAN JAME / ŠKOCJAN CAVE

Where: Plateau Karst, Slovenia.

The system of limestone caves in south-western Slovenia is one of the most famous examples of “contact karst” in the world.

The cave is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its outstanding importance. International scientific circles also consider it one of the natural treasures of the planet. In addition to being insanely beautiful, it has a diverse ecosystem of relict and rare species. This place has a historical value because it was inhabited in prehistoric times.

The total length of the passages of the entire cave system, going down to a depth of -223 m, is 6.2 km. In the system there are numerous sinkholes and cavities, underground cavities and about 30 waterfalls up to 10 m high.

Features. Since 2004 it is a karst biosphere reserve. Since 2006, it is regularly visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists each year.

MULU CAVES

Where: Borneo, Malaysia

The Mulu Caves, located in Gunung Mulu National Park in Borneo, are one of Malaysia’s top tourist attractions. The park includes incredible caves and karst formations in a mountainous equatorial rainforest setting.

The Sarawak Grotto, found here in one of the underground caves, is about 700 meters long and 396 meters wide, at least 70 meters high, and is the largest cave grotto in the world. It is claimed to be so large that it could hold about 40 Boeing 747 planes including the wings.

Features. The national park where the caves are located is extremely varied in landscape – there are peat bogs and jungle-covered hills where about 1,500 species of flowers grow, 10 of which are carnivorous.

PUERTO PRINCESA UNDERGROUND RIVER / PUERTO PRINCESA

Where: Palawan Island, Philippines

Puerto Princesa is an underground river and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is possible to enter the cave where the river flows from a nearby town by walking a few kilometers.

In 2010, a team of ecologists and geologists discovered that the underground river has a “second floor” and there are numerous small waterfalls in its cave. There is also a 300-meter cave dome above the underground river, where you can see incredible rock formations, other river channels, another deep cave, large bats and an abundance of sea creatures.

The cave is navigable by boat up to 4 km deep–this part of it is accessible to tourists. The deeper part of the cave cannot be explored due to lack of oxygen. Inside the cave there are also several large grottos, including the “Italian Grotto” 360 meters high, which is one of the largest cave grottos in the world.

Features. The underground river runs underground in the direction of the South China Sea. Its length is more than 24 km.Similar underground river is also known in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, but Puerto Princesa is recognized as the largest.

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