Sometimes wanting to experience something new, we start looking for hot springs, waterfalls or dormant volcano sights, but caves seldom cross our minds. Does the mention of caves remind you of dark, dingy and musty places that make you claustrophobic? Think again! All over the planet are strewn some beautiful, mysterious and awe inspiring cave sites that will change your perception and make you want to plan your next cave-centric trip. We give you a glimpse into these magnificent sites – natural and man-made.
1. Time stood still here
Enter the hypnotic world of Vatnajokull glacier’s ice caves in Iceland, where the play of light creates a beautiful kaleidoscope of color on the wave-like ice suspensions. These caves are open to tourists only during winters. For the photography buffs, special photography tours are organized, and those looking for adventure can go ice climbing even if you don’t have previous ice climbing experience- the tours are tailor made for you.
2. Frozen spaces
The ice caves near the Mutnovsky volcano, Russia, were discovered by chance by a group of photographers. These caves were formed by the volcano-fed hot springs in the glaciers of Kamchatka. With sunlight streaming through the glacial ice, you can witness your own natural multicolored ‘light show’ in these caves.
3. Sea the world under
Cenote Dos Ojos or two eyes cave, situated in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico is the third largest underwater cave system in the world. With the stalactites and stalagmites illuminated with streaming sunlight, it’s an ethereal experience. You can snorkel on the surface of the caves, but to truly experience and explore, you need to go diving with a guide. Warning- you need to have past diving experience.
4. Churches and underground cities
Cappadocia, in Göreme valley, Turkey, is home to the Göreme Open-air Museum, a beautiful collection of cave churches built by medieval orthodox Christian monks, by carving the caves from soft volcanic stone and decorating them with frescoes. They are also listed in UNESCO’s world heritage sites. Underground cities are another fascinating man-made creation, with 36 in all. Kaymakli is the widest with cellars, storage space, stables and so on, and is divided in 8 floors. Besides the caves you can also go horse riding or hot air balloon sight-seeing.
5. It’s a temple! It’s a cave! It’s a temple cave!
Batu caves in Kuala Lumpur, are popular among devotees and tourists alike since it is also the site of a Hindu temple and shrine. The entrance of the cave is guarded by a large statue of Lord Murugan, the Hindu God of war, leading to a steep climb up the 272 steps to finally reach the breathtaking view of the city’s skyline. Popular spot for rock climbing enthusiasts, it is also the site for the celebration of Thaipusam – a Tamil-Hindu festival, celebrated over three days in the month of January.
6. Far from the maddening crowd
Golden sands under a dome-shaped sea cave, carved from the cliffs, it’s a beauty! This is the Benagil sea cave in Algarve, Portugal. If you are looking for some me-time or a romantic tête-à-tête, this is the cave to be in. Want more? You can go exploring on a boat ride with the local boat captains who would know the best spots to see.
7. The razzle-dazzle caves
Glowworm is unique to New Zealand, and the Waitomo Glowworm Caves are home to thousands of these mysterious creatures, with tail ends that glow! There are daily, hourly boat rides that take you on a magical journey inside these caves, illuminated with hundreds and thousands of dazzling glowworms hanging on silken strings. You have an option of various tour combos, where you can club tours of two other famous caves (Ruakuri caves and Aranui caves) and a Lord of the Rings Tour.
A special mention – Ruakuri caves has wheelchair access and offers underground caving and rafting for the adrenaline junkies.
8. Inner peace is a possibility
The Phraya Nakhon cave in Thailand, has a tranquil and mystical aura about it. The route leading to these picturesque caves is equally breathtaking. The cave is inside Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, and at the center is the Kuha Karuhas pavilion, built in the 19th century for the visit of King Rama V.
9. Nature’s art
Reed Flute cave in Guilin, China got its name because of the reeds growing at its mouth, which can be made into flutes. Filled with fascinating and weird stalactites, stalagmites and rock formations, it is also known as ‘Nature’s Art Palace.’ You can buy a flute as a souvenir.
10. The mysterious caves
Considered as the ninth wonder of the world by the Chinese, Longyou grottoes in Longyou county in China, are hand carved caves with stone rooms, bridges, gutters, pools, and evenly distributed pillars supporting the ceiling. Several caves have been opened to tourists but there is still no explanation for their existence or history.
11. Cave and a heritage site
Ŝkocjan caves, Slovenia is on UNESCO’s list of natural and cultural world heritage, and this cave system includes the highest cave wall in Europe. You will be surrounded by huge underground gorges, waterfalls and bridges for the tourists to move around. This also houses the gorge where the river Reka mysteriously disappears underground.
12. The Lost World – found again!
Son Doong, the world’s largest cave is located in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, in Quang Binh province. It is home to one of the longest rivers in the world, an underground forest, and many more yet to be discovered wonders.
13. Nature’s design
Congo caves in South Africa, are full of drip-stone formations many of which resemble real-life objects and historical figures. You can spot the leaning tower of Pisa, or the Madonna holding baby Jesus. And to end the tour with a taste of adventure, you will have to climb up a ladder and crawl through a narrow hole.
This list is a sneak peek into the amazing, mysterious and beautiful world of caves. It’s only the tip of the great underground world that you can explore and experience.