I confess I like a good cave. I have fond memories from my childhood of exploring caves while our family camped at the Oregon coast. My brother and I would pretend we were pirates and spend hours searching for buried treasure. As an adult I’ve had an opportunity to see a few more caves. My reasons for going have changed since my younger days. Now I look at stalactites and stalagmites, and listen to the guides tell fascinating tales.
My personal preference is a cavern that has high ceilings and wide walls, and I’ll concede that I like it when I can see the light of day peeking through the entrance although I have ventured into the dark (with a flashlight with new batteries in my sweaty hand.) You’ll never, ever catch me squirming down a narrow lava tube. I’d hyperventilate and have a major anxiety attack before passing out. But, I know there are people who get a thrill out of doing just that, so I’ve included a couple of caves just for those crazy, fearless types.
Blue Grotto – Italy
This sea cave, found along the coastline of the island of Capri, can only be reached by swimming or lying down in a very small rowboat that a guide maneuvers through the mouth of the cave. The tide and the weather have to be just right or you can’t get inside, but once you’re in, it’s worth it.
The caves were named because of the light that shines through the salt water of the Mediterranean Sea and causes blue reflections inside the cave. It’s best to visit around mid-day when the sun is at the front of the cave so the light comes in just right. Inside you’ll find exotic sea life like giant sponges, oversized mussels and beautiful colored coral.
Eisriesenwelt – Austria
These caves are the largest system of ice caves in the world. In fact, Eisriesenwelt is German for “world of the ice giants.” They were officially discovered in 1879 by a natural scientist named Anton Posselt, although the locals knew all about them but refused to venture too close because they were thought to be the entrance to Hell.
These limestone caves are located near Salzburg and are open from May through October. The inside temperature is usually below freezing so if you visit wear warm clothing. In 1955 a cable car was installed, turning the 90 minute climb to the cave into an easy 3 minute ride.
Mammoth Cave National Park – United States
This is one of those cave systems where adventurous sorts have an opportunity to do some real caving, but there are also opportunities for the less daring. They offer 16 different tours, ranging from the 30-minute, 3/4 mile self-guided Discovery Tour which focuses on large passageways, to the 6-hour, 5 1/2 mile Wild Cave Tour where you’ll free climb cave walls, crawl through spaces as small as nine inches high and find yourself on your hands and knees crawling over jagged rocks and dirt.
The cave system, found in Kentucky, is one of the worlds longest at over 365 miles. Native American remains have been found inside dating back about 6,000 years. The first Europeans discovered the caves while hunting in 1797.
>>book a cheap hotel in Kentucky
Blue Caves – Greece
These incredible caves are located at the north end of the Greek Island of Zakynthos near the village of Volimes. Near the caves you’ll find two really cool natural arches that have been carved by erosion into the white rock.
The caves can only be visited by boat. You can either take a boat from Alikes or you can drive north to the lighthouse and take a glass bottom boat. From the boats you are able to swim around and into the caves. The best time to visit is in the morning when the light is bright and the water is a brilliant azure blue.
Cango Caves – South Africa
These caves are located near the town of Oudtshoorn and are considered by many to be one of the world’s natural wonders. They were first discovered in 1780 by a local farmer and in 1930 an archaeologist discovered evidence that people had once lived in the caves in the Middle and Stone Ages.
The cave system is about two and a half miles long. Guides will lead you through the caves on your choice of a tour. A Standard Tour lasts about an hour and an Adventure Tour lasts a little longer at an hour and a half. On the Adventure Tour you’ll get to crawl through narrow passages and climb up steep rock formations. Inside the caves you’ll see some unbelievable limestone formations.
Longmen Grottoes – China
This fantastic cave system in the Henan province dates back to 493 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Various emperors, royal family members and religious groups paid for the construction of Buddhist images to be carved and built through the caves as a way to gain good fortune.
There are many things to see here, but two of the most incredible are the Guyang Cave and the Ten Thousand Buddha Cave. The Guyang Cave is one of the oldest caves. It has remarkable images of the royal family from the Northern Wei period and three levels of Buddha statues along its north and south walls. Ten Thousand Buddha Cave is from the Tang era and was built to honor Emperor Gaozang and Empress Wu. Inside you’ll find more than 15,000 small carved images of the Buddha.
Bamiyan Caves – Afghanistan
Sad stories surround this area. On the side of a cliff, where monks used to live in small caves, there were two unbelievable Buddha’s. They had been carved into the steep rock in the early 500’s. One was 120 feet tall and multi colored, while the other was 180 feet tall and red. They were a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Unfortunately in 2001 the Taliban, who believe that the Koran forbids representing human form in art, destroyed them. They fired anti-aircraft guns and artillery at them and when that didn’t work they detonated mines and dynamite that had been placed in holes in the face of the rock.
Visitors can still visit the monk’s caves, and there is talk of trying to rebuild the Buddha’s. But first the people who live in caves in the area need to be helped. Large families are living in small caves without electricity or running water, and there is a tremendous need for jobs, food, a better school and medical help. Organizations like the Red Cross have stepped in, but much more international aid is needed.
>>read our Afghanistan Travel Guide
Elephanta Caves – India
Located on an island in a harbor off the coast of Mumbai, this cave-temple area covers about 60,000 feet and consists of a main chamber, two smaller chambers, courtyards and shrines. There are seven caves in total. You can get out to the island by taking a regular ferry (except during monsoon season.)
The temple was carved out of rock as a tribute to the Hindu god Shiva. One of the most important sculptures is a three headed Shiva (Panchamukha Shiva) who is 20 feet tall. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Jenolan Caves – Australia
A large part of this cave system is only available to true cavers, so if you are an adventurer this one is for you. About ten of the caves have been developed for the more cowardly (like me.) They are located in the Blue Mountains about 109 miles outside of Sydney.
These limestone caves rank as some of the oldest discovered in the world. The first recorded discovery was by two local farmers in about 1835, although the Aboriginal tribes in the area were aware of them long before. Inside you’ll find marine fossils and beautiful calcite formations.
Qumram Caves – Israel
These caves are famous because they are the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1949. The caves are not open to tourists, but you can take a tour of the archeological site.
There are several theories as to what the caves were. Some scholars believe they were home to a Jewish sect, others think they may have been a family villa, a Jewish fort, or even a pottery factory. Regardless of what it once was, 900 scrolls were found, most of them written on parchment, and scientists are hard at work unraveling their mysteries.
>>book Israel Airfare and read our Israel Travel Guide
Sea Lion Caves – United States
Located along the Oregon coast, 11 miles from the city of Florence, these caves are home to a year-round colony of Steller’s Sea Lions. They are the only year-round colony in North America and boast of being the largest sea cave in the world.
The cave began forming about 25 million years ago and has grown to the height of a 12-story building and the width of a football field. To visit the caves you descend 208 feet in an elevator. At the bottom you’ll see plenty of sea lions gathered in the amphitheatre or taking care of their pups on rock ledges.
>>look for cheap flights to Oregon and book a hotel in Portland
Reed Flute Cave – China
This cave, which is located in the Guangxi province, gets its name from the reeds that grow outside of it. The locals use the reeds to make flutes. The cave was created by an underground river which eroded the interior of the mountain. It’s huge and can hold over 1,000 people. In fact, it was used as an air raid shelter in WWII.
Inside you’ll find stalactites and other rock formations which are lit up by colored lights. Dress warm and wear shoes that have good traction because the interior of the cave is damp, cold and can be a bit slippery in spots.
>>look for Airfare to China and read our China Travel Guide
Read more about:
- Hot Days in the Oregon Caves
- Mediterranean Islands: 6 Destinations Not to Miss
- 10 Lesser Known Natural Wonders of the World
Read about author Deanna Hyland and check out her other BootsnAll articles
Blue Grotto Caves – Italy by Stuck in Customs on Flickr ,
Eisriesenwelt – Austria by Allie_Caulfield on Flickr ,
Mammoth Cave National Park – United States by J.E.S. on Flickr ,
Blue Caves – Greece by isdky on Flickr
Cango Caves – South Africa by Astrid Walter on Flickr ,
Longmen Caves – China by Yoshimai on Flickr ,
Bamiyan Caves – Afghanistan by tracyhunter on Flickr ,
Elephanta Caves – by GrahamKing on Flickr ,
Jenolan Caves – Australia by iansand on Flickr ,
Qumram Caves – Israel by Cajie on Flickr ,
Sea Lion Caves – United States by OCVA on Flickr ,
Reed Flute Cave – China by Proggie on Flickr