They are often hidden in jungles, gorges, or wild rocky hills. Some of them are gigantic, like a monster’s mouth, others have a very small, hardly detectable entrance. Some are short and empty. But others reveal an unearthly, fantastic world, full of mysteries, sometimes even scary. They are caves– the secret natural tunnels to something dark and unknown. And the world that you can discover inside them can be incredibly beautiful. Let’s discover the 10 most beautiful caves in the world- a journey to another, underground “Earth”!
The nature of caves
Let’s get into geography. Normally, people think about a cave as a natural one-direction horizontal tunnel that penetrates into a mountain. And yes, there are such “ideal” caves, but not all of them look like this. Yes, caves are like natural tunnels, but they can be very diverse.
Some caves are very short in depth, looking more like shelters. They are called “grottoes”. But other caves can be very long. They can be branched into many tunnels underground. Also, they can descend, some of them can be even like vertical holes (like pit caves, sinkholes, or ponors). Some caves are very narrow, like a crack in the rock, while in others you can see giant large halls.
Types of caves
There are various types of caves, with various types of origin. Most of them belong to a certain type, called “solutional” caves, presenting stalactites, stalagmites, and various other weird formations. But there are some other types of caves that we have to mention.
These are the most “traditional” caves. Most of them are formed by chemical interaction between the soft type of rocks and the acid ingredients in the water. And the most common type of soft rock is limestone. So, wherever you find limestone rocks, you can expect caves in this area.
The solutional caves are well-known for their specific formations- stalactites (pillars hanging from above), stalagmites (pillars rising from the ground), flowstones, helictites, and others. These caves are usually a combination of tunnels and halls, often on different levels. Underground streams and rivers are flowing through them, turning some of them into double-exit tunnels.
These are not exactly caves, but just shallow coves or rock shelters. Many of them are artificially created and have been used as rock-hewn churches or temples, or as pre-historical dwellings.
Primary (lava) caves
This type of cave is formed when the surface of flowing lava cools and hardens, but under the crust, the lava is still hot and flowing. When it flows out, a cavern remains like a long tunnel. Such caves can be seen in volcanic areas like Hawaii.
They are formed by the interaction between the rock cliffs and the seawater. Usually, they are not too deep, with a wide entrance. But some of them present some very beautiful formations.
Erosional, fracture, and talus caves
As their name suggests, these caves are formed by erosion, landslide, or seismic activity. You can’t see stalactites and stalagmites in such caves, and some of them can be dangerous.
These are underwater caves, or more precisely- tunnels that connect seaside pools with the sea. The water in the pools is mixed of fresh and saline and usually fluctuates by the sea tides.
The 10 most beautiful caves in the world
So, among all of the caves on our planet, let’s identify the most beautiful ones. Beauty is not a scientific metric, so, various people could have different tastes of beauty. That’s why this is not a chart where “Cave No.1” is the most beautiful, but just 10 caves chosen from most of the people’s opinion.
Marble Caves, Chile
This is a unique cave system formed in an area with marble rocks. It is located at the western shores of General Carrera Lake in the northern part of Patagonia. The caves are created by the interaction between the lake water with the marble rocks. The result of this interaction is a maze of tunnels and halls over the surface of the lake water.
What makes these caves incredibly beautiful is the amazing colors of the marble rocks of the crystal clear lake water. Here you can enjoy a celebration of natural colors- mostly bluish, with some green and pink nuances.
This is not a solutional cave, so there are no stalactites and stalagmites, but the rocks inside the caves still create weirdly fantastic shapes. You can feel like you float inside an unearthly giant cheese.
How to reach and explore Marble Caves
General Carrera Lake is divided between Chile and Argentina, and Marble Caves are located at its Chilean coast. So, if you want to visit the caves, you have to start your trip from Chile.
The nearest relatively bigger city nearby is Coyhaique. From there, you have to take a bus or drive a car for more than 2 hours to the town of Puerto Rio Tranquilo, located at the western shores of General Carrera Lake. This town is your starting point for visiting the caves.
The area around Marble Caves is a natural reserve, and the only way to visit it is by organized tour. Several tour companies offer boat or kayak trips to the caves. The best time to take a boat trip is early morning when the weather is calm. The lake water is very cold, so you can’t swim there. Normally, the whole boat trip is around 2 hours long.
Fingal’s Cave, UK (Scotland)
This is a sea cave, located on the basalt cliffs of Staffa Island in Scotland, a part of the Hebrides Archipelago. What makes it one of the most beautiful caves in the world is the unique combination of a sea cave formation with hexagonal basalt columns.
In prehistoric times, this area was volcanic. Basalt cooling creates hexagonal columns in many places on the Earth. But here, due to the specific rock and water conditions, a crack in the cliffs was formed. Gradually, this crack turned into a unique sea cave, around 50-60 m deep and more than 20 m high. As most of the sea caves, its bottom is underwater.
Fingal’s Cave is also known for its perfect acoustic features. The cave has attracted the composer Felix Mendelssohn to visit it and has inspired him to write Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave) Ouverture.
How to visit and explore Fingal’s Cave
Staffa Island where the cave is located is uninhabited, and the whole area is a natural reserve. So, the only way to visit Fingal’s Cave is by boat trip. There are two starting points for taking such a boat trip- Baile Mor on Iona Island from the south, and Ulva on the bigger Island of Mull. Usually, these trips also include the nearby Lunga on the Treshnish Isles, where you can see the amazing puffin colonies.
The boat trips to Fingal’s Cave are organized only from April to September when the weather is better and the ocean is usually calmer. In fact, the best times to visit the cave are in April or in September.
If the sea is choppy, boats don’t land on the coast, but only float to the entrance of the cave and a bit inside. But if the sea is calm, you can step on the rocks and walk inside the cave. Or, you can walk above the cave on the island, observing the spectacular views of the whole landscape.
Skocjan Caves, Slovenia
This is an amazing cave system, known as one of the largest underground canyons in the world. It is solutional, formed in a limestone environment. The cave system is formed by the Reka River flowing northwest and by other rivers connected to the Adriatic Sea.
Parts of the river’s length are underground, and other parts flow through limestone open-air canyons, called Big Collapse and Small Collapse valleys. They are connected by this system of caves, forming amazing underground canyons of huge size.
Today, Skocjan Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the whole area is a natural reserve. It presents not only unique cave rock phenomena, but also the local ecosystem, formed by the microclimatic conditions of the underground river canyons. Also, the caves have been used since prehistoric times.
How to visit and explore Skocjan Caves
Skocjan Caves are easily accessible by bus, train, or car from Ljubljana. Buses and trains travel to the town of Divaca, only a few kilometers from the entrance of the Skocjan Caves (Skocjanski Jame) Regional Park.
Once you reach the entrance, you have to buy tickets from the ticket office there. The ticket price is 16 EUR for adults and 7.50 EUR for children between 6 and 18 years old. Before you enter the park, you can also visit the local museum, presenting natural and historical artifacts.
From the entrance, you can follow the specially designed Education trail. Its route shows the most significant from the cave system- the underground canyons, the Big and Small Collapse valleys, and many more. The whole walk in the caves is around 50 min long.
The Blue Grotto, Italy
Despite its name, it is actually not a grotto but a sea cave, about 60 m long. It is located on the northern coast of Capri Island in Italy, not far from Naples. The cave is half in the seawater, and the depth of the sea bottom in the cave reaches 150 m. And the bottom itself is sandy.
What makes it one of the most beautiful caves in the world is the blue color, as its name suggests. When you enter inside, you can see it filled with weird blue light. This color is formed by the unique combination of the rocks, the entrance, the clear water, and the whole shape. In fact, you can’t identify where the source of the blue light is.
This otherworldly weird place has been a source of many legends, including stories telling that this place is inhabited by witches and monsters. Later, the Blue Grotto has inspired many writers and musicians for their works.
How to reach and explore the Blue Grotto
The best starting point to visit the Blue Grotto is the city of Naples. You should take a ferry to Marina Grande on Capri Island. From there, you have two options- to go by bus to Anacapri and by another bus or on foot to the point of rowboats for the cave, or by boat directly from Marina Grande.
Once you reach the rowboats point, you pay the entrance fee- 16 EUR. Then, you have to pay another 14 EUR for the rowboat ride.
The best time to visit the Blue Grotto is in the afternoon when the sunlight creates the best blue reflections. During the other hours of the day, or during cloudy days, it is still blue but less spectacular.
The cave is closed during the high tide or during stormy weather. Also, have in mind that swimming inside the cave is forbidden.
The Cave of the Crystals, Mexico
Now, let’s go to a place where you would literally feel like you are on another planet. The place is incredibly beautiful but deadly. This is the Cave of the Crystals, located near the town of Naica in Chihuahua State, Mexico.
Its name comes from the giant sulfate gypsum-formed crystals (many of them more than 10 m long!) that can be found everywhere in the cave. At the same time, there is a magma chamber only several kilometers (miles) below it. The unique location and specific conditions formed these crystals, creating something that can’t be seen anywhere on the Earth.
The Cave of the Crystals was discovered by the nearby miners who drilled a tunnel to it. There was water in the cave that was drained, but in 2015, when the mine operations ceased, the cave was re-flooded again.
The Cave of the Crystals, Mexico
How to visit and explore the Cave of the Crystals
Unlike the other caves in this Top 10, this one is almost inaccessible. The main reason for that is the extremely high temperature due to the magma chamber below- 58°C (136°F). In addition, the humidity is extremely high too- above 90%. Can you imagine what the feeling of being inside is? Normally, people can’t stand it for more than 10 min!
For this reason, tourists are not allowed inside the cave. Only scientists can visit it, and only by obtaining a permit. Besides, since the cave is re-flooded (as reported), scientists have to wear diving equipment for hot water, if possible at all!
However, you can visit the other crystal caves near the town of Naica. They are much cooler, even a bit chilly. Yes, the crystals inside them are much smaller, but you can still get some impressions. Naica is just an hour trip by bus from the city of Chihuahua, and the caves are within walking distance from the Naica bus stop.
Krubera Cave, Georgia
Krubera (called also Voronya) Cave is one of the two deepest abysses on the Earth (the other one is Veryovkina, located in the same mountain massif). It is not like most “normal” caves that look like horizontal tunnels. Instead, it is more like a vertical hole.
Its entrance is located at 2256 m above sea level, and its known bottom- at 2197 m below the entrance (only 59 m above sea level). The entrance itself is small and doesn’t look so special, but if you enter inside, you would feel like starting a journey to the center of the Earth!
You can’t find too many special formations inside like stalactites and stalagmites- yes, there are, but they are not what make the cave beautiful. And in fact, it is not the beauty, but the fantastic drop to the Earth’s core that makes Krubera Cave so spectacular.
Krubera Cave, Georgia
How to visit and explore Krubera Cave
Krubera Cave is located in Russian-occupied Abkhazia, the northwestern part of Georgia. For this reason and the complicated political situation, entering the whole region is a bit difficult. You have to obtain a Georgian visa with a permit beforehand.
Once you enter Abkhazia, it is easier to reach the Krubera Cave. You can travel by travel from Tbilisi to Gagra, and from there by local transport to Ortobalagan Valley. Finally, from the last parking lot, you have to hike to the cave. And for exploring it, you have to pay an entrance fee, which is different depending on which tour company arranges your cave journey.
But again, have in mind that this is not a “normal” cave. The only way to enter inside is to descend, equipped with proper cave gear. Of course, you can’t reach the bottom of the cave, but at least you can step on a horizontal bottom below the entrance. And even you can’t proceed too much further, you can still feel the fantastic dimensions of this abyss.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand
This is another unique cave. Actually, at first sight, it is just a normal beautiful limestone (solutional) cave with stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations, as well as an underground river. But there is something that makes this cave one of the most beautiful caves in the world, and as its name suggests, this is a tiny animal called glowworm.
The glowworms in Waitomo and in other caverns in New Zealand are larvae of an insect, called Arachnocampa Luminosa. This wormlike larva hangs from the ceilings of the cave and emits pale blue light, creating an otherworldly underground environment.
Waitomo Glowworm is only one of the several caves in the area, located on the North Island of New Zealand. More glowworms can be seen in the other caves too, but in Waitomo the whole view is the best because you can float on the underground river, illuminated only by these weird creatures, like in a fantastic fairy tale.
How to visit and explore Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Waitomo Glowworm Caves are a touristy place, so it is easy to visit. You can go there by bus from Auckland for 3 h 40 min, or by car for about 2 hours and a half. Buses travel four times a week, in the morning from 8:45 am, and the entrance of the caves is the last stop.
Once you arrive at the entrance, you pay the entrance fee, which is NZD 55 for adults and NZD 25 for children. When you enter inside, you first pass through two levels, until you descend to the third, most beautiful level.
Here, in the third level, you arrive in a hall called The Cathedral, famous for its perfect acoustics, where many singers have come for their performance. And then, you go on a boat riding on the underground river under the fantastic glowworm lighting.
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River, Philippines
There are underground rivers in many caves on the Earth. But this one is the longest. In fact, it is not just one single cave, but a whole system of caves and river branches flowing through them. It is located on Palawan Island, well-known for its limestone formations.
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River (called also Puerto Princesa Underground River) is formed by Cabayugan River. More than 8 km of this river flows underground through the limestone system, called St Paul Underground River Cave. The river passes through several large chambers and finally, when goes out of the cave, it flows directly into the sea.
Today, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River is one of the New Seven Natural Wonders in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is not only an incredibly beautiful place but also presents rich fauna and flora.
How to visit and explore Puerto Princesa Subterranean River
The underground river is the main attraction in the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. It is located about 80 km north of the city of Puerto Princesa, and you can go there by bus, van, or jeepney for about 2-3 hours. However, first, you have to obtain a permit from the Underground River Booking Office in Puerto Princesa’s City Coliseum.
After you leave the city of Puerto Princesa, your goal is Sabang Port. Here you pay several fees:
- 1. Entrance fee: 500 PHP
- 2. Audioguide fee: 85 PHP
- 3. Environmental fee: 150 PHP
- 4. Boat riding- every boat carries 6 passengers, and each passenger pays 187 PHP.
The Underground River is more than 8 km long, but the boat rides explore only about 4 km of the river. The rest is restricted for tourists, and you can’t go inside without a guide anyway. Normally, the whole boat trip is 45 to 50 min long and after that, you can enjoy many other stunning natural beauties in the area- forests, more limestone formations, and beaches.
Reed Flute Cave, China
Now, let’s go to South China. Here is the largest limestone area on the Earth. Although it is presented mainly by karst hills, there are also some beautiful caves, as you can normally expect in such areas. And one of these caves is particularly beautiful and worth visiting- Reed Flute Cave, located in the Guilin Karst Hills area.
Its name comes from the reeds that grow beside its entrance that has been used for making flutes. In fact, it is just a normal beautiful cave, full of stalactites, stalagmites, and many other typical cave formations. It is not too long and not too deep- only about 500 m in length.
What makes this cave more special is the history. It has been known since ancient times. And when you enter inside, you can see a lot of inscriptions dated from medieval times, starting from the times of the Tang Dynasty (around 792 AD). So, the old inscriptions, the reeds outside, and the whole mix of nature with the traditional Chinese culture make this cave one of the most beautiful in the world.
How to visit and explore Reed Flute Cave
Reed Flute Cave is located about 5 km from the center of Guilin City, and it is one of the multiple attractions in the whole Guilin Karst Hills area. You can go to the cave by public city bus (the cheapest way), by taxi, or by water (the most attractive way).
Once you arrive at the entrance, you have to pay the entrance fee, which is 90 CNY. Then you can freely enter the cave- you don’t need a guide to explore it. If you want to enjoy and “taste” the cave, you’d better prepare for at least 1 hour and a half for visiting.
So, if you go to visit Reed Flute Cave, include it in a whole route with other attractions in the area- Li River cruise, the karst hills around Yangshuo and Xingping, and everything else that you can see here- natural and cultural. And for a good memory, you can buy a reed flute from the entrance.
Son Doong Cave, Vietnam
This is known as the largest cave in the world. Not because of its length- in fact, it is just about 5 km long. But its size comes from its enormous passages and chambers, reaching 200 m in height. You feel like you are in a hollow mountain. In addition, there is an underground river making the cave even more impressive.
Son Doong Cave was discovered accidentally by a local farmer in 1991. But only 18 years later it was fully explored by speleologists. They discovered an underground connection of this cave with another neighboring cave, called Hang Thung.
Among the most attractive details in this giant cave, there are two dolines (holes from above), allowing the sunlight to enter and shine into parts of this underground world. You can also see some of the longest stalactites in the world, reaching 70 m in length, as well as a 90 m long calcite wall, called “The Great Wall of Vietnam”.
How to visit and explore Son Doong Cave
Son Doong Cave is not easy to be arranged for tourists, so it is not a touristy place. Anyway, there is a travel company that arranged permits for visiting the cave, called Oxalis Adventure Tours. Besides this, if you are an independent traveler, it is almost impossible to obtain a permit.
Visiting Son Doong Cave is not like a normal tourist activity, but it is possible only by a 4-days expedition, arranged by Oxalis Adventure Tours, with guides, porters, and all other logistic details. So, it is much more expensive- currently, the price is 3000 USD, and it doesn’t include the transport to the nearest city of Quang Binh.
If you want to join such an expedition, you have to book it in advance, because only 1000 visitors per year are allowed to explore the cave. This is for environmental reasons. But if you resolve the booking task and join the expedition, you would enjoy an unforgettable experience in a unique underground world that can’t be seen anywhere else on Earth.
These are the 10 most beautiful caves in the world, according to travelers’ opinions. Of course, there are many other beautiful caves. Probably there are some still undiscovered caves with small entrances hidden in the jungle- hidden gems that can change the above Top 10! Anyway, caves are one of the most amazing underground wonders where you can feel like exploring another world!
Check some travel books about caves:
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