Travelers venturing underground are sure to be greeted by wondrous sights: millions of glowworms, golden pavilions, endless tunnels and stalactites hanging majestically from the ceiling. Take a tour of six fascinating caves with Mondo!
A golden pavilion, Thailand
Phraya Nakhon Cave in Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park is a magical sight, especially in the morning, when the sun’s rays shine through the opening in the roof to illuminate the golden pavilion built inside.
The pavilion was built in 1890 to commemorate the visit of King Chulalongkorn of Siam (Rama V), and inside the pavilion is a statue of him. The name of the national park means “300 peaks,” as the area is full of karst mountains, the highest of which rise to around 600 meters.
You can make a trip here from the beach resort of Hua Hin, for example, which takes about 45 minutes by car. The rest of the route to the cave is a very steep and difficult mountain path, so you will need good shoes and plenty of water.
A glowing experience, New Zealand
New Zealand’s North Island attractions include the enthralling caves of the Waitomo District. They were discovered by a local Māori chief in the late 1800s. In the dark caverns of Waitomo Glowworm Caves, you can take in the thrilling glow of a glowworm species that lives only here.
You can take a guided walk in the caves and a boat trip on the underground stream. The caves offer a variety of views, and their history and geology is explained at the visitor center.
Admission fees are not cheap: a ticket for the glowworm cave costs €34 per adult. A combined ticket (€55) also gives access to the impressive Ruakuri Cave in the same area. Waitomo is just under three hours from Auckland, from where there are occasional bus trips to the caves. The best plan is to combine a cave visit with a wider tour of New Zealand.
Cave camping, Vietnam
For a mind-blowing cave adventure, head to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. It is home to Hang Én, believed to be the world’s third largest cave. Its special features include a sandy beach and a campsite. The cave can be explored on guided one-night camping trips (around 300 euros).
The camping site in Hang Én, one the world's largest caves, offers a night to remember.
Also in the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is an even more spectacular experience: Hang Sơn Đoòng, the world’s largest known cave. The largest part of the cave is five kilometers long, 200 meters high and 150 meters wide. Inside you will find lakes, and stalactites over 70 meters long. Hang Sơn Đoòng can be reached on expensive multi-day trips (around 3,000 euros). There are also caves in the national park that are free to enter.
Ice caves, Iceland
Europe’s second largest glacier, Vatnajökull, is located in south-east Iceland. It’s a veritable treasure for nature lovers. There are guided hikes to the glacier, and for many the most beautiful experience is a visit to an ice cave. New ones are created every year as meltwater carves cavities and various shapes in the thick ice.
The colors alone are spellbinding: the ice mass often looks blue, but it can also be snow white, sandy brown, pebble gray, and many other hues. Some of the caves are vaults that are dozens of meters long.
Don’t go to the glacier and ice cave on your own: every year, tourists in distress have to be rescued from Vatnajökull. Prices start at around 70 euros.
Cave walk, Slovenia
Many people travel to Slovenia to hike in the beautiful mountain ranges, but a trip to admire the underground trails is also a great idea. There are caves all over Slovenia, some of which have been popular attractions since the 19th century.
One of the most fascinating places is the Škocjan Caves (pictured). The cave system was designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1986. The views can be admired from an illuminated walkway and bridge, which is also an impressive sight in itself.
A short drive from Škocjan is Postojna Cave Park, a stunning destination. Its caves are entered by a train, like at a funfair, and the interior is decorated with crystal chandeliers in places. Tickets cost between 24 euros and 28.50 euros. Of course, there are also many caves in Slovenia that are in a natural state.
A window to the valley, Puerto Rico
Cueva Ventana, or Window Cave, is one of Puerto Rico’s most picturesque natural attractions. Among the things to marvel at are petroglyphs carved into the rock, stalactites and bats. But the most famous feature of the cave is the opening in the middle, which frames the landscape like a massive window. Suddenly, the darkness fades and you can see the green Río Grande de Arecibo valley with mountains rising in the background.
The cave is on private land, and as the site grew in popularity the nearby gasoline station started charging visitors a fee. Later, only paid tours to Cueva Ventana have been available. At the beginning of this year, the local government had enough of unauthorized tourism businesses and closed the cave for the time being. Judging by pictures on social media, however, there have been visitors since then.
Text: Valtteri Väkevä and Pekka Hiltunen Photos: Getty Images and All Over Press
This story was originally published in Mondo's issue 10/22.