Let’s be clear about something: Caves are cool. We’re not sure what it is, but something about a hollow space underneath the earth that’s big enough to walk around in and explore just seems exciting to us. That’s why we were pretty psyched to hear about the recent announcement to allow visitors to explore a part of Howe Caverns in New York that’s been sectioned off for over a hundred years.
Indeed, it’s a sad fact that some of the sweetest caves in the world are off limits to the average person; Mexico’s infamously bizarre Cave of the Crystals (which requires researchers to wear hazmat-like suits to explore) and France’s Lascaux caves with their legendary prehistoric paintings (which have been closed to the public since the 1960s), for example.
Don’t get too sad, though. We’ve discovered 7 caves and caverns that you can actually visit.
Mammoth Cave – U.S.A[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]A national park, Mammoth Cave is the largest cave system in the world[/pullquote]
Visitors can check out its massive interior via ranger-guided tours. The available excursions range from a light quarter-mile trek through Mammoth’s more open sections to an intense exploration of the cave’s “wild section” with an experienced guide (requiring climbing, crawling and even squeezing through sections).
Škocjan Caves – Slovenia
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 1980s, the Škocjan Caves are known for being the home of the world’s largest underground canyon, offering examples of natural subterranean beauty and ecology, and being an early home to primitive humans. Visitors can choose from guided or unguided tours (depending on the section), as well as take in museum exhibits and an educational trail on top of the cave.
Reed Flute Cave – China
This cave system in China’s southern region of Guangxi has been attracting visitors since at least the 8th century. Named for the types of reed growing just outside its entrance, visitors to the cave can take in a variety of unique stalactites, stalagmites and rock formations illuminated by different colored lighting features. A usual tour takes about an hour.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves – New Zealand
Located in Northern New Zealand, Waitomo Glowworm Caves are famous for featuring a species of glowworms that are only found in New Zealand. Guided tours include a boat ride through one section of the caves in which is the only light source is the bioluminescent bugs.
Mulu Caves – Malaysia
Part of Malaysia’s Gunung Mulu Park, a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Mulu caves are famous for their limestone formations and for being home to the world’s largest cave chamber, the Sarawak Chamber. Cave fans can choose from a multitude of different guided tour options ranging from a leisurely hike through sections to a high-exertion trek requiring participants to spend the night in the Sarawak Chamber.
Carlsbad Caverns- U.S.A.
The Carlsbad Caverns may not be the biggest caves in the U.S., but the national park is one of the most visited. Guests can choose to take self-guided tours to areas like the caverns’ famous “big room” or take part in a more rigorous ranger-guided tour, which often requires crawling, to spots like the “spider cave.” There’s even a regular scheduled program to watch and celebrate the seasonal migration of bats that fly out of the caverns in the hundreds of thousands every night during the summer.
Mogao Caves – China
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Known as the “Caves of a Thousand Buddhas”[/pullquote]
Although they’re not of the geological importance of the other caves on this list, the Mogao Caves are still pretty cool. This site along the silk road in China’s Gansu province was first used by Buddhist monks as a place to meditate over 1600 years ago. Over time, artists began decorating one of the caves with depictions of Buddha in statues, murals, and paintings. The work spread to over 750 caves and is said to be enough to cover more than 15 miles worth of gallery space.
Where are your favorite spelunking spots? Let us know in the comments section.