Underground wonders: the most amazing and breathtaking caves in the world

Caves are defined as subterranean cavities connected to the surface, deep enough not to receive daylight and whose width and height allow at least one person to crawl inside.

The branch of science that studies this mysterious and sometimes frightening natural formation is called caving.

There are of course different types of caves such as karst caves, salt caves, ice caves, sea caves and wind caves. Natural forms such as stalactites, stalagmites, columns and travertines can form there.

The cellars can be used as a natural cold room, for the storage and maturation of cheeses and oils, for the cultivation of mushrooms, for the treatment of respiratory diseases or as military shelters.

Fingal’s Cave is a sea cave located on the uninhabited island of Staffa in Scotland. (Photo Shutterstock)

There are creatures living in or around them seasonally or continuously, and they are also very important for tourism, especially health tourism.

The fact that cave temperatures typically range between 17 and 24 degrees Celsius (62 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit) and humidity levels of 40% to 80% throughout the year, and that these numbers have no tendency to vary, gives caves characteristics of microclimate.

Throughout history, people have taken advantage of caves.

After learning to use the sea for the first time in South Africa, people used sea caves for shelter, and on some continents for art or for rock-hewn tombs.

Here are some tourist caves from different parts of the world that are sure to turn heads.

Son Doong Cave is so big that it has its own big river, ecosystem and climate.  (Photo Shutterstock)

Son Doong Cave is so big that it has its own big river, ecosystem and climate. (Photo Shutterstock)

Son Doong

First discovered in 1991 by Vietnam native Ho Khanh, Son Doong Cave in Vietnam was declared the largest cave in the world after a 2009 survey. It is so big that it has its own large river, a tropical forest and small mountains. This distinctive place is home to its own ecosystem and its own climate.

The cave is at least 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) long and can reach a height of 200 meters (656 ft) in places.

According to experts, much of it is still waiting to be discovered.

Fingal's Cave in Scotland has a wide arched entrance and is filled with seawater. (Photo Shutterstock)

Fingal’s Cave in Scotland has a wide arched entrance and is filled with seawater. (Photo Shutterstock)

Fingal’s Cave

Fingal’s Cave is a sea cave located on the uninhabited island of Staffa, Scotland. The cave, which has a wide arched entrance, is filled with seawater. Guided tours are run by local companies from April to September to venture out and see it.

In calm conditions, the short distance from the cave to the island can be walked, where a row of fractured columns form a walkway just above high water level allowing exploration on foot.

The cave takes its name from the eponymous hero of an epic poem by 18th-century Scottish poet-historian James Macpherson.

In Irish mythology the hero Fingal is known as Fionn mac Cumhaill, and it is suggested that Macpherson rendered the name Fingal – meaning “white stranger” – by misinterpreting the name, which in Old Gaelic would appear as Finn .

The legend of the Giant’s Causeway says that Fionn or Finn built the causeway between Ireland and Scotland.

Waitomo Glowworm is a cave located in New Zealand, known for its population of Arachnocampa luminosa, a species of glowworm found exclusively in the country.  (Photo Shutterstock)

Waitomo Glowworm is a cave located in New Zealand, known for its population of Arachnocampa luminosa, a species of glowworm found exclusively in the country. (Photo Shutterstock)

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Waitomo Glowworm is a cave located in Waitomo on the North Island of New Zealand. It has a modern reception center designed largely in wood at the entrance.

It was discovered by British researchers in 1884.

It is known for its population of Arachnocampa luminosa, a species of glowworm found exclusively in New Zealand.

The cave is part of the Waitomo stream system which includes Ruakuri Cave, Lucky Strike and Tumutumu Cave.

Guided tours take visitors through three different levels with the catacombs on the upper level. The second level is called the banquet hall, while the third and final level leads to the cathedral, the demonstration platform and the pier.

The tour ends with a boat ride through the Glowworm Cave, taking visitors along the underground Waitomo River where the only light comes from the tiny glowworms creating a sky of living lights.

Jeita Grotto is the national symbol of Lebanon and a top tourist destination.  (Photo Shutterstock)

Jeita Grotto is the national symbol of Lebanon and a top tourist destination. (Photo Shutterstock)

jeita grotto

Jeita Grotto is located in the Nahr al-Kalb Valley, north of the Lebanese capital, Beirut. The cave is the national symbol of Lebanon and a leading tourist destination, as well as an important economic and cultural icon. It was one of the top 14 finalists in a new contest of seven natural wonders.

It is thought to have been inhabited in prehistoric times, and its modern discovery was made by the Reverend William Thomson in 1836. Explorations continued in the following years and parts of the cave were opened to tourism in 1958 Closed in 1978 due to the civil war, the caves were reopened in 1995 and remain one of the most important natural attractions in the country.

It is a system of two separate, yet interconnected, karst limestone caves spanning a total length of nearly 9 kilometers.

The lower cave can only be visited by boat as it is home to an underground river that provides fresh drinking water to over a million Lebanese.

Phraya Nakhon in Thailand is a large cave with a hole in the ceiling that lets in sunlight, which sometimes shines directly on a pavilion in the heart of the cave.  (Photo Shutterstock)

Phraya Nakhon in Thailand is a large cave with a hole in the ceiling that lets in sunlight, which sometimes shines directly on a pavilion in the heart of the cave. (Photo Shutterstock)

Phraya Nakhon Cave

Located in Thailand, Phraya Nakhon Cave can be reached by boat or by hiking up Mount Tian and then climbing about 450 meters.

Phraya Nakhon is a large cave with a hole in the ceiling that lets in sunlight.

At the top of the hole is a bridge known as the “Bridge of Death” – so named because many wild animals die after falling from it.

At certain times in certain months, the sun shines directly on a pavilion in the heart of the cave.

Caverns of Moans

The Moaning Caverns is a solution cave located in Calaveras County, in the US state of California. It was discovered in modern times by gold diggers in 1851, but had long been known as an interesting geological feature by prehistoric peoples.

It takes its name from the groan that echoed out of the cave, luring people to the entrance; however, after the opening was enlarged by humans to allow public access, sounds were disrupted and distorted.

The part of the cave arranged for tourists consists of a spacious vertical shaft, which is descended by a combination of stairs and a unique spiral staircase built in the early 1900s.

It is open to the public for walking tours and caving.

Tours are organized every hour and last 45 minutes.

More than 30 caves around Turkey are open for tourism, including Karaca Cave in Gümüşhane.  (Photo Shutterstock)

More than 30 caves around Turkey are open for tourism, including Karaca Cave in Gümüşhane. (Photo Shutterstock)

Turkey’s Underground Wonders

In Turkey, 40% of the country’s land is suitable for cave formation and there are about 40,000 caves. Examination of 1,100 caves, mostly in the western and central Taurus Mountains, has been completed.

The longest cave in the country is Pınarözü in Isparta province, while the deepest cave is Peynirlikönü cave in Mersin district.

More than 30 caves across the country are open to tourism, and there are many caves for special interest groups that can only be entered with the proper equipment and guides.

Çal Cave, in Trabzon, northern Turkey, was formed in two stages and over a period of 8 million years.  (Photo Shutterstock)

Çal Cave, in Trabzon, northern Turkey, was formed in two stages and over a period of 8 million years. (Photo Shutterstock)

Cave of Cal

It is estimated that Çal Cave, located in the province of Trabzon in northern Turkey, was formed in two stages and over a period of 8 million years.

The construction of its tourist aspects was completed in 2000 and it was opened for tourism in 2003. According to some sources, it is located at 1,116 meters or 1,050 meters above sea level.

A stream that reaches 1 to 1.5 meters deep in the rainy season passes inside the cave. Above the cave there is also a historic castle.

Dividing into two branches 200 meters from its entrance, the cave houses a small lake and a waterfall.

Ballıca Cave in northern Tokat Turkey is one of the largest caves in the world.  (Photo Shutterstock)

Ballıca Cave in northern Tokat Turkey is one of the largest caves in the world. (Photo Shutterstock)

Ballica Cave

The formation of Ballıca Cave, located in Tokat Province, northern Turkey, is estimated to have started around 3.5 million years ago.

The cave, which is among the largest caves in the world, is 680 meters long and 90 meters high. After entering the cave, you climb 19 meters and descend 75 meters. Open to visitors since 1995, this cave was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in 2019.

It is one of the must-see places with its unique cave pearls, stalagmite stalactites, pools, cave roses and many other charming features.

ice cave

Although there is no clear information about the formation of the Buz, or ice cave, located in the eastern province of Ağrı in Turkey, data from some researchers shows that the cave is an elliptical pit with an axis long, about 50 meters wide, 100 meters long and 8 meters deep.

It is not clear if this pit is a meteorite crater or if it was formed after the collapse of a natural structure. In the ice cave, basalt lava rocks and layers of ice formed by the freezing of pure and clean water are observed on these rocks.

Far from the light of day, these dark but attractive caves, which are only one of the thousands of extraordinary beauties of nature, are the favorite destinations of adventurers and travelers.

Undoubtedly, nature will continue to amaze us with new discoveries in the future.

Bonny J. Streater