Since the dawn of our existence, caves have helped an important place in human life. The planet is home to many different cave systems, and most are understandably imposing; not all of them are dark, scary, bat-infested places (and the ones that are home to bats actually aren't bad at all). While you may not find any magical creatures, buried treasure chests, or lands that time forgot, these caves are enchanting and intriguing nonetheless. Visit any of them, and you will encounter some of Earth's most unforgettable hidden secrets!
No, you won't find any frozen wooly mammoths in this popular natural tourist attraction. But Kentucky's longest cave system, which is also currently the longest anywhere in the world, has passages that are at least 10 million years old and is made of rock beds dating back 350 million years. Mammoth Cave and its forests host a diverse ecosystem and is home to some wonderfully weird creatures found nowhere else in the world, like the translucent and critically endangered cave shrimp. There may even be more unknown species waiting to be discovered by an intrepid explorer like you! Even if you don't, there's always the 13 species of bats (no bloodsuckers, don't worry) to be amazed by.
Not all caves are in forests or mountainsides; quite a few of them can be found underwater as well. Belize's Great Blue Hole is the largest of its kind in the world, spanning 984 feet across and reaching depths of up to 400 feet. Part of the beautifully preserved Belize Barrier Reef system, this massive sinkhole is home to a wide array of marine life, including tropical fish, reef and nurse sharks, and groupers, and is astonishingly crystal clear. In addition to the diverse sea organisms, travelers who dive here will be introduced to a natural cathedral of multicolored stalactites and stalagmites.
If exploring the depths of the world's largest sinkhole seems a bit daunting, you can still enjoy the "cavern blues" with a trip to Capri, Italy, home of the Blue Grotto. At 190 feet long and 82 feet wide, it's a bit on the small side as caves go. In fact, only one rowboat at a time can pass through its entrance. The brilliant blue glow you'll experience once inside will make you forget all about the unimpressive dimensions. Thanks to the sunlight entering the cave and refracting against the water's surface and just the right angle during the day (usually the afternoon), the entire cave is illuminated in natural neon.
Billed as one of Scotland's most iconic and astonishing natural landmarks. Fingal's Cave is formed almost entirely from basalt, giving its walls a lustrous green sheen. Its true claim to fame is the fact that these walls are made up of hexagonal pillars and topped off by a gentle arch, giving Fingal's Cave a cathedral-like appearance that almost appears human-made. And as if these features aren't enough to grab your attention, Staffa Island, where Fingal's Cave is located, is also home to a large population of adorable and colorful puffins. Fun fact: the natural construction of Fingal's Cave creates eerie acoustics when the waves and wind move around inside it, leading some to say that it is haunted.
If you're looking for a reason to add New Zealand to your explorer's bucket list, the Waitomo Glowworm Caves fits the bill perfectly. Formed from ancient limestone caverns, this marvelous attraction features a natural tunnel-of-love style boat ride where you can look up and encounter the world's only known population of glowworms as they light the cavern ceiling like a starry summer night. Tour guides, many of them descended from New Zealand's Maori, add to the magical atmosphere with storytelling, explaining the cultural importance of this luminous wonder of the world.
Located in Werfen, Austria, Eisriesenwelt Ice Cave is a truly massive cavern extending over 26 miles into the Earth. Most of the cavern is ancient limestone, but the first half mile is frozen and would make a great vacation home for Queen Elsa. This is the result of erosion by the Salzach river, which also carries thawing snow inside to be re-frozen. New ice formations are created by the seasonal cycles of thawing and freezing each year, making Eisriesenwelt Ice Cave a perfect travel destination to visit annually.
Fun fact: Eisrisenwelt is German for "World of the Ice Giants."
It's easy to see why this underground national park and the second-longest river system in the world in Palawan, Philippines, is recognized as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature and a World Heritage Site. Its natural beauty owes to an extensive limestone cave system and a variety of eye-catching rock formations. It is also one of the, if not the only, cave-river system that flows directly into the sea.
Step, or rather float, through the doorway of the world's biggest cave! This subterranean cavern in Vietnam features a boat-accessible river tour that lets you see astonishing limestone formations and underground landmarks. Although only roughly half of its over 5-mile length is accessible to tourists, that's still enough for you to explore the wonders that this geologic s spectacle has to offer, alongside wildlife such as swallows, bats, and many species of fish that inhabit its pristine waters.
China is known for its decorative imperial palaces, and it seems this extends to the natural formations inside Reed Flute Cave. Nicknamed "the Palace of Natural Art," this 787-foot deep cavern features a variety of stalagmites and other rock formations, highlighted in a brilliant rainbow display courtesy of artificial multicolored lighting.
The Skocjan Cave system is one of the largest underground canyons in the world. This limestone paradise transports you to an underground world as you follow the Reka River's path past breathtaking caverns filled with stalactites and giant stalagmites. Its most notable caverns include the Silent Cave and the Great Hall.