There is something undeniably magical about caves. They have long been associated with mystery and adventure – setting scenes for myths and stories and serving as a canvas for early man’s documentation of life on Earth. They are also incredible examples of how the Earth itself is a living organism. Here are a few of the most majestic caves in the world.
Son Doong Cave, Vietnam
Claiming the title of having the largest known cave passage cross section in the world, the Son Doong cave in Vietnam is so vast it even has its own isolated ecosystems and weather systems. There is even a fast flowing subterranean river, passing through surreal rock formations, teeming with life. Access to Son Doong is exclusive with just one company having permit right to take tourists into the cave for several thousand dollars apiece.
Krubera Cave, Georgia
With an estimated depth of 2,197 metres, Krubera Cave in Georgia is the deepest-known cave on Earth. It was first properly discovered in the 1960s but explorers were stopped in their tracks by passages too narrow to squeeze through. It wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s that speleologists ventured much further, naming it as the deepest cave in the world.
Fingal’s Cave, Scotland
Up in the Inner Hebrides on an uninhabited island called Staffa, is a sea cave formed entirely from hexagonal basalt columns. Named after the hero of an epic Scottish poem, Fingal’s Cave makes many an appearance in many works of art and literature,including an overture titled The Hebrides by Felix Mendelssohn – supposedly inspired by the cave’s unusual echos – and a mention in Jules Verne’s esteemed novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Access to the cave is usually by boat between May and September, with the chance to explore on foot in the right conditions.
Ajanta Caves, India
An unusual entry on the list, the Ajanta Caves are more a testament to man’s efforts than natural wonder. The UNESCO World Heritage Site comprises of approximately 29 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments that date back four thousand years. The caves themselves were carved into an elaborate network of underground worship halls, monasteries and monks’ cells – some sparse and others decorated in astonishing paintings and carvings that are considered the finest surviving examples of ancient Indian art.
Eisriesenwelt Cave, Austria
The world’s largest ice cave can be found hidden inside the Hochkogel Mountain in Austria’s Alps. At 42km long, this frozen labyrinth is a spectacular sight and certainly lives up to its name of Eisriesenwelt, which means ‘World of the Ice Giants’ in German. What is perhaps most endearing is how inconspicuous its entrance is – giving no clue as to what lies beyond the outer rock.
Naica Mine, Mexico
The Naica Mine was initially used to source lead, zinc and silver but mining soon ceased when caverns containing enormous crystals – up to 1.2m in diameter and 15m long – were discovered unexpectedly. The Cave of Crystals was found hidden some 300m below the surface in the limestone host rock of the mine but remains closed to the public because of its inhospitable atmosphere. Another chamber called the Cave of Swords contains smaller, younger gypsum crystals.