February 9th, 2015

Go Spelunking! The World's Coolest Caves

Looking for a unique adventure? Check out six of the quirkiest caves on—and deep within—the planet.

Adventure travelers don’t just roam the earth—they explore inside it. Submerge yourself in our list of the world’s top six cave destinations, and then starting planning your own descent. Just don’t forget to pack your headlamp.

1. The Cave Connection, Philippines

Sagada may be best known for the coffins that hang from the cliffs surrounding the Northern Luzon city, but what lurks beneath it is equally intriguing. A deep web of underground tunnels known as the “Cave Connection” links together the famous Lumiang and Sumaguing Caves. Adventurous spelunkers dedicate three-to-four hours to an epic journey through narrow passages, across cathedral-like caverns, and eventually to a stalagmite-filled light at the end of the very long tunnel. As you emerge from the depths of the earth, try to ignore the look of alarm on the faces of tourists who took the easy way out and drove between the two famous caves—they don’t know what they missed. ($18 for one or two people, saggas.org)

Best time to travel: December to May, during the dry season.

2. Thrihnukagigur Volcanic Cave, Iceland

There’s simply no way you could make a list of the world’s coolest geological anything without including Iceland. And caves are no exception: Dormant Thrihnukagigur is the planet’s only penetrable volcanic cave. Explorers with heavy helpings of courage can hike forty five minutes to reach the crater rim before descending 400 feet (122 meters) through a chamber made of magma in a unique, open cable lift. Once inside, you’re king (or queen!) of the cave. ($315, insidethevolcano.com)

Best time to travel: Iceland’s peak season is June through August, when days are long and relatively warm. But be warned: You’ll share the tiny island with hoards of other tourists.

3. Moaning Cavern, USA

What’s that sound? If you happen to be standing in Gold Country outside Vallecito, California, it might be the echoed siren call (or groan, more accurately) of the Moaning Cavern, which has long lured people to its entrance. Basic walking and rappelling tours allow travelers to take in the spacious main cavern chamber, though true adrenaline seekers will want to sign on for the aptly named Adventure Tour. It continues down to a total depth of 410 feet (125 meters) and takes you on hands and knees through passageways with creative names like the Pancake Squeeze, The Birth Canal, and Santa’s Worst Nightmare (a thirty-foot chimney). As for those mysterious moaning noises? The cavern doubles as an archaeological sight where some of the oldest human remains in America have been found. ($130, caverntours.com)

Best time to travel: Moaning Cavern is open, operational, and popular among visitors year round.

4. Lascaux Cave, France

It’s the world’s most ancient art museum: The caves at Lascaux in France contain the planet’s most well-known cave paintings, as well as the largest single cave drawing ever found. Unfortunately, the original caves closed to visitors in 1963, after just fifteen years of public access, when it became clear that human breath was causing irreparable damage due to temperature and humidity changes. But fear not: An exact replica is still open today after 11 years of painstaking work by more than twenty artists. ($12, semitour.com)

Best time to travel: Any time except January through mid-February, when the caves are closed.

5. Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

No headlamps necessary at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand. Guided tours lead voyagers through various levels and chambers of the caves, including the famous Cathedral, where the acoustics have attracted renowned New Zealand musicians to perform. The impressive final act of the tour is a boat ride across the underground Waitomo River, through Glowworm Grotto. Steeped in blackness, the only flickers of light come from tiny worms forming a blue glow. The mosquito-sized worms are found only in New Zealand—and there is no greater place to see them than this North Island cave. ($49, waitomo.com)

Best time to travel: November through April, the region’s peak season.

6. Crystal Cave, Mexico

It’s a gemologist’s dream: a forest of the world’s largest crystals, many of them more than thirty feet (9 meters) long and thicker than tree trunks. Some are half a million years old. Unlike many caves, the Naica mine—in which the Crystal Cave is nestled—sits directly above a magma deposit, with temperatures hitting 135 degrees Fahrenheit (57 degrees Celsius) and humidity straddling 90 and 100 percent. To avoid heatstroke, spelunkers don vests with sewn-in ice packs, insulated suits, and a respirator mask, and limit visits to no more than twenty minutes. Currently, tourists are able to arrange supervised access to the upper caverns of the Naica mine, but the lower caves filled with crystals are currently restricted to scientists only. (Price upon request, Endless Tours)

Best time to travel: Spring and fall are the best seasons to visit this region of Mexico.

Have you visited or heard about some other amazing caves? Let us know what we missed in the comments below!

While Eagle Creek is here to provide tips and insights on travel, we cannot accept any responsibility for any potential consequences arising from the use of this information. Always conduct your own research and use your best judgment.

Alexandra Baackes is a traveling writer, designer, and underwater videographer. She is currently in her fourth year of living as a full-time nomad—follow along at alexinwanderland.com!

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