When you hear the word “cave”, your mind likely conjures up a dark, dank, and generally unappealing place. These 14 caves are anything but. From stunning waterfalls to colorful stone and crystals, you’ll need to put these beautiful underground caves on your travel bucket list.
Through a small tunnel, visitors can enter the Blue Grotto, located under the isle of Capri off the coast of Italy. You’ll be rowed in on a small rowboat. The entrance is so small that visitors must lie down in the boat while the guide uses a metal chain installed on the walls to pulls in the boat. Once inside, you’ll discover a gorgeous cave filled with blue light and water. Thanks to the way light bends as it enters the grotto, red light is filtered out, leaving only blue light waves visible. The refraction also makes any objects placed in the water appear silver. To keep the grotto’s water as clean and blue as possible, swimming inside is prohibited. But the views are just as beautiful from inside the rowboat.
The Philippines are well known for their many, many beautiful caves. The Callao Cave, which is actually a network of seven caves, is one of the best to visit if you’re looking to spend a day marveling at natural beauty. If possible, make your way over to the caves in the morning—the light is at its most beautiful earlier in the day.
Hamilton Parrish, Bermuda
It may feel strange to think of Bermuda in connection with anything other than picturesque beaches, but the subtropical islands are also home to a number of breathtaking caves. In Crystal Cave, you’ll find rock formations that are believed to be over a million years old. Thanks to lighting placed in the 20-meter deep water inside the cave, visitors can peer into the depths of the water, where you’ll see even more beautiful formations. If you have time, you can also head “next door” to see the Fantasy Cave, a smaller but equally beautiful cave.
Reed Flute Cave
The Reed Flute Cave is beautiful not just for its natural rock formations but also as a record of humankind's enduring fascination with subterranean spaces. The Reed Flute Cave, named for the reeds outside its entrance traditionally used to make flutes, has been lit with multicolored floodlights to make its stalagmites and stalactites appear rainbow-colored. The cave is over 180 million years old and is believed to have also been a tourist attraction during ancient times.
Isle of Staffa, Scotland
Another sea cave only accessible by water, Fingal’s Cave has a particularly Scottish charm about it. Unlike the Blue Grotto, you won’t have to duck to enter Fingal’s Cave. The cave, which has inspired a number of paintings, songs, and movies, has an imposing entrance, carved into the cliff by the tide of the sea. Once you enter, you’ll discover a fascinating set of basalt columns, which have been chiseled into hexagons over the years. Fingal’s Cave is named after an Irish folk legend, Fionn mac Cumhaill. Fionn is supposedly responsible for creating the Giant’s Causeway, which some people believe helped bore the opening to Fingal’s Cave. You can visit the cave between April and September. Sightseeing trips will bring you to the opening of the cave, where you can explore on foot.
Arizona, United States of America
This cave system was first discovered in 1975 and opened to the public in 1999 after the state of Arizona purchased the land from the Kartchner family. Today, you can explore both within and above the underground cave, with over six miles of trails above the caverns. Four ‘rooms’ are open to the public: the Throne Room, the Big Room, the Rotunda Room, and Strawberry Room. The Big Room is closed during the summer, when it is home to baby cave bats.
Eisriesenwelt Ice Cave
This fascinating cave is the largest ice cave in the world. Found inside the Hochkogel mountain in the Alps, Eisriesenwelt is made of limestone and ice and remains at freezing temperatures year-round, even as summer temps in Austria reach to the 80s. Your tour will take you through just one kilometer of the cave’s 40, but even that small portion will leave you stunned. According to some Austrian folklore, this cave is the entrance to hell–but we think you’ll find it heavenly instead.
Okay, so these caves aren’t underground. But they’re simply too beautiful to be left off this list. The Marble Caves can be found off the coast of Chile, in the Patagonia region. You’ll need to rent a boat or commission a local to drive you out, but once you’re there, you’ll discover mind-boggling passageways carved out of a rock in the ocean. The white walls reflect the gorgeous blue waters as you sail in and around the caves.
Phraya Nakhon Cave
Prachuap Khiri Khan Province, Thailand
On your way to this charming cave in Thailand, you’ll likely encounter a number of dusky langurs, monkeys that often look like they’re wearing glasses. Once you’ve hiked up Tian Mountain, you’ll find yourself at the entrance of Phraya Nakhon Cave. Although deep under the mountain, the cave has a large hole in the ceiling that allows the sunlight to enter. This sunlight kisses the roof of the Khuha Kharuehat Pavilion, built for a king’s visit to the cave in 1890.
In the south of Slovenia, you’ll discover a fascinating castle that has built into a cave. The Predjama Castle perches on the side of a cliff, inside the mouth of a cave. If you visit during the summer, you’ll be able to enter the cave through the castle. The passages run for over 14 kilometers, of which 700 meters are open to the public. Built in the 13th century, the castle took advantage of the cave and cliff upon which it sat to make it safe from any siege or battle.
Chinhoyi District, Zimbabwe
The Chinhoyi Caves can be found in a national park in Zimbabwe. As you descend into the caves, you’ll find beautiful, pristine pools of water in the various chambers–each of which remains a pleasant 70 degrees Fahrenheit each and every day. Traditionally called Chirorodziwa (Pool of the Fallen), it’s believed that a bandit who lived in the area killed many of his victims by dropping them into the Silent Pool. In the incredibly clear water of the pools, you may see goldfish, tadpoles, and water lilies.
The Cave of Three Bridges
Less lyrically known as the Baatara Pothole, the Cave of Three Bridges isn’t exactly underground, but it’s a cave well-worth exploring nonetheless. A waterfall rushes over the lip of the cave and behind it three “bridges” naturally carved out of the rock and covered in greenery, resulting in an absolutely stunning view. The waterfall only runs in the spring as snow melt flows down from Mount Lebanon, but the cave is worth visiting at nearly any time of year.
Vatnajökull Glacier Cave
Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland
There are a number of truly stunning glacier caves in Iceland. Many of them, including Vatnajökull, are only safe to tour in the depths of winter. The most famous glacier cave in all of Iceland, the Crystal Ice Cave, is located inside Vatnajökull, which is the largest glacier in Europe. If you’re lucky enough to visit in season, you can join a 3-hour tour which leaves from the lagoon and includes 40 minutes inside the cave itself.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Waitomo, New Zealand
New Zealand is rightly famous for its natural wonder, and its glowworm caves are shining examples of the country's spectacular beauty. These caves are home to a type of luminescent glowworm native only to New Zealand. Waitomo is the most famous and most highly visited of New Zealand's glowworm caves. The cave is carefully monitored to ensure the air quality remains steady even as tourists filter in and out. Scientists determine exactly how many people may visit each day. If you’re lucky enough to get in, your tour will bring you through three levels of the cave and conclude with a boat ride through the Glowworm Grotto, where you’ll be surrounded by glowworms, creating a star-like “sky” above.
Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons; Additional photos: Rawen Balmana / Flickr (CC); Andrew Malone / Flickr (CC); Bernt Rostad / Flickr (CC); Leandro Neuman Ciuffo / Flickr (CC); David Phan / Flickr (CC); 2il org / Flickr (CC)