I’m not sure what it is exactly about caves that amaze me so. They are worlds hidden under layers of Earth, built by mother nature, taking hundreds of thousands of years to develop and are still continually growing and changing. Full of stalagmites and stalactites, waterfall-like formations that glisten and shine, and an interior that is purely unique in design.
Some caves have underground rivers, where the sound of flowing water bounces off the walls; some are home to rare gems and flora and fauna. Some are made of stone and marble, formed from volcanic eruptions and geothermal heat, while others are made from flowing water and freezing temperatures. Luckily, the world is full of amazing caves to explore, with each being extraordinary in its own way. I’d like to share with you some caves around the world that are truly inspirational.
The Cave of the Crystals in Chihuahua, Mexico is home to the largest natural crystals ever found on Earth, with the largest one measuring 36 feet in length and 13 feet in diameter! The crystals become so large due to the hot temperatures inside the cave and the groundwater being rich in gypsum minerals, allow microscopic crystals to form—over time, the crystals grow to unimaginable sizes. Amazing as they may be, due to the internal weather conditions, the cave is only accessible to researchers and employees. Temperatures inside the cave are almost unbearable, reaching nearly 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Not to mention the nearly 100% humidity level, only allowing people to be in the cave for a matter of minutes without proper gear. Heat and humidity can produce enchanting creations, when in the right setting.
Imagine being so inspired by a formation of nature that you’re able to compose a piece of music describing it. This was the case for composer Felix Mendelssohn, who wrote the opening theme to an overture, later to be completed as The Hebrides Overture, to his sister on a postcard expressing what Fingal’s Cave was like.
It’s evident as to why this cave is so inspiring. Composed of hexagonal basalt columns and measuring 72 feet tall by 270 feet deep, Fingal’s Cave has been an important setting in folklore ever since its discovery. Known to the ancient Irish and Scottish Celts as Uamh-Binn (The Cave of Melody), the cave was later rediscovered as Fingal’s Cave in 1772, named after a hero in James Macpherson’s book Fingal, and was made known to the entire world. You cannot boat inside the cave, however due to the massive amount of pillars, you can travel farther inside the cave on foot to explore its mysterious beauty.
Caves are magical enough on their own, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to add a little lighting—perhaps a vast array of colors to illuminate the natural formations in a cave. The Reed Flute Cave in Southern China has multicolored lights peppered throughout the cave, but that’s not the only thing that makes it so visually appealing. There are ink inscriptions and travelogues inscribed along the walls, some dating back to the Tang Dynasty, circa 792 AD. The cave received its name due to the plants located outside of its entrance—the reeds lining the opening were commonly made into flutes. It is widely believed that the cave sat dormant for thousands of years but was later stumbled upon by fleeing Japanese troops in the 1940s. It was opened to the public in the 1960s and since then has become a vivid spectacle attracting tourists year-round.
Typically, when we think of caves, we think of stone, but have you ever considered caves made from ice? Eisriesenwelt, found inside the Hochkogel mountain in the Tennengebirge section of the Alps in Austria, is one of the largest ice caves in the world. It extends for more than 26 miles, however, only the first 0.62 mile of the cave is accessible to the public—as it’s the only portion that remains sheathed in ice all year round. Eisriesenwelt translates to “World of Ice Giants,” which is aptly named. The cave is home to many ice-formed structures, including the Eispalast, or Ice Palace, and the sculpture entitled “Frigga’s Veil,” formed from rows of icicles.
Imagine walking into a cave, but rather than electric lights or torches guiding the path, it was illuminated by glowworms. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking—Ew, worms—but they are very tiny, and let’s not forget they glow, so you don’t even see them as worms. The worms’ radiating luminescence creates an otherworldly atmosphere as there are thousands of these creatures. The caves have become one of New Zealand’s top tourist attractions, as the Waitomo glowworms are only found within these caverns.
These caves are more accessible to visitors than others, with rafting and adventure tours available, however they are monitored by scientists at all times to ensure the preservation of their inhabitants. Automated equipment is used to monitor the temperature, Co2 levels, and number of people entering the cave each day. Worms may not be the most appealing creature, but when they glow and resemble stars in the night’s sky? That’s a whole different story.
Erosion can be a beautiful thing. Wind and water are in some cases nature’s finest sculptors, and therefrom we are left with structures such as this. This is known as the Marble Cathedral found on the shore of the General Carrera Lake in Patagonia, Chile. The region was covered in glaciers until nearly 15,000 years ago, and what we see today is formed from 6,000 years of erosion by the waves crashing into the peninsula. The impurities in the marble create swirled colors of pinks and blues. When waters are at low levels, visitors can pass through the marble corridors through boat or kayak. Passersby can gaze at the immense structure above them, and due to the clear waters, can follow the continuation of the cathedral down below. The structure is a photographer’s dream, capturing nature’s artwork in its purest form, but it’s sure to captivate and stun any onlooker.
In my search for caves, I enjoy finding ones with high ceilings and wide-open spaces—ones that make you forget that you’re standing inside a cave within the Earth. The Škocjan Caves are home to the highest cave hall in all of Europe. They also contain a massive underground gorge, waterfalls, and a bridge that rests over the underground chasm. The caves are the creation of the sinking Reka River, whose water flows above surface, hides underground, slithering through the caves for 21 miles, then resurfaces. Full of interesting stalagmites and stalactites and home to endangered species of invertebrates and crustaceans, the Škocjan Caves were deemed a UNESCO world heritage site in 1986 and have been an alluring destination since the dawn of the 20th century.
The Vatnajokull Glacier is the largest glacier in Iceland, covering roughly 8% of the country. It has the country’s largest peak, tallest waterfall, and is home to glacier ice caves. A glacier ice cave is essentially a cave that is entirely made of ice, from the walls to the ceiling. There are several ways in which glacier ice caves can form, this one being created from geothermal heat. What’s interesting about these caves is that they change form every year. During the summertime, the temperatures rise, causing the caves to contort—growing wider, larger, shrinking, becoming narrow, or even collapsing. Thus, when visiting the caves you will seldom see the same cave twice, allowing for a unique experience every time.
Caves are pockets hidden in the Earth, and similar to how the contents of last season’s coat pockets can be a surprise, caves hold wonders like no other. From unique formations created by elements and minerals to crystals and rare species, I’m not sure any two caves are exactly alike. Alas, that is why I love caves so—they are diverse, one-of-a-kind, and each captivating in their own way.
In my eyes, being different and standing out is a good thing.
Until next time,
Beautiful World. “Eisriesenwelt Cave.” Facts & Information - Beautiful World Travel Guide, Jan. 2019, www.beautifulworld.com/europe/austria/eisriesenwelt-cave.
Bills, John. “10 Best Caves in the World for Underground Amazement.” Time Out Worldwide, Apr. 2022, www.timeout.com/travel/best-caves-in-the-world
Gonzales, Jennifer. “The 10 Most Incredible Caves in the World.” Wander Wisdom, 16 May 2022, wanderwisdom.com/travel-destinations/10-Most-Amazing-Caves-in-the-World.
Kaplan, Mike. “10 Famous Underground Caves in the World.” Touropia, www.touropia.com/famous-underground-caves-in-the-world.