Yearning to try something new and adventurous on your next vacation? Have no fears of enclosed spaces? Cave exploration, or spelunking, may be the vacation for you. Here are some destinations and tips for a cave vacation to remember.
Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave is one of the first caving destinations many Americans consider. One of the oldest tourist attractions in America and the most extensive cave system on earth, this sprawling 400 miles of caves is located in central Kentucky at Mammoth Cave National Park. Visitors can choose to stay in the on-site The Lodge Mammoth Cave, camp in the park, or stay at one of the many nearby off-site hotels. Multiple cave tours are available for everyone from the ultimate adventurer to the elderly. Some tours offer more accessibility than others, and sign language interpreters are available on some guided tours – the park staff recommends calling ahead for availability. Horseback riding, hiking and fishing are some of the many above-ground options available at Mammoth Cave National Park.
Carlsbad Caverns, about 20 miles South West of Carlsbad, New Mexico contains 118 known caves underneath the Guadalupe Mountains. Cave tours vary in difficulty – some tours, like Hall of the White Giant, are strenuous and require long distance crawls and moving through tight crevices, but others, like the must-see site known as the Big Room, are accessible to visitors in wheelchairs. The nearest hotel is at the entrance of the park in White’s City, but visitors who wish to camp may obtain a free permit from the park Visitor Center. In addition to the cave exploration, the park offers opportunities to see its bats fly each night at dusk from May-October.
In Mexico, the Yucatan peninsula’s Riviera Maya between Playa del Carmen and Tulum contains 100 underwater caves. There are also cenotes, natural sinkholes that the Mayans believed were the entrance to the underworld. Needless to say, this vacation wonderland is very popular with cave divers. Because there are so many caves, experienced cave divers in Mexico recommend hiring a professional guide or staying in a resort that offers guided tours for cave divers. The reward is some of the clearest water in the world, incredible visibility and perhaps a visit to the underworld.
Cueva de Cristales, or Cave of Crystals, is another spectacular cave to visit in Mexico. Discovered in 2000 by miners and located below the Naica Mountain in the Chihuahuan Desert of Mexico, the Cueva de Cristales contains some of the largest natural crystals ever found.
Near Saltzburg, Austria the Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves in Werfen are home to 30 miles of ice caves – some of the largest in the world. Hour and a half long tours are available. Be prepared for a long trek to get there – and guides recommend bringing a hat and mittens, but the views are breathtaking.
Finally, the Son Doong Cave in Vietnam, is the largest known cave passage in the world. Discovered in 1991, scientists are still busy exploring this giant cave. The largest section of the cave discovered so far is 650 feet wide, 500 feet high and about 5 miles long – so large it could hold an entire city street full of skyscrapers or park a 747. The first tourist group went through the cave in August 2013, but more are sure to be on the way.
A cave adventure can take you anywhere in the world. Whether you’re in an ice cave, exploring underwater sinkholes, or finding the alleged entrance to the underworld, you’re definitely discovering a new world one way or the other. Enjoy!