When you think of a cave, you probably imagine a rocky, dark hole in the ground with some creepy bats flying around inside. If so, you may be surprised to find that not all caves are like that. While the majority of caves are formed of limestone or dolomite, there are various other types of caves in the world— some are even made of ice. And they all have interesting features, such as stalactites, stalagmites, and waterfalls. Some even include religious shrines and art.
These caves are all crazy, in the best way possible. They are so unique, that stepping into them would really make you feel like you are on another planet altogether. There is beauty here, and wonder, that's beyond belief. After reading this list of the 15 craziest caves in the world, you’ll most likely have a serious case of wanderlust and a desire to go spelunking.
15 Son Doong Cave, Vietnam
What would a list of cool caves be without the world’s largest cave? The Son Doong Cave, which translates to ‘cave of the mountain river', is located in Vietnam and holds the prestigious size title. The main cavern stretches more than five kilometers long and its passage is about 660 feet high! Besides the unbelievable size of the cave, there are other impressive features. The cave contains stalagmites, which are up to 70 meters tall and abnormally large cave pearls. There is also a river that flows through the cave, and a jungle just outside of it, promising breathtaking views. But, one doesn’t even need to step outside of the cave to experience the jungle, for there is actually one growing right inside of it. That’s right—due to a collapsed roof that lets sunlight in, plants grow inside of the cave. And the difference in temperature between the cave and its surroundings creates mist and clouds inside of it. We can only imagine that standing inside of this cave would be a very humbling and surreal experience.
14 Cave of Crystals, Mexico
The Cave of Crystals, located in Naica, Mexico, is truly a sight to behold. It contains some of the largest natural crystals in the world, with the biggest measuring in at an astounding 39 feet! The limestone cave sits above a magma chamber, which heated the sulfide-filled ground water. Thanks to the extremely slow oxidation of sulfides, the giant selenite crystals formed. This cave wasn’t discovered until 2000, but a cave above it (the Cave of Swords, containing smaller crystals) was discovered in 1910. Unfortunately, the Cave of Crystals is hard to explore because of its high temperatures and humidity. So, don’t start booking your trip to Mexico just yet. Despite the restrictions, there is a group of scientists that is dedicated to researching the cave.
13 Fingal’s Cave, Scotland
Fingal’s Cave, a 50-million-year old sea cave in Scotland, makes this list because of its unique basalt columns and eerie acoustics (a result of the sea’s waves). The cave—located on the volcanic isle of Staffa— has inspired Pink Floyd (who named one of their unreleased songs after it) and countless authors and poets. Upon entering the large arched entrance, visitors find themselves in a cave that is 72 feet tall, 270 feet deep and lined with huge hexagonal basalt columns. Though legend has it that the columns were part of a bridge built by the giant, Finn McCool, that isn’t the case. The columns are actually formed as part of a natural process, in which lava cools from the bottom up and from the center outward.
12 Marble Cave, Chile
Often cited as one of the most beautiful caves in the world, the 6,000-year-old Marble Cave of Chile is only accessible by boat. It sits on the clear, blue waters of Lake General Carrera in Patagonia, Chile. It is these magical waters that formed the unique shape of the walls and create stunning swirling images, as the caves reflect it. The marble walls of the cave are rich in calcium carbonate and range from grey to white to blue. But the patterns on the walls are constantly changing, as they depend on the water levels (which, in turn, depend on the freezing and melting of nearby glaciers). Though it may be a long journey from the capital of Chile to get to this cave, it is definitely worth it.
11 Waitomo Glowworm Cave, New Zealand
The Waitomo Glowworm Caves are one of New Zealand’s top attractions—and for good reason. Just look at how awesome it appears to be! The glowworms, Arachnocampa luminosa, are one to two inches in length and are unique to New Zealand, so you won’t be able to see something like this anywhere else in the world. The caves were formed as a result of earthquake and volcanic activity and sit on an earthquake fault. Because of this, rain water easily enters the caves and leaves behind limestone deposits, forming colorful, sparkling stalactites. If you visit the caves, you can take an enchanting boat ride through the Glowworm Grotto. As you sit in silence on the boat, you’ll be captivated by the lights of thousands of glowworms above you. It’s almost like looking up at a starry sky.
10 Reed Flute Cave, China
Reed Flute Cave is definitely one of the coolest and most stunning limestone caves in the world. Located in Guilin, Guangxi, China, the cave has been Guilin’s top attraction for hundreds of years. The cave, which was formed 180 million years ago, got its name from the type of reed which grows inside of it. The type of reed found here, not surprisingly, is used to make flutes. The walls of the cave contain writings dating back to around 700 A.D., revealing its long history as a tourist attraction. The cave is filled with dramatic stalactite and stalagmite formations, like many other caves. Many of the formations resemble iconic structures, such as the Statue of Liberty. But, what makes this cave stand out is its delightful colors, which are further emphasized by artificial lighting.
9 Lascaux Cave, France
If you’ve ever taken an art history class, you know why the Lascaux Cave is so special. The cave, located in southwestern France, is home to some of the most famous prehistoric paintings (dating back to 17,000 BCE). Yes, that’s older than the Great Pyramids! The paintings depict animals such as horses, bison and deer. The artists used minerals to give their paintings vibrant colors and employed many different techniques and tools. The meaning of the paintings is still up for debate, but there have been suggestions that they are of a spiritual nature. A visit to this cave would almost be like a visit to the world’s first art gallery. How cool is that?
8 Cave of the Swallows, Mexico
The Cave of Swallows is unique because it has no ceiling. It’s what is known as an open air pit cave. The distance from the floor to the lowest side of the opening is an astounding 1092 feet, securing it in the top spot for largest known cave shaft in the world. With a name like that, you’d expect the cave to be filled with swallows, but it is actually with white-collared swifts and parakeets instead. It’s quite a sight to see these birds free-fall, dive and rise out of the cave in flocks. Of course, with a structure like this, there are plenty of opportunities for extreme sport lovers. The cave is a popular destination for BASE jumping, that is, parachuting or wingsuit flying. People have even taken hot air balloons into the cave.
7 Ice Cave, Russia
How amazing is this cave? It almost looks unreal! But, it is definitely real, thanks to Mother Nature. This cave, carved out of a glacier by a hot spring, is located near the Mutnovsky volcano in Kamchatka, Russia. The undulating pattern is caused by the hot waters flowing through. That fact alone is awe-inspiring, but when you throw the beauty of it all into the equation, you’ve got one cool cave. Those colors aren’t artificial lights or photoshopped, either; they are the result of the sunlight hitting the ice. In the areas where the ice is thicker, the sunlight reveals a beautiful, emerald color. The half-mile long cave was found by chance in 2012 and gives a whole new meaning to “fire and ice.” Even though it could have caved in at any moment, photographers and adventurers decided it was worth the risk and we thank them for providing us with these magical photos.
6 Batu Caves, Malaysia
The Batu Cave complex is one of Malaysia’s most iconic sites. The limestone caves house Hindu shrines, drawing hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year, especially during Thaipusam festival. At the entrance of the cave stands a 140-foot tall statue of Lord Murugan—the largest of its kind. This incredible statue is made of concrete and steel and is painted in gold. Behind it is a steep flight of stairs, with 272 steps, leading to the Batu Caves. There are three main caves: the Cathedral (or Temple) Cave (which contains the shrines), the Art Gallery and Museum Cave and the Ramayana Cave (which depicts the story of Lord Rama on its walls). Visitors can also encounter macaques and fruit bats in and around these caves. Besides all of that, the spot is popular for rock-climbing enthusiasts. So, regardless of your religious beliefs, exploring this cave is still sure to be an entertaining and unique experience.
5 Krubera Cave, Abkhazia
We've covered the largest cave in the world; so now, for the deepest cave in the world, allow us to introduce you to the Krubera Cave. Located in Abkhazia, near Georgia, this is the only cave in the world that’s over 2000 meters deep. Need we say more? If you’ve ever felt like you’ve visited every place there is to visit, we recommend this expedition, which is basically a real-life version of Journey to the Center of the Earth. It takes about two weeks to complete the expedition (during which, you would have to set up tents and cook), which is why people have compared it to climbing an inverted Mount Everest. It’s definitely an adventure to consider if you’re looking for something unique to do!
4 Benagil Sea Cave, Portugal
Straight off of your (or your girl’s) Pinterest travel board is Benagil Sea Cave. Just by looking at the picture of this natural beauty, it isn’t hard to see why people would want to pay it a visit. In fact, the cave is so stunning it was described as the “most beautiful cave in the world” by U.K.’s AnOther Magazine. This limestone cave, carved by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, is located along Portugal’s southern coast, called the Algarve coast. This region is a must-visit, not only for those interested in caves, but also for those who love beaches (and dolphins!). The sea cave is accessible by kayak or speedboat and if you’d like to see it, do it soon, as these kinds of caves eventually collapse (but let’s not go there).
3 Smoo Cave, Scotland
So far, we’ve seen caves with crystals, a jungle and Hindu shrines. Now, we’ll introduce you to a cave which contains another natural wonder within it. The Smoo Cave in Scotland is famed for two things: its dramatic location and the waterfall residing inside. The cave is situated in the limestone cliffs in the lush, green Scottish countryside. At 50 feet high, its entrance is one of the largest of any sea cave in Britain. This cave is unique, as the first chamber was carved by sea water, while the inner chamber (where the 20-meter waterfall is located) was formed from freshwater. Even the back of the cave is covered in moss and adds to its mystical feel. When you see it, you can just imagine some Norse explorers storming through it. In fact, this was a likely scenario, as Norse and Iron Age artifacts have been found in the cave. There are also many interesting legends surrounding Smoo Cave, including one that it is the entrance to the netherworld (AKA the underworld). Hey, there’s only one way to find out if that’s true or not…
2 Luray Caverns, Virginia
Luray Caverns simply looks spectacular, as if it’s straight out of a movie. This cave is popular because its natural formations resemble iconic structures or common items. For example, there is a formation that resembles fried eggs and the oldest formation in the cave, which is 7 million years old, is said to look like a tree. There are many draperies (layered deposits of minerals) found in this cave, too. They really look like stone chandeliers, don’t they? In addition to the stone formations, the cave contains bodies of water. There’s the Dream Lake, which reflects the stalactites above it, creating a surreal image. The cave also has a Wishing Well, which is six to seven feet deep. But it’s not just its physical looks that make this one of the coolest caves in the world.
The cave is well known for the Great Stalacpipe Organ, which is a lithophone (a musical instrument that taps stalactites too produce sounds similar to xylophones). Basically, it’s like going to a classical concert in a cave. Is there anything more alluring?
1 Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
Ever wanted to trek through the longest cave in the world? Or, perhaps you have a desire to visit the popular Niagara Falls. Well, you can kill two birds with one stone, by taking a trip to Mammoth Cave, located in Kentucky. Alright, you’re probably confused; after all, Niagara Falls is definitely not in Kentucky. But, there is an arguably cooler version of Niagara in Mammoth Cave and it’s known as Frozen Niagara. This flowstone formation literally looks like a waterfall. It seems like something you have to see in person to fully appreciate.
Besides the cool formations found in Mammoth Cave, its size is also something to marvel at. The cave system stretches over 456 kilometers and there are tours you can take to explore it in detail. These tours will allow you to see the Frozen Niagara, Fat Man’s Misery (a narrow passageway), Tall Man’s Misery (a short passageway) and more. The cave itself is situated in Mammoth Cave National Park, which is an attraction in itself. The park, which covers over 52,000 acres, features hiking trails, wildlife, horseback riding and zip-lining. It seems like you can spend an entire day there and still not scratch the surface!
Sources: StaffATours, AtlasObscura, WhenOnEarth, BeautifulWorld