Why you should care
Because caves are cool.
As mainly aboveground dwellers, we tend to have a fascination with the underground. We are drawn to caves, with their damp coolness and shadowy secrets, as a source of accommodation, places to explore and even sources of entertainment. Here are some curious, cavernous places to put on your bucket list.
You don’t visit places like this to escape the world, but rather to remember you are a part of it. Eight spellbinding caves dot the Shenandoah Valley — each filled with golden columns, crystalline drips and calcium carbonate creations, boasting names like the Diamond Cascade, Grotto of the Gods, the Giant’s Hall. At 34 stories deep, Natural Bridge Caverns is the deepest cave this side of the Mississippi. Dig stalagmites? The Pillar of Hercules, at Gap Caverns, is one of the tallest in the world. But be prepared to pay the price for going down under.
Do you know of any swimming pools that double as portals to the Mayan underworld? Unlikely. Cenotes are giant sinkholes, formed when the limestone earth collapsed into the ground long ago. Some 6,000 of these magical caves can be reached from Cancún, Playa del Carmen or Tulum in Mexico. But they aren’t just rocky caves. Filled with crystal clear blue-green waters and connected by underground rivers, these magical swimming holes offer a thrilling plunge into history and stunning natural beauty. Just watch out for the bats and their guano.
At 100 feet below the ground, the thick limestone walls of the Louisville Mega Cavern in Kentucky are imposing, and the enormous space seems to go on forever. Once a quarry, now it’s an underground adult playground, equipped with a zip line, a rope course and a massive bike park — 320,000 square feet — with more than 45 trails, including a dual slalom and jump track, tunnels, wooden jumps and a skills area. Fun facts: It’s always dry and 60 degrees and secure enough to take a direct hit from a 747.
This is a stay for the bucket list — especially if you have a Hobbit thing. The “Enchanted Cave” in the Blue Mountains of Australia is a sprawling refurbished cave, with a poured ceiling and an open-air entrance, that rests on a natural rock ledge. Creature comforts include kangaroo pelts and a slow-combustion wood heater. Best of all, the view from the front porch reveals a spectacular rain forest, the magma remains from an ancient volcano and a sky so clear that you can see constellations vividly. Where better to spend a night channeling your inner Gandalf?
This cave system is steeped in history and mystery: Welcome to the Secret War hideout in Laos. From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. pummeled the tiny nation with bombs, and the nationalists and their North Vietnamese patrons retreated, forming an underground society with hospitals and schools. The biggest in Vieng Xai, only part of which is now open, once held 20,000 people. In the quiet you can feel what it was like to be hunched up here as explosions rained from above.
Ever thought of getting away from it all and living in a cave? Thousands of people in Granada, Spain, have chosen to live in caves that were carved into the mountains some 600 years ago. There are a number of perks to underground life — from the endless peace and quiet to having a forest in your backyard and birdsong as an alarm clock. Thick stone walls keep the caves warm in winter and cool during the torrid Andalusian summers. And some caves offer a million-dollar view of the Alhambra — Granada’s gorgeous palace fortress. But no Wi-Fi or electricity? Could you do it?