From uncovering hidden cavities in Argentina’s Icescape and exploring the newly discovered world’s largest cave in Vietnam to investigating a Mayan ceremonial site, Jacada Travel, experts in guided luxury travel to Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia, shares 10 most unforgettable caves from around the world. Details at www.jacadatravel.com.
1 - Chile: The Marble Cathedral
At the southern tip of Chile, in the Patagonian region of Aisen, is a vast expanse of dense evergreen forest and ice fields, immense fjords and deep blue glacial lakes. Here, at the centre of America’s second largest lake General Carrera, you’ll find Marble Chapel and Marble Cathedral, a group of marble caverns, columns and tunnels, which have been carved by wave action over more than 6,000 years. Kayak through the sculpted rock formations as they reflect down on the crystal clear water of the lake.
2 - Laos: Over the Mekong
The Unesco World Heritage former capital city Luang Prabang is surrounded by mountainous landscape, with waterfalls and a cave system to be explored. Just a short distance from the city, Pak Ou cave system — meaning mouth of the Ou River — consists of Tham Ting and Tham Theung caves, both of which overlook the Mekong River and contain hundreds of intriguing Buddhist figures and sculptures.
3 - Brazil: Diamond Caverns
The lesser visited region of Brazil’s interior, Chapada Diamantina National Park is made up of table mountains, vast plains, waterfalls, crystal-clear streams and an astonishing system of caves that conceal underground rivers. Where gold and diamonds were once mined, caverns of vibrant blue pools and waterfalls remain, with rivers that sank through erosion. The caves are especially noted for their rare stalagmite formations and the important discovery of extinct animal bones.
4 - South Africa: From the Stone Age
Just beneath Swaziland and Mozambique in the northeastern corner of KwaZulu Natal, golden beaches and coastal forest run alongside the Indian Ocean. In the Ingwavuma district, the archaeologically rich site Border Cave has provided evidence of people who lived there as far back as 190,000 years ago. More than a million artefacts have been found, including the remains of an infant that dates back 100,000 years.
5 - Myanmar: Buddhist Pilgrimage
Just outside the peaceful lakeside town of Pindaya, this vast limestone ridge consists of three caves, only one of which can be explored — its entrance signified by a large bronze bell and pagoda. The enormous cavern is a renowned pilgrimage site, containing an incredible 8,000 images and gilded statues of Buddha, with small chambers for the pilgrims to meditate in. The surrounding hills are also prime hiking country.
6 - South Africa: Stone Hole
On the Atlantic Coast that stretches southwest of Cape Town, the Whale Coast is best known for its marine life and the white sand beaches that are backed by mountains, valleys and nature reserves. Between two bays, Grootbos Private Reserve covers a great expanse of 2,500 hectares.
Here, archaeological excursions can be taken to the huge limestone caves that were formed millions of years ago. Named Klipgat Cave, meaning stone hole, due to an opening that offers panoramic views of the bay, the site is important for its wealth of pottery, stone and bone artefacts, which are remnants of the Stone Age people who lived there.
7 - Argentina: Patagonian Icescape
The Glacier Region of El Calafate is the setting for Perito Moreno glacier, which stretches across 251sq km of the southern Patagonian Ice Field. Travellers can set out on crampon-aided ice trekking excursions across the massive glacier to view the icescape’s light filled ice caves and surreal ice formations.
8 - Laos: Hidden Waterway
In the remote forested province of Oudomxay, which is populated by over 500 tribal villages, Chom Ong cave — known to locals as bat cave — stretches 16km. The cave runs along a mountain ridge, with an interconnecting fossil and river passage, and an upper level that leads to a number of 15km-high vantage points overlooking the river. The cave system is best known for its particularly impressive stalagmites and stalactites.
9 - Vietnam: The World’s Largest Cave
Only recently discovered in Vietnam’s Quang Binh Province, Son Doong has been named the world’s largest cave. This natural wonder can be reached by trekking across the wild jungle of Unesco World Heritage Phang Nha Ke Bang National Park and by crossing river valleys where you’ll have the chance to meet the Bru VanKieu minority people, before finally witnessing the breathtaking rock formations and sheer size of the cave’s interior. The seven-day, six-night journey incorporates camping in the caves.
10 - Belize: Mayan Ceremonial Site
In the Cayo District of Belize, the Maya archaeological site of Actun Tunichil Muknal is especially captivating for its evidence of what is thought to be Mayan ceremonial sacrifices. Skeletons, ceramics and stoneware still lie within the cave walls, alongside cave formations that were modified by the Mayans to create shadows or silhouettes against the light that streams in. Tourist numbers are limited to preserve the cave and its artefacts.