Tham Nam Lod Cave, Thailand
Tham Nam Lod, is a huge, 400 meter deep cave with a wide underground stream located in Northern Thailand. Inside the cave, there are three chambers: Tham Sao Hin (stone column cave); Tham Tuk Ta (doll cave); and Tham Phi Man (ghost cave). Tham Sao Hin is the largest chamber, and houses a number of giant limestone columns, some of which measure up to 20 meters long. Tham Tuk Ta contains some spectacular doll-like stalactites, as well as prehistoric wall paintings. Tham Phi Man is the site of numerous archaeological finds, including skeletal remains and 10 carved-out tree trunks, which are believed to have once been used as coffins.
Longmen Caves, China
Carved into the Xiangshan and Longmen Shan hillsides above the Yi River, the Longmen or Dragon’s Gate complex of temple grottoes is an exquisite treasury of Buddhist carvings comprising 2,345 caves and niches, 2,800 inscriptions, and 43 pagodas, the earliest dating from the Northern Wei dynasty (A.D. 493).
Caves of the Thousand Buddhas (Mogao Grottoes), China
The largest collection of Chinese Buddhist art is buried within 492 caves created by monks along a desert cliff face along a stretch of the ancient Silk Road near Dunhuang, China. The monks decorated these cave temples with over 2,000 multicolored sculptures and intricate paintings. The art inside the caves provide insights into evolving patterns of daily Chinese life more than 1,000 years ago.
Actun Tunichil Muknal (Cave of the Stone Sepulchre), Belize
Actun Tunichil Muknal in Belize is the resting place of the crystal maiden, a complete female skeleton that sparkles from eons of crystal calcification. Access to the cave involves hiking, wading, and swimming for nearly a mile underground. The cave also contains mystical Maya pottery shards with kill holes intended for spirits to escape.
Dambulla Cave, Sri Lanka
This complex of five Buddhist cave shrines was commissioned by King Valagambahu in 1 B.C. and has been a pilgrimage site for 22 centuries. Exquisitely painted murals, as well as sculptures, shimmer in the caves.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand
Bioluminescent glowworms that radiate a tiny blue light dangle from the ceiling of these caves deep in the lush, subtropical hills of New Zealand’s North Island. The glowworms dangle sticky, filamentous ‘fishing lines to attract and catch insects. To access the caves, visitors ride an inflatable raft along the underground Waitomo.
Cave of the Crystals (Cueva de los Cristales), Mexico
Located 1,000 feet underground in the Naica Mine near Chihuahua, Mexico, the crystals in this cave a gigantic! Translucent grayish-white selenite crystal columns, some up to 36 feet long, shimmer in a chamber called Crystal Cave of Giants. The sites are amazing to behold, but temperatures inside the cave can reach 136 degrees with more than 90 percent humidity! The Cave of Crystals was discovered by accident when miners pumped water out of a large chamber.
The Hundred Mammoths Cave (Grotte Préhistorique de Rouffignac), France
Ice Age artists near Rouffignac in southwestern France created detailed line drawings and fine engravings of 158 mammoths, still visible on these walls. Visitors can see drawings of ibex, horses, bison, and rhinoceroses in a circle on the cave’s ceiling. There’s also a bearded anthropomorphic figure – one of the few human likenesses discovered in Ice Age caves. This cave is easier than most to experience, because visitors can ride an electric train into the center of the cave.
Grotte de Font-de-Gaume, France
Bison, horses, reindeer, and mammoths are among the animals painted into the rough limestone walls of this cave in the Dordogne, France. Created at least 15,000 years ago, the paintings still have vivid colors and a sense of vitality. Their purpose may have been to do with hunting or with an attempt to represent a lunar calendar. Some of the markings you see aren’t from the Magdalenian (Stone) ages but from British students on a holiday in the 18th century. Only 140 visitors per day are permitted in the caves, so reserve far in advance.
Sof Omar Caves, Ethiopia
It is said that Allah revealed the opening to this limestone cave system to Sheikh Sof Omar in the 12th century. The sheikh and his followers used the caves as a mosque, a purpose to which the caves were well suited as they had been eroded into columns, buttresses, domes, vaults, and pillars—a natural architectural marvel still used as a gathering place by local Muslims.
Mountain River Cave (Hang Son Doong), Vietman
In 2009, professional cavers found the world’s largest cave passage, which stretches for 2.5 miles, reaching 300 feet wide and more than 600 feet high. It’s concealed under a dense tropical rainforest in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. The large Rao Thuong River roars through the cave, echoing off its limestone walls. In several places the cave ceiling has collapsed, leaving skylights 100-plus feet in diameter. Underneath those skylights, jungle environments have developed with their own ecosystems, including fish and insects.