9 of the World's Most Unusual Cave Destinations

The Throne Room at Cango Caves with stalactites hanging from the ceiling in a large, open cavernous space
The Throne Room at Cango Caves is dominated by huge limestone formations.

Andrea Willmore / Getty Images

The exploration of caves—spelunking—can be the center of an ecotourism adventure for people with experience. However, some of the world’s most interesting cave destinations are also some of the most accessible. While hardcore adventurers might find some of these underground environments too effortless, visitors without any know-how can still appreciate some of the world’s most impressive caves. 

Caves around the world have a variety of levels of accessibility, so people can choose their destination based on their tolerance for adventure and their willingness to crawl through tight spaces.

Here are nine of the world's most beautiful and unusual cave destinations.

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Puerto-Princesa Underground River (Philippines)

cave entrance bordered by small trees and green Underground River of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippine

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Most people unfamiliar with caves and spelunking might imagine that underground landscapes are dominated by rock, not water. However, one of the most interesting cave destinations, the Puerto-Princesa Underground River in Palawan, Philippines, is, as its name suggests, a subterranean waterway.

Tour boats bring sightseers into this craggy, stalactite-filled world. The amazing rock and mineral formations of the Underground River, which is actually a section of the much longer Cabayugan River, have earned it a UNESCO World Heritage Site label. The cave is surrounded by the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park, a wildlife-filled area that is an interesting eco-attraction in its own right.

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Waitomo Glowworm Cave (New Zealand)

Small green lights created by cave worms illuminating the darkness of Waitomo Glowworm Cave

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Mountainous New Zealand has more than its share of underground attractions. One that truly stands out, because of its unique inhabitants, is the Waitomo Glowworm Cave. In this subterranean space, tiny organisms (Arachnocampa luminosa), native to New Zealand, create light patterns with their luminescent bodies.

Cave guides lead guests through Waitomo's cathedral-like chambers, where the worms hang from the walls. A boat trip through the “grotto” chamber provides an up-close look at this unique and natural light show. This is not a typical cave for spelunking enthusiasts or people who want to crawl their way into little-visited chambers, but it is certainly high on the list for anyone interested in unique underground sights.

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Barton Creek Cave (Belize)

view looking out from the cave's rocky entrance toward a forest of green trees from the entrance of Barton Creek Cave

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Another underground waterway that makes it on to many tourists' itineraries is the Barton Creek Cave in the Central American nation of Belize. This cave, once inhabited by ancient Mayan civilizations and used as a burial place, is also an important archeological site.

It is this unique history and Barton's amazing rock formations that make it one of the more interesting of all of Central America’s underground attractions. Barton is located in the Cayo District, a region of Belize known for its ecotourism. Tour companies offer guided canoe cruises through the cave. Truly adventurous travelers can swim in the cave's waters. The unusual nature of these underground waterways makes Barton an attractive caving option, but it is the cave's spectacular domed chambers that earn it a place alongside the world's best cave destinations.

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Harrison's Cave (Barbados)

View of interior of Harrison's Cave with illuminated stalactite hanging from the ceiling

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A major attraction on this Caribbean island, Harrison's Cave is popular with tourists. The cave has an impressive set of attributes. Harrison's chambers, reachable by a tramway, were hewn out of the limestone rock by water erosion over hundreds of thousands of years. This natural process has created many large tunnels and chambers filled with smooth, colorful rocks. Stalactites and stalagmites in whimsical shapes add to the ambiance, as does the water that runs through the cave, creating glasslike underground pools.

The easy accessibility of this cave makes it a great stop for caving novices or anyone who doesn't want to strap on a hard hat and headlamp before descending underground.

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Phong Nha Cave (Vietnam)

interior of the tall, smooth rock caves of the Phong Nha Heritage Park in Vietnam

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Located in the northern part of central Vietnam, Phong Nha Cave is the second largest cave in the country and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Phong Nha is surrounded by Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. The park has nearly 300 caves, though only a fraction have been surveyed in any detail. Despite the existence of such a vast underground network, tourists are permitted only in the first mile or so of Phong Nha's tunnels.

The limestone rocks are interspersed with other types of rock, making this an interesting place for anyone with a knowledge of geology. However, specialized expertise is not required to enjoy the domed grottos and rock formations that make the accessible section of the cave such a stunning place to explore.

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Mammoth Cave (Kentucky)

wide open interior of Mammoth Cave with red clay on the floor and smooth rock ceiling

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Found in the state of Kentucky, Mammoth Cave is one of the most impressive and accessible underground destinations in the U.S. It is the longest cave in the world, stretching for almost 350 miles. More than 130 species live within the extensive cave system. Mammoth Cave National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve.

Creatures like translucent blind cave fish and endless miles of tunnels and chambers make this one of the best overall choices for novice cavers, casual tourists, and curiosity seekers. Tours for beginner explorers provide visitors with a safe, relatively undemanding introduction to cave exploration and spelunking. For others, regular ranger-guided tours provide access to various sections of the cave.

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Carlsbad Caverns (New Mexico)

unusual rock formations inside of cave at Carlsbad Caverns

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Carlsbad Caverns, located in the Guadalupe Mountains in southern New Mexico, is another popular U.S. cave system. Hundreds of thousands of years of erosion have created stunning, almost cartoon-like rock formations throughout the caverns. The estimated 120 limestone caves and surrounding 720 acres were designated Carlsbad Caverns National Park in 1930, and in 1995, the property was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The aptly dubbed Big Room is one of the world’s biggest underground chambers. It is nearly 4,000 feet from end to end, and the ceiling reaches over 250 feet at its highest point. The Carlsbad complex has other named "rooms," each with distinctive rock formations. In addition to guide-led tours, Carlsbad offers visitors a chance to take a self-guided hike through sections of the cave.

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Gunung Mulu National Park (Malaysia)

View from inside deer cave in gunung mulu national park looking outside at green trees

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Deep in Borneo's jungle sits Gunung Mulu National Park. Best reached by air from other cities in Borneo, this park in the Malaysian state of Sarawak has four “show caves” that people can visit as part of a regular guided tour. More adventurous caving expeditions for experienced spelunkers include a trek to Sarawak Chamber, discovered in 1980, and thought to be the largest cave chamber in the world.

In keeping with Malaysia's strict ecotourism and conservation guidelines, guides and permits are required for anyone who plans to explore the cave in depth. The trek to the Sarawak Chamber itself, which is part of Gua Nasib Bagus (Good Luck Cave), is among the most strenuous and demanding of all Gunung Mulu's underground tours.

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Cango Caves (South Africa)

Beige, brown, and red rock formations on the interior of Cango Caves in South Africa

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Cango Caves, located near the town of Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape region of South Africa, is one of the more accessible and impressive underground attractions on the continent. This subterranean destination features towering stalactites and stalagmites that sit in large chambers. The pathways of this cave complex are illuminated for a safer, easier trip through the caverns.

For those who want to see more of the caves and are willing to do some climbing and crawling, visitors to Cango can opt for more strenuous “adventure tours.”