20 underground wonders to explore
by Jennifer Blanchette
What treasures lie just beneath our feet? Hundreds of buried wonders are there, waiting to be exposed to the light of day. Glowing caverns, an ice cave, and an underground cemetery are just a few of the places you should explore at least once in your life!
Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand
The Waitomo caves are a phenomenon unique to New Zealand: the walls and ceilings are covered in thousands of blue glowworms. The caves, whose natural luminescence is reminiscent of the Milky Way, are visited by boat.
The Eisriesenwelt Ice Cave, Austria
Nestled in the heart of the Tennen Mountains in Austria, the Eisriesenwelt is the largest ice cave in the world. This frozen, 42-kilometre-long labyrinth boasts ice columns, frozen waterfalls, and frosted walls. The ground in the Ice Castle room, buried more than 400 metres below ground, is said to be mirror-smooth.
Son Doong Cave, Vietnam
Son Doong, the largest cave in the world, only opened to the public in 2013. The vast expanse could house a 40-floor skyscraper with room to spare. But if you want to explore this cave, located in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, be prepared to shell out the big bucks: a four-day expedition costs nearly $4,000.
The Paris Catacombs, France
The Paris Catacombs hold the largest ossuary in the world. Beginning in the late 18th century, the remains of millions of Parisians were transferred there from the city’s cemeteries. The Paris Catacombs lie 20 metres underground.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland
The Wieliczka Salt Mine was operational for nearly 700 years, dug out of the entrails of the earth by generation upon generation of miners. In 1978 it was added to the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List and has since become a true underground village. Mass is held regularly, as are cultural events such as exhibitions and concerts.
The Punkva Subterranean River, Czech Republic
At nearly 30 kilometres, the Punkva River is the longest underground waterway in the Czech Republic. Its calm waters will take you past the Masaryk Dome, described as one of the Moravian Karst’s underground treasures by the country’s tourism office. During your visit, you can also marvel at the Macocha Abyss, located 138 metres underground.
Thrihnukagigur Volcano magma chamber, Iceland
Want to know what the inside of a volcano looks like? Visit the Thrihnukagigur magma chamber in Iceland. The crater is completely magma-free, which Icelandic volcanologists say is a rare geological phenomenon. The colour variation on its walls and the sheer size of the magma chamber in this volcano, which has been dormant for nearly 4,000 years, are truly captivating.
Forestiere Underground Garden, California, USA
The impressive Forestiere Underground Gardens, located in Fresno, California, were designed by Sicilian immigrant Baldassare Forestiere. The garden is a true oasis sculpted into the landscape, with 10 acres of terraces, garden plots, passageways, and underground rooms. In addition to its striking architecture, the site is bursting with fruit trees planted up to 20 metres underground. Their fruit can easily be plucked from the surface of the garden.
Derinkuyu Underground City, Turkey
A church, a school, a stable, even a prison — these are some of the impressive facilities found inside the underground city of Derinkuyu, in Turkey. Sculpted from volcanic rock, this troglodytic labyrinth lies more than 100 metres below ground. According to a BBC article, Derinkuyu could hold up to 20,000 people within its walls.
The Cave Suite, Arizona, USA
Looking for the darkest, deepest, most tranquil and ancient hotel? Check out the Cave Suite, an underground chamber inside an enormous cave close to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Once you take the elevator down 22 floors, you’ll be the only sign of life at 220 feet underground. Nothing, except for you, can survive in this cave with its complete absence of light. Are you up to the challenge?
The Stockholm Metro, Sweden
The Stockholm metro is a veritable underground art gallery. In fact, 90 of its 100 stations feature works by artists. Tiled walls, giant caves, or forests spread over a kilometre, the works on display are eye-opening.
Batu Caves, Malaysia
The Batu Caves are home to dozens of Hindu temples whose entrance is guarded by an imposing gold statue of Lord Murugan. This religious site, located just a few kilometres from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, is best known for its enormous and colourful 272-step staircase.
Reed Flute Cave, China
The Reed Flute Cave is named after the reeds that grow within, which Chinese artisans use to make flutes. This popular tourist destination in the Guilin region offers visitors a fairy-like spectacle of lights and music.
Coober Pedy, Australia
With weather hovering at 50 degrees Celsius in the shade, it’s no surprise that more than half the residents of Coober Pedy in the Australian outback live underground. These troglodytic homes, called dugouts, can reach up to 450 square metres in size. Coober Pedy is the world capital for opal and is known for its lunar, red-tinted landscapes.
Poço Encantado Cave, Brazil
Poço Encantado, which translates to “enchanted wells,” is a cave whose beauty is only revealed at a certain time of day. You have to wait until the sun’s rays hit the surface of the turquoise water so that it becomes transparent. Only then can you see the 60-metre depth of the cave. The sun also creates an intriguing optical illusion, making it impossible to tell where the rocks end and the water begins.
Ik-Kil Cenote, Mexico
The Ik-Kil cenote is considered one of the most beautiful in Mexico. If you want to enjoy the crystalline water of this natural pool, you’ll have to climb 26 metres down a long staircase first. The Ik-Kil cenote was once a sacred Mayan site, where human sacrifices were made to the rain god.
Fingal’s “Musical” Cave, Scotland, UK
Located on the remote Staffa in Scotland, the geological formation of Fingal’s Cave is simply stunning. It is supported by countless hexagonal basaltic columns, and the sea surges into the very heart of the cave to a depth of 69 metres. Fingal’s Cave is nicknamed the musical cave because of a melody created by the sound of the waves in the centre of the space.
Hidden Beach at Marietas Islands, Mexico
The Marietas Islands, located less than 10 kilometres from the western coast of Mexico, shelter a hidden beach nestled inside a crater. The beach, which is only accessible during low tide, was formed when a bomb was dropped during military exercises.
Marble Caves, Chile
The sumptuous Marble Caves are a remote treasure on Lake General Carrera in Chile. The cathedral, chapel, and cave, all made of marble, are the three rock formations that make up this incredible spectacle. Marvel at the black and white marble columns as they reflect across the turquoise waters of the lake.
Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River, Philippines
Inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park in the Philippines is simply breathtaking. Its landscape is sculpted into limestone, and at its heart lies an 8.2-kilometre river that spills into the sea.