If you love outdoor adventure, you’ll be please to know there’s a whole other landscape to explore under the ground. In the most basic sense, caves are formed when water dissolves rocks. Over thousands of years, it forms caves. Some are filled with water, and other times, the water totally recedes, creating dry caves. You can find cave tours in dry and water-filled caves — in fact, you can even scuba dive, swim, and take boat tours through caves.
But for dry cave tours, all you need are a pair of shoes with good grip, and maybe a flashlight and a helmet. And a ticket, of course.
These are the 18 best cave tours in the world open to the public to see before you die.
The entrance to the Blue Cave is so close to sea level that visitors usually drive up in a motorboat, then change to a small rowboat and lie flat on their backs as they pass under the rock entryway and into the cave. Inside, a second underwater entrance — which is 10 times bigger than the surface level entrance — provides light that makes the cavern appear bright blue. Cave tours are available through most hotels and run about two hours.
ATM stands for Actun Tunichil Muknal, and it’s deep in the jungle in Belize. There’s a river that flows through the cave, and much of the tour into the cave involves a mix of swimming and walking along narrow ledges to reach the end point: a raised area with the skeleton of a Mayan girl sacrificed to the gods. This cave tour is very active and starts with a hike through the jungle to reach the entrance, so it’s not for the faint of heart.
Near where the Minnehaha Creek meets the Mississippi River, a 53′ waterfall that freezes during the winter creates a temporary cave behind a wall of ice. The Falls are part of the 193-acre Minnehaha Park near Minneapolis.
Sea Lion Cave, on the Oregon coast, is a privately owned cave that contains the wintering grounds for over 200 Stellar Sea Lions. There are also spots to view whales and bald eagles. Tickets are about $16 per adult as of 2023, and no reservations for the cave tours are needed — just swing by and pay at the visitors center.
According to local legend, Crystal Cave was discovered by two boys searching for a cricket ball in the grass. Another boy, the property owner’s son, was lowered into the cave to check it out. Today, the 1,500-foot-long underground cave is Bermuda’s most famous, and Crystal and Fantasy cave tours are among the most popular non-beach things to do in Bermuda. Each individual cave tour takes about 35 minutes, and you can buy tickets on-site or in advance by calling the visitors center.
In the Tadrat Acacus desert, between the Tadrart Acuscus Mountains near the Algerian border, are caves containing UNESCO World Heritage rock-art dating 12,000 BCE to 100 CE. The rock art in this region is in danger due to petroleum drilling, so see it while you can. You’ll need to visit with a guide.
Greens’ Cave, in English, is technically a lava tube. So instead of being formed by water permeating rock, it was formed by lava seeping through the rock, then cooling down and condensing, leaving the tube-shaped route of its flow behind. It’s almost five miles long and and includes a concert hall with occasional performances. Cueva de los Verdes cave tours are available through various operators on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, and usually cost no more than $15 or so.
A cenote is a cave with no roof, or a sinkhole. Cenote Ik Kil is about 200 feet across and 130 feet deep with vines hanging from the ceiling to the water. It’s a popular swimming destination for tourists. This part of Mexico has hundreds of cenotes, many of which you can swim, scuba dive, and snorkel in. Scuba diving cave tours are popular for advanced divers, but you can also sign up for more relaxed tours that include swimming and rope swinging into the many cenotes.
There are too many operators to list, so just do an online search for cenote tour + wherever you’re going around the Yucatán, and you’ll find plenty of options.
Carlsbad Caverns is a national park just more than 117 caves, three of which are developed for public tours. One even has an elevator. There are also several other caves available for visitors who prefer their cave tours with a bit more adventure, including one lit by lamps.
Which tour is available varies throughout the year, and you can make reservations online at Recreation.gov.
The Badami Cave Temples in Karnataka, India, is an example of Indian rock-cut architecture from the 6th and 7th centuries. Four distinct caves were carved into limestone walls: three dedicated to gods Vishnu and Shiva, and the fourth is a Jain Temple. No cave tours are offered — just arrive at the ticket booth, pay the relatively low entry fee (about $7, as of 2023) and explore away.
Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky was established in 1941. It is the home of the longest cave system known in the world with 390 miles of passageways. Thus the name “Mammoth” — the cave is named for its size, not the extinct animal. The park offers more than a dozen cave tours, including a wheelchair-accessible option, historical tours, tight adventure tours that require hard hats, self-guided tours, and more. Buy tickets in advance at Recreation.gov.
The Batu Caves are both an important Hindu shrine and a popular Malaysian climbing site. During the Hindu festival of Thaipusam, a procession ends at Batu Caves ,where offerings are left for Lord Murugan (to whom the shrine is dedicated). It’s 272 steps to reach the main cave, or you can sign up for rock climbing cave tours from various outfitters and explore the sides and outside of the cave.
There’s no fee to go inside the main part of the shrine, but smaller caves that branch off have small fees of a few dollars. You don’t need any reservations, but keep in mind that midday is usually the most crowded, so going early or late is better.
“The Blue Caves” are one of the most gorgeous sea caves in Europe. They’recut into the cliffs around Cape Skinari on the Greek Island of Zakynthos, and are only reachable by boat. The white walls and pebbles of the floor reflect light, giving the caves their blue hue. Several operators in the area run cave tours, including Greeka and Peter Tours Zante. Tours are often paired with a visit to a nearby shipwreck to go snorkeling.
Jenolan Caves in Australia’s Blue Mountains, just west of Sydney, are the oldest discovered open system in the world, according to Australian geologists. It was also the first cave to install electric lighting back in 1880.
There are about 25 miles of passages, and cave tours are a big tourist draw. That means the area around the caves has no shortage of restaurants and hotels, making a caving adventure a fun overnight trip from Sydney. There are 10 caves that are developed for self-guided and regular daily walking tours, but much of the system is undeveloped and only explored by cavers. You can buy tickets for the various cave tours online for options ranging from an easy tour to one where you’ll have to smush your body through tiny cracks in the rock.
The Reed Flute Caves are more than 180 million years old and have ink inscriptions inside that date back to 792 BCE. The cave was rediscovered by Chinese refugees fleeing Japanese troops in the 1940s and named for the reeds growing outside its entrance. Cave tours are offered through various operators in Guilin and are often included as part of longer multi-day tours of the area.
On Bo Hòn Island, Surprise Cave is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Halong Bay. The cave was discovered in 1901 and was used by the Viet Cong as a hideout during the Vietnam War. The cave is big, but so are the crowds and tour groups that come here by boats from the Bay.
If you can’t make it that far north, you can visit many of the caves within Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park. The park is home to the largest cave system in the world, and visitors can do everything from week-long treks to camp in the caves to one-day boat tours to explore underground rivers.
On the uninhabited Scottish island of Staffa, Fingal’s Cave is famous for its mysterious echoes and its hexagonally shaped basalt stone columns. It can be reached by boat; tours run from April to September and usually depart from the nearby town of Oban, on the mainland.
The Qumran Cave system in the West Bank is the archeological site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered in 1947. The area is made up of real limestone caves, and artificial ones built into the cliffs. Visitors today can walk along the site and up to the caves on walking paths, some of which have views of the Dead Sea. The area is a popular tourist attraction with a large visitor center and museum. It’s open year-round, but remember that it can be extremely hot in the middle of summer.