I don’t know if it is due to my mother coming from a mining area, visiting underground mines or caves at a young age, or my own technical work experience gained at mines in Germany and Mongolia, but I like going underground. Caverns, mines, tunnels...you name it! Some of these trips have been pretty spectacular and well worth a visit. Here are my top 5 subterranean tourist attractions:
Freiberg Visitor Mine (Saxony, Germany) Official Site
I spent the summer of 2010 working at Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg - the oldest university of mining and metallurgy in the world (the chemical elements indium and germanium were also discovered there). Silver (and later other minerals) have been mined in Freiberg for centuries, with the 850th anniversary of the “Silberstadt” being celebrated this coming weekend. The main mine, while no longer productive (though rising metal prices may make production once again favourable), has over 1000km of tunnels running under the small city, however only 20km of these are accessible as the lower levels of the mine were flooded when production ceased.
Various mine tours can be arranged – however tours in English usually need to be arranged in advance with a minimum of 8 people. Alternatively take someone with you to translate the tour – many Freiberg students will be familiar with the mine which is still used today for teaching. They can be found in most bars in the town centre singing the traditional German mining song “Das Steigerleid”. There is also a kind of bar located in the mine itself, over 100m underground, where rock concerts are sometimes performed and can also be hired out for parties and other events.
Another mining-related attraction is Terra-Mineralia, a geological museum located in Schloss Freudenstein in the town centre. The museum has interesting rock samples from all over the world, as well as Freiberg and the Erzgebirge (“Ore Mountains”), and even outer space!
Freiberg is best visited over the last weekend in June, during what is known as “Bergstadtfest” – a celebration of the town’s mining heritage, with street stalls, a funfair, fireworks, beer, beer and more beer, culminating in a miner’s parade from the Dom on the Sunday morning. Even outside of Bergstadtfest, Freiberg can still be a pleasant day out if you are staying in the vicinity of Dresden or Leipzig.
Cruachan – the Hollow Mountain (Dalmally, Argyll, Scotland) Official Site
Short and sweet, but still very interesting, Cruachan is a pumped-hydro power station. That is, during periods of surplus electricity, water is pumped to the top of the mountain (Ben Cruachan) and stored in a reservoir. When energy demand increases e.g. at breakfast time when everyone is making coffee, the water is flowed back down the mountain and used to generate electricity. The humidity and temperature in the underground tunnels is significant enough to allow tropical plants to be grown in artificial sunlight. The tour gives a deeper explanation of the process, the history of the power station, and shows the inner workings of the mountain. Cruachan is an interesting stop for anyone with an engineering background, or simply anyone who wants to know a bit more about where our electricity comes from.
The Cruachan visitor centre is pleasant rest stop on the way up to Oban, Fort William or the Western Isles, and visitors arriving by public transport or bike gain free entry (Falls of Cruachan railway station is only 200m walk). The scenery on the way is your stereotypical Scotland, and can be enjoyed whatever mode of transportation you take. Those of the outdoor persuasion can also hike up to the corrie (known to the English as a tarn) on Ben Cruachan where the storage reservoir can be found – though be prepared for the rain!
St Michael’s Cave (Gibraltar) Official Site
I visited this one several times during my childhood. The British overseas territory, Gibraltar largely consists of a large formation of Jurassic limestone known as the Rock of Gibraltar (or simply the Rock), containing over 150 caves. St Michael’s cave is the largest and most visited of these, being one of Gibraltar’s leading tourist attractions. Entry also includes entry to the Siege Tunnels and the Moorish Castle. Taking the Lower St. Michael's Cave tour is strongly recommended by the locals, but must be booked 3 days in advance minimum and children under 10 are not allowed (For more info, see the link above, under the option "Tours").
The cave can be reached by road, cable car or on foot – taking the cable car up and walking back down is particularly pleasant and allows you to get up close to the Barbary apes that inhabit the Rock. It is thought that the apes first reached the Rock from Morocco through the network of caves long ago. Another legend is that the ancient Greeks thought the cave to be the gateway to the underworld of Hades.
Eisriesenwelt (Upper Austria, Austria) Official Site
This one is pretty spectacular. Located 1641m above sea level in the Austrian Alps 40km south of Salzburg, Eisriesenwelt is the largest ice cave in the world with the network stretching over 42km. To access the cave you drive to the visitor centre, take a 20 minute walk to the cable car station, and after a vertigo-inducing trip in the cable car (the faint of heart can take a 90 minute trek by foot), take another 20 minute walk to the mouth of the cave. The pressure differential due to the temperatures inside and outside the cave causes a blast of ice cold wind that can reach up to 100km/h when the cave doors are opened – when this happens you can easily see why the cave was once thought to be (another) gateway to hell. Once inside the cave the air is still again, and you are guided up and down 700 steps with your path lit by old-fashioned lamps, and the impressive ice formations illuminated by magnesium tapers.
One thing I will emphasise: this is an ICE cave. As the name suggests it is filled with ICE – come prepared for spending up to an hour in temperatures below freezing. That means come prepared with sensible shoes such as boots or trainers, thick socks, trousers, long sleeves, thick jumpers, hat, gloves, scarf...no matter how warm it is outside. On my tour around the cave a poor newlywed couple from the Middle East enjoying their honeymoon underestimated how cold it would be and didn’t even bring pullovers. The husband begged the tour guide to hurry through the cave - before we had even been inside two minutes! They hadn’t expected to be so cold for so long, not having any experience of sub-zero temperatures, and coming from a place where you only ever saw ice in your drink. Even me, in true Scottish style, prepared for all weathers and able to wrap up warm, found my toes getting a little cold towards the end (canvas pumps are a bad idea!).
Eisriesenwelt is a good day trip from Salzburg, with many tour companies organising bus trips. Salzburg itself is very cultural, being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with several palaces and historic churches, as well as being the famed birthplace of Mozart (there is always a busker to be found playing his music). There’s also the whole “Sound of Music” experience to found too. Finally if your hunger for all things subterranean hasn’t been sated, there is also a salt mine and museum in the nearby town of Hallein, which features among other things underground slides!
Licking salt from the walls is perfectly
acceptable - in fact, permission to take up
to 1kg of salt is included in the tour price!
Wieliczka Salt Mine (Krakow, Poland) UNESCO Site
This one is a subterranean MUST SEE!
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the mine contains over 3km of tunnel accessible to the public – but this is only a very small percentage of the tunnel network. Also contained within the mine are several chapels, fine sculptures and even chandeliers – all of which are formed out of salt. Also present is are salt lakes and many massive chambers carved out of the rock salt – one so high as to have been the location of both the world’s first underground bungee jump and underground hot air balloon flight. Tours are available in several languages and very reasonably priced, and the mine is easily reached by bus from Krakow city centre, meaning there is no excuse to miss out on this. In one word: SPECTACULAR!
Krakow itself has all the charms of any historic European city, and with an excellent night life to boot (a trip down the salt mine will also help clear up a moderate hangover, should you overdo it). Did I also mention that Krakow is cheap? – I went out for 5 days with the same amount of money I spent in Oslo in a weekend (around £100), and still came back with plenty to spare. I recommend visiting in December when there is a good Christmas market to be found in the main square.
I had dreamed of visiting Greece ever since high school when I first read the Iliad and the Odyssey. At the University of Arizona, my studies in art history compounded my fascination with ancient Greece. But for the time being, my experience with the country and its culture was confined to the descriptions and the washed out slideshow images offered by my professors. After graduation, I felt even more compelled to make it to these places which were, quite literally, the stuff of legends.
If you're an American, it may be difficult to fully appreciate the aging grandeur of places like Greece. After all, recorded history on the North American continent is barely a footnote in the annals of humankind, and nothing in comparison to the millennia-old cultures of the Mediterranean, Europe, Africa and Asia. During my two weeks in Greece, I managed to make it to most of the important ruins like the Acropolis in Athens and the temples of Delphi. But one of the most significant sites for me wasn't a ruin at all, but a picturesque cove and a nearby cave hidden high on a scrub-covered hillside.
This half-moon-shaped inlet on the west side of the Peloponnese is called Voidokilia. Hidden from both the elements and human eyes by rolling sand dunes and craggy cliffs, it's a perfect off-the-beaten-path retreat for enjoying the sun and sea without enduring crowds of tourists.
There are no ruins at Voidokilia, but it doesn't matter because the very landscape is what's important. In ancient times – those times described by Homer in the Illiad and the Odyssey – this was a harbor for Nestor, King of Pylos. (A few miles to the north are the ruins of Nestor's palace. You can visit there too – it's now a museum – and walk the nearby woods where the beehive-shaped tholos tombs of the ancient Mycenaeans are an unusual and somewhat eerie diversion.)
The sandy Voidokilia beach is where Odysseus's son, Telemachus, puts ashore accompanied by the goddess Athena while searching for his missing father. He finds the beach filled with revelers, as Nestor is hosting a feast in honor of Poseidon. Although the old king lavishly entertains young Telemachus, he cannot provide any new information about Odysseus's fate and suggests the youth continue his quest in Sparta. These passages from the Odyssey are important because they reinforce a major theme in the legend – fidelity to one's parents, partners and friends.
Above the cove is a cave. There aren't any signs leading to it and it's hard to see from the beach, but I was prepared. I hiked up a steep sandy berm on the south end of the cove, which was the most strenuous part of the journey and somewhat akin to sifting powdered sugar with my feet. I then made my way across the back of a scrub-covered ridge, pausing to photograph both the cove and the Ionian Sea to the west. On the summit above me were the ruins of a 13th century Frankish fortress commonly known as The Old Pylos Castle. The cliff-tops were also used in Classical times as a naturally defensible area which overlooked the bay. The cave doesn't have quite as illustrious a history as the beach and ruins nearby. According to legend, this is where Nestor sheltered his cattle during bad weather. It held a similar purpose for me, providing a cool resting spot after my hike through 100-degree weather.
The cave was unremarkable, a dry egg-shaped cavity which smelled faintly of wet earth. Certainly it will never be mentioned in the same breath with contemporaneous sites like Mycenae or Troy. The main room seemed large enough to hold a small herd of cattle, and I couldn't help but imagine the noise and smell this would've produced. As I exited, I found Homer's ancient world neatly framed by the mouth of the cave. The brilliant blue curve of Voidokilia... the flat scrubby plain of the Greek countryside... The low foothills where Nestor's crumbled palace still lay... It all stretched out in front of me. There were no throngs of tourists and the only sounds were the wind and the surf far below. Standing there, I felt more connected to Greece than I had anywhere else on my journey.
Probably you won't find Voidokilia in most Greek travel guides. It's not particularly close to any tourist destination and the road in is an unmarked and meandering route. But if you can find it, plan to spend some time. Sunbathe, snorkel, take a picnic... but also climb the hillside to the cave and reflect on the great legends this place inspired.
If you should find yourself near Arenal Volcano, be sure that you visit Venado Cave, which is located about a 45-min van-ride south of La Fortuna. Officially known in the cave registry under its original local Indian name, Caverna Gabinarraca (well, what has been explored so far) consists of over 2,700 meters and is believed to have been formed about 20 million years ago.
Although these caves were not discovered until 1945 it was almost 30 years later before any extensive exploration was done. Even to this day there are still unexplored portions, as you can see from the map below.
Any of the local La Fortna hostels / hotels / resorts / excursion companies can arrange it for you once you are in town. Hell, they will all be fighting for your business, so don’t waste time and money and extra fees pre-booking ANY excursions online. We booked through our hostel Arenal Backpackers Resort and paid $50/person despite hearing online that others were being charged as much as $70 each. Another blogger managed to arrange transportation both ways via pirate taxi, acquire supplies and pay their tour guide all for a grand total of $30 for his entire group. However that enterprising young chap was unable to fully enjoy his part in the expedition, as he was forced to translate for the rest of his group.
The drive up there is only 15 miles or so but will probably take around 45 minutes or so given the road quality towards the end. The final segment is slow going but then the home stretch is a glorified dirt rut and thus super-slow going. It is a pleasent Alajuela drive though, up through farm country and then past a couple small villages, and provides you with an opportunity to see a variety small houses and farms.
After arrival — well, technically upon signing of the waiver — you are provided with rubber boots and a hardhat with attached light. Just a forewarning: those who have a shoe size above 12 (US mens) may have some difficulty here. I am a size 13/14 depending upon the brand and only with water to help lubricate and the assistance of an employee were we finally able to force my boots on one at a time. They were painfully uncomfortable the entire expedition too, but I survived. Once everyone was suited up it was a brief hike past a field of cows and down the trail on into the valley below, where the first cave entrance lies in wait. All the while we struggled to listen as our guide described the history of the cave system. I was the first person behind our guide and as such was the only one able to catch more than the occasional word, so for this expedition try to get the guide with the loud booming voice if possible!
Upon reaching the entrance we paused to listen to the stereotypical introduction and warning spiel from our guide, as well as information on what type of creatures we could expect to see once inside. Basically this cave includes the usual spiders, bats, and bugs, but thanks to the water there is also an assortment of fish, crabs, frogs, and other small forms of aquatic life.
From the first few seconds in all the way until the end, this cave was basically non-stop amazement. I've explored a couple cave systems before but this one by far was the best! First off, they failed to mention just how much water you really see. From the start you are standing in 6-12 inches and the water level only goes up from there. Several times you are fully submerged and swimming to the next cavern. It was exciting and a lot of fun, to say the least. Definitely beat out traditional dry spelunking.
The whole thing took about an hour-and-a-half and included lots of waterfalls, stalactites, bats, and other interesting shit. Our guide showed us some interesting rocks that appear solid but are actually luminescent when hit with a flashlight, as well as others that sounded like metal when tapped (if only I could remember what they were called).
But there are also several crawl spaces that you need to make it through, so I will warn you with this: if you are taller than my 6'2" and/or weigh more than 250lbs, you probably should avoid this excursion. Even if you could make it through all the spaces, trust me, it will not be an enjoyable squeeze. I'm tall and relatively thin yet there was this one part in particular which I barely made it through.
Additionally, the caves do close periodically due to high water levels, primarily after heavy rainfalls during the wet season.
Below are a few photos from our expedition. Been spelunking before? What is your favorite cave system?
Have you been to the Venado Caves before? Know of any other hidden sights worth visiting that are nearby? Share your thoughts with us!
Recently I had the pleasure of discovering a refreshing new side to Ohio, the hidden gem known as Hocking Hills. Nestled in the southeastern portion of the state, this area is known for its rolling hills and glacier-carved valleys. As a result of these iconic valleys the region is also home to a surprising amount of migratory fauna and even several types of flora that are usually only found in the cooler climates of .
In addition to offering a wealth of outdoor activities, the nearby towns provide several interesting sightseeing opportunities and tours that cover a variety of interests and hobbies which visitors of all ages will find appealing. Together they make Hocking Hills a fantastic and inexpensive family getaway that proves there is much more to the Buckeye State than simply the "3 C's." Ohio also has the geographic distinction of being located within a single days drive of 50% of the United States population, further strengthening the region as an ideal destination for a refreshing family vacation.
Get Outdoors And Stretch Those Legs!
Surpassed only by their love of football, Ohio residents are extremely proud of the 200,000 acres of state and national parks scattered across this diverse state. Hocking Hills State Park is one of the most prominent in the region and receives as many as four million visitors each year.
An overwhelming one million of those visitors arrive just during October, when the autumn color change transforms the entire area into a vivid and impressive landscape that attract non-stop hordes of "leaf-peepers."
Unfortunately for me I arrived just a couple days after Hurricane Sandy had ravaged this colorful scenery. The storm was so powerful that its effects were felt even this far inland, where 60-70mph winds stripped the deciduous trees of every last leaf and covered the ground in countless shades of auburn. Luckily that in no way diminished the joy of exploring this area.
There are a total of nine hiking trails in varying lengths and difficulties and two great biking trails located within Hocking Hills State Park that allow visitors to choose their route based upon whichever sights appeal to them. One of the most popular of these trails is the hike to Old Man's cave, which you can see pictured below.
Although the largest crowds at Hocking Hills State Park occur during the autumn color change, this area happens to be blessed with spectacular wildlife and scenery regardless of the season. In fact each has its own appeal and distinct reasons for visiting. Whether witnessing the first new leaves of the spring awakening or trekking through this snow-covered winter wonderland, Hocking Hills State Park never disappoints!
But believe it or not all of thise natural beauty is trumped by resident naturalist Pat Quackenbush. Pat's all-encompassing knowledge of the local history and climate combined with his vivid storytelling and skills in mimicking the sound of local wildlife culminates in the perfect tour guide. I've traveled extensively through 46 US states, camping and exploring a wide range of both parks and climates, and without a doubt Pat is the all-around best naturalist I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. His love and dedication to the region are undeniable and certainly add that special spark when experiencing the local outdoors.
A more extensive list of the outdoor adventures offered including upcoming events can be found on the Hocking Hills State Park official web page.
For those who crave a more unique outdoor experience there is no better option than a guided tour through Saltpetre Cave State Nature Preserve. The highlight of this two-hour expedition up into the hills is an enthralling session with Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah (pronounced Way-u-per-shenwa), which takes place in the fourth and final cave along the trek. Approaching hikers will be able to hear his traditional Native American flute melodies rising through the hills long before being able to spot the source.
Otherwise known by the much easier to pronounce nickname "Shawnee Storyteller," Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah consistently captivates audiences from his first word to the very last. His stories offer a different perspective on the Hocking Hills region as well as thoughtful insights on our responsibility as the dominant species of this planet. They are comprised of a mixture of local history and knowledge of regional nature and wildlife, engaging Shawnee practices and stories of the past, personal childhood experiences, and even include thought-provoking cultural wisdom that has been passed down through the generations by tribe elders. Visitors are unanimously impressed by Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah and frequently find that leaving is hard to do.
Here are a few of my photos from both the initial hike through the nature preserve and our subsequent session with the Shawnee Storyteller.
To learn more about Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah and his stories please consult Hocking Hills Adventure Trek. They also offer several more challenging trails intended only for experienced hikers.
Get Your Adrenaline Pumping!
Canopy tours are the perfect excursion for those nature-lovers whom are also avid thrill-seekers and typically feature multiple ziplines and sky bridges. Just a few weeks before my visit a group from Discovery.com had popped in for a visit, after which they named the Hocking Hills ziplines as one of the top ten ziplines in the world! (View the article)
The canopy tour includes a total of ten ziplines but the prime attraction of this three-hour excursion is the SuperZip, Ohio's answer to the public demand for a "higher, longer, and faster" zipline. It covers more than a quarter mile and includes a breathtaking stretch directly over the Hocking River that makes the most of the zippers' "Superman-style" flying position.
Individuals are launched in pairs from an 85-foot tower perched atop the hillside and reach speeds of up to 50mph, making the SuperZip a fun race for anyone with a competitive nature.
Although the SuperZip can be experienced either by itself or as part of the full canopy tour package, I strongly recommend the latter -- especially if you have never been ziplining or on a canopy tour before. You may be surprised at just how much fun you have been missing out on.
Canopy tour details and contact information available via Hocking Hills Canopy Tours.
From April through October the Hocking River is popular among both kayakers and canoers, as visitors will notice when ziplining over the river. Two different lengths are offered, both filled with a variety of spots suitable for beaching your craft to rest along the shore or bask in the tranquil sounds of nature, allowing participates to extend this into a all-day event if the mood arises.
To get the best of both worlds, ziplining and kayaking, I suggest what is known as the "Float & Fly" special. This trip will take you down the longer of the two kayaking routes and passes directly underneath the SuperZip. Located there is a small landing area on the right side of the river for zippers to safely stow their kayak and make the short walk up to the SuperZip launch tower. After the group has completeled this exhilirating zip then its back into the kayaks for the remaining leg of the cruise.
Check out a few of the photos from our kayaking adventure below. You may even recognize a couple of my fellow travel bloggers, including Kristen from Hopscotch The Globe and Will from Wake And Wander.
Overnight camping is also an option for anyone wishing to continue this experience past sunset. Visitors can either bring their own tents and set up camp in several designated campgrounds ($7/each) or rent one of the four-person cabins that are scattered along the river. Cabins include basic amenities such as heating/cooling, refrigerator, and microwave and cost $60/night during the week or $70/night on Fridays and Saturdays.
Further details including specials and upcoming events can be found on the Hocking Hills Canoe Livery website.
Of course these activities are but a fraction of all the outdoor adventures awaiting visitors of Hocking Hills and the surrounding area. Depending on the season other great choices include a variety of haunted hikes and ghost stories, wildlife observation and education treks, fishing, hunting, and even occasional nighttime activities/events. Keep this in mind the next time you find yourself passing through Ohio or searching for an affordable family vacation. And as always, if you have any questions that are not answered by the links included then feel free to give me a shout.
In the north of the Greek Ionian island of Zakynthos at an area called Skinari you will find the magnificent Blue Caves. The Blue Caves are one of the islands most famous natural attractions and were discovered in 1897 by Antonio Komouto. The caves attract thousands of visitors each year and are located just below the lighthouse at Cape Skinari.
The caves owe there name to the blue waters inside them. Objects below the water appear to turn blue. This includes people who can enter the water inside the caves to swim.
The Blue Caves can only be visited by boat. The small boats like the one we went on are great as they go all the way inside the caves and some boats have glass bottoms so you can see the marine life below.
There are many boat trips to the Blue Caves which you can board at places around the island including from the Skinari Lighthouse and St Nikolas Port.