10 largest caves on the planet

Review of the best according to the editorial board. On the selection criteria. This material is subjective, does not constitute advertising and does not serve as a purchase guide. Before buying, you need to consult with a specialist.

The caves are truly a unique phenomenon. The natural voids of our planet are simultaneously breathtaking with majesty, attract with a mysterious atmosphere and frighten with their dark grottoes. There is a great variety of various underground formations in the world – grottoes, labyrinths, lakes. But some of them are so huge that they deserve detailed consideration.

Giants of the underworld: top 10 largest caves on the planet

Nomination a place cave name rating
Giants of the underworld: top 10 largest caves on the planet 1 Optimistic (Ukraine) 5.0
2 Sarma (Abkhazia) 4.9
3 Krubera-Voronya (Abkhazia) 4.8
4 Sak-Aktun (Mexico) 4.7
5 Mamontova (USA) 4.6
6 Krasnaya (Russia) 4.5
7 Eisriesenwelt (Austria) 4.4
8 Miao (China) 4.3
9 Lubang Nasib Bagus (Malaysia) 4.2
10 Son Dong (Vietnam) 4.1

Optimistic (Ukraine)

Rating: 5.0

Optimistic (Ukraine)

The longest gypsum cave in the world, located in the Ternopil region, was discovered relatively recently – in 1966. It was discovered by a local hunter who was looking for a bear hole and stumbled upon an entrance in a rock. Initially, most cavers were skeptical about the find, considering it a normal crack no more than a few meters deep, which is not surprising, because the entrance was narrow and unattractive.

But local experts adhered to a different point of view, for which they were jokingly nicknamed optimists. And the optimism turned out to be not accidental: scrupulous and persistent measurements showed that a huge underground formation, which turned out to be the most impressive along the length of the labyrinth, was hidden from human eyes.

For half a century, more than 200 expeditions have visited the depths of Optimisticheskaya, which managed to explore about 223 km of winding passages and bizarre halls. But a much greater extent is assumed: the secrets of the Optimistic Cave hidden underground have yet to be explored by cavers around the world.

Over the years of research, several routes of varying difficulty have been drawn up, any of which is available to tourists. Natural education will delight you with its unique attractions: incredible halls, beautiful vaults, many underground rivers.

As you explore the cave, the number of base camps formed there grows rapidly. Today there are 15 of them, and the most remote conditions have been created for the comfortable accommodation of 50 people. All camps are supplied with food provisions, primus, large supplies of water (in the far one there is a 700-liter supply of water), conditions for overnight stay and cooking hot food.

Sarma (Abkhazia)

Rating: 4.9

Sarma

One of the deepest natural formations in the world. Located in the Arabica mountain range, the cave was discovered quite recently (in 1990), which makes it also one of the 'youngest' speleological discoveries. Like the Optimistic Cave, Sarma at the entrance looks like a nondescript crevice in the rock, which nevertheless attracted the attention of the Irkutsk caver due to the strong air flow inside. Hence its name – Sarma – Baikal wind.

The entrance to the cave is located at an altitude of more than 2000 meters, to get to it, you have to climb the mountains. To date, about 1830 m of the depth of the cave have been explored, and many cavers believe that this is not the limit at all. In its shape, it is a series of many wells, connected by underground galleries. The cave is believed to be the result of many gypsum and limestone fractures. The rock formation is so unique that it invariably attracts cavers all over the world.

After the aggravation of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, the cave remained inaccessible to speleologists until 1998. Today it is a real holiday for professional underground researchers. Access to the geological object is possible for those who have not only professional equipment, but also special training. Exploration of Sarma by tourists is strictly prohibited.

Krubera-Voronya (Abkhazia)

Rating: 4.8

Krubera-Voronya (Abkhazia)

In the same mountain range as Sarma, there is another equally unique mountain formation – one of the most beautiful and deepest caves in the world – Krubera Voronya. It received its original name in honor of the founder of Russian karst studies (Alexander Kruber). And the participants of subsequent expeditions added one more to this name – 'Crow'.

The cave is located in the mountains, at an altitude of 2250 meters above sea level. It is an underground formation of a sub-vertical type: many different depths of wells are interconnected by manholes. After the opening in 2014 of one more entrance just above the first, a new depth record was officially registered: today this figure reaches 2199 meters.

At a depth of about 200 meters, the cave is divided into 2 branches: the Nekuibyshevskaya, 1700 meters deep, and the Main. The latter, in turn, is divided into many more branches. In the depths of the cave, 8 tunnels were discovered through which water flows.

Krubera-Voronya is open exclusively to professional speleologists: a lot of experience is needed to explore it, and there are simply no prepared passages for ordinary tourists. Therefore, all the natural beauties that abound in the cave became available to the masses precisely thanks to professional expeditions conducted to explore the cave a couple of times a year.

Sak-Aktun (Mexico)

Rating: 4.7

Sak-Aktun (Mexico)

This grandiose underground system on the Yucatan Peninsula with a length of more than 317 kilometers is unique: 98% of its territory is flooded with water and only 2% (about 5 km) remain dry, so the cave is often called an underwater river. Sak-Aktun is being researched by divers. Speleological studies of this underground formation began back in 1987, and since then no more than 1% of its territories have been explored.

The water temperature in the underground river, which almost completely covers the numerous underground galleries of the cave, is kept at around +25 0С all year round. But the composition of the water changes depending on the depth of immersion: in the upper layers the water is fresh, and closer to the bottom it becomes salty.

The name of the cave translates as 'white cave', which is due to the characteristic color of most of the vaults of its many halls with huge stalactites. It is dominated by limestone. The depth of the passages is different: the maximum figure recorded to date is 102 meters. On the surface of the earth, right above the cave labyrinths, are the ancient ruins of the cities of the Maya and other peoples.

An interesting fact: at a 43-meter depth of the cave, several human skulls were discovered, presumably from the Upper Paleolithic period, traces of the life of these people, animal bones, as well as many ancient artifacts. Scientists suggest that the Maya used cave passages to move between their buildings.

Mamontova (USA)

Rating: 4.6

Mamontova (USA)

It is considered the longest in the world. It is located in the USA (Kentucky) on the territory of the park of the same name. It got its name without having any connection with the giants of the ancient animal world. It's all about the gigantic size of the cave. In the underground education system, 20 huge halls and more than 220 underground manholes were discovered.

Their total length is over 587 km, but this is not all: according to the assumptions of speleologists, the size of the Mammoth Cave is much larger than the investigated territory. On one of the many branches of the cave flows the Echo River 60 m wide and in some places reaches 10 m depth.

Today the Mammoth Cave is a must-see place of pilgrimage for many tourists. Especially for connoisseurs of such underground beauty, 6 routes of varying difficulty and duration (from 1 to 6 hours) have been developed. The most popular route is called 'Frozen Niagara'.

The unique variety of stalactites encountered among themselves amazes the imagination with its beauty and incredible scale. Traveling along the Echo River is no less popular: all sounds during your stay on it (be it a spoken word or any knock) turn into a real symphony of echoes.

Krasnaya (Russia)

Rating: 4.5

Krasnaya (Russia)

Russian Crimea surprises with its natural beauty. More than a third of its territory is dotted with mountain ranges with many unique cave systems. Any of them deserves attention, but the so-called Red Cave – a huge underground system with a length of more than 25 kilometers – attracts special attention.

It was discovered and thoroughly investigated back in 1963 by a Soviet expedition. In addition to geological, the underground formation is also of considerable archaeological interest. On its territory, traces of the stay of ancient people were found.

The chain of bizarre underground grottoes, connected together in the form of an intricate and difficult-to-pass labyrinth, leaves an indelible impression. Among the many halls of the Red Cave, the most famous is the Blue Capel Hall: its height reaches 145 meters.

True, only the first 500 m of the cave are accessible to tourists, although this is enough to get an incredible speleological experience. Further advancement is allowed only with special skills, and only in a wetsuit – an ideal rest for extreme sportsmen.

Eisriesenwelt (Austria)

Rating: 4.4

Eisriesenwelt (Austria)

A unique underground formation, which stands out for its truly colossal size: it is the largest ice cave in the world, which 'lives' all year round in permafrost conditions. It is 42 kilometers long and over 400 meters deep. Translated from the Austrian name it sounds like 'The World of Ice Giants' and this is quite justified: the incredible splendor of cold stalactites from a distance can be mistaken for real ice giants.

People had guessed about the existence of Eisriesenwelt for a long time, but the official discovery of this icy underground system took place only in 1879 by the naturalist Anton von Posselt-Kzorich. And thanks to the local speleologist Alexander von Merck, the cave was thoroughly explored. By the way, he was buried in one of her niches.

An interesting fact: due to the intense and constant circulation of air currents, the ice masses of the cave halls constantly change their shape.

The first excursion to Eisriesenwelt was held back in 1920. Today it is one of the most famous sights of its kind. More than 1,500 tourists every year from March to November admire the incredible beauty of the ice underground formation (in winter, the cave is closed to the public, as there is a high risk of avalanches).

Miao (China)

Rating: 4.3

Miao (China)

Opened in 1989 by the joint efforts of Chinese and European cavers, the cave can hardly be called the largest in the world: its length does not even reach a kilometer, and it does not exceed 200 meters in width. Nevertheless, even during the discovery of an underground formation, researchers who stumbled upon it by chance realized that it was incredibly large.

It takes about 2 hours to get to the bottom of the deepest well of the cave. But it is not possible to examine the entire underground object with your own eyes, so its volume was investigated using laser scanning. The results were astonishing: 10.78 million m3. This means that Miao can fit 22 football fields, 4 pyramids of Cheops or be used as a convenient parking for a Boeing 747 passenger plane.

Lubang Nasib Bagus (Malaysia)

Rating: 4.2

Lubang Nasib Bagus (Malaysia)

Such a complex name for the cave, which translates very simply – 'the cave of luck'. It is here that the world's largest grotto (Sarawak) is located, reaching 600 m in length, 415 in width. Its height is over 100 meters.

The underground object was discovered by cavers by accident. Having penetrated into the cave for the first time, the researchers moved up the river, and got into the grotto, the vaults of which did not reach the light of the lanterns. Then it became immediately clear that its size was colossal. The volume of the main grotto of the natural formation is 163 thousand m3, and the volume of the cave is so impressive that it makes it inaccessible for any other underground objects: the entire underground system is 25 million m3.

Son Dong (Vietnam)

Rating: 4.1

Son Dong (Vietnam)

In 1991, a Vietnamese peasant stumbled upon the entrance to a cave lost in the dense jungle, but he was frightened by the roar of the water from the depths, and too steep descent did not give an opportunity to look inside. This delayed the discovery of the largest cave in the world by as much as 18 years: only in 2009, a group of British cavers officially confirmed the discovery of an entire underground system, descending to the depth to study it. And only in 2013 the first tourists visited the cave.

Shondong is an intricate labyrinth of 150 passages that cut through underground limestone rocks. All of them are connected by one huge tunnel, along the bottom of which a river flows, during the monsoon season, almost completely flooding the system. There is no access to the cave during this period. The width of the underground passages is 150 meters, and the height of some of the vaults reaches an incredible 200 meters.

Shondong is unique not only for its colossal size, but also for the presence of its own microclimate. There are even clouds here, and due to the presence of several holes in the giant underground cavity, sunlight penetrates inside, stimulating the growth of many trees, some of which reach 3 meters in height. In addition, even representatives of the animal world live here, which is completely surprising: hornbills, monkeys, flying foxes, etc.


Attention! This rating is subjective and does not constitute an advertisement and does not serve as a purchase guide. Before buying, you need to consult with a specialist.

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