This Week in Nature: 10 Great Caves

Last updated Nov 9, 2019 | Published on Oct 13, 2014Abstracts of the World, Special Articles

A cave is a hollow place in the ground, often very deep but also quite small like grottos. Here is a nice selection.


This post is part of a series portraying the classic Elements of Nature: Earth, Fire, Water, Air. Caves are examples of the first element, Earth.


Solutional caves

Solutional caves are the most frequently occurring caves. They form in soluble rock and may become very large. I will be presenting seven examples of solutional caves. The hyperlinked titles are to my articles from the visit.


1. St Marcel Grotto in Provence, France. Pictured below. So far 57 km of galleries in this vast cave system has been explored. The guided tour will take you a few hundred metres into the cave, past the water-basins you see on the picture and into huge galleries and rooms. There once was an underground river running here, but at one time in history it dried out.


Frankrike - France - Grotto St Marcel

Grotto St Marcel in southern France


2. Petralona Cave in Chalkidiki, Greece is most famous for the finding of a 200,000 years old skull of an early human being. Being my first encounter with stalactites and stalagmites many years ago, I found this cave very exciting. This is not the only cave in Greece by the way. In a country made of 65% limestone caves are numerous throughout the country.

I say limestone, but that is only one of several types of rock often labelled the generic term of karst.


3. Damlata? Cave in Alanya, Turkey. This one is not unlike the one above. Turkey’s terrain is also to a large degree made of limestone making the job easier for the forces of nature to form the rock into different shapes. And what are the forces? Primarily water – running and dripping over millions of years. Wind as an eroding force is not very much of an issue in these cases, nor is volcanic eruptions or movements of the Earth’s crust (i.e. earthquake).


Turkey - Alanya - Damlata? Cave

The Damlata? Cave in Alanya, on the Turkish Mediterranean coast


In case you don’t remember, and I have to remind myself constantly of it, stalagmites point upwards, stalactites hang from the roof down.


4. Reed Flute Caves in Guilin, ChinaLike in southern Europe, China’s foundation is soluble. Large parts of (at least) the southern parts of the country consist of karst. I will be returning to this region in several of the subsequent chapters of this series. Unfortunately I have no picture from my visit here.


5. Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang, LaosI would suppose many visitors to northern Laos would do the same as I – do a boat trip on the great Mekong River. Right on the river, upstream from Luang Prabang, there are several natural caves partially enhanced by human hands and partially decorated like this one. These karst caves are not deep, and might have been formed in a combination of falling water and the running water of the Mekong.


Laos - Luang Prabang - Pak Ou caves

Pak Ou caves on the Mekong River, near Luang Prabang, Laos


6. Cueva del Indio and Cueva de San Miguel, Viñales Valley, Cuba. These caves are set in the beautiful landscape of Viñales in eastern Cuba, a World Heritage Site. One may enter the first cave on foot, but you will have to use a boat to go through it. The second is possible to walk through. This means they are not very large, I would say a hundred metres or so. On the other hand, one of the caves in the valley have galleries and corridors for more than 45 km on eight levels – the largest in Latin America.

Infrared photo shot in pitch darkness inside the Cueva del Indio, in the Vinales Valley, Cuba

Infrared photo shot in pitch darkness inside the Cueva del Indio, in the Vinales Valley, Cuba



7. St Michael’s Cave, Gibraltar. This will be my last presented cave of this kind, the solutional ones. Inside the Rock, the amazing mountain of Gibraltar, there are several man-made (fortress) caves and natural caves as well. This one is the most famous. My picture shows how minerals, rock, in combination with water can form very exciting patterns and colours.


Gibraltar - St Michael's Cave

Detail inside St Michael’s Cave, Gibraltar


Sea caves

Sea caves are found along coasts around the world. Like most caves, erosion has been the name of the game in forming them. Unlike land-based caves, these ones have been dug by the constant beating of the waves over thousands and millions of year.


8. Ayia Napa, Cyprus. The combination of karst rock and the beating of the sea has produced the large number of sea caves found around this island in the Mediterranean sun. These caves are rarely deep.


Cyprus - Ayia Napa

A sea cave in Ayia Napa, Cyprus


Rock shelters

Rock shelters are shallow cave-like openings at the base of a bluff or cliff. Here are two examples.


9. Lumiang Cave in Sagada, the Philippines The cave pictured below was filled with stacked coffins. Nearby are found coffins hanging from the cliff-face. That is another story however. The reason I mention it is that this part of the northern Philippines have several caves. I found the nearby Sumaguing Cave to be much deeper, but alas, I have no picture of it.


Philippines - Sagada - Lumiang Cave

The stacked coffins inside the Lumiang Cave, Philippines


10. Stone Age Cave at Viste, Norway. This is actually a cave formed like a sea cave at a time when the sea level was much higher. More precisely: After the last glaciers withdrew from the coast, the land masses rose and left open caves like this inland. This particular cave was the dwelling of some of the first inhabitants of Norway, ever: 10,000 years ago.


Rogaland - Randaberg - Vistehola - Svarthola - Jærkysten

The view from inside the cave at Viste, Norway


Further reading

Missing anything? For sure, I’ve had to skip some of my images related to this subject and refrained from mentioning some of my visits. Feel free to search this website for more. In addition, you are surely missing famous places or your own favourites. Chances are I haven’t been there, and I only include my own images and visits in this series.


All articles in this series

(1) Introduction

(2-7) Element: Earth

(2) Great Caves

(3) Strange Rock Formations

(4) Dramatic Cliffs

(5) Amazing Mountain Views

(6) Great Highlands

(7) Dry Deserts

(8) Element: Fire

(8) Active Volcanoes

(9-14) Element: Water

(9) Dramatic waterfalls

(10) Fascinating Beaches

(11) Mighty rivers

(12) Picturesque Lakes

(13) Important Straits

(14) Snow and ice

(15) Element: Air


Here are images tagged “cave” on this website. Click to enlarge and browse.

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