Caves have played a significant role in human history. In fact, archaeologists have unearthed cave art dating back 35,400 years. So, it’s no surprise that every year thousands of tourists embark on long treks to destinations beneath the Earth’s surface.
Whether you want to take part in some underground thrill-seeking or just scope out these natural wonders first hand, the world’s caves provide plenty for vacationers to enjoy. GOBankingRates uncovered some of the most exciting subterranean vacation spots and used Skyscanner to find the best fares on flights from Newark Airport. Here are 15 underground wonders you have to see to believe.
1. Reed Flute Cave, China
Estimated airfare: $836 to Guilin
Entry fee: $17.70
For a unique mixture of natural beauty and modern light design, visit China’s Reed Flute Cave. A 790-foot limestone cavern, the site features water-carved stalactite and stalagmite structures, which are highlighted by an impressive light show. Some of the cavern walls also display writings that date back to the Tang Dynasty in 792 AD.
Located around three miles from Downtown Guilin, Reed Flute cave was named for the forest of reeds that grows at its entrance, which kept it hidden for over a thousand years. In the 1940s, the marvel was rediscovered by Chinese refugees fleeing the Japanese invasion during World War II.
2. Poço Encantado, Brazil
Estimated airfare: $926 to Salvador
Entry fee: $4.54
Located in Brazil’s Bahia state, Poço Encantado is a breathtaking vacation destination that got its name from the mesmerizing blue light that reflects off the surface of its underwater pool. Measuring 320 feet deep and 160 feet wide, the pool is so transparent that the rocks and old tree trunks at the bottom are just as visible as if they were on the surface. Be sure to visit between April and September to see the reflections at their most majestic.
Additionally, this underground wonder offers views of the beautiful Bahian jungle.
3. Grand Cenote, Mexico
Estimated airfare: $310 to Cancun
Entry fee: $8.34
If swimming is your thing, don’t miss out on a trip to Grand Cenote in Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Meaning “sacred well” in Ancient Mayan, a cenote is a naturally forming sinkhole in the limestone that exposes the groundwater. As a result, the pool stays cool year round. Opt to spend hours lounging in blissful relaxation or embark on an underwater exploration with snorkels you can rent on site.
Set in a stunning jungle setting, Grand Cenote is partially open to the air and partially underground. Because of the crowds, it’s not a great spot for diving.
4. Turda Salt Mines, Romania
Estimated airfare: $883 to Cluj/Napoca
Entry fee: $7.58
Located 400 feet below the Earth’s surface, the underground theme park at Turda Salt Mines is an impressive, and unexpected, delight.
Around since the Middle Ages, today the salt mines boast an amphitheater with heated seats, bowling alley, mini-golf course, ping pong courts, Ferris wheel and underground lake with row boats.
Visitors can tour the mine for its historical value or enjoy unique underground adventures for the whole family.
5. Coober Pedy, Australia
Estimated airfare: $1,357 to Adelaide
Entry fee: None
If a well-equipped amusement park is not enough to satisfy your cravings for subterranean life, then a visit to the small town of Coober Pedy in Australia might be in order. The town, population 3,500, is sometimes known as the “opal capital of the world,” because of the opal mine that dominates its economic life.
Founded in 1915, the town was built mainly underground to allow its residents to escape the heat. The underground houses, known as “dugouts,” are some of the area’s most popular visitor attractions. Be sure to stop by the three-room dugout at 13 Hutchinson Street, as well as the town’s underground church.
6. Cu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam
Estimated airfare: $559 to Ho Chi Minh City
Entry fee: Around $5
Located about 45 miles outside of Ho Chi Minh City, the 75-mile-long Cu Chi Tunnels is one part of a massive underground tunnel system estimated to span tens of thousands of miles. Dug by the Viet Cong to house troops and transport supplies, the Cu Chi Tunnels were a target for many attacks by American forces during the Vietnam War.
Today, the Cu Chi Tunnels have been preserved by the Vietnamese government as a war memorial park. Visitors can crawl around the tunnels, explore underground command rooms and even sample the basic foods that the Viet Cong would have eaten.
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7. Derinkuyu Underground City, Turkey
Estimated airfare: $940 to Kayseri
Entry fee: $4.26
For a truly ancient vacation destination, book your flight to the Derinkuyu Underground City in Cappadocia, Turkey. Constructed as early as the 8th century BC, Derinkuyu was in use until the 13th century. Forgotten for years, it was accidentally rediscovered when a local man found a hidden room in his home, which was later discovered to be the entrance to a massive below-ground city 18 stories deep.
There are more than 600 known entrances to the city in various private homes and courtyards. Visitors can check out a range of features from the old city, including water wells, ventilation shafts, living areas and stables.
8. Batu Caves, Gombak, Malaysia
Estimated airfare: $744 to Kuala Lumpur
Entry fee: $3.49
Batu Caves, located just north of Kuala Lumpur, is one of Malaysia’s most popular tourist destinations, as well as one of the most popular Hindu sites outside of India, and for good reason. The complex’s limestone caves contain a plethora of Hindu shrines and temples.
Visitors will find themselves sharing cave space with Hindu worshippers, frolicking monkeys and rock-climbing humans, making for a unique mix of experiences outside the tourist norm.
9. Glowworm Cave in Waitomo Caves, New Zealand
Estimated airfare: $1,463 to Auckland
Entry fee: $36.45
The Glowworm Cave is just one of three underground spaces comprising the Waitomo Caves on New Zealand’s North Island. While the other caves are worth visiting, this one is especially noteworthy, thanks to the thousands of glowworms that illuminate its beautiful stone.
The glowworm that gives this underground wonder its name — and its light — is called the Arachnocampa luminosa, and is only found in New Zealand. Take a boat ride down the cave’s underground river to see this natural wonder for yourself.
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10. Novy Afon Cave, Abkhazia, Georgia
Estimated airfare: $1,200 to Tbilisi
Entry fee: $209 for a guided tour
The Novy Afon Cave, located in the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia, is the world’s second-largest cave by volume. In fact, it’s so large that previous generations referred to the site as “The Bottomless Pit.” It might also be the only cave in the world with its own subterranean train line, built especially for visitors.
Because the area is frequented by Russian tourists, this trip offers the opportunity for cross-cultural encounters, as well. Hike a 1.2-mile trail through six exquisite halls full of stalactites and other wonders.
11. Catacombs of Paris
Estimated airfare: $532 to Paris
Entry fee: $13.70
If you have a hankering for some Gothic haunts, don’t miss out on a trip to the Catacombs of Paris.
Limestone quarries built deep below the city, the Catacombs were used to store exhumed bodies from the city’s overcrowded cemeteries starting in the late 1700s. The bodies were stacked on top of one another to make the most of the space.
Sure, there are other catacombs across Europe. However, the 155-mile maze of tunnels (of which about 1.2 miles are open to the public) underneath Paris houses an impressive 6 million bodies, earning it the nickname of World’s Largest Grave.
12. Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland
Estimated airfare: $660 to Krakow
Entry fee: $22.56
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is not only a must-see underground wonder for nature buffs, but it’s also a fascinating historical destination. Visitors can embark on numerous tours, including those focused on miner experiences and holy sites. However, virtually everyone agrees that St. Kinga’s Chapel, located 331 feet underground, is a not-to-be-missed highlight featuring crystal chandeliers, sculptures and altars. The chapel is even available for events and weddings.
If that’s not quite to your taste, you can always try the salt itself simply by licking the mine’s walls.
13. Puerto Princesa Underground River, Philippines
Estimated airfare: $1,100 to Puerto Princesa
The Puerto Princesa Underground River is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take a kayaking tour through its 5.1-mile subterranean river, which cuts through a protected cave featuring spectacular formations of stalactites and stalagmites.
Even if you’ve explored caves in the past, you will surely appreciate seeing this Asian wonder from the vantage point of a kayak.
14. Thrihnukagigur Volcano, Iceland
Estimated airfare: $300 to Reykjavik
Entry fee: $409
On the outskirts of the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik lies the dormant Thrihnukagigur Volcano, one of the only places in the world where you can experience a volcano’s magma chamber. Take a scenic 2-mile hike through lava fields from past eruptions to the volcano’s crater. From there, it’s a six-minute elevator ride down to the magma chamber, located 400 feet underground. The area was formed by the volcano’s last eruption 4,000 years ago.
The colorful rocks and unique experience of exploring the interior of a volcano on foot make this experience truly unmissable.
15. Seti I’s Tomb, Egypt
Estimated airfare: $1,347 to Luxor
Entry fee: $113
If you’re fascinated by the world’s ancient wonders, don’t miss out on a trip to the tomb of the Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I. Already the largest tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings when it was discovered in 1817, the site swelled to 446 feet in length after a 2008 archaeological excavation uncovered new territory. Perhaps this explains its entrance fee, which is separate from the general cost to visit the Valley of the Kings.
Still, the tomb of Seti is well worth the cost of admission. Considered one of Egypt’s greatest pharaohs, Seti I ruled from 1313 BC to 1292 BC, and his royal tomb reflects his achievements. It was one of the first pharaonic tombs to be decorated throughout its interior chambers and remains an impressive sight.
The tomb reopened to the public in 2016 but is often closed due to ongoing repairs and renovations. For best results, purchase your tickets before you go.
Methodology: GOBankingRates sourced fares through Skyscanner for round-trip flights departing from Newark’s Liberty International Airport for travel on September 13 to 18.