With over 12.000 caves, Romania is situated among Europe’s top speleological regions. These underground formations, hundreds of metres deep and some of them tens of kilometres long, hide subterranean rivers, lakes, glaciers, minerals, fossils and even traces of human inhabitants dating back from the Palaeolithic.
An increasing number of tourists from all around the world come here every year to visit the specially arranged caves or to explore the less known ones. Most of them choose Romania as their “playground” due to the large number of caves (more than 4.000 are found only in the Western Carpathians) and to the long history of this activity as scientific discipline in our country. As a matter a fact, it was a Romanian, Emil Racoviţă, who founded in Cluj-Napoca the first Institute of Speleology in the world. As he defined it, “speleology is the science that brings light into darkness”. So if you are a professional speleologist fond of the underground world or a tourist who enjoys discovering unique and sometimes mysterious subterranean formations, Romania has enough “material” to meet all your needs. We have thus made a list with some of the country’s speleological attractions, so buckle up and get ready for adventure!
Most of Romania’s world-famous caves can be found in the Western Carpathians. Spreading on 47km, the Wind’s Cave (Peştera Vântului) is the longest cave in the country. However, tourists can only visit the first 730m in the company of a guide from the local speleological club.
Called “the Everest of the Romanian speleology”, Cetăţile Ponorului is another popular nearby river cave. Access in the first part of the cave is made with lighting equipment and rubber boots, while the rest of the cave is recommended only to experienced, well-equipped speleologists.
Meziad Cave spreads on three levels with a combined surface of 4.750m. Though the cave’s opening, entrance tunnel and inferior level (1.542m) are open to visitors, a guide, special shoes and lighting equipment is required to advance inside the rest of the cave (superior level), where you can admire superb stone stairs, bridges, galleries, columns and altars.
Scărişoara Glacier is one of the most popular caves in the country, due to its permanent ice formations that persist here since the Ice Age, even during the hot summer months (even though the best time to visit it is during spring). Scărişoara was the first cave to be declared a monument of nature, mainly due to its underground glacier, the second-largest in Europe. To reach it, tourists have to take a 2-hour climb from Gârda de Sus village. Only guided tours are available and it’s recommended to wear warm clothes, as the temperature inside the cave varies between 1°C in the summer and -7°C in the wintertime.
The third-largest glacier in Romania, with a volume of 25.000 cubic metres, is the one found inside Focul Viu Cave. The cave has two halls, the Big Hall, which houses the glacier, and the Small Hall, where you can admire numerous stalagmites.
Caves in Apuseni Mountains have provided scientists with numerous proofs of our ancestors’ way of life. Vârtop Glacier Cave, for example, is the places where the oldest traces of the Neanderthals in Romania were found. Considered by specialists more spectacular than the Glacier Cave in Scărişoara, the cave is opened to tourists and guided tours available (and recommended).
Bears’ Cave, near Chişcău village, is among the caves in the country to have presented numerous skeletons of the extinct cave bear. With its 1.000m long galleries and 55.000 years old stalactites and stalagmites, the cave is a worth-seeing attraction. The cave’s galleries are specially arranged for visiting and the guided tours last around one hour, during which you will have to cope with 97% humidity and 10°C temperatures, so make sure you bring warm clothes with you.
Exploring the southern mountainous regions of Romania, you will also find interesting caves. Porţile de Fier National Park, the second-largest protected area in Romania after the Danube Delta, includes Topolniţa Cave – one of the largest in the country (10.330m), speleological reserve declared monument of nature. The breathtaking scenery of the Danube’s Gorges is enhanced by Ponicova Cave, which can be reached either from above, by means of a challenging mountain climbing route, or by boat, from the Danube, when the river’s level is low.
In the centre of the country, Piatra Craiului Mountains, bordering Rucăr-Bran Corridor, house Dâmbovicioara Cave. Not very long, lacking spectacular rock formations, but arranged for tourists and among the few caves in the area, Dâmbovicioara deserves a halt if you happen to be in the area.
The nearby Bucegi Mountains are, allegedly, the Dacians’ sacred mountain, Kogaion, and Ialomiţei Cave, is the place where Zamolxes, the Dacians’ supreme god, lived. This theory is supported by the presence in the surroundings of the cave of Ialomiţa River (the Dacians’ Naparis River) and the Sphinx, considered to represent the head of the god. To reach Ialomiţei Cave, you can go from Buşteni to the Sphinx and the Old Women (Babele) in Bucegi Mountains and continue the route by cable car or on foot, on a marked trail. At the entrance of the cave you will find Peştera monastic complex.
Other interesting legends connect a different cave, that in Polovragi, to Zamolxes. The story has it that he lived in this cave and that the water drops trickling along the stalactites (due to the 90% humidity) are the tears he shed when the Romans conquered Dacia. Caving enthusiasts will discover a wealth of must-visit in the Southern Carpathians also. Dug in rock by Galbenul and Olteţ rivers, the Women’s Cave and Polovragi Cave are two of the most popular ones in Wallachia. Women’s Cave (Peştera Muierilor), situated in Parâng Mountains, is one of the most visited caves in the country, being the first one benefiting from electric lighting. The cave is popular due to its interesting rock formations (altars, domes, gates, chandeliers) displayed in the 3.600m long galleries and to the discoveries of a human skeleton more than 30.000 years old. It is said that its name comes from the women and children who hid here during wars in the ancient times.