Arriving in Piran, one of the must-see attractions atop our list was a visit to Slovenia’s famous caves. I’m not sure if there is any other experience that compares to caving, there is something unique about discovering another world underground, and since Calli had been in only one other cave prior to our visit (Actun Tunichil Muknal in Belize), I figured this was a wonderful opportunity to do something different and take a break from walking through old towns and visiting museums.
Slovenia is known for having some of the most impressive cave systems in the world, due to the large Karst region that exists near its coastline. In particular, two stand out above all – the Postojna Caves and the Škocjan Caves. This Karst topography, comprised of limestone, causes the Reka River to disappear underground and emerge seven separate times. After doing some research, we decided that the Škocjan Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, were more to our liking as they seemed less touristy and less visited due to their distance from Ljubljana. As well, the many billboard signs we saw advertising the Postojna Caves featured a miniature train ride through the cave which seemed kind of Disneyland-esque.
Upon arriving at Skocjan, we were met by one of the problems of traveling in the off-season – the public transport and tour times didn’t line up, meaning we were going to have to wait an hour for our tour of the caves. To kill some time, we made a short walk to one of the lookout points on the education trail that circles the park (a recommendation from the attendant at the ticket booth). It was breathtaking, and just a preview of what was to come.
When it came time for our tour, two guides led our very large group towards the cave entrance, a 10 minute decent from the main information centre. After breaking us into two smaller groups, one for German speaking visitors and a second for English and Italian guests, we were given a short prologue of what to expect in the cave, its history, and reminders to stay safe.
Entering the cave is a unique experience in itself, as you walk down an artificial shaft-like tunnel. Upon entering the cave, we were greeted by an absolutely amazing underground environment. Jaw-dropping stalagmites and stalactites covered the floors and ceilings, making the narrow walking path twist and turn. Our guide explained that the first section of the cave managed to avoid flooding hundreds of years ago and as a result, features enormous stalagmites that date back to the last ice age and in some cases even earlier.
As we wove our way through the cave system, we made our way towards the Reka River and upon entering this second section of the cave it was nearly impossible to hold a conversation above the noise of the rushing water. It is here where visitors take in one of the most famous views of the Skocjan Caves, the Cerkvenik Bridge, suspended nearly fifty meters above the riverbed below.
The Skocjan Caves are a geological marvel, at approximately 3.5 kilometers long, 10 to 60 meters wide, and over 140 meters high, the sheer size of the chambers is jaw dropping. The largest of these chambers has a volume of 2.2 million cubic meters, making it the largest underground chamber discovered in Slovenia and one of the largest in the world, however from the surface there is little sign of what lurks below. In addition to the complexity of mother nature’s power in creating this cave system, Calli and I were also blown away by the man made components of the cave as well. Clinging to the side of steep rock faces are the remains of crude walking paths used by the first people to explore the caves at the end of the 19th century. As well, without lights to guide the way, these early explorers cut chunks of stone from the ground and, after filling the holes with water, used carbide to create a reaction with this water and create pockets of light throughout the cave.
The Skocjan Caves are as interesting as they are beautiful, a definite must see while in Slovenia. We only wish we had been able to join a second tour of a second section of the system that has been discovered and explored more recently – unfortunately the times didn’t line up with our transportation back to Piran.
Logistics: The Škocjan Caves are located near the town of Divaca, just over an hour from Piran and two hours from Ljubljana by public transport. From Divaca, a short shuttle bus ride or a 30-40 minute walk takes you to the Park entrance. Tickets are 15 Euro for the standard cave tour and 20 if coupled with the new section. There are washrooms and a cafe at the caves (cafe is around 7 Euro for a burger and fries), but you can also bring your own lunch (as we did). The website for the caves can be found here.