As the weather starts to cool a little, it’s time to start writing the adventure list! Below is my roundup of the best underground adventures, with a cave or experience to suit a range of people from the thrill seeking to the small kids.
The Best Cave Ever
The Best Cave Ever – Haritoun Cave – is not for the faint-hearted or the claustrophobic. We had heard that there was a cave adventure that involved being underground for 90 minutes in the pitch black apart from our headtorches, with tiny spaces to crawl through. Suspecting that these things were normally over-hyped, we were not prepared to be lying flat, crawling along on our elbows within minutes of entering the cave. Rucksacks had to be taken off and pushed in front of us, as the narrow, tube-like tunnel, stretched ahead.
We were with the Dutch adventurers (family friends) and the kids took the lead. ‘Does it open up ahead?’ the adults nervously shouted, ‘no, it gets much worse’, came the response from the kids. Some of the tunnels opened out into crouching space, others turned a corner and kept going. In one section, we had to twist and manoeuvre ourselves through the space, feeling anxious that we really might not fit. Not knowing what was ahead was both exhilarating and nerve-inducing as by this point the thought of going back was worse than the thought of going on.
Our total dependence on the torches for light and the physical nature of the tunnel crawl, gave the outing a real sense of adventure. It might sound completely unsuitable for young kids but our four year old had the most space around her and was very relaxed about it. We knew that the kids wouldn’t panic if the adults didn’t but at times that required a bit of composure.
When we finally emerged, blinking into the sunlight, everyone looked like they had survived a natural disaster, caked from head to toe in dust and dirt but mainly smiling. There were no creepy crawlies or crumbling bits of cave to worry about, so it felt ‘safe’ despite the challenges. I highly recommend this to any families with kids old enough to walk, going with two families is ideal in case the group needs to split for any reason and bring a headtorch each with spare batteries just in case! See here for map directions and more info on what to expect.
Most Impressive Cave
The cave I have awarded Most Impressive is a far more civilised affair, as it is one of the Israeli national park sites. Soreq Cave is also known as Stalactite Cave and is a beautiful, enchanting, otherworldly sort of cave. The cave is nicely lit with a walkway which winds through the impressive display of stalactites, stalagmites and columns formed where the two have joined. Some of these are allegedly 300,000 years old.
When we visited on a Sunday morning, two school groups were just departing, and we had the cave virtually to ourselves. The route through the cave only takes around 20 minutes but the formations are so impressive that it is worth the journey to near Beit Shemesh to see it. Tickets need to be reserved in advance from the parks website.
For a longer day trip taking in a series of caves, the Beit Guvrin National Park is also worth a visit. This vast site includes the area where the ancient Biblical city of Maresha stood and has many underground cisterns, chambers, tombs and storage rooms to explore. There are several hiking and / or driving routes through the park to take in the main sites. It was impressive for the number of caves to visit and the size of each, many with several interconnected areas. You could easily spend half a day here taking in the different sites.
Most Refreshing Cave
The Most Refreshing Cave comes with the spritz of sea water on your face and a gentle sea breeze to cool you. The Rosh Hanikra grottoes sit on the northern tip of Israel’s border with Lebanon and make a great trip that can be combined with the northern beaches such as Akhziv.
Our kids loved the cable car journey down to the caves which was very short but gives great views over the coastline. Inside the limestone grottoes a path winds through different sections of the caves. The sparkling blue Mediterranean Sea lashes into the grottoes with great force and watching it was quite mesmerising. In several sections, there was the real chance of being splashed by the waves and it was entertaining to hear the shrieks of laughter from different people. My son enjoyed it so much that we did the route twice.
Best City Caves
You don’t have to go far to enjoy a cave adventure however, and as an ancient city with lots of secrets, Jerusalem has its fair share of caves to offer. The ultimate historic cave is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre itself, thought to hold the cave in which Jesus was buried. The Church today is a warren of nooks and crannies to discover. The low lighting and cooler temperature make it a soothing stop during any summertime Old City escapades. Despite being a place of worship, my kids always seem to enjoy a visit here and always find a new corner to hide in.
Another cave near the Old City is Zedekiah’s Cave. This runs underneath the Muslim Quarter and is accessed from the Old City walls between Damascus and Herod’s Gate. The cave is much bigger than you would expect and makes a good stop-off on a hot day although recently I haven’t seen it open and it might be awaiting the return of tourists to Jerusalem before it re-opens.
This blog feels incomplete without the inclusion of a West Bank Palestinian cave. We have stumbled across many smaller caves on our West Bank travels but few that merit the ‘you must go’ accolade. In Wadi Fukin the most prominent caves were a source of pride and were in full working use providing shelter to goats and sheep. Around Mar Saba and St George’s monastery many smaller caves are dotted across the cliff sides and have been used for thousands of years as a place of refuge and spiritual retreat. In other areas, many caves are still in active use today with shepherds and farmers using them for shelter and storage.
I’d love to hear of any great caves I have missed, especially West Bank ones. Drop me a line if you have any suggestions!