It’s cold. Very cold. The light bulb installed on your protective helmet launches light onto mysterious shapes of underground rocks. You wear several layers of thick clothes, stuffed with additional equipment, yet you can still feel the humidity on your skin. By any logic, you should panic, being in such a strange place. However, even with the adrenaline and excitement, you feel like this is your second home. After all, one of the reasons you came to Croatia is to explore its caves.
If this sounds like your type of experience, read on. Because Croatia has numerous caverns and grottos which tickle the spirit of curious adventurers. The country also has a well-organized network of dedicated speleologists who not only accompany visitors into the depths, but also perform the difficult tasks of mapping caverns and exploring their living forms. It is not rare for them to find new species of animal and plant life, previously utterly unknown to modern biology.
If you are an experienced cave crawler, and are seeking a challenge for your skills, contact the Croatian Speleological Committee (part of the Croatian Mountaineering Association) and check out your options for more demanding dives. There are still places to see even if you prefer a smoother approach. After all, caverns are not only treasure chests to scientists and die-hard underground explorers, but to admirers of nature itself. Visiting one can create a life-time memory, and make your stay in Croatia even better. Here are several you can explore.
Biserujka is a very easy-going, friendly grotto. As a matter of fact, it has a decorated pathway along its 110-meter-long wall, surrounded by long sinters, stalagmites and stalactites. It’s a perfect spot for those with children to visit. After all, the kids will like the local legend of the fearless smuggler who hid his booty somewhere inside. Biserujka can be found on the island of Krk.
Festini Kingdom Cave is another highly approachable grotto. Located in the very center of the Istrian peninsula, it provides a silent realm of underground beauty. The only thing disrupting the silence is the sound of water dropping from the cavern’s ceiling. If you want to see this mysterious kingdom, book your trip to Festini village (near Zminj).
Lokvarka lies in the region of Gorski Kotar. Although areas close to the surface are equipped with electrical lighting and man-made stairs, its deepest chasms still lure the imagination, as they are largely unexplored. What kind of dragon-like beings dwell down there? Perhaps you will meet one if you tour this cave (for details, call 051/ 831-336).
Grapceva Spilja used to be the home of the early Hvar population – archeological research found numerous findings dating from the Stone Age. The cave resembles an ancient organ, and is considered a must-visit location for visitors to the island.
Baredine grotto is the first speleological locality open for tourism in Istria. It can be found near the village of Nova Vas. Apart from its underground beauty and guided tours, you can enjoy a very interesting exhibition entitled “Prehistoric Venus” on artistic imagery of female characters in Neolithic sculptures.
Grabovaca Cave Park is a sort of amusement park, but instead of wild rides and costumed crew you laugh at funny stalagmites. If you find them funny. If not, chances are you will be amazed by their beauty. Grabovaca features eight caves, three of which are protected national geomorphologic monuments. The largest one is called Samograd, which literally means “The one which built itself alone,” as its 240 meter length was created purely by nature.
Baraceve Spilje of Rakovica (near Karlovac) is another set of caves. All of them are illuminated and secured for tourist visits and feature gorgeous landscapes and impressive drip-stone formations. The cave of Upper Barac is especially interesting since archeologists found a hand-made bracelet dating from 7th century B.C. inside.
Vrelo is a 300-meter long underground tunnel, found by accident during the construction of the local accumulation lake. Scientists concluded it’s about four million years old. It has a very close resemblance to the large Postojna cave in Slovenia. Despite the fact that Licanka River floods the cave during extensive rain periods, it is perfectly safe for guided tours. The pathway is very easy to walk, so it’s accessible for elderly persons and those in wheelchairs as well.
As you can see, the Croatian underground is everything but empty and boring. Its beauty can teach us all a lesson on the wonders of nature, and how important is to preserve them in the future.