Exploring another dimension of Slovenia - The Škocjan Caves
Standing in the chilly humid air, at more than a 100 meters under the earth’s surface. I found myself in what looked like the foundations of planet earth. I was humbled by the greatness of nature, the sheer strength of water that in 3 million years has created such an immensely huge cave. I felt like a little ant in a large park.
The Škocjan Caves are one of the most significant natural monuments that is on UNESCO’s list of natural and cultural world heritage sites. The are an exclusive natural phenomenon of a 6km cave system. They were created by the Reka River, which starts from Snežnik Mountain. From the mountain’s plateau the river runs along the surface for around 4km. It is when the river found the limestone area that the river’s water has seeped into the stone so deeply, creating 35 km underground river. After which is resurfaces, and leads all the way to Timava River in Italy.
A part of the cave was first discovered in 1851, in which a couple of explorers followed the river which led them to the caves. But during those times equipment was very limited. This only got them as far as the 2nd part of the cave called the Murmuring cave which is the part closest to the exit. The explorers’ trails are still evident till today. You can see their hand carved stairs and the hanging bridges they used to get deeper into the caves. You can see perfect cut squared pools of water which they used to collect rain water to mix it with carbide lamps for light. It was only in 1904 which they discovered the 1st part and further deeper, which they call the Silent cave.
A ten minute walk from the information centre takes you to the start of the tour. From here you enter a narrow man made tunnel which made it possible for us to explore. The touristic part of the cave takes you on a 3 km trail, up and down at least 500 stairs. The best point is when you get to cross a 100 meter long bridge at 45 meters above the underground river. Source of photo: archives PŠJ, Author of photo: Borut Lozej
Source of photo: archives PŠJ, Author of photo: Borut Lozej
The Silent Cave is also known as the dry passage. Water comes in due to the Earth being composted mainly of limestone. This water seepage has allowed for marvellous stalactites, stalagmites and cave curtains to develop over years. Did you know that for 1cm of stalactite to form it takes between a 100 to 150 years? Now they have one which they call ‘The Giant’, it’s so big and fat it took 250,000 years to form!
The murmuring part of the cave is the part where you get to see the Reka River flowing through the underground canyon. This is the largest Canyon in Europe by volume. There is calcite pools in the cave which have been formed over hundreds of years by a stream which is now dry.
At the end of the cave tour, you can opt to get to the certain 10 minute using an elevator or take the trail. For a complete tour, I definitely suggest the 20-30 minute trail. From here you get to see the collapsed valley, the gorge and beautiful waterfalls along the way.
Wearing good walking shoes and a jacket is a must, the caves have a 12 degrees Celsius temperature – throughout the year; like a natural air conditioning system. If it’s a rainy day, a raincoat is good to take as you need to walk 10 minutes outside to get to the cave, and the cave might have water dripping from its Stalactites.
The standard tour is a 1.5 – 2hour tour through the underground canyon, covering 3km and is offered with an English speaking tour guide at €16 euro per person. Another tour you can go on is the 2km trail following Reka River underground, which takes 1 – 1.5 hours at €11. Or you can opt for both options and view the entire cave system at €21.
Tours run every day on the hour from 10am to 5pm. Source of photo: archives PŠJ, Author of photo: Borut Lozej
You can get to this cave by public transport to Divaca from Ljubljana. Both train and bus service to this area from where Park Skocjanske Jame offer a free shuttle service four times a day at 10am, 11am, 2pm and 3pm. If you arrive early in the morning and love hiking then you can take advantage of their leaflet at the stations which give you a detailed 5km trail through the forest. This website has all the information needed to plan ahead to see this great natural cave. There are more than one cave in this area of Slovenia, however the Škocjan Caves are the pristine ones and not commercialized like the rest.