Caving and Spelunking are growing sports around the world. While much of the earth and even the ocean have been explored, the underground crevasses around the world are relatively unscathed. In places from Laos to Brazil the traveler is looking for new ways to spend their time and the extensive cave systems are hard to ignore. While the numbers of people who are exploring underground caves and tunnels is still relatively small compared to say, mountain biking, the tourist bubble is slowly starting to encompass this still unknown activity.
Caving and Spelunking are simply the recreational sport of exploring caves. While many of the world’s cave systems have been thoroughly explored, especially those in first world countries, virgin cave systems still exist in many locations. In Asia and South America you will find the most extensive and least explored cave systems, but there are spelunking destinations on every continent. Virgin cave systems, those that have yet to be explored, are the Holy Grail for spelunkers, although they are very rare and only the very top experts even know where to find them.
Most caves are in extremely isolated destinations and are a challenge just to reach. You may have to hike for days to get to them, although some may be the centerpiece of a national park and sit beside a major highway. Once in the cave, especially the least explored ones, you will have to climb and crawl over craggy rocks and slippery narrow passageways, dodge stalactites and stalagmites, make your way through pitches, squeezes, and walk through water. If you are claustrophobic just forget about spelunking. Cave diving is a very extreme aspect of the sport and only done by certified experts. It involves using complete scuba gear and diving in extremely cold water that is usually murky.
Options for beginners
Most beginning spelunkers will only lightly explore a cave and do so for less than a day. They lack most major equipment apart from a flashlight and may go climbing and hiking in the same excursion. They are not willing to dig or squeeze through the tiniest cracks and get completely wet and dirty to get to the farthest reaches of a cave. They know they shouldn’t go in too far without a guide.
The most popular caves in the world are stops on tours or have concrete or gravel walking paths. The majority of caves are just crevasses or holes in the side of cliffs that don’t extend more than 10 feet. Many caves are cracks in the earth and can be walked down to the bottom where the rays of the sun still reach and plants and trees still grow. These kinds of caves need a good pair of hiking shoes and little more and these are the types of caves that most beginners prefer to start with.
Options for advanced
The advanced spelunker turns his nose up that the activity is called an adventure sport. They go to extremes in exploring a cave and carry every bit of equipment they might need. They come with maps, lights, shovels, and ropes. They are willing to go as far into a cave as they are physically able. They are not afraid of the dark or creepy crawlies. These guys are hard core explorers right up there with Indiana Jones or Hiram Bingham.
For the advanced spelunkers some knowledge of physical or biological science is essential for even getting to and through many caves. Digging and diving may be necessary to reach the furthest corners and passageways of a particular cave.