Imagine a massive underground cavern so deep your eyes can barely make out the bottom. As you pass the narrow bridge spread across the abyss, you can hear the river raging far below. The light of the passage is consumed by the silent shadows up ahead… This might sound like something out of the fantasy novel, except it’s perfectly real. Welcome to Škocjan Caves — a place you absolutely must visit when in Slovenia.
- Why Škocjan Caves Are Worth Visiting
- How to Visit Škocjan Caves
- The Guided Tour
- Planning the Trip
- Photographing Škocjan Caves
- Škocjan or Postojna Caves?
- Final Thoughts
Why Škocjan Caves Are Worth Visiting
If you’re anything like me, the thought of going down into a cave might not seem that exciting at first. After all, aren’t the caves always the same: small, tight, damp, dark, and… well, kinda boring?
Not this one. Škocjan Caves will blow your mind. The sheer size of them defies imagination. It is as if you enter a subterranean world, completely hidden from sight. As you descend into this beautiful abyss, new chambers appear, each more spectacular than the one before.
Škocjan Caves (Škocjanske Jame) span 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) of hidden passages. Although you only get access to a small part of it, even that is mind-boggling. There are stalactites and stalagmites, numerous waterfalls, and one of the world’s largest underground canyons.
If you ever watched or read The Lord of the Rings, think Mines of Moria. Except it’s not the dwarfs that created Škocjan Caves, but the Reka river. Over the thousands of years, it eroded the soft limestone formations, carving all these magnificent halls.
As you walk the narrow passage high above the canyon, the Reka river gushing dozens of meters below, the mind struggles to comprehend or even believe what you are seeing. Škocjan Caves leave you speechless, breathless, and utterly flabbergasted.
Slovenia has many aces up its sleeve, but the grandeur of Škocjan Caves is hard to beat. They are, for the lack of a better word, otherworldly. No wonder Unesco has declared Škocjan a World Heritage site. Being one of Slovenia’s most impressive features, it fully deserves it.
How to Visit Škocjan Caves
It is only possible to visit Škocjan Caves as part of a guided tour. Depending on the time you have and your preferences, there are several options to choose from.
The most common is simply called “Visit of the Škocjan Caves”. For a price of €16 to €22 (depending on the season), you get to enjoy the best of Škocjan Caves in a leisurely setting. The tour lasts 2.5-3 hours, and despite a decent amount of stairs involved isn’t particularly challenging.
The Education Trail is an additional circular path around the Collapse Valleys and nearby villages where you learn more about the history, culture, and geological features of the area. There are guided tours, but you can also do it on your own for free. This will require another 1.5 hours or so.
Lastly, there is the Hanke Channel tour. At €100 per person, it’s the most expensive but arguably the most fun of all. I haven’t done it myself but would love to someday — this one is for the true adventure seekers.
In full caving gear, you follow the footsteps of the first cave explorers deep into the Hanke Channel and, ultimately, to the Swidov’s viewpoint. Check out this article as well as the video below to get a general idea of what to expect.
The adventure lasts around 3-4 hours and allows you to enter the part of Škocjan Caves that only a few people ever get to see. This tour is conducted on selected dates only, and you have to reserve your spot in advance by contacting the administration at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Guided Tour
To most first-time visitors, I recommend the basic excursion. It’s not that expensive, runs daily throughout the year (except on the 25th of December and 1st of January), and is easy to book online. Here are the details at a glance:
|Duration||1.5 to 3 hours, depending on whether you continue with self-exploration|
|Distance||3 to 5 kilometers|
|Difficulty||Easy to moderate — some steps and short uphills along the way|
|Price||€16 to €24 depending on the season|
|Group size||Usually 8 to 10 people|
The tour starts in the Silent Cave known for its stalactites and stalagmites, continues through the underground canyon, and completes with the self-exploration of the Collapse Valleys. Along the way, the guides share a lot of interesting tidbits about the cave and its history.
If you’re in a rush or tired, you can skip the self-guided section and head back after passing the canyon. This cuts the distance from 5 km to just 3 km and the total amount of steps from 1000 to 500-800. Note that in the off-season months from October to March only this shortened version is offered.
The tour is conducted in groups, but unlike in some other places, these aren’t particularly huge, normally 8-10 people. This allows for more intimacy with the cave, and if you have any questions for the guide, asking them is a lot easier.
In summer especially, I suggest booking the tickets beforehand. Škocjan Caves are a popular destination, and trying to buy them on the spot might prove troublesome.
The Silent Cave
The tour begins at the visitor center, where you check in. It’s right next to the parking lot, so you won’t get lost. I suggest being some 15 minutes early to get prepared, hit the bathrooms (no toilets inside the cave), and maybe grab a drink in the nearby cafe.
To reach the cave, you will first walk some 10 minutes through the countryside. It’s a good idea to bring an umbrella just in case it rains. At the entrance of the cave, the guides explain the rules, give a short overview of the route, and split everyone into smaller groups.
You start the descent by going through the artificial tunnel created in 1933 and then the section called “The Paradise”. The early explorers named it so because it was the last to be discovered. To them, returning to the surface from the depths felt like getting closer to the sun and God.
Right off the bat, you get to witness numerous stalactites and stalagmites of varying sizes and shapes. Some grow right next to the path, so you can examine them from up close. Just refrain from touching — the columns are very fragile.
Soon after, you enter the Silent Cave (Tiha Jama) — a massive hall where even more mineral formations await. The largest stalagmite here is 15m high and is known as the Giant.
As you slowly make your way through the bizarre shapes, you will eventually hear the subdued rumbling of the water. The most impressive part of Škocjan Caves is just ahead.
Through the Underground Canyon
To me, the real beauty and grandeur of Škocjan Caves are in the Underground Canyon. Everything up to this point is incredible for sure, but hardly unique. But what comes next is unlike anything you could imagine.
As you descend a series of switchbacks, the walls and the ceiling widen away until you find yourself in a chamber the size of a cathedral. The photos really can’t do any justice, but believe me — it’s gigantic.
The sight is mind-boggling, impossible to take in. Dozens of meters below, the Reka river flows, seemingly peaceful and innocent. To the sides, old stairs and passageways speckle the cliffs. Far ahead, the lights of the tourist passage get lost in the darkness.
I’ve been to Škocjan Caves twice and still can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that something so remarkable can exist below the surface of the earth. It’s a kingdom of awe and splendor that will certainly stir even the most seasoned of travelers.
The next half an hour will pass as if in a dream. And as you emerge at the exit, you still won’t be quite sure if what you just saw was even real.
The Collapse Valleys
The return from the main cave marks the end of the guided tour. From here, you have two options: to head back to the visitor center or to continue the excursion on your own. The map on the official website does a decent job of outlining the alternatives.
If you’re tired or not in the mood, look for signs to Exits 1 and 2. These will lead you back to where you started. Exit 1 is a little easier since it uses the elevator, while the other one is all stairs.
If you decide to keep going instead, the remaining section takes you through two beautiful Valleys and several smaller caves. The cool thing about it is that you can choose your own pace and are allowed to take photos (more on this later).
Thousand of years ago, this place used to be a part of the cave complex. But then, one day the ceiling crumbled and fell in, creating what is now known as the Big and Small Collapse Valleys (Velika Dolina and Mala Dolina).
It’s these valleys that you will be exploring for the next hour and a half. The landscape is gorgeous, dotted with cliffs, waterfalls, bridges, tunnels, and some of the remaining caves, such as the Tominc Cave or the Mahorčič cave.
It’s a lovely walk that in my opinion greatly compliments the visit to Škocjan Caves. So unless you’re coming in winter (Oct-Mar) when it’s closed, I highly recommend it.
The Education Trail
For those who want to get the maximum out of their trip to Škocjan Caves, there is also the Education Trail. It’s a 2 km walking path through the park, where visitors can learn more about the history and the cultural heritage of the area.
It’s a nice way to get more familiar with the surroundings and spend some 50 minutes outside if the weather is nice. You’ll be walking above the Collapse Valleys, which gives you a chance to observe them from above.
This is also where you’ll find one of the classic Škocjan views — that of the St. Cantianus’s Church perched on the cliff high above the Reka river waterfall. It can be a gorgeous scene when the conditions are right (which, unfortunately, they weren’t when I was there).
But all in all, I consider Education Trail to be optional. It’s a pleasant bonus, and a perfect opportunity to process and reflect on the events of the day. But otherwise, you can safely skip it.
Planning the Trip
In essence, planning a trip to Škocjan Caves isn’t at all complicated. You pick a date, book the ticket and then show up at the visitor center. That said, here are a few tips that could well prove useful.
When to Visit Škocjan Caves
Škocjan Caves are open all year round, and the outside weather has little effect on the conditions inside. The temperature down there is a rather comfortable 10°C regardless of the season.
So honestly, it doesn’t matter much when you come. Summer is the high season, so the caves may get rather crowded during this period. That’s why I prefer winter. It’s far less busy, which makes the experience more intimate and enjoyable. I’ve even seen tour groups consisting of just one family!
Plus, in winter the air in the caves is often cleaner. In hot weather, the temperature difference may lead to fog forming in the canyon. That sure gives it an eerie look but also limits the visibility.
Getting to Škocjan Caves
Škocjan Caves are somewhat remote, so the simplest way to get there is by car. There is a free parking lot next to the visitor center, where you can leave anything you won’t need. Simply use Waze or Google Maps to find the route, or refer to these instructions.
A word of caution if you prefer Google Maps. For some reason, there’s a false marker for Škocjan Caves here. Don’t go there — this is not the right place! The correct location is near the town of Matavun. Not sure why Google won’t fix this, but just keep that in mind.
If a car is not an option, the nearest train station is Divača. Unfortunately, it’s 3 kilometers away, so you’ll have to do quite a bit of walking. Luckily, the directions to the caves are well-marked and easy to follow. The trains run daily from Ljubljana Tivoli station, check the schedules here.
If all else fails, there are also private tours from Ljubljana. These will pick you up from the hotel and bring you there and back. I won’t link any here, because most are extremely over-priced (expect to pay €80 to €100 without the admission ticket). You can find them online if you so desire.
How to Dress
Inside the caves, the temperature is approximately 10-12°C throughout the year, so dress accordingly. In summer, it might be hot outside, but don’t make the mistake of bravely venturing in wearing only shorts and flip-flops.
Similarly, in winter dress lighter than you would otherwise. In general, I suggest long pants, sports shoes, and a light jacket. A pair of thin gloves isn’t a terrible idea either.
What to Take With You
Škocjan Caves excursions are well-organized, so you won’t need much. It’s completely ok to leave everything in the car and just go in empty-handed. That said, here are a few items that might prove handy:
- A bottle of water to keep you hydrated
- An umbrella for the open sections if the weather is rainy
- A sweater or an extra jacket in case you get cold
- Minor snacks — but please refrain from eating in the cave
- A camera — it’s not allowed to take pictures in the main cave, but you can do so elsewhere
- Sunscreen if you come in summer and intend to do the full circle
Photographing Škocjan Caves
There is one aspect of visiting Škocjan Caves that will undoubtedly disappoint a lot of people. And that is that photography inside the caves is prohibited. The only areas where it’s allowed are outside, in the Collapse Valleys, and on the Education trail.
The rules are reiterated by the guides before entering the cave. From what I’ve noticed, it’s still possible to snatch a few phone shots (just please don’t be silly and turn off the flash), but you might get reprimanded. Any sort of professional camera and tripod usage is clearly off-limits.
Why Is It Not Allowed to Take Photos?
As a photographer myself, I was greatly discouraged by this news. But, as it turns out, there is a perfectly valid reason behind the restriction. And it’s not the greed of park administration who want to make money selling official photos, as suggested by some. It’s not even the flashes.
Allowing photography would inevitably make the tours longer, as people would stop and spread out more. This, in turn, would mean that the artificial lights in the cave would need to stay on for longer. This leads to the proliferation of lampenflora, a mix of plants that thrive in the light and destroy the natural outlook of the caves.
Lampenflora is a serious problem, and the rangers struggle to keep it at bay. So, tempting as it may be to break them, I urge everyone to follow the rules. Think of it as your tiny contribution to preserving the beauty of Škocjan Caves for future generations.
Besides, it makes the experience all the more memorable. Instead of constantly staring at the phone screen or viewfinder, you can really take in the beauty and splendor of the surroundings. I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed putting away the electronics for a while and just observing.
Getting a Special Permission for Photography
At this point, you might be wondering how I managed to take the photos for this article. Unlike some other picturesque destinations, Škocjan Caves do not offer any dedicated photography tours. So on my first trip, I didn’t use my camera at all.
However, if you are serious about photography, you may try to apply for special permission from the Slovenian Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning. The process will likely last a few months, and approval is not guaranteed. You would need to have a strong enough why.
I tried my luck, and, fortunately, the application was accepted. After that, I went back to Škocjan Caves with a camera and a tripod to shoot the images you see here.
And so I would like to take an opportunity to express my gratitude to Tomaž Zorman, Urška Mavri, and other folks at the ministry and Škocjan Caves administration for their help and support. Without you, this article would not have been possible.
Škocjan or Postojna Caves?
Škocjan is not the only cave complex in Slovenia. Arguably the most famous and well-known is the Postojna Cave, half an hour drive east of Škocjan. Naturally, the question arises — which one is the best and which one should you head to first?
My answer to this is — both. Postojna Cave is larger and more touristy, and its stalactites and stalagmites are world-class. It has more entertainment value whilst still being mightily impressive. And, you can freely photograph there. You’ll find my full review of Postojna Cave over here.
Škocjan Caves may not be as popular, but there is a reason why it is a Unesco Heritage Site while Postojna isn’t. It does a better job of protecting the natural environment and trying to limit exposure to human influence. Plus, it has an astonishing underground canyon.
With a car, you can see both in a single day, and that’s what I suggest too. It’s a bit like apples and oranges — only you can decide which one you prefer. To me personally, Škocjan is a clear winner. I had great fun in Postojna, but it’s the Škocjan caves that truly stole my heart.
Škocjan Caves is without a doubt one of the brightest Slovenian gems. It’s a location that will leave you speechless, awed, and inspired. It is beautiful, exciting, unbelievable, and has the full right to be on any Slovenia itinerary.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to Škocjan caves and got something useful out of it. If so, I would greatly appreciate you sharing it with your friends and on social media. And if you have any further questions or comments, leave them down below or get in touch.
I’ve written several articles on Slovenia and other places that I think might be of interest to you. So, feel free to explore the blog or click on some of my recommendations here:
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- Hiking the Julian Alps: 7 Best Trails Near Lake Bled and Bohinj
- Seven Lakes Valley: a Gorgeous Full Day Hike in the Julian Alps
- Sunrise on Top of the World: Photography Guide to Mt. Pilatus
- Las Ventanas de Güimar – An Awesome Hike in Tenerife
- Best Landscape Photography Locations in Patagonia
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