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Friday, June 07, 2013

Cave Diving Around the World: Five SDTN Favorites Not to Miss

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Spooky and mysterious, yet beautifully ethereal - caves have captivated our imaginations since the days before history was ever recorded.  Cave diving is something special no matter where you go; this being said, some regions offer cave divers some incredible extras.  The cave divers at Scuba Divers Travel Network put their heads together in an effort to determine which of the world's cave dives deserved special mention, and as a result, we have compiled a list of five favorite regions, some with multiple cave dives to offer, and all of which are guaranteed to thrill.  Grab that redundant gear, and come along! From the Cenotes of Riviera Maya, to Emergence du Russel, underwater caves lie in darkness, waiting to be explored.

Cenotes of Riviera Maya in Mexico

Some of the world's best cave diving is to be had in the Riviera Maya region of Mexico's Caribbean Coast.  Between Puerto Morelos and an area just south of the little village of Tulum, more than 270 explored, surveyed cenote cave systems await.  These caves offer crystal clear water and year round temperatures at about 77 degrees Fahrenheit, plus their geology is absolutely spectacular.  Seven of the world's eight longest underwater cave systems are located here:
  • Sistema Ox Bel Ha, at 234,824 meters long
  • Sistema Sac Aktun, at 215,378 meters long
  • Sistema Dos Ojos, at 81,988 meters long
  • Sestema K'Oox Baal, at 64,448 meters long
  • Leon Sinks Cave System, at 51,483 meters long
  • Sistema Xunaan Ha, at 51,439 meters long
  • Sistema Toh Ha, at 31,013 meters long
In all, there are over 400 miles of surveyed passageway to explore, with guidelines laid and complete surveys available.  Simply put, Mexico's cenotes make our SDTN list of favorite cave dives not just because they are fascinating, but because they lie within close proximity to one another, and because existing infrastructure allows for safe, enjoyable cave diving.

Blue Holes in Bahamas

When you think of the Bahamas, you might picture palm trees and white sand, coral reefs, and lots of colorful fish.  Luckily for cave divers, there's more to explore - the Bahamas boasts a number of inland and ocean blue holes, thanks to the islands' limestone composition.  Here, underground labyrinths abound, particularly at Great Abaco Island, which is a quick 40 minute flight from Florida.  In all, there are approximately 100 blue hole entrances which are located on or in close proximity to the island.
Inland sinkhole type blue holes dot the Abaco's landscape; these pits tend to be bell shaped and sometimes contain passageways leading away from the walls and floors.  Average depths range from 80 to 330 feet, and the blue hole walls are covered in beautifully carved stalactites that tell of a time when air, not water, filled them.  Favorite inland blue holes include Magical Blue Hole; with water so clear you'll feel as though you're suspended in midair, and Nancy's Blue Hole, with speleothem columns which are the largest known to exist in the Bahamas.  The "Crystal Caves" including Dan's Cave and Ralph's Sink contain massive stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, columns, and areas of flowstone, along with areas where crystalline soda straw formations 1/8 inch thick are almost 8 feet long.
The ocean blue holes and caves of Abaco tend to be located in lakes and in shallow tidal creeks.  These sites are influenced by ocean tides, so it is vital you understand the tidal cycle before heading in.  While inland blue holes are sterile, ocean blue holes at Abaco are filled with life; sponges, tunicates, hydroids, and hydrocorals, along with clouds of tiny fish, huge lobsters and little crabs can be found in the caves and around their entrances.  In a word, the Bahamas Blue Holes are Amazing!

Suwannee River Valley in North Central Florida

North-central Florida's Suwannee River Valley is famous for its cave diver training, and cave divers come here in droves just to visit the astonishing sites that make this region so spectacular.  One favorite is Telford Spring, which boasts not just one, but three entrances; one at Telford Spring, one at Telford Sink, and another at Terrapin Sink.  This cave is usually the first to fill and the last to clear each year, and maximum depth inside is just 70 feet with most areas being much shallower.  Nearby Peacock Springs State Park is the only Florida State Park which has been almost entirely dedicated to cave diving, and other favorites include Cow Spring, Devil's Eye, Little River, Jackson Blue, and Manatee Springs.  Each of these cave systems has thousands of feet of cavern to explore, and each offers something different.  Check out our Florida cave diving section to learn more about why the Suwannee River Valley is a top cave diving destination!

Nullarbor Plain in Australia

Australia's Nullarbor Plain offers technical challenges in abundance.  For example, Cocklebiddy extends for more than six kilometers and is best explored with the help of a scooter, and Tank Cave, located near Mount Gambier, is over 10 kilometers long.  Other favorites include Tommy Grahams Cave, which is difficult to access via a dry tunnel, and Murra el-Elevyn, which features a fantastic underground lake at the entryway.  Murra offers extensive passageways in excess of 300 meters long, and average dive times here are normally over an hour.
If you're looking for a deep cave dive at Nullarbor Plain, consider Weebubbie.  After a 45 meter vertical drop to the cave entrance, a track marked with reflectors leads to the water's edge.  An underground lake 200 meters across leads to a permanent line on the floor, which in turn guides you into a crystal cavern filled with water.  Maximum depth is 50 meters, and total distance is about 400 meters.  Be sure to plan for deco when making calculations.  Local knowledge is a must - and when planning an expedition, you'll need plenty of equipment including ladders, spare torches, and dry caving equipment.  Take a month off work and enjoy this trip - the rewards are definitely worth the effort.

Emergence du Russel in France

A huge and impressive cave which begins in the bed of the River Céle, Emergence du Russel starts as a clean-washed passageway about 150 meters long, with a cross-section approximately the width of 2-car garage door.  From there, it splits into two passageways; one tunnel dropping to a depth of about 18 meters, and the other staying at a shallower 10 meter depth.  Newer cave divers will enjoy the fact these two passages rejoin one another, making for an interesting round trip through the cave; those with more experience will thrill at the opportunity to continue, for at a distance approximately 300 meters from the cave's entrance, the passageway drops to a depth of about 45 meters.  With the help of a scooter, this is a fun and simple trip that takes about an hour; serious cave divers can continue through the cave as it becomes increasingly technical, dropping to first 50, then 77 meters before ascending to a rift leading to a section of dry cave about two kilometers from the starting point.  If you travel the entire cave to this point, it will take several hours; only a handful of divers have accomplished this, with some continuing into sumps further on.  Nearby, Trou Madame and Fontain de St. George offer additional cave diving adventures.
As you might imagine, it took some time and serious effort for us to come up with this list of favorite cave dive locales; be sure to spend some time reading our cave diving articles as you plan your next adventure!  Whether you get the opportunity to visit all of these cave systems or even a single one, you're certain to be amazed by the geology, the crystal clear water, and the magical vistas hidden just beneath the earth's surface.  
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