Jeita Grotto, Lebanon

Few caverns in the World approach the astounding wealth or the extent of those of Jeita Grotto, located 30 minutes drive northeast of Beirut, and considered the most important natural tourism site in Lebanon. In these caves and galleries, known to man since Paleolithic times, the action of limewater has created cathedral-like vaults beneath the wooded hills of Mount Lebanon, over millions of years. Geologically, the caves provide a tunnel or escape route for the underground river, which is the principal source of Nahr El-Kalb (Dog River).

The caverns are on two levels. The lower galleries were discovered by the American preacher William Thompson in 1836 and opened to the public in 1958, are visited by boat. Several discovery trips were made afterwards to the grotto between 1892 and 1940, and the length of the discovered area reached 1750m. Starting the 1940s, several explorers went further to discover new areas in the grotto, until the explored length of the cave reached 7 km (4.3 miles). The upper dry grotto, which can be seen on foot, remained undiscovered until 1958, when a group of explorers penetrated it through the lower part and explored a depth of 2130m inside.

In summer you can visit both the upper and lower galleries while enjoying the refreshingly cool temperature inside the caves. The lower section is sometimes closed in winter when the water level is high, but the extensive upper galleries are open all year. Plan on about 2 hours for the tour, which includes a short ride up the mountain in one of 4 Austrian cable cars, a boat ride through the lower galleries, a visit to the upper galleries on foot and a film presentation, and a ticket to ride a Disney-like "train" pulled by a small replica of a steam engine between the parking area and the upper galleries.