From the fertile Bekaa Valley to its snow-capped peaks of its mountains, Lebanon offers an all at once diverse landscape for its somewhat small size. However, take a look closer into one of its regions known as the Nahr El-Kalb Valley. It is here that you’ll find one of the most splendid wonders of nature in the Middle-East. Of course, we’re talking about the Jeita Grotto, Lebanon’s top tourist stop.
Located just 11 miles north of Beirut, Jeita Grotto is a magic journey into an underground wonderland. Here you’ll find two limestone grottoes full of naturally-sculpted stalactites and stalagmites in a number of different shapes, sizes and colors. It’s what makes the Jeita Grotto one of the most striking and charming sights of nature in the world. Indeed, the whole family will marvel at this awesome world located in the heart of the earth.
American missionary Reverend William Thomson found the cave in 1836. At first, he ventured only around 50 meters into the cave. However, after reaching an underground river, he fired a shot from his gun. The resulting echoes convinced him that he had found something big. Other journeys were made into the cave over the next 100 years. They would soon reveal a cave with both upper and lower chambers and an overall length that totals nearly nine kilometers. Today, the Jeita Grotto is a famous show cave and a major tourist stop that hosts around 280,000 guests per year.
First opened to the public in 1958, the lower cave has a normal temperature of 16 degrees Celsius (60 F). Additionally, its overall length is 6,200 meters (20,300 ft). First, visitors hop aboard electric rowboats which take them on a short, dreamy cruise on an underground river to the “Dark Lake”. Along the way, they’ll marvel at the grand limestone formations. For instance, they’ll be awestruck by a huge stalagmite leaning to one side like the famous Tower of Pisa. They’ll also wonder at “Thompson’s Cavern” an immense hall with striking rock and mineral structures such as the Eagle Obelisk stalagmite. Also, the marvel at the Pantheon, Grand Chaos and Shangri-la located in other halls they’ll travel into throughout the tour.
The upper cave was first opened to the public eleven years after the lower cave in 1969. Unlike the Lower Cave, visitors take a walking tour of the 20C (68F) Upper Cave. Here, too, they’ll travel past spectacular stone formations of curtains, columns, draperies, and mushrooms. Down they’ll go beneath the Earth for a distance of some 700 meters (2,300 feet) of the cave’s total length of 2,200 meters (7, 200 feet). Here, visitors will also see one of the tallest limestone stalactites in the world measuring 8.2 meters (27 feet). Indeed, they won’t want to miss a giant tulip, a big mushroom measuring 26 meters in height, and other wonders of nature that make Jeita Grotto truly unique in the world of caverns.
While you’re at Jeita Grotto, take time to enjoy some of their other fun things to do. For instance, there’s a 21- minute slideshow in the Sound and Image Theater, a family restaurant serving tasty snacks, sandwiches and lunches and souvenir shops. Be sure to check out the Guardian of Time statue and the relaxing Phoenician garden while you’re there, too. Oh, did we mention that there’s a petting zoo for kids of all ages, too?
Jeita Grotto is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. and is closed on Mondays. In winter the lower level is closed. The complete tour of both the Upper and Lower caves takes around 2 hours. Price of admission is LL18,150 ($12USD) for adults and LL10,175 ($6.75USD) for children under 15. (This is discounted if the lower caves closed.)
Please keep in mind that, sadly, there’s no photography allowed in the caves.
Looking at a Jeita Grotto map, you can take a minibus (LL1500/) or LCC bus 6 (LL1500/$1.00) from Dawra. On the way, ask the driver to drop you off at the Jeita turn-off on the Beirut–Jounieh Hwy. From here, negotiate a return price with a waiting taxi for the 5km journey (around US$15 to US$20, according to demand). Be sure to figure in waiting time. Alternatively, a return taxi trip from Beirut should cost around US$60 including waiting time for the driver.
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