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Amazing Underground Lakes and Rivers Around the World

Kalyani Dhake
A result of karst processes, underground lakes and rivers are a unique world of beautiful rock formations illuminated with different hues of light reflected from the calm water surfaces. The countries known to house some of the most incredible underground lakes and rivers include the US, Mexico, Brazil, China, and France.

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Hans was not mistaken," he said. "What you hear is the rushing of a torrent." "A torrent?" I exclaimed. "There can be no doubt; a subterranean river is flowing around us."
― A Journey to the Center of the Earth (Chapter XXVIII: Water Discovered)
Subterranean lakes and rivers are a real geological masterpiece, and are not limited to fiction. They are a characteristic feature of karst landforms.
The layers of carbonate bedrock get dissolved owing to the mildly acidic water, forming tiny crevices, which subsequently enlarge and give rise to underground waterways and lakes.
The underground lakes and rivers are generally associated with beautiful caves and caverns characterized by speleothems of different shapes and sizes. This story gives is a brief account of some of the most amazing underground lakes and rivers around the world.

10 Incredible Underground Lakes and Rivers

Reed Flute Cave

  • Renowned for its karst topography, the city of Guilin is a famous tourist destination, with the Reed Flute Cave being the most mesmerizing and oldest attraction. This cave system derives its name from a type of reed that grows at the entrance of the cave, and is used to make flutes.
  • Also known as the Palace of Natural Arts, this 180 million-year-old cave offers a spectacular sight of stalactites and stalagmites that continually evolve into a different shape due to the cave river.
  • The highlight of the cave is an area called the Crystal Palace of the Dragon King, where brightly lit rock formations are reflected in the extremely still cave lake. 
  • The water and roof are illuminated using blue light to give a glacial effect, adding to the beauty of the cave.
  • The Reed Flute Cave is not just a tourist attraction, but has historical significance as well, since it provided refuge to thousands of soldiers during the Sino-Japanese War.

Luray Caverns

  • Discovered in 1878, the Luray Caverns is the third-most visited cave in the US known for its unique limestone formations, like the frozen fountain, Titania's Veil, the Empress Column, irregularly shaped rocks that look like fried eggs, a set of stalactites that can give rise to musical tones like those produced by pipe organs, and The Great Stalacpipe Organ.
  • This cave system houses a sparkling underwater lake called the Dream Lake, which reflects the shimmering white stalactites and unique rock formations. The water of the lake is so clear that, at times, the mirror image of the stalactites hanging above is said to be mistaken for a stalagmite of the floor.

Hamilton Pool Preserve

  • Owing to the massive erosion that took place thousands of years ago, the dome of an underground river in Austin collapsed, revealing the serene tranquility below. The natural pool, known as the Hamilton Pool, was designated as a preserve in 1990.
  • It is type of plunge pool formed by a 50-ft waterfall, and it is surrounded by limestone slabs and stalactites. Spread across 232 acres, the Hamilton Pool Preserve has been a favorite spot for a peaceful summer afternoon, owing to the calm waters and the lush green habitat comprising bald cypress, ferns, and wild flowers.

Melissani Cave

  • Located on the eastern coast of the island of Kefalonia (formerly known as Kefallinia), the largest Ionian Island in western Greece is a 100-meter-long cave called the Melissani cave. A jade blue lake containing brackish water stretches for about one-third of the length.
According to Greek Mythology, this was a cave of the nymphs, and is supposed to be named after nymph Melissanthi.
  • Discovered in 1951, this cool and damp cave comprises two huge chambers filled with water and a small island in the center. During 1953, the roof of the cave collapsed due to an earthquake, thus, exposing the underground cave world to sunlight.
The sunlight reflected from the surface of the lake, colors the cave walls with hues of blue, thus, providing a spectacular sight.

Choranche Cave

  • In the commune of Choranche and a part of the Vercors Regional Natural Park, the entrance to the Choranche cave system is located at the foot of the Presles cliffs which form a natural amphitheater. 
These caves are famous for the thin and fragile 'soda straw' stalactites that hang from the high ceilings. Soda straw stalactites are hollow, tubular speleothems that arise due to the deposition of calcium carbonate or calcium sulfate.
  • What is even more breathtaking than these soda straws is their beautiful reflections in a crystal clear underground lake inside the cave. The mesmerizingson et lumiére(sound and light) show called La Caverne du Temps(The Cave of Time) is conducted in the cave chamber called Cathedral.
The rocks and stalactites appear even more splendid in the hues of different colored lights that get reflected from the lake.

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River

  • Protected under the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, the pristine waters of the Puerto Princesa Underground River flow through a spectacular, 24 km-long cave system.
  • While flowing through the cave, the river also gives rise to small underground waterfalls, and proceed to directly meet the sea.
  • Flowing amdist a splendid karst landscape and the enchanting forest formations, the Puerto Princesa Underground River is now recognized as one of the New7Wonders of the world.

Blue Lake Cave

  • Considered as a national heritage, Gruta do Lago Azul or the Blue Lake Cave is an enchanting cave located in the town of Bonito. It's named after the placid lake with shimmering waters that appear crystal blue in color when the sunrays hit the surface.
  • The lake runs more than 200 feet deep, and at the bottom are the bones and fossils of giant prehistoric animals believed to date back to the Pleistocene epoch. The skewed stalactites and nesquehonite speleothems that hang from the ceiling of the wide cave chamber is a treat for the eyes.

Mexican Cenotes

Location: Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico
  • The Yucatán Peninsula in southeastern Mexico is well-known for its karst landscape and has gained popularity owing to the presence of the longest underground river that runs for 153 kilometers.
In addition to this, the karst processes have given rise to thousands of cenotes, which are natural pits of underground water that get exposed when some portions of their limestone roof collapse.
  • These cenotes were the source of water for the Mayan civilization, and some of these were considered sacred and served the place for several Mayan rites and rituals. Many are used as a source of water, even today, for catering to the water requirements of nearby cities and towns.
With shimmering calm waters, beautiful speleothems, and a peaceful ambiance, these cenotes are the most popular attraction for tourists. Some of the celebrated and famous ones include the Ik Kil, Dzitnup, Sacred cenote, and Gran cenote.

Carlsbad Caverns

  • Underneath the Guadalupe Mountains and protected under the Carlsbad Caverns National Park, the Carlsbad Caverns is a huge cave system comprising several chambers and rocky passages, thus, forming a natural studio of limestone artwork.
  • The notable underground lakes in this cave system are the Green Lake and the Lake of the Clouds. The Green Lake is malachite-colored that gives rise to green hues on the rocks and walls of the room. Lake of the Clouds contains rock formations that resemble clouds, and is the lowest point of the cave.
Nature truly never ceases to amaze us. Besides these underground lakes, there are many stunningly beautiful lakes in the world where tourists flock each year to witness sheer beauty, tranquil, and peace.
So are these underground lakes and rivers, which are an awe-inspiring example of how water makes its way through the limestone rocks, and in the process, carves beautiful sculptures that are difficult to produce synthetically.