The topography of Iran’s vast mountainous regions has led to the formation of massive, labyrinthine caves, turning Iran into a hub for speleologists and adventurous tourists who want to explore caves and other karst features.
Iran’s blessed with over 1,200 caves, tempting explorers from across the globe to travel far to discover secrets hidden deep inside Iran’s mountains. Therefore, arranging caving tours for both tourists and professionals is not such a wild idea at all!
To get an idea why you should consider caving tours in Iran, I have made a short list of Iran’s top caves to see.
Discovered and mapped by an 11-man team of British explorers in 1973, Parau Cave in western Iran is the second-deepest cave in the country.
The 752-meter cave in the heart of the Parau massif of the Zagros Mountains in Kermanshah Province was believed to be the deepest of its kind in Iran as recently as 2014, before the discovery of Jajour Cave in the same region, which boasts a depth of over 1,000 meters.
Referred to as the “Everest of caves” in the 1973 book Ghar Parau by David Judson, Parau is arguably the most difficult to navigate in Iran and has claimed five lives so far. In fact, it took Iranian cave explorers 20 years after its discovery by the British to get to the bottom of it.
Aside from the cave, Parau massif is also home to Ghala Cave, which is the world’s second deepest single vertical drop shaft at 562 meters.
Experience and extensive planning are absolute necessities for cave explorers thinking of taking Parau and Ghala. To get there, travel to the city of Kermanshah in western Iran and drive 20 kilometers toward Chalabeh Village, which is where you begin your trek toward Mount Sheikhali Khan. The opening of Parau Cave requires between 5 to 7 hours of trekking and climbing.
Namakdan, or Salt Cave, is said to be longest salt cave in the world located in Qeshm, a large island in the Persian Gulf.
Situated in the midst of salt domes, the 6.6-kilometer-long cave is covered in salt throughout, which is why is called Namakdan (Persian for salt shaker).
One of 12 salt caves in the region, Namakdan Cave was discovered by a team of Czech speleologists who surveyed it in collaboration with experts from Iran’s Shiraz University from 1997 to 2006.
The width and height of the single passage cave varies: The passage can be as wide as 10 meters and narrow as one meter, while it is practically impossible to stand upright at any portion of the passage.
Explorers who accept the hardships of exploring Namakdan are rewarded with mesmerizing salt chambers not seen by most.
The cave is located about 120 kilometers from the city of Qeshm, within 500 meters of the coast of the Persian Gulf. Because the island has a hot and humid climate, exploring the cave is only recommended in winter.
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Arguably the most famous cave in Iran, Ali-Sadr is known as the first cave to host tourists in the country. It was discovered in 1960 by explorers from Hamadan, where it is located, and it was promoted as a tourist site 16 years later by the government.
An interesting bit of trivia about the name is that the cave was originally call Ali Sard (meaning cold), but the word “Sard” in Farsi was widely misread as “Sadr”, leading to the misread name (Ali-Sadr) eventually replacing the original name.
Ali-Sadr boasts a stunning speleothems (mineral deposits) and an extensive lake system, popularizing the cave among tourists, who get t
o explore the cave on boats. Groups of people are led inside the cave on small boats, and can explore the end of Ali-Sadr on foot.
Given Ali-Sadr’s status as a top attraction, there are a number of accommodation facilities, including hotels and vacation rentals, as well as coffee shops and restaurants close to the cave. There are also two bazaars and an amusement park.
To get to the cave, travel to Kaboodar Ahang region in Hamadan Province, where Ali-Sadr Village is located. The cave is about 75 kilometers from the city of Hamadan.
Kataleh Khor Cave
Kataleh (Katale) Khor in Garmab, Zanjan Province is an extensive cave system said to be the largest in Iran.
The multilevel cave’s passages and chambers extend for a total of 16 kilometers, only 2.5 kilometers of which is accessible to the public. While not as popular as Ali-Sadr, it is one of the most visited caves in western Iran.
The cave is within a 30-million-year-old limestone mountain and has three levels and multiple chambers, each of which has been named according to their features. Along with Soltaniyeh Dome, it is a top attraction in Zanjan Province.
Exploring the first 2.5 kilometers takes about 2 hours and ends at a large chamber known as Sofr-e-Aghd (Persian: the Engagement Spread), which is accessible via a metal bridge. The name Sofr-e-Aghd is a nod to the fact that the chamber’s limestone features resemble the design of a typical Iranian table-top arrangement during engagement ceremonies.
Traveling deeper into the cave requires permits, which are usually issued for research purposes.
There are areas designated for camping where you can set up tents. Alternatively, you can book a suite near the cave for the night. Public restrooms, parking and a restaurant are also available.
Unless you’re traveling in the off-season, i.e. winter and fall, be prepared for long queues to get tickets.
To get there, hire a taxi from Zanjan. The Kataleh Khor is located 120 kilometers southwest of Zanjan (410 kilometers west of Tehran).
Chal-Nakhjir, or simply Nackheer, is a cave on the foothills of a mountain of the same in Markazi Province.
Formed around 70 million years ago, the limestone-covered cave has sediments that resemble all sorts of shapes: Tourists and adventurers have described seeing shapes of humans, rhinos, turtles, elephants, and many more.
Exploring Chal-Nakhjir as a tourist takes around 2 to 3 hours. The cave forks out after 600 meters, with only one of the two passages ready to accommodate tourists. Each passage is about 1.3 kilometers long.
Speleothems on the caves surface are in the forms of cave popcorns and dogtooth spar, but due to inexpert lighting in the cavern, the proper colors are rarely observed.
There is a restaurant and accommodation suites available near the cave’s entrance, as well as gazebos for those who want to pitch a tent.
To avoid long queues in the summer, it’s recommended to visit Chal-Nakhjir in fall or winter. The cave’s temperature fluctuates between 9 and 14 degrees Celsius year-round.
The cave is about 10 kilometers northeast of Delijan County in Markazi Province. Once you reach the city of Delijan, take the road to Naraq and follow the signs toward Chal-Nakhjir.
This article has originally been written in Persian.