There’s a beautiful mystery to sea caves, those hidden caverns that swallow the waves and echo with the sounds and stories of myth. Some cultures believe these are the homes of the gods; others revere the natural sounds and sights as they bounce around the stone. Some are landscapes for divers, and others are off-limits to anyone but the bravest of souls. Any way you look at it, sea caves are grand and enchanting in their own ways, especially these seven that practically beg for exploration.

Fingal’s Cave, Scotland

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Among the wild and rugged Hebrides off Scotland’s west coast there sits a tiny island with an immense secret. The small island of Staffa doesn’t have much more than natural beauty to offer visitors, but one visit to Final’s Cave, and you’ll agree the trip was worth it. A narrow stone cavern known for its amazing acoustics, this cave is lines with curious geometric basalt pillars. The site and sound will convince you that you’re in a surreal stone organ – indeed, the cave has inspired a string of famous musicians to experiment with their sound.

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Benagil Beach Sea Cave, Portugal

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The enchanting image of a beach cradled by rock, illuminated by a spot of sunshine, is enough to make you look up flights to Portugal. In fact, this natural formation is even better in person, when the light, colors, and tides change throughout the day to create a series of beautiful scenes. The water’s clear and warm, which is particularly welcome given that you have to swim to reach the cave.

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Blue Grotto, Italy

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The Blue Grotto is tucked into the coast of the island of Capri, in southern Italy. Inside, the water and walls shine and shimmer electric blue, an effect tied to the sunlight passing through an underwater cavity and reflecting up through the ocean. Taking a boat ride through the calm cave is like traveling through a storybook netherworld, an enchanting River Styx or a watery way to another dimension. It’s an otherworldly scene that you won’t soon forget.

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Chapada Diamantina, Brazil

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Deep in the Brazilian hinterland, the Chapada Diamantina National Park is almost unbelievable, with its cascading waterfalls, impossibly huge boulders, crystal clear, transparent water, and countless other amazing natural wonders that have formed over the centuries. Given the rocky and watery landscape, the park is also known for its sea caves, inlets of golden rock and clear blue water that come to life as the sun crawls across the sky. Just don't go skinny dipping - the water is completely see-through!

 

The Great Blue Hole, Belize

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A large submarine sink hole has created an underwater wonderland for scuba explorers. The Great Blue Hole is in the center of a reef, and plunges down 124 meters through crystal clear waters. Originally an above ground cave, the weight of the rising water eventually caused the roof to collapse, and now it’s entirely submerged. The mystery and scope of this site has attracted people for hundreds of years.

 

Painted Cave, California

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California is home to the second largest sea cave in the world, known as The Painted Cave because of the colorful layers of stone and the assortment of plants and marine life that speckle the walls. The scene is most magical in the spring, when a waterfall creates a rippling curtain across the mouth of the cave. You can’t walk to the cave, and swimming is not a great option either, but a kayak will get you into the pretty stone cavern.

 

Tam Coc-Bich Dong, Vietnam

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A series of three caves on the Ngo Dong River in Northern Vietnam attracts wide-eyed visitors to the picturesque jungle landscape. The three-hour boat excursion to the caves is tranquil and scenic, lined with rice fields and mountains, but floating through the caves themselves is certainly the highlight of the trip. The stone ceilings are about 2 meters above the water, and the boats are small (typically only one person rowing your vessel), making for a peaceful and intimate natural experience.

You can reach many sea caves with a simple boat and a decent sense of direction, but sometimes natural factors come into play. Changing tides can turn an accessible cave into an impenetrable stone wall, and the churning waves can make things tricky, even dangerous, if you’re swimming.