A Day Underground: The Punkva Caves

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Get ready for an extraordinary adventure into the depths of the Macocha Gorge.

Today, we are taking you to the Moravian Karst, the probably most significant Karst area in Central Europe and birthplace of modern karstology and speleology. More than 1100 caves and gorges can be found in this area, while only 4 of them are open to the public: The Punkvevní jeskyně (Punkva Caves), Kateřinská jeskyně – with its unique limestone columns – the Balcarka Cave – which is is full of colorful stalactites – and last but not least: Sloupsko-šošůvské jeskyně which consist of huge corridors and underground gorges.

North of the city of Brno, a beautiful river flows through the town Blansko. The little humble looking town is home to the Macocha Gorge – an approximately 138.7 meters deep hole. With its incredible depth, it is considered the deepest of all the light holes in Central Europe.

Over millenniums two main rivers, the Sloup Stream as well as the White Water Stream have shaped the Punkva caves and are creators of the underground Punkva river. The latter cut out the cave system to a length of 35 kilometers. Today, you can walk through 810 meters of the cave and are brought back to where your journey started via boat. The water cruise is about 440 meters long, with a water depth of 50 meters.

We climbed into the lowermost cave of Czech Republic for you and hereby want to give you reason to follow suit!

Where the adventure begins: Skalny Mlyn

Exploration & Development

Doctor Jindřich Wankel was a German-Czech doctor who used to explore the caves located in Moravia in his free time. As the interest in exploring the Punkva caves located in Blansko rose, Wankel – besides other explorers – tried to make his way up the stream into the caves on a low water level day. His journey was a partial success: Though he could confirm the existence of caves beneath the rocks, he did not manage to pry in further due to a siphon (a water flooded corridor).

It was his grandson, professor Absolon, who shared the interest of his grandfather in caving and set out with groups to discover the unknown ground in 1909 – 1914. Their efforts paid off: On September 26, 1909, the team could climb into the dry part of the caves – an epoch-making discovery!

It was in January 1914, when they successfully connected Pustý žlev (Waste ditch) with the Macocha Abyss, thus creating a walkway. Absolon then tried to open up the other branch of the cave space between Macocha and Pustý žleb. Drilling machines were needed to set the underground Punkva river free – a demanding task and not the safest either. Besides corridors, the river flows through some dry cathedrals with beautiful stalactites, which were discovered once a boat could be sent into the caves. Soon afterwards, the newly discovered part was open to public and the first Czechoslovak president visited the area. The largest space was named after him: The Masaryk Dome, which we will talk about a little later.

The tunnel was then broken through over the siphon and since 1933, visitors can cruise over the Punkva river from the Macocha abyss to the water cathedrals and then back up to the surface.

The revealed parts of the Punkva caves were lit and opened to the public already in 1909. Only in 1920 the Masaryk Dome could be opened to visitors through a boat track.

Extraordinary rock formations underground

But what awaits you behind the rocky surface? We found it out for you!

Přední dóm – Front Dome

Considered the ‘guardian’ of the caves, a 4 meter long stalactite welcomes you in the Front Dome with its many mineral spears and formations which might intimidate an intruder. These beautiful stalactites were the first thing Absolon and his men saw upon discovering and entering the Punkva caves. 

The monumental cave formations, such as stalactites and stalagmites indicate that the space has seen a complicated development. The waters of Punkva have left this place thousands of years ago and the danger of flood is absolutely banned.

The discovery of the Front Dome led to further exploration of the cave sections that lay between the entrance and Macocha Abyss.

The columns that guard the Punkva Caves: Front Dome


The Mirror Lake

What is better than a stunning rock formation? Exactly, a stunning rock formation with a mirroring lake! These waters are so clear, they mirror the rocks and stalagmites they are surrounded by. Taking a dip in it is highly discouraged, though. With a temperature of 4 degrees, one does not want to swim in it even on a hot summer day.

The place that leaves one in awe was also the halt Professor Wankel had encountered way before his grandson took to the caves. Nonetheless, Wankel did make a beautiful discovery and could marvel at phenomenal spelean formations such as ‘The Umbrella’ or ‘The Weeping Willow’. The Umbrella formation not only is stunning to look at but also was important to explain the development of the entire Front Dome!

Beauty times twice: Mirror Lake

The Reichenbach Dome aka The Dome of Destruction

Steep stairs lead the way up to the Dome of Destruction. Not necessarily a name one wants to hear while in a cave. But have no fear: The dome only got its name due to a natural disaster a million years ago. The rock partition between the cave galleries of the two different levels collapsed and due to this a single shaft-like space originated – which now towers above us an leaves us in awe.

The Back Dome

What goes up, must come down and so we descend after a steep uphill part down into the lower caves. Here, the Back Dome awaits us, a quiet place, which lies on the same depth as the Front Dome. A group of stalagmites accompanies us on our walk on the long slope and remind us of a Turkish Cemetery. One of the naturally shaped stalagmites looks like the highest mountain of Czech Republic (Sněžka) and the rocks in the back were formed to beautiful shapes like the ‘Dwarf’, the ‘Needle’ and the ‘Eternal Lovers’.

The Angel

This particular section of the caves was discovered when Absolon and his men were working their way through the cave from Macocha Abyss. Two very dominant formations strike one upon entering the Dome: The ‘Angel’ and the ‘Curtain’. In between those, one can see another spelean formation which looks just like a crocodile – welcome to the jungle!

When nature creates beauty: The ‘Angel’ and the ‘Curtain’

Macocha Abyss

Temporarily getting back to the surface, we find ourselves standing in front of Macocha Abyss.

Macocha Abyss owes its name to a folks legend. Legend has it, a woman, who had married a man who brought a child into marriage, could not help but dislike her new position as a stepmom (in Czech: Macoche). As fate would have it, she would get pregnant and have her own son. But that did not silence the voices in her head that dreaded the child that did not originate from her blood – quite the contrary.

So one fine sunny day, she took the kid on what she called a hike and then threw the child into the Macocha Abyss. But fate had something else in mind for the little boy: He managed to grab one of the branches hanging into the Abyss and save himself. When he told the people in the village Vilémolice what had happened, the evil stepmother threw herself down the abyss out of fear of being punished.

Have no fear, there is no risk of stumbling or falling to the same end as she, for you are standing underneath the Abyss, which inhabits a clear water pool.

This is where the dry part of your journey ends. Are you ready to dip into the water? After taking in the beauty of the gorge, you are in for a adventurous boat ride on the underground river Punkva. The Punkva water domes were created by a strong stream, whose gushing waters were looking for an exit for thousands of years!

Eerily beautiful: Macocha Abyss

Last Stop: Masaryk Dome

The discovery of this magnificent dome was a mere accident. Under the command of Lieutenant Slàma, the military of Olomouc drilled into the stone in order to advance above the water table of the Punkva river, to where Professor Wankel had reached on his primitive raft in 1857. Talking about finding something when you are not looking for it.

The last impression of your adventure underground: Masaryk’s Dome

The beautiful discovery holds many magnificent formations for the beholders eye. One might recognize a small bamboo forest, while someone else is fascinated by the column that looks just like Jan Hus, a Czech reformer, who was burned to death in 1415 in Constance, fighting for religious correctness and freedom. A beautiful memorial for the brave Jan Hus and a wonderful way to end your day underground!

In memoria: The Jan Hus coloumn commemorates the burning of the reformer

Returning to our boat, we float over the fourth Fairytale Lake. Just a few more minutes till we get to see the light at the end of the tunnel and return back to bright daylight.


What you get with the ticket

The ticket price of CZK 180 (prices vary throughout the season) grants you entrance to the caves. However, to get to the cave from the ticket office, you can either get the ‘Eko-Express’ (CZK 90), a little train that will bring you to your starting point, or you can walk the very quiet and green pathway of 2.5 kilometers (about 25 minutes).

The ticket includes a boat ride on the underground river Punkva and a guide (Czech or English).

How to go about a visit

If you are part of the deepest gorge in the Central European area, you are a well visited sight. Thus, going to see the caves on a weekend is rather difficult. You might want to take a day off during the week if you can, so tickets for a tour will be available.

In order to prevent disappointments after taking a 3 hours long train journey upon yourself, be sure to make a reservation for your tickets beforehand. This can be done with a simple click here and a short email to the very friendly and customer-oriented staff of Moravsky kras.

The journey from Prague

As the saying goes: The early bird catches the worm. If you are looking to go to the Punkva caves for a day only, you better set your alarm for about 7 am.

The best way to get to Blansko and from there to Skalni Mlyn, is the direct express train from Prague to Brno, which usually leaves at 7.58 and gets you to Blankso around 10.40. As you descend the train, go through the small train station and walk to the second bus stop to your right, where the (rarely) operating bus leaves at 10.45. If you want to be sure to not miss the bus, you want to take a train or bus to Brno and get the direct train from there to Blansko, which arrives around 10.28.

Be sure to check the connections for a specific day with the ticket office and look up the train you are trying to go with here.

Getting back from Skalni Mlyn is a rather difficult task, as the buses back operate only at 11 am, 15.25 as well as 17.25. But do not worry, if you do not feel like exploring the beautiful area or sip a coffee at the café till the next bus comes around, you can simply walk down in about 1.5 hours to Blansko or to the next bus stop where more bus lines operate more frequently – have we mentioned that the walk back passes a beautiful pond with the rock formations in the background?

But wait! There is more to explore!

People might say that if you saw one cave, you have seen them all. This does not apply to the caves of Moravsky kras. The Katerinska cave and its brothers are absolutely worth staying longer – and really, who would not like to enjoy the beauty and quietness of Moravia a few more days?

Not only caves, also phenomenal bike and hiking trails arise in the Moravian region, some of them passing by the caves and other sights such as the Křtiny Marian Temple and Chateau of Rájec nad Svitavou. So get ready for an adventurous trip to Northern Moravia!

Need some more information or want to get in touch with the Moravsky Kras team? Then waste no time and visit their website: http://www.moravskykras.net/ !

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About Author

Vanessa G.

Vanessa has been living in Prague for the better part of a decade. Always on the lookout for another hike, district, nook, or cranny – she’s made it her mission to explore the hidden corners of the Republic. Among Vanessa’s favorite Bohemian based activities are nature walks, venturing off the beaten path, and writing about it all from one of the city's many thriving Cafés. And the best spot to stop and take it all in? Alf & Bet, a coffee house and bakery, tucked just around the corner from Castle Libeň. You might just see the author there sipping a coffee herself.

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