Jeita Grotto, Beirut, Lebanon
Located in the hills above Beirut (a mere half-hour taxi ride away), this should be on the itinerary of any visitor to the city. Closed in 1978 due to the civil war and used for munitions storage, it was reopened in 1995 and is now one of Lebanon's major tourist attractions. The cave is spectacularly lit and the boat rides in the lower level (closed during winter when it floods) are highly recommended.
Ali Sadr Cave, Hamadan, Iran
Situated near the city of Hamadan, around 360km south-west of Tehran, Al Sadr Cave is said to be the third largest cave in the world and the largest water cave. Excavations and archaeological studies of the cave have led to the discovery of artworks, jugs and pitchers dating back 12,000 years. The cave was known during the reign of Darius the Great (522-486BC), however, the knowledge of its whereabouts was lost and it was only rediscovered in 1963 by Iranian mountaineers.
Oman has pulled out all the stops to make Al Hoota Cave near the town of Nizwa the most visitor-friendly cave in the region, possibly the world - which perhaps takes away a little of its prehistoric charm. A hi-tech electric train takes you into the bowels of the earth where a profusion of beautifully lit stalagmites and stalactites await you. It's a must-see if you're spending more than a few days in the country.
About a hundred kilometres south-east of Muscat, Majlis Al Jinn features the ninth largest cave chamber in the world, hence its popularity as a BASE jumping site until 2008 when it was closed to the public. Recently the Omani Government announced plans to turn it into a tourist-friendly showcave after the success of Al Hoota. We hope it does, because those lucky enough to have visited it say it is a magnificent spectacle.
Kataleh Khour Cave, Zanjan, Iran
Believed to be joined to the Ali Sadr Cave system in the neighbouring province of Hamdan, this cave was only discovered around a hundred years ago but is thought to date back to the Jurassic period. The 100m-long "Wedding Hall" chamber gets its name from its abundance of stunning white calcite crystals. It's a magical setting: think Ski Dubai transformed for the set of a Tim Burton film and you'll get the idea.
Cave of Swimmers, Egypt
Located in the Gilf Kebir region near the Libyan border, this might not be the best time to visit the Cave of Swimmers. Still, it's of huge historical interest containing 10,000-year-old rock paintings (tragically fading away at a rapid rate due to a lack of conservation efforts) and was mentioned in Michael Ondaatje's novel, The English Patient, later adapted into a Hollywood movie. Though not officially a show cave, some tour companies in Egypt run regular expeditions here.
Magharet Qasir Hafee, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Yes, there is a cave here in the UAE! It's near Jebel Hafeet in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, but you'll need a guide to find it. Unfortunately only experienced cavers are allowed access and we failed to find anyone who has entered it in recent years. We can only hope that the authorities realise its huge potential and make more of this natural attraction in the future.
Thinking of visiting a cave? Then you'd better give these films a wide berth...
The Descent (2005)
A group of female friends get together for a caving expedition and find themselves hopelessly trapped underground. Soon, they're getting picked off by a savage breed of pale-faced predators. They really should have gone to the shopping mall instead.
The Cave (2005)
Another team of explorers encounters creatures who are significantly less scary than the sun-starved nasties in The Descent. If you find this film remotely frightening we wouldn't recommend you go out after dark, let alone visit a cave.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Indiana Jones kicks off this Hollywood franchise by stealing a golden statue from an ancient South American temple and fleeing a huge boulder that chases him through a cobwebbed cave riddled with deadly traps.