Words by Dalene Heck / Photos by Pete Heck (unless otherwise noted)
The Grotte di Castellana is an astounding cave system located in southern Italy near the city of Bari. Exploring these majestic underground cavities offers an incredible journey into an underground world. This region of Europe is actually home to many cave systems and the Grotte di Castellana bears many similarities to the Karst cave systems located in Sardinia and Slovenia.
The caves offer stunning natural formations, including intricate stalactites and stalagmites. Visitors can immerse themselves in the ancient geological wonders as they embark on a guided tour, where the guides share their fascinating insights into the caves’ history and significance.
It is a worthwhile visit for many, as long as you aren’t too claustrophobic or scared about being underground. Read on for details on visiting, and then further down, get the lowdown on our personal experience.
Tips for Visiting the Grotte di Castellana Caves
Where are the Caves Located?
The Grotte di Castellana is situated near the town of Castellana Grotte, approximately 40 kilometres south of Bari, the capital of the Apulia region. If you’re arriving by air, the nearest major airport is Bari Karol Wojtyła Airport (BRI). From Bari, you can reach Castellana Grotte by car (around 40 minutes) or by train (approximately 20 minutes).
- The standard guided full tour, known as the “Grotta Bianca” or “White Cave” tour, lasts approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. The tour takes you through some of the most spectacular sections of the white cave system, showcasing intricate stalactites, stalagmites, and other remarkable formations.
- Visitors with disabilities can now experience this incredible cavern. The caves are now 100% accessible for visitors in wheelchairs. Note that strollers and baby carriers are not permitted inside the caves.
- While the Castellana caves are well-maintained and equipped with walkways and lighting, it’s important to note that some sections involve stairs and uneven terrain. Visitors with mobility issues or claustrophobia should take these factors into account when planning a visit.
- Photography inside the Castellana Grotte is limited. Visitors can only take photos during the first part of the tour at La Grave (in the huge cave with the hole in the ceiling), but in other areas, photos are prohibited. As always, be sure to respect any rules provided at admission or by your guide to ensure the preservation of the natural environment.
- There are a number of amenities at the Grotte di Castellana caves, including restrooms, a souvenir shop, and a bar/cafeteria where you can grab a bite to eat or something to drink before or after your tour.
- The Grotte di Castellana may not be suitable for individuals who are claustrophobic or have anxiety in confined spaces. While the caves are well-maintained and equipped with walkways and lighting, certain sections may feel narrow or confined, and there are stairs and uneven terrain to navigate.
- Although the Castellana Caves extend for nearly 3.3 km and are 122 metres deep, the maximum depth reached on the Grotte di Castellana tour is approximately 60 meters (197 feet) below the surface. This maximum depth can vary slightly depending on the specific route taken during the tour. As you explore the caves, your guide will lead you through various chambers and passages, showcasing the impressive geological formations that have been shaped over thousands of years.
- Smoking is prohibited inside the caves.
- It is forbidden to touch the limestone formations or to remove the speleothems.
Admission to the Grotte di Castellana
Admission to Grotte di Castellana is offered year-round, but the type of tour is limited depending on what month you visit. For example, tours are only offered in Italian in the off-peak months of November and December.
- Full Itinerary Ticket (Grotta Bianca/White Cave Tour): €18.00 per person.
- Short Itinerary Ticket (seniors over 65, and groups of at least 15 people): €15.00 per person.
- Children under 4 years old: Free admission.
- Special tours (such as the Speleo Tour and Adventure Tour) may have different pricing and availability, so it’s best to inquire directly with the caves or check their official website for the most up-to-date information.
What You’ll See Inside the Castellana Caves
Depending on which tour you take will allow you to see a number of Grottos. On the “Full Itinerary,” there are eleven different viewpoints inside the cavern. Here is a full list:
- La Grave
- The She-Wolf of Rome
- Monument Cavern
- Cave of the Owl
- Cavern of the Spring
- Desert Corridor
- Dome of Milan
- The Leaning Tower
- The Pond and Scalenoheral Concretions
- The Dome
- The White Cave
A full list and itinerary can be found here.
What to Wear to the Grotte di Castellana
It is recommended to wear comfortable clothing and sturdy shoes suitable for walking on uneven surfaces. The constant temperature in the caves is about 16 degrees Celsius (61 degrees Fahrenheit), so bring a light jacket or sweater. Although there is no water in the caves, some parts can be slightly wet or damp due to the natural underground conditions.
Grotte di Castellana Tours
To visit the Grotte di Castellana, it is required to take a guided tour. The underground cavities are very extensive and can only be accessed with a trained and certified guide. The “Grotta Bianca” or “White Cave” guided tour is included in the admission price and gives visitors valuable information about the geological formations within the caves, the history, and the significance of the caves. On top of that, the guided tour ensures visitors’ safety and helps preserve the natural environment.
Booking a tour in advance and buying tickets online is highly recommended. You can click the following link to book a Grotte di Castellana tour.
Any tourist attraction with the word “cave” in it typically gets a pass from me.
My strong dislike for being in tight, enclosed spaces, and the thought of possibly being trapped with anything creepy is enough to make my skin tingle.
So, I’m not entirely sure what compelled me to go to the Grotte di Castellana, three kilometres of underground caves near Bari. On recommendations from friends and with the desire to do something new and different, we made plans to go.
When we got there, still somewhat unsure, I hesitantly approached the ticket booth and stared at the board outlining the tour options. The man behind the counter stated something in Italian, completely incomprehensible to me, except for the urgency and his promptness in handing us tickets.
I didn’t even have a chance to ask my most pressing question…”Are there bats?“…the answer to which would have dictated whether or not I spent the next hour in the car while Pete enjoyed the tour alone. Instead, we had gotten there just slightly after the hourly guided walk was to start, so we were quickly whisked down to the caves to join others.
I completely blame Hollywood for the experience that followed.
I blame Indiana Jones for the terrible visions of giant rolling rocks ready to surprise me on a narrow path. I blame Arachnophobia for the spiders and other creepy crawlies that I envisioned jumping out at me. And I blame Lord of the Rings for the ghastly whisper of “My Precious” I was sure I heard, or the faces of the “undead” I could make out in the cave walls.
Each dark cavern contained a creature that wanted to eat me, in each black hole, I saw the eye socket of an empty skull.
It didn’t help when the tour guide pointed out a formation in the shape of a cobra, or when Pete looked up at a ceiling of pointy stalactites and said “Gee, it sure would suck if there was an earthquake right now.“
Thanks, honey. You’re a BIG help.
Past the first cave, we weren’t allowed to take photos, which was a good thing as it left me one of Pete’s hands for holding (read: squeezing-for-dear-life). The sudden movement caused by him tripping over a stone and the unexpected drop of condensation on my head from above both caused an anxious yelp from me.
An hour and a half is a long time to have your heart in your throat. That was my first, and last, experience in underground caves.