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Skocjan Caves and Divaca in 24 hours

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Slovenia is all about diverse, natural landscapes – there are tree-covered mountains, deep valleys, crystal-clear lakes and a short-but-stunning coastline. As magnificent as the above-ground scenery is, however, there is something even more extraordinary hidden below the earth’s surface: caves. To be more accurate, more than 11,000 caves have been discovered in Slovenia. Exploring the eroded interior of Skocjan Caves – the largest known underground canyon in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site – was something we weren’t going to miss while in Slovenia.

Big Doline Collapse Skocjan Caves, Slovenia

Source of photo: Archives PŠJ | Author of photo: Borut Lozej

At first, we considered taking a Skocjan Caves tour as part of a Ljubljana-to-Skocjan Caves day trip or as an extended stop during the bus ride from Ljubljana, to the coastal city of Piran. However, the timing wasn’t aligning. We didn’t want to feel rushed during our visit to one of the best caves in Slovenia. Therefore, we decided to slow our pace. Instead of taking a Ljubljana caves tour or seeing the caves on the fly, we spent 24 hours in Divaca, the closest town to the caves. The stop allowed ample time to visit Skocjan Caves and discover more around the area.

 

One Day at Skocjan Caves and Divaca

When we were deciding how to visit Skocjan Caves from Ljubljana, we decided it was best for us to spend one night in the nearest town, Divaca – and then continue on to the coastal town of Piran the following day. More information about traveling by bus from Ljubljana to Skocjan Caves, Skocjan Caves accommodation and Skocjan Caves tickets at the end of the post!

 

11:30 AM: Arrive in Divaca

We arrived in Divaca on a Piran-bound bus from Ljubljana. Late in the summer, the town of 1,333 residents was quiet – as it probably is most of the year. We pulled our backpacks on and made the short 5-minute walk up the sloping hill to Malovec Hotel.

 

11:35 AM: Check in at Malovec Hotel

hotel-malovec-in-divaca-near-skocjan-caves-slovenia

For a rather modest town, Hotel Malovec stands out. The large, recently renovated property sits proudly in the middle of Divaca, across from a shaded park and near the school. Inside, we found a modern, bright and airy space. Even though we were early, a room was ready for us when we arrived. From our room, double doors led out to a spacious, private patio. We were tempted to spend some time lounging in the inviting room, but were anxious to start exploring the area and Skocjan Caves.

 

12 NOON: Getting to Skocjan Caves from Divaca

Our research had yielded two routes to Skocjan Caves for those traveling without a car: Skocjan Caves shuttle bus (free, but only available in the summer on a limited schedule) or a 2-mile walking path. Hotel Malovec presented a third option: borrow their mountain bikes and ride bikes to Skocjan Caves. Riding bikes obviously won our vote, as we saw it as an opportunity to explore more of the karst caves Slovenia region. We designed a route to Skocjan Park that included seeing a historically significant airport, viewing 600-year-old murals inside a small church and overlooking Skocjan Caves from a scenic point – all before arriving for the Skocjan Caves tour.

Divaca Airport

divaca-airport-street-sign-slovenia

The Divaca Airport most likely only elicits excitement from two kinds of people: history buffs and airplane geeks. Seeing that one half of JetSetting Fools (that would be Kris) is the latter, biking the two miles to hopefully see a plane taking off or landing on either the paved or grass runway was worth it. History buffs will find it interesting that Divaca Airport was built in 1916 as a bomber base during World War I – and is only one of two airports which was built for the Battles of Soca that is still in use.

From the road, we could see the airport nestled in the valley from afar. However, when we arrived at the turn-off, we came face-to-face with a Road Closed sign. Without being able to get any closer to the airport, we turned right onto the gravel road opposite the airport road and continued on our route to St. Helena Church.

St. Helena Church

st-helena-church-frescos-gradisce-pri-divaci-slovenia

With the combination of a gravel road, a slight incline and our serious lack of mountain biking skills, we were pushing our bikes more than we were riding them. Fortunately, we only had about a half mile to go until we reached the tiny village of Gradisce pri Divaci, population 17, and St. Helena Church. The modest church has a single bell in the bell-gable that rises from the front façade. The exterior is quite plain, but the interior is decorated with exceptional frescoes that date to the 15th century. The locked door can be opened with the key that is kept at House #1. The trick is: you have to find House #1…which we didn’t. What we did find, however, was the trail that continues to Skocjan Caves – and since we wanted to make the 2 o’clock Skocjan Caves tour, we had to keep moving.

Stefanija Viewpoint

stefanija-viewpoint-over-doline-skockjan-caves-slovenia

From Gradisce pri Divaci, the one-mile trail to Skocjan Caves is dirt and rock…and almost all downhill. We curved through the shaded forest, exerting much less energy than on the previous stretch. As we approached Skocjan Caves, we merged with the Skocjan Park’s Education Trail. Just short of the park entrance, we arrived at Stefanija Viewpoint.

The lingering disappointment from our first two stops vanished as we looked across the massive sinkhole, Velika Dolina (Big Collapse Doline). The collapsed land looked rugged and torn. Far below us, people were the size of small specks. Across the sunken land, we could see the village of Skocjan and the rising bell tower of the Church of St. Cantianius.

 

2 PM: Skocjan Caves Tour

We pedaled the short distance to the Skocjan Caves ticket office and arrived just in time to join the 2 o’clock tour. We locked up our bikes at the bike racks and hurried to catch up with the group that was making the descent on the trail to the visitor’s entrance of the cave.

The caves and sinkholes were created millions of years ago by the Reka River, which still streams through part of the cave. The river, which moves from east to west, is above ground until it reaches Velika Dolina, but then flows 25 miles underground toward Trieste, Italy and resurfaces near the coast. The cave was discovered in the mid-1800s by explorers who entered the cave in boats. However, in the darkness they couldn’t see just how vast the cave was. Unlike the explorers, we entered through a narrow tunnel – a 100-meter-long, man-made access built in 1933 – that led to a series of open spaces.

In the first part of the natural cave, we followed the winding path through small chambers that were filled with stalagmites and stalactites. The rock formations developed over a period of thousands of years as water dripped through the cracks leaving behind minerals. The largest stalagmite in Skocjan Cave rises 165 feet from the cave floor. Certain sections, however, were void of any rock formations, as 12,000 years ago the ceiling collapsed and new stalagmites and stalactites have yet to form.

When we reached the second part of the cave, we could hear the river rushing below us. Dim lighting allowed us to see the enormity of the subterranean space – nearly 500 feet tall, 400 feet wide and almost 1000 feet long. A thin fog settled at the bottom of the cave, just above the water. Along the rock walls below us, we could see remnants of previous footpaths and a low bridge that was washed out by a flood in 1965. Giant tree trunks and thick branches oddly clustered together in elevated coves; brought in with recent flooding and left behind when the water receded.

As we crossed the Cerkvenikov Most, a narrow bridge standing 165 feet above the cave floor that was built in the 1930s, we could feel the rush of warm, humid air rising from the river. Bats circled in the dark space above us. The cavernous space and unusual rock formations sculpted by nature continued to intrigue us.

Natural Pools inside Skocjan Caves, Slovenia

Source of photo: Archives PŠJ | Author of photo: Borut Lozej

The most interesting, by far, were the ‘pools.’ It seemed impossible that something so artistic could occur naturally. The pools – or bowls – fill with water a few times a year during heavy rain. As the water spills over the edge, minerals are deposited, which continuously adds to the depth of each pool.

Natural Exit rom Skocjan Caves, Slovenia

When we reached the end of the cave, we were greeted by bright sunshine. We exited through the natural opening near the bottom of the sinkhole. We had two options to return to the top: take an elevator or follow the path to waterfalls…and then hike up the stairs. Nature prevailed. The opportunity to gain a better understanding of how the cave was formed trumped the easy ride up.

Reka-River-waterfall-at-skocjan-caves-slovenia

We walked along the path, looking up to the viewing platform where we had stood just a couple of hours earlier, and pondered how the first explorers must have felt as they sailed inside the dark cave.

 

4:30 PM: Gostilna Mahnic

beer-soup-cheese-platter-gostilna-mahnic-at-skocjan-caves-slovenia

All the stairs made us thirsty, so we were happy to find the on-site restaurant, Gostilna Mahnic, still open when we reached the top. We had read about their craft beer that paired well with their menu items. In the excitement of the day, we had absent-mindedly skipped lunch – and breakfast was a distant memory. When we ordered up a round of the home made brew, however, we were informed that they weren’t serving it. Exactly why it wasn’t available was lost somewhere in translation. Instead, we settled for a bowl of the beer soup, which was unlike any beer soup we had ever tasted – and absolutely delicious. Even if we didn’t try the beer, we can certify that the beer soup pairs well with the cheese platter!

 

5:30 PM: Bike back to Hotel Malovec

biking-walking-trail-to-skocjan-caves-slovenia

With satisfied stomachs, we retrieved our bikes. After riding through the parking lot to the road, we turned right and then veered right again onto the first path, which is the recommended trail between the caves and Divaca. It was a much shorter (and easier!) ride than the route we took to cave Skocjan.

 

6:15 PM: Evening in Divaca

Sign-for-pizzeria-oreient-express-pivnica-divaca-slovenia

We left the hotel at dusk for an evening stroll. As we walked, we were lured to Orient Express Pizzeria with another promise of home brewed beer. We didn’t think it was possible that we would strike out twice in one day, but much to our dismay, they informed us they weren’t serving craft beer either. (The reason, again, lost in translation.) However, since we were already settled on the patio, we opted for regional wine and a pizza to share.

 

9 PM: Hotel Malovec

hotel-malovec-bedroom-bed-divaca-slovenia

When we returned to the hotel, we saw that both locals and guests gathered at the hotel bar. It seemed like a friendly bunch and we considered joining them, but instead retreated to our room. In our exhaustion from the day of exploring, we feel asleep within seconds on the comfortable beds.

 

7:30 AM: Breakfast at Hotel Malovec

breakfast-included-at-hotel-malovec-in-divaca-slovenia

We love starting our day with a filling breakfast – and that is exactly what we got at Hotel Malovec. The included breakfast went beyond just coffee and croissants. Fresh-baked bread, in-season produce, hard-boiled eggs, a variety of cured meats and an assortment of creamy cheeses covered the tables. Once we got our fill, we were ready to discover a little more of Divaca.

 

8:30 AM: Divaca Sights

Divaca may be a small town – it only takes 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other – but it does have a few sights worth seeing. We started our morning walk by heading in the opposite direction of the train station. Within a few minutes, we arrived at the Museum of Slovenian Film Actors. Housed in a traditional homestead, the collection includes tributes to hundreds of Slovenian actors, but features an exhibit on Ita Rina. Rina, born in Divaca in 1907, was Slovenia’s most famous silent film star.

A block further down the road is the Church of St. Anthony the Hermit. The parish church, somewhat dilapidated (but in a charming, small town way), was built in 1603.

We retraced our steps toward the hotel and continued walking down to the Divaca train station. An old steam locomotive sits outside the station in dedication to the importance of the railway that in 1857 connected Divaca to Ljubljana, Trieste and Vienna.

 

11:30 AM: Divaca Bus Station

Just 24 hours after arriving in Divaca, we picked right up where we left off. We hopped on the Piran-bound bus and continued on our way to the coast! {Read about 9 Things To Do in Piran, Slovenia}

9 Things to do in Piran Slovenia by JetSettingFools.com

9 Things to do in Piran Slovenia

 

 

Our Top Tips for Your Trip to Skocjan Caves and Divaca:

Skocjan Caves Tour:

  • The only way to visit Skocjan Caves is with a guided tour. Information about routes, Skocjan Caves opening hours and Skocjan Cave price can be found on the official website
  • No photos are allowed inside the cave (not even without flash; not even with smart phones); don’t fret and enjoy the scenery!
  • Stick to the front of the group if you like to listen to details and info; it can be difficult to hear from the back.
  • A light jacket is recommended, but we didn’t use ours (perhaps we were overheated from our bike ride!)

 

Biking to Skocjan Caves from Divaca:

Look at a map (or better yet have one printed or saved on a mobile device) prior to heading out on bikes. Parts of the trail are poorly signed (as in easy-to-miss, small red signs or not signed at all), but with the visual map, we were able to stay on course.

Biking Tips: Helmets are provided – wear them! The hotel has tools to adjust the seats.

divaca-to-skocjan-caves-biking-hiking-route-map

 

 

Where To Stay in Divaca

The choice of Skocjan Caves accommodation is fairly limited. Since we wanted to be close to the bus station, we opted to stay at Hotel Malovec – and we were not disappointed! If the hotel is fully booked, we suggest searching for Divaca hotels on Booking.com

 

Getting To Skocjan Caves

How to get to Skocjan Caves from Ljubljana: There is a bus from Ljubljana to Skocjan Caves (rather, to the town of Divaca) and making a compete day trip from Ljubljana to Skocjan Caves by bus is possible, but you will want to plan your departure time to align with your Skocjan Cave tour. Check Ljubljana to Divaca bus schedules on Rome2Rio and tour times

Skocjan Caves Tour from Ljubljana: A Skocjan Caves day trip from Ljubljana organized tour usually includes at least one additional stop in western Slovenia. Check out these full-day Ljubljana excursions on Viator:  Skocjan Caves, Predjama Castle and Piran tour and Skocjan and Horse Farm Tour.

 

Before You Go

  • Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes for your trip to Skocjan Caves. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia and Skechers. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.
  • Although photos are not permitted inside the cave, you can take pictures from the outside! Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos (that can later be beautifully compiled into a travel photo book). We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!)..
  • We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.

 

Start planning your trip to Slovenia and Skocjan Cave! Search for the lowest airfares, the best accommodations and fun things to do…then start packing!  Want more travel planning tips? Head over to our Travel Planning page for more information and tips on traveling – and for country-specific information, take a look at our Travel Guides page!

 

We want to know: Have you visited Skocjan Caves and Divaca? How did you plan your visit? Tell us in the comments!

 

Trying to decide between Skocjan or Postojna Caves? Read about our day at Postojna Caves – or go to both! Want more opinions? Read Skocjn Caves TripAdvisor reviews to find out what other travelers think! 

Visit Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle JetSettingFools.com

Visit Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle

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Thank you to Hotel Malovec and Skocjanske Jame for hosting us. As always, our opinions are our own.

 

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23 thoughts on “Skocjan Caves and Divaca in 24 hours

  1. LP

    Nice article! We’re thinking about going in early June. Just wondering how much of the tour you can actually see water and how much is dry and full of stalagmites and stalactites (“typical cave”)? And is it kind of “one view” of the river or different angles/views as the tour goes on? Seeing a river running through a huge cave sounds amazing, but honestly because of our time crunch and what we would give up to go, I’d be a little bummed if 90 percent of it is “typical cave” (seen many) with just a short, single view of the river flowing through. The pools sound great but I guess that would depend on mother nature and water flow 🙂

    • Hi LP, thank you! Well, we thought it was spectacular and the water in late August was pretty low. The path however does twist, turn and change elevation for a variety of looks and nothing like we’ve ever see before. Like you mentioned, a tough call depending on your previous cave experiences and your time crunch. We also recommend the view from above the caves and taking the hike back up as well. Enjoy your visit to Slovenia and we hope you can fit it in to your itinerary!

      • LP

        Thanks for the info! Good to hear about the twists and turns for varied views 🙂 One last question if you don’t mind….do you have a view of the water for most of the time or only for a short part of the tour? It is the main thing I’d be going for and I can’t find any info about it (and since no photos are allowed inside, it’s all the professional “awesome” photos online 🙂 Thanks so much! Oh, and I also enjoyed your write up about Lake Bohinj as we will be going there and doing most of the same things you did 🙂

        • Excellent and thank you again. Bohinj is amazing! All of Slovenia, actually, and we hope to be back in the Fall. You are near the water the majority of the time on the paths, so seeing it well would only be a matter of how high the level is. Perhaps there’s a way to inquire about the expected level during your visit? Cheers!

          • LP

            Perfect! That’s the exact info I was looking for….and the answer I was hoping for 🙂 We will make a visit happen 🙂 Thanks again for your replies and happy travels! 🙂

    • I think the most breathtaking moment was our first look over the river inside the cave. We could hear it, but it was dark and a layer of fog was settled at the bottom, so it was almost surreal – like something from a movie set. And, just the sheer size of it was mind boggling!

  2. Wow, these caves look absolutely stunning! While I am not a big fan of such tights itineraries here are some great tips – will definitely remember if I ever get to go there 😉

  3. I love a gorgeous view and Stefanija Viewpoint really looks breathtaking! I haven’t read much about Slovenia so this post was refreshing and put a spotlight on a destination that I hadn’t considered before. I also enjoyed the time stamp, a good estimate for how long each activity will take.

    • Slovenia is often overlooked as a destination, but we can’t figure out why! It has everything – interesting history, beautiful nature, vibrant cities, amazing food and wine and wonderful people. Hope you make it some day!

  4. I’ve heard so much about Slovenia. Had a professor from there. The caves look amazing, and the town is charming. I hope one day I make it. Do you think it will be a struggle if I don’t know the language??

  5. Sheena

    I’ve actually been to Skockan Caves but don’t remember it much now, except that I felt like I was in “Lord of the Rings”! I think I have to go back the next time I’m in Europe, especially with such a detailed & helpful post – thanks for making it so easy to plan & visit, and bringing back great memories 🙂

    • We skipped them on our first trip to Slovenia, but made it a point to see them our second time there – and we are stoked we did. Slovenia is such a fascinating country. We keep adding more reasons for our return!! 😉

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