Beirut is a cultural melting pot! The Lebanese people are incredibly welcoming and hospitable. Political unrest and regional turmoil affect Beirut and Lebanon as a whole daily, yet there’s an aspirational attitude and respect for the past. That past is far reaching.
While urban Beirut will have you intrigued and entertained for days, try to make time to visit the magnificent connected caves at Jeita Grotto.
Discovered in modern times by American Missionary, Reverend William Thomson in 1836, he first made his way about 50 metres into the cave opening. At that point he fired his gun and judged by the echo that there was a lot more to explore - a lot more!
Further exploration wasn’t until almost 40 years later when three friends, Beirut Water Company engineers W.J. Maxwell and H.G. Huxley with Reverend Daniel Bliss, president of the Syrian Protestant College, today’s American University of Beirut, organised expeditions in 1873 and 1874.
In 1873 they managed to survey as far in as 1,060 metres before being halted by “Hell’s Rapids”, a powerful waterfall breaking over sharp edged rocks.
In 1874 they proceeded a further 200 metres, recorded their achievement on paper and left it in a bottle on a stalagmite. By 1892 and the next expedition the bottle was covered in a film of limestone wash permanently fixing it in place.
From 1892 to 1940 American, English and French explorers managed 500 metres further into the cavern reaching 1750 metres, but it wasn’t until the 1940s when dedicated members of the Speleo Club Du Liban or Lebanese Caving Club (LCC) got stuck in and discovered almost 9 km of underground caverns.
Finding 2 interconnecting caves, the lower cave complete with underground lake was opened to the public in 1958. Access to the dry upper cave wasn’t possible until 1968 when a tunnel and walkways within the cave were completed.
During the turbulent years of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), the caves were closed and used by the military for storage and offices. By the end of the war most of the buildings were destroyed so an agreement between Mapas Co. and the Ministry of Tourism was signed for the restoration, reconstruction and management of the complex. Reopened to the public in 1995, the complex now includes souvenir stores, a restaurant, a couple of snack shops, a small train and a cable car for access to the upper and lower grottos.
Arriving at the entrance to the Upper Grotto, all phones and camera equipment are to be stored in lockers. This is a totally visual, zero photography experience.
The Upper Grotto is over 2 km long but the internal walkways and platforms, so far, only allow public access to 750 metres. Well located and maintained lighting allow views of a greater distance as well as clear views of the ceiling and floor. Information boards supply details of specific areas with stats on sizing and approximate age of particular stalactites & mites. A stalactite reaching over 8 metres in length is said to be the longest in the world and the giant cluster of mushrooms is awesome, in the true sense of the word.
In the Lower Grotto, about 60 metres from the Upper, you’ll be motored around on the river to the dark lake in an electric boat. Previously rowed by oarsmen, one of the originals gentlemen is still in attendance. Some spectacular caverns are navigated, the Pantheon and Shangri-La are just two for you to imagine. As the water rises through winter the Lower Grotto becomes inaccessible so please check the schedule. The Upper Grotto is spectacular on its own, but it would be a shame to miss the Lower Grotto.
The policy on photography is a little disappointing, but understandable, so I purchased postcards, rather dated and not great quality, to reproduce here so I could give you an idea of what to expect, but I recommend you visit to see this wonder for yourself.
For convenience, use a local taxi or book an Uber and you’ll arrive at Jeita Grotto in around 30 minutes depending on traffic. Other transportation options can be found here. Keep in mind, taking the local bus takes considerable time and is a 3 part exercise, but if exercise is what you’d like, the 30 minute or so walk down into the valley is quite pleasant.
Unless booked with a tour, I was unable to find an online source but on a Sunday at 11am the ticket office was quick and efficient. Tickets include access to the cable car, Upper and Lower Grottos, a slide show and a train ride. Keep tickets handy as they’re needed for entrance at each of the turnstiles.
Entrance for Kids under 4 y.o. is free
4 - 14 y.o. 10,175LL (US$6.80)
Adults: 18,150LL (US$12.06)
Tuesday to Sunday - 9 am - 5 pm.
Beirut’s Jeita Grotto: it’s a place we love….
Shona’s award winning travel blog shares tips and tricks on where to eat, drink, explore & shop in any given destination. At home ordering street food or perusing a fine dining menu, she seeks out venues with a conscience who promote local produce and sustainability. Find her in markets, museums, art galleries and on walking tours as well as wineries, breweries, distilleries and restaurants. Wherever she is, she’s always looking for something a little different to share with her readers. Follow her travels at www.paraphernalia.co or subscribe to her Shenanigans Report http://paraphernalia.co/subscribe-form/ so as not to miss a post. firstname.lastname@example.org.