“ Jamska cesta 30 / 6230 Postojna / Slovenia / Tel: ++386 57000100 / Fax: ++386 57000130 „
PURPOSE OF VISIT AND DATE
I was spending a short vacation of about 5 days and managed to squeeze in the Postojna Caves. Before visiting the Postojna Caves however, I have already visited the Skocjan caves and so my purpose of seeing these caves was more to compare and contrast between the two cave experiences. I visited in June 2012 during the Summer, by driving there; but there were a lot of tour buses there as well so I guess many tours do include this very well known attraction as part of their tours. Driving to the caves was not difficult as there are many signs to guide you to the attraction.
INTRODUCTION TO THE CAVES
The Postojna Caves is a highly popular tourist destination in Slovenia and is said to be the longest cave system in the country. According to the guide, the caves were ahead of its time; it was fitted with electricity and railway before most other parts of the country were.
WHAT YOU CAN DO, AND WHAT I DID
Visit to the Postojna Cave is only allowed if you go for a guided tour, which lasts an hour and a half each. There are several tickets that you can purchase (or combi-tickets as well) and they are well-detailed on the Postojna website (http://www.postojnska-jama.eu/en/packages/). At the time of my visit they had some discounts going on, so my friends and I took the combi-ticket of Postojna Cave, Vivarium Proteus, the Butterflies of the World Exhibition and Predjama Castle (RPP 33.2 EUR but I think we paid about 20+++ EUR).
As the guided tours run every 20 minutes or so, I decided to visit first the two exhibitions - the Vivarium Proteus and the Butterflies of the World Exhibition. Upon entering the Vivarium exhibition you are given a torchlight with which you can use to spot the cave animals / insects in each isolated exhibit. Some of these exhibits also have buttons that you can use to light up the area so that you can view better. There is quite some explanation of what adaptations the cave animals have etc, but the main problem was that the exhibits didn't seem to be well taken care of, and very often the other visitors as well could not seem to find the animal that the sign was describing. The most interesting exhibit was probably that of the human fish, or protean (I think), because its eyes had atrophied in accordance to its living conditions and believe it or not it can live up to years without food! But then again, at the end of the guided tour of the caves, you would also get a chance to see this creature being showcased. Hence, I would say that this is in all not a very informative exhibition. I had very little impression of The Butterflies of the World Exhibition unfortunately - it wasn't very interesting. They had a lot of specimens of butterflies with labels but that was pretty much it. After the exhibitions I then went on the tour.
At the start of the guided tour of the caves, you have to take a mini railway train that brings you to the heart of the caves where the walking begins. Beware as the caves are of about 8-10 degrees, so be sure to bring a jacket if you are visiting in the Summer, or the train ride will leave you freezing cold (due to the wind chill). The train ride lasts about 8 minutes, and then you get off and the tour begins. The tour is offered in quite a number of languages - while I was there I saw German, Slovenian, Japanese as well as English. You're not allowed to take pictures while inside the caves, and the tour guide will tell you off and shine her torchlight repetitively at you if you do. But quite many people still violate the rule.
The guided tour itself was quite interesting as we walked inside the caves and learned of the different types of cave formations as well as the special formations that the Postojna cave is apparently known for. There was quite a lot of people on the tour, but the tour guide would always stop at destinated spots at which there are speakers which makes it much easier to hear the commentary. The floors could however be a bit slippery at times although it was clearly marked and roughened to prevent people from slipping. There were also railings that you could hold onto to aid walking.
After the entire tour you are then led back to another train platform, from which you take the same mini train to get out of the caves.
As I earlier mentioned my ticket included the Predjama Castle. What's special about this castle is that it's merged together with a cave formation, and from the outside it actually looks quite surreal being nested within a cave! Upon entry, you can get a pamphlet with accompanying numbers and descriptions that tells you more about the castle. This castle hasn't be 'touristified' and kept pretty much in quite an 'old' condition which helps you feel once again what what it once was like. Do take note however that the castle is about 10 km from Postojna, so you will probably need a car (or tour bus) to get there. The ticketing lady was kind enough to check that we had a car and was able to make our way there before allowing us to buy the ticket as well.
Because this is such a popular tourist attraction, there are food and drink kiosks around where you can get something to fill up your stomach or to cool yourself down (ice cream!). I am sure as well that there is a toilet at the end of the guided tour. Not surprisingly there are also shops selling souvenirs, but none of which seemed particular interesting.
I felt that the entire experience was a little overpriced, compared to the Skocjan caves which are less touristy and cheaper. However, it can be quite dangerous to walk within the Skocjan caves as the floors are DEFINITELY way more slippery than the ones at Postojna Caves, hence I would reckon that if you have difficulty walking etc the Postojna Caves would definitely be a more suitable location to experience the Slovenia cave system. Due to the price I would also not recommend going to the Vivarium or the Butterflies of the World exhibit. The castle is okay and interesting but nothing spectacular.
In 1818 a man fell down a hole just outside the small town of Postojna and discovered what would one day become Slovenia's most popular tourist attraction. In taking a tumble, he found the entrance to the largest cave in Slovenia; it was known before then that there were caves there and the 'graffiti' around the 'north entrance' shows that people knew of its existence as early as 1213 but no attempt was made to explore any further until the mishap brought about the discovery of the main section of the cave which is where concerts are now sometimes held. In all 21 Kilometres of the cave system at Postojna have been explored; just over 5 Kilometres are open for the general public though caving enthusiasts can explore other parts.
Today visitors flock to the cave for two reasons; the first - to see the weird and wonderful rock formations in the cave - is obvious. The second is to see a tiny albino creature known as the 'human fish'. This curious beast is only found in the cave systems of this part of Slovenia Istria in northern Croatia and part of Bosnia and Hercegovina and much research has been carried out to help scientists better understand how life can exist in these subterranean environments. The newly built Proteus Vivarium allows visitors to catch a glimpse of this oddity for themselves.
While there are some 7,500 caves in the Karst region of Slovenia - that is the southern and western part of the country where the land is largely limestone - around one hundred can be visited, some by the general public, the others by experiences cavers only. Nearby there are also the famous Skocjan Caves but visiting Postojna is easier because of the train ride and because it is largely a 'horizontal' cave - that is, the sections explored by visitors are flat and do not involve any climbing.
The caves were created many thousands of years ago by an underground river, the Pivka. When the river emerges it flows on and eventually becomes the Ljubljanica River that flows through the capital Ljubljana.
HOW TO GET THERE
Postojna Cave (in Slovene 'Postojna jama') is situated just fifteen minutes walk from the town centre of Postojna although most visitors come by coach or private car. Many visitors come as part of organised tours or tour company day trips from holiday resorts in northern Croatia and the Slovenian coast.
Independent travellers using public transport are quite well catered for. The bus station is about twenty minutes walk from the cave and rucksacks can be stowed in lockers there. It is quite possible to stop off and see the cave if making the journey by bus between Ljubljana and the coast without spending the night and there are a handful of hotels and lots of private homes offering rooms. In addition there is the huge concrete Hotel Jama right in the heart of the complex.
VISITING THE CAVE
Tours leave every hour (see the end of this review for further details) and tickets are bought at the visitor centre in the park complex. You can buy a ticket just for the caves, one for the caves and the Vivarium and a package ticket that gives entry to both the cave and the Vivarium as well as nearby Predjama Castle (alas not near enough for us to walk there and there is no public transport out of season).
Depending on how long it is before your tour is due to commence you can visit the Vivarium (if you wish to) before or after the cave. Close to the tour start time everyone starts to queue near the entrance. As you enter and show your ticket, a photographer takes a snap of each visitor (some small family group posed together) and you can purchase a copy of this photograph at the end of the tour. I deplore this kind of commercial and requested 'No publicity'.
Just before you go in you have the chance to rent a cape (dark green felt, very fetching!) which is a good idea if you haven't brought a waterproof. The temperature in the cave is a constant 8 degrees which felt comfortable for almost all of the tour but I did notice my toes were feeling a bit chilly towards the end. Cape rental is 3 Euro.
The bulk of the tour is done by miniature train; each train is quite long and depending on how many are booked for each tour, several trains might operate. The train is a bit like a roller coaster, but of course it runs only on flat tracks. However it does fair rattle through the caves at some points and it would be wise to hold on to any children who may be with you.
The train takes you through 4 KM of the cave, gallery after gallery of the most unbelievable rock formations created by thousands of years of dripping water. Depending on the mineral salts in different parts of the cave the colours vary form black to rich red and a slightly bluish white. Some stalactites look like spaghetti dangling from the roof of the cave, while stalagmites look like melting candles and Gaudi-esque wedding cakes. Others look like giant fungi and every now and again you can spot a 'stalacto-stalagmite' - created when a stalactite and a stalagmite join up.
There were calcite curtains that were so thin and fragile they looked like fluttering panels of voile, with the light streaming through them and where natural hollows had been formed, lights had been installed to give the impression of a mini-grotto. It really does look like a scene from a fairy tale and some parts are really quite eerie.
As the train makes its journey through the cave you can hear the 'Oohs' and 'Aahs' of the passengers and every now and then a squeal as an icy drop of water goes down someone's neck. All too soon this part of the tour comes to an end and the train comes to halt at a wide platform and everyone alights. Passengers must head towards the illuminated sign for their language and gather there; when all the trains have emptied the guide arrives and explains that the next section is a 1.5 Kilometre walk through the cave with stops to hear the some commentary along the way. There exists a proper footpath through this section which is quite even though it can be wet and appear slippy in places. Sensible shoes are a must (in Serbian this translates as 'wedge heeled espadrilles', in Australian this translates as 'thongs' - I'm sure an Australian is planning the first ascent of Everest in a pair of flip flops!) People with mobility problems can stay with the train and meet the group further on.
The English language group was by far the biggest on our tour and this meant that - even though she used a microphone - it was difficult to hear everything the guide said. Still I learned a little about the caves that I did not already know and I think that the length of commentary was about right given that some people were cold and wanted to keep moving. One fault I found was that the guide said we would be moving on and crossing the 'Russian bridge' - built by Russian prisoners of war - but I wasn't entirely sure which section this turned out to be because there was no commentary at this point.
As there are so many people on each tour and you need to stay with your group to hear the right commentary at each stopping point you need to keep up and so it does feel a bit rushed. I would have liked to have gone more slowly but it's not really possible to stop where you would like as it would hold up the others.
Railings on either side of the footpath prevent people from getting too near to the formations but it is possible to touch them. However, I have always been told not touch the rock formations in caves like these though many other visitors seemed to think it was fine. Nor may you take photographs using a flash although again few people took notice. I thought that was the case originally but there were so many people taking them I thought it must be acceptable and took a couple; the guide announced at the next stop that it was not permitted, so (as usual) I was right in the first place.
At the end of the walk you pass through a narrow tunnel and rejoin the train. If you are quick you can even dash to the loo before the train goes - the cold and the dripping water seemed to affect lots of people in that way!
Admission to the Proteus Vivarium is charged separately but having now been I do think the price should be incorporated into that of the cave admission fee. Usually the tour of the vivarium begins with a short film but as we had around twenty minutes before our cave tour was due to start we decided to look around the vivarium then take the tour and return for the film later on. As it turned out we were so disappointed with the vivarium that we did not go back for the film.
Entry to the vivarium is through the visitor centre; you are given a torch as you enter though they aren't of much use. The vivarium is actually a section of the original cave entrance so it is in effect another part of the cave and is, like the rest of the cave, cold and dank. In it are a series of display boards intended to educate and edify but are actually rather complicated and stuffy and not at all enticing to stand and read, especially in the gloom.
The point of the vivarium is to explain some of the animal life that exists inside the caves and there are a series of tanks containing such delights as cave woodlice, guanobites - little creatures that live off bat droppings and a variety of beetles. However, the only creature we could see inside a tank was an underground dwelling shrimp. The caves and the containers are so dark that the chances of seeing anything are remote.
More impressive was the central collection of vivaria containing the star of the show - the 'human fish'. They are about twenty centimetres long, and resemble a slim white salamander. They have no pigment because they have adapted to their dark environment and they have virtually no eyesight and instead they have highly developed senses of smell and taste. They can live for up to one hundred years and feed mainly on aquatic invertebrates. Apparently they earned the nickname the 'human fish' because they are supposed to look like little people with their short arms and legs and pale skin colour. Yeah right....
I was only pleased I had visited the vivarium because I got to see the 'human fish' (also known as an 'olm'). Had I not seen these little creatures I would have wanted my money back. This is one for the real enthusiasts only.
As you would expect from a tourist attraction of this size there are plenty of places to eat and drink and generally be parted from your hard-earned cash and the prices are inflated because of the location. To save money eat in town and bring your own drinks. There is a nice area to sit by the river (not the underground one) if you fetch your own food. I didn;t like this aspect of the complex at all, most of the 'souvenirs' had little to do with the caves and it was really just an excuse to peddle all kinds of tacky rubbish.
I would say that a visit to Postojna Jama is a must for anyone visiting the western part of Slovenia. When I learned that the admission price was 19 Euro for adults - just for the cave - I thought it was a bit steep (this is especially expensive for Slovenia) but the tour last over ninety minutes and you are unlikely to experience such an amazing sight again.
For opening hours and admission prices look at the official website at
To watch a trip on the train through the cave go to
To see a picture of the not so human-looking human fish look at
There is a Channel Five documentary presented by Nick Baker sees him go to Slovenia in search of the olm. I don't know if you can view this online anywhere but it was an excellent insight into this weird little creature and I learned loads more from watching this programme than I did in that vivarium!
Postojna Caves consist of 20 km of wondrously sculpted galleries, chambers and halls. Visitors are taken for a tour by a special cave train, accompanied by experienced guides and can admire their beauty under electric lighting. Postojna Caves are open all year round. A visit takes an hour and a half. The temperature inside the caves is a constant 8°C.