Visiting The Ialomitei Cave – Jewel of the Carpathians

Visiting The Ialomitei Cave – Jewel of the Carpathians

Any traveler can tell you; when you make plans, god laughs.  Friday morning I got up extra early and began the 2.5 hour drive to a major Romanian landmark; the Sphinx.  Well, I got to the area right on time and found that the snow was still blocking the pass and the road was not-yet-driveable.  That’s what happens when you try to visit a mountaintop in April!  Fortunately, the area had many signs for local curiosities you can also visit.  That’s how I decided I’d be visiting the Ialomitei Cave.  While I am more than determined to see the Sphinx (maybe in May?) I am so happy I wound up visiting this hidden curiosity.  Here’s why:

ialomitei cave, prahova, romania
The countryside leading up to the caves, on the border of Prahova and Dambovita Counties.

First, the History:

Very little information was actually available when I visited the caves, so I was on a Google mission when I got home.  The Ialomitei Cave (pronounced Yah-lo-mee-tsa) has a very sordid and interesting past.  It was initially formed in the Late Jurassic period by a tributary of the Ialomita River (which translates roughly to ‘Tears River”).  Carved from mostly limestone, this cave is found in the Bucagi Mountains (Boo-chech) with the nearest town being Moroieni (last pronunciation: Moro-yen).  The peak which hosts the Sphinx, another of Romania’s natural tourist sites, can be seen in the distance as you hike up the mountain pass to reach the cave.

The first mention of the cave is in 1793, but only in 1953 was an actual exploration and mapping project completed.  Deep underground, what is believed to be some of the last fossils of Cave Bears were found in a gallery now called “Bears’ Hall”.  The Dacian’s, an ancient civilization which lived in what is now Romania, believed that their sun-god, Zamolxe, inhabited this space and gifted the water in the cave to the Dacians.  Other notables who used the cave for shelter was Wallachia Mihnea Voda the Evil, monks who built a monastery to Saint Apostles Peter and Paul, Archbishop Vasile Costin of Targoviste, and Saint Andrew.  So, this was a happening place throughout most of history.

ialomitei cave, prahova, romania
The border signs of Prahova and Dambovita. See where all the travelers left a sticker?

The water found at the end of the cave is scientifically proven to be amazingly clear of bacteria and nitrates.  The theories behind why ranges from underground silver deposits the water flows over before coming to the surface, to the water being a gift from the Dacian god, to the water being at the center of a spiritual ‘hot spot’ so it is cleansed of evils.  No matter which belief you hold, it’s a pretty neat place to explore.

This information was found mostly from Agentia Nationala de Presa Agerpress, which publishes informational topics over Romania.

The Journey:

On the hike up I was saying, “This is a terrible idea.”  Ankle deep in mud and snow will make you think these kinds of thoughts.  Fortunately the cave more than made up for it, and I was glad I made the trip.

ialomitei cave, prahova, romania
A lake I found along the way, with some excellent stops for food and coffee. The damn which creates this lake is a nice walk, as well.

The cave is about a two and a half hour drive from Brasov, sometimes over quite rough road.  I had a tiny Fiat, which technically made it, but I wouldn’t recommend someone going who didn’t have 4-wheel drive.  I also wound up parking and hiking from the wrong spot.  Apparently leaving your car in a mud-pile and hiking through a road under construction isn’t normally recommended, so there is an easier road to approach the hiking trail (which is somewhat paved).  What I’m trying to say: the road was rough and I feared for the life of my car more than once, so drive carefully.

Where I parked the car; in the middle of nowhere. I don’t recommend this place for parking, but no one touched it while it was there, also.
ialomitei cave, prahova, romania
On the way up the mountain I passed over this stream several times. It’s a beautiful hike, if a little muddy still.

Approaching the cave entrance was a fantastic monastery entrance, with the graves of several past monks being visible on the hike.  Some sources say one of these graves is unnaturally hot, but I didn’t find anything abnormal.  The entrance overlooks a fantastic waterfall and canyon system where the cave is located, and would be the perfect place for a picnic.  Apparently, this monastery has burned down four times, and has been rebuilt each time, so this work is not original.

ialomitei cave, prahova, romania
Entrance to the cave site, which was built 4 times. Once for every time it burned.

Inside is a smaller worship place with a small spring of the pure water of the Ialomitei River.  The entrance fee is 10 lei per person, which includes a hard hat, brochure (in English and Romanian) and full run of the cave.  There is no ATM nearby, so be sure to bring lei with you if you’d like to get in.

ialomitei cave, prahova, romania
Smaller worship site inside the entrance.
ialomitei cave, prahova, romania
A carving which covers a man-made spring, where waters from the underground river come.
The cave requires lots of climbing, stairs, tight spaces, slippery surfaces, and often walking while bent down.  If you have claustrophobia or do not have excellent mobility, I would not recommend going on this trip.  It is also extremely wet in the cave and you may have your equipment damaged by water falling from the ceiling, if not from the humidity.  Please wear the hard hats provided.
The wider entrance which is the mouth of the cave. This was manually widened many years ago.

The Cave:

Walking into the Ialomitei cave, I was immediately greeted with water falling steadily from the cave ceiling.  This continued throughout my visit, and definitely made photo-taking difficult.  Past the first gallery, where the majority of people who lived in the cave stayed, the tunnel widens and closes in unexpectedly.  I had a hard time imagining how the people who initially explored it managed to stay safe in the Ialomitei’s twists and turns.  Away from the mouth of the cave the tunnels must stay in complete darkness, the people who first found the Cave Bear skulls must have been terrified.

A part of the cave where both the water level rises above the scaffolding, and the cave ceiling drops under 5 feet.
ialomitei cave, prahova, romania
Just a sample of what you have in store when visiting the Ialometei Caves.

Walking through the sturdy plastic platforms and stairs, it often is necessary to bend down completely to make it through the low ceilings.  In some places the rising water levels overwhelm the platforms so extra wooden planks are strategically placed.  Throughout all of this, the steady drip of water is constant but otherwise silent.  Frequently having to duck below low ceilings or protect my camera from the constant water, it felt like I turned a corner and suddenly found myself in an enormous cavern.

The stairway leading down Bears’ Hall.

This is the Bears’ Hall, where they found the fossils of the now-extinct Cave Bear.  This cavern is free from water and has a gravely floor that would have made it better for living in.  Following this cavern to its end, I found the source of the spring in the cave, which had become a sort of shrine.

ialomitei cave, prahova, romania
Crosses left by visitors to the source of the spring.

While Christian Orthodox symbols now decorate this area, in the Dacian times it would have been a shrine to Zamolxe.  Nonetheless, with the low ceiling, Christian icons, and constant flow of the spring (which disappears into the underground tunnels of the cave) all make it an intimidating and memorable experience.  For anyone who has watched 13th Warrior (1999), I’m pretty sure this cave featured in the story creation.

ialomitei cave, prahova, romania
Icons, tokens, and pictures left for spring.

Backtracking from the spring source, I went back through the Bears’ Hall and took the opposite fork, which leads to another outlet of the spring.  This one is not the placid waterfall of the Shrine, but is a raging waterfall which looks like it will burst through the boulders and crash through the cave.  To be honest, I was a little afraid to fully approach it, since the force of the water looked barely in check.  This is where people used to go to collect the pure water which the Ialomitei cave is known for.

ialomitei cave, prahova, romania
Not included in this picture: the sound of my imminent death.

Once again, I head back towards the entrance, every inch of the cave searched.  In all, it took about one hour but the cave can be thoroughly enjoyed within two hours for even the slowest movers.  The hike back down is about another forty minutes, and should be done before dark.  There are still bears in Romania’s forests that sometimes like meeting people.

While I did not expect to go underground, I’m so glad that I was forced to go exploring off the beaten path.  I doubt many people would mention this landmark when making Romanian bucket list, but it should definitely be on yours.



23 thoughts on “Visiting The Ialomitei Cave – Jewel of the Carpathians”

  • Romania is one of my favourite countries in the world. I spend three weeks there and can’t wait to go back again this year. Unfortunately, I had not evern heard about Ialamitei Cave. It’s fascinating to know that the cave site entrance was built 4 times after every time it got burned. What’s the reason for cave being so hot?

    • HI Archana! Funnily enough, I can’t find a single reference as to why it burned down. All I can find is a bunch of references to the monks’ cells being expanded each time. I’m guessing it has something to do with secluded area and open fires typical of the construction plans. Or maybe the monks loved their wine and bonfires 😉

      I’m glad another Romanian Fanatic has found the site, let me know if you find any good stops I should visit!

  • I don’t normally like visiting caves as its pretty claustrophobic but I would probably follow your journey if I would find it that way 🙂 what an adventure!:) Ive never been in Romania, I actually didn’t know that you can find there such a hidden gems! Great photos!

    • Thanks, Ada! It isn’t all caves here, but I’m glad you could visit vicariously this amazing place. I hope you find your way here some time!

  • Great article! …amazing attention to factual detail … never been on my own bucket list to visit caves ..but will certainly think about it now! 🙂

    • Hi Lia, thanks for checking this out. It’s definitely a more interesting visit, so if you like the article be sure to put them somewhere on your list.

  • Romania is my favourite country and I would love to visit these caves. I couldn’t go to the cave near Cluj-Napoca due to the weather, where there’s a ferris wheel inside (I can’t remember what it’s called.) I love a happy accident and I’m glad you did too!

    • Salina Turda!? Yes! They are next up on my list, but they require a stay overnight to really enjoy 😉

      These are more low-key and they don’t have a spa near them, unfortunately, but they are much less trafficked. For sure next time you come out you should hit them up! Thanks for stopping by!

  • I really want to go to Romania sometime soon, it looks so beautiful. The caves look really interesting but it sounds like half of the fun was getting there! The lakes and the hills and the pine tree’s in the snow are so picturesque.

    • Hi Nicola! Come! Romania is really surprisingly diverse, and it offers a lot of different things to do. Bucharest has fantastic nightclubs and restaurants, the countryside has some of the best hiking I’ve seen. And it’s extremely affordable! If you wind up coming out, please give me a message, I’ll show you the best Brasov spots!

  • Well this a great article , travel plans are made to be screwed up and usually after that you get to find something amazing and like in this case less touristic mainstream sites!
    I ‘ve been to Romania but for sure i need to see more of it.
    Thanks for sharing it!

  • Snow in April is disappointing, especially when it blocks the entrance to the place you’ve come to visit hehe. But I am glad that you decided to explore around the area and landed at this lovely cave. Happy accident, as you call it. Does look amazing 🙂

  • I have seen many limestone caves in Thailand and Nort east India but Ialomitei Cave is like no where else. Infact this is the first time I read about this destination. I have added this to my list. I love to know about new places it only affirms that there is so much to explore.

  • Romania is certainly one of the more underrated travel destinations which I would love to visit in the future. I guess it’s the things that we do not plan and do not expect that make for interesting conversations and stories after the trip!

  • Yay! bad things turned good, and enjoying the unexpected… that’s what travelling is all about indeed. Glad you managed to stumble into a gem. The church in particular is really curious and awesome.

  • It’s great that you found such an amazing place by accident. While I feel sorry for you weren’t able to visit Sphinx, I am glad you made up to the Ialomitei Caves. The entrance of the cave is beautiful and so are the caves from inside. It’s great that such comfortable walkways are made and the cave is well lit up. Everything seems clean and maintained. Great clicks.a

  • This is awesome. You just need not be worried. Everyone traveling to Romania, would have seen Sphinx, but you’ve seen the specialty that hardly any others would have done.
    I get your feel about leaving the car in the middle of nowhere. I once left my bike, When I came back, luckily the bike was there (though the snack bag was missing! Lolz!)…

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