The Unphotographable Jeita Grotto

Between midnight mezze meals and afternoon beers I found that from Beirut, you can take a day trip to virtually any part of Lebanon. From Beirut you head north for an hour or two and hit the ruins of Byblos or the typically Middle Eastern destination of Tripoli, with it’s souks and old charm. Head south to the seaside fort at Saida or down to Tyre, again just a short hour or so from Beirut. It’s a small country, one you can explore quite extensively in a week, although Beirut itself can easily take up that much time on its own.

A Sculpture in Lebanon

A Sculpture in Lebanon, outside of the Jeita Grotto

 

I found myself wondering what to do for a 1/2 day after recovering from a late night in the city that was once called the Paris of the Middle East. The choice was the Jeita Grotto. Something I’d suggest anyone to visit if you happen to be in Lebanon.

Grotto. It’s kind of a boring word, I’ve never really been attracted to other grottos, they’re all pretty much the same aren’t they? Maybe some have more interesting caves or wall paintings or whatever, but the Jeitta Grotto is heralded throughout Lebanon as their greatest natural wonder…well, maybe second to their biblically famous cedar trees. The Jeita Grotto though, is worth seeing.

Train Ride in Jeita

A fun little Train Ride that you take between caves at the Jeita Grotto

 

So heading off to the grotto, again just a short drive form Beirut, I couldn’t help but get excited. Billboards and flyers and websites hailed it as one of Lebanon’s best attractions! With such hype, it had to be good, right?

I arrived at the grotto stoked to check out this natural attraction. If you’re wondering exactly what a grotto is, well in this case the Jeita Grotto is an immense cave complex of stalactites and stalagmites. Massive open air caves where the temperature stays steady throughout the year and water drips down through a mountain into these caves. The upper level has crazy stalactites that look like lions and giants, quite the place for an active imagination. The lower level is flooded with water so you need to take a boat ride around to stare at the hundred or thousand year old stalactites.

It’s all lit up beautifully too, giving the cave complex an eerie and magical feel. You really should see it. I’d show you my pictures to convince you, but I can’t. You see, for all of its hype, you’re not allowed to take any photos of the Jeita Grotto in Lebanon. I really wish I knew that before I got sucked in by all the pretty billboards and posters.

Guardian of Time at Jeita Grotto

The Guardian of Time sculpture outside of the Jeita Grotto

 

Upon arriving at the site, you’re promptly directed to lockers to store your cameras. If you think sneaking in a camera phone or small digital camera is going to work, think again. The employees, who look more like security guards, are stationed about every 50 feet throughout the caves…scoping out everyone, on the lookout for image taking devices.

It is a photo-worthy place. Better than any grotto I’ve seen in Central America, North America or Asia (although I could take photos in all of those).

Talking to the people there, it makes sense you wouldn’t want bright flashes going off in the cavernous grotto tunnels all the time, but the fact that no photography is allowed…ever…even without a flash seems a bit extreme.

If you don’t make it there, not to worry, there are plenty of other photo-friendly grottos around the world.

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About Red Hunt

A former journalist and business analyst that now works in the world of travel marketing. Based in Toronto, Red Hunt has travelled to more than 40 countries over the past 10 years. You can follow Red on Twitter @redhunttravel.