Cetatile Ponorului Cave - Padis area
Cetatile Ponorului Cave - Padis area

Cetățile Ponorului is the name of what is to be considered one of Romania’s natural wonders.

travel guide romania - Cetatile Ponorului cave

Length: 3800 m

Altitude: 950 m

Coordinates: 46°33′50″N, 22°42′11″E

Location: Bihorului Mountains, Apuseni Natural Park

Discovery: 1886

 First of all the name of „Stronghold of the Ponor/Cetățile Ponorului”, refers to what is to be considered the surface sector of a karst topography of three enormous limestone basins called doline.

The central basin represents the closure of Văii Cetăților („The Strongholds’ Valley”) that looks like plunging into the bottom of a sack.

The trough of this valley ends at the bottom of a 100 m tall wall and a sort of a portal of 70 m height cuts out into it. For this geological formation it is easy to surprise any tripper with its breathtaking grandeur.

Unanimously considered as the grandest karst topography/phenomenon from Romania, Cetățile Ponorului represent the main attraction within Padiș area. It’s one of Romania most important caves.

The cave is found in the South area of the basin, at the end of Văii Cetăților which organizes the flow of its springs found in Poiana Bălăleasa.

The access into Padiș area can be achieved through:

  1. Oradea > Beiuș > Pietroasa > Boga > Padiș plateau. The road distance is of aprox. 110 km.

  2. Cluj-Napoca > Huedin > Răchițele > Doda Pilii > Padiș plateau. The road distance is of aprox. 110 km.

Once you get to the Padiș area, follow the tourist route marked with a blue spot  which lasts around 5 or 6 hours.

Route: Padiș chalet – Poiana Ponor – Scărița gravel road – Cetățile Ponorului chalet – Cetățile Ponorului – La Grajduri – Padiș chalet.

You can start your route from Glavoi glade.

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Bihorului Mountains – Apuseni Nature Park

The watercourse that formed this grand karst topography finds its origins in the waters gathered from the surroundings of Padiș area. Here, along the Trânghiești stream it is possible to notice how, after a few hundred meters, it disappears into a ponor after encountering in its course Triassic carbonate rocks.

travel guide romania - Bihorului Mountains
Ponor Area Glade – Apuseni Nature Park

After a underground route unexplored by speleologists, but marked at the surface by numerous dolines, the stream reappers in Izbucul from Poiana Ponor – a very well known landmark of padis.Here, Triassic carbonate rocks and dolomites leave the place to Jurassic carbonates.

At the end of of the river from Poiana Ponor, the stream disappears again being swallowed by whirlpools and reappears under the portal of Cetățile Ponorului.

   travel guide romania - Cetatile Ponorului  track to Cetatile Ponorului Cave - Apuseni Mountains

Once you get to the portal, which is in Dolina I, you have two options to continue:

  • touristic crossing of the cave which can be made either when the water level is very low in order to avoid getting wet, or with rubber high boots or water-repellant shoes (boots). Also, at least one source of light per person it is mandatory (!).
travel guide romania - Bihorului Mountains
Cavers at Cetatile Ponorului cave entrance

At the base of the portal, you also have the option to visit Dolina II, one of the beautiful limestones of Cetățile, that it is fully closed.

Caving in Apuseni - Cetatile Ponorului cave

In this area (left side of the entrance of the cave) you may also observe the affluent which flows into Cetăți, from Caput cave.

It may be visited only by speleologists with proper equipment: neoprene, helmet with electric light, neoprene socks and gloves. Having a neoprene hood would be very useful, because the water is very cold (5 degrees C).

Caving in Cetatile Ponorului - Apuseni Natural Park

Continue following the blue spot on the iron ladder which will lead you to Dolina III.

travel guide romania - Apuseni Nature Park  Dolina 3 - Cetatile Ponorului cave

There will be a path that takes you to a second entrance of the cave, from where you can make a backwards route into the cave, or you can go up a scree. The terrain is pretty rough and it takes you on the Southern side of the doline throught a 200 m slope.

travel guide romania - Apuseni Nature Park

After 30 min, you get at the upper part of the track. The route continues on the brims of Dolina I and III.

travel guide romania - Apuseni Nature Park  Track route to Cetatile Ponorului cave

The areas of the cave which are not marked for ordinary tourists, is recommended to be visited only by professional speleologists.

Recommended equipment:

> fully neoprene equipment, special boots for humid terrain/caves, helmet with electric lights (!Note: in Romania, using lamps with acetylene is forbidden)

> food, extra lighting source, a watertight bottle and a foil survival blanket.

>  2 ropes of aprox. 25 m which will be mounted in two places. This way the return of the speleologists will be very much eased. You will find (metallic) plates- bolts in which you may easily mount carabiners.

travel guide romania - Apuseni Nature Park
Entrance 2 – cetatile Ponorului cave

! If the water level is above normal, it is recommended that the group should NOT carry on with the route. Also, if the water level is too high, it is recommended to mount ropes in three places; this way you will avoid a difficultieson your way back. You will need one 30 m rope and minimum 15 carabiners for this route.

Entrance of Cetatile Ponorului Cave - Apuseni Natural Park
Entrance of Cetatile Ponorului Cave – Apuseni Natural Park

Acces in the cave for speleological teams

According to the access procedure of Apuseni Natural Park you will have to get approvals from:

1.  Speleological Patrimony Committee

2. “Salvaspeo” Rescue Team Service, Bihor County

3. Apuseni Natural Park Administration

Cetatile Ponorului Cave - Bihorului Mountains
Cetatile Ponorului Cave – Bihorului Mountains

Although in older books it is mentioned that you may cross the cave by boat at the moment it’s better to use neoprene suit.

On the map 13 lakes are signaled but actually, at the moment, there are only 6 areas where you have to swim. The flash floods have reconfigured the floorof the cave. So, it wouldn’t be advisable to carry with you your inflatable boat.

Given its configuration, crossing the cave in neoprene equipment would be more practical and fun.

Caving in Cetatile Ponorului - Romania
Caving in Cetatile Ponorului – Romania

Leave your luggage at the entrance, in Sala Taberei (“Camping Chamber”).

The cave’s gallery is astonishing and it is 30 m high.

The depth of the watercourse varies: it can either reach your knees, or force you to swim. If you wish to reach the final siphon, make sure you know how to swim.

Caves of Romania - Cetatile Ponorului
Caves of Romania – Cetatile Ponorului

One of the most interesting halls of the cave is the Venetian gallery, with very clear blue waters. The gallery holds one of the mentioned lakes. The walls, covered in stalagmites courtains increase its beauty.

In the chamber of the bivouac you may observe the platform where the great explorers of this cave spent their nights.

Bihorului Mountains - Apuseni Nature Park

travel guide romania - Cetatile Ponorului cave

The first exploration of the underground watercourse was made on a length of 200m in 1927, by P.A. Chappuis, R. Jeannel, V. Pușcariu. 

The efforts to advance throughout the active gallery were initiated again in 1949 by Institutul de speologie din Cluj/ The Speleology Institute (M. Șerban, D. Coman and I. Viehmann).

The expedition in Cetatile Ponorului cave continued until 1957 when, in collaboration with a climber team lead by Emilian Criștea, the final siphonwas reached.

In the following years, the explorations reached to 1700 m from the entrance.

Cetățile Ponorului are the ”scene” of various expeditions held by speleologist from all over the country and from abroad (France, Switzerland, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia).

Cetatile Ponorului cave - Apuseni mountains

The final wall was climbed 120m (compared to the portal that has only 70 m), but they never reached the top, so it is an open work place for speleologists.

Near the final lake there are a few plates in the memory of these great explorers.

Exploring the caves of Apuseni mountains

The first mapping of the underground watercourse was realized in 1971 by a Romanian-French expedition.

In 1977-1979 the “Speodava” group from Ștei city establishes the total length of the cave at 3800 m.

travel guide romania - Cetatile Ponorului cave

The great amount of water occasionally brings many logs that are caught between the gallery walls.

Depending on the water volume and its flow, a speleological expedition may last between 4 and 10 hours.

During the periods in flash floods and downpours, the cave becomes impracticable.

   travel guide romania - Cetatile POnorului cave  travel guide romania - Cetatile Ponorului cave

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