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Tour Review: A visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Krakow, Poland

Monday, August 24, 2015

Let me prelude this post with an apology for the image quality, my camera was not enjoying the dark cave ambiance as much as I was - but boy was I enjoying it! Some people like to space out their time when traveling; I am not one of these people. Instead I specifically pre-plan my days to optimize the number of experiences I can include as I like to give all people, places and things - no matter how small or large, near or far, popular or unpopular - a chance to surprise me and show me what they're made up. When I originally booked my tour to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, I knew nothing about it. However, within minutes of climbing down the 800 steps into the salt mine I knew that this was an experience I was going to cherish for a long time coming as the UNESCO site showed me that it was made of much more than salt. From a history dating back to 13th century, magnificent chapel chambers chiseled out in rock salt, visits from famous astronomers (e.g. Copernicus), underground saline lakes as salty as the Dead Sea and detailed salt sculptures, Wieliczka Salt Mine has it all.

They say if you were to walk the whole mine it would take you 3 months. Luckily for us tourists, there is a route which allows you to see all the highlights of the site in just 3 hours. The journey begins in the Danilowicz Shaft, where your guide fills you in on both the facts and folklore associated with the mines, such as the Legend of Kinga. According to this legend, before marring the King of Krakow, the Hungarian princess Kinga asked for a salt mine as her dowry, as salt was extremely scare in Poland. In response to her request, her father provided a salt mine. Before leaving for Poland, Kinga threw her ring into her father's salt mine. Then upon arriving in Krakow, Kinga asked the people to dig a deep pit. Whilst digging, the people found a salt crystal with Kinga's ring wrapped around it. As they kept digging, more of what we today call Wieliczka Salt Mine was uncovered. As you continue meandering further and deeper into the mine, you are allowed priceless insights into the lives of the miners over the past 700 years as you are treated to demonstrations of many of the machinery tools used in the mine as well as an array of salt sculptures carved by the miners to pass the time.

About half-way through the tour you will reach the gem of the salt mine - the Chapel of St Kinga. On first appearances the charm of the chapel is its grandiosity, however on closer inspection the true beauty of this chamber is in the details with everything from the chandeliers to the religious art constructed from salt. Although upon leaving the chapel you might be physically heading down from here, your enjoyment levels will not be. From the offering of moments of complete serenity as you listen to the classical workings of Chopin as a light show is performed synchronously over one of the saline lakes to more chapels and salt chandeliers, plenty more moments of splendor await for you during the second half the journey. By the end of the tour, you would have descended 135 metres below the surface and meandered through 3km of the salt mine. But don't worry there exists an elevator that transports you ALL 135 metres back up to the real world.

How to get here
I visited the salt mine as part of a full-day tour with Discover Cracow which also went to Auschwitz. I would definitely recommend this tour to any independent travelers to Krakow as it was extremely well-organised and the tour guides at both sites were not only well informed but delivered this information with the up most passion and clarity. Topdeck travel also offer a stop at the mines on their tours through Poland.  Of course, if you have a car on hand, a self-guided half-day trip to the mine is also possible as they lie just a 30-minute drive from central Krakow.

Have you visited the Salt Mines? Tell me about the experience below :)