Summer 2019 is almost over and I got my days off from work in the last week of August. It was a time well spent as I got to travel a lot and visit new places. I’m gonna take you on my quick trip to salt mine Wieliczka in Poland with me.
It’s been a while since I’ve been home at Slovakia, therefore the choice where to go from Prague was quite simple. My family convinced me to spend the whole of my holidays in Slovakia, but I had one condition though.
We were not to sit at home.
I bombarded our family chat with links and recommendations of what to visit nearby Slovakia. There’s plenty to see in our neighborhood even though I’m a sucker for long-distance travel.
My younger sister took the responsibility of preparing point by point plan of our wide adventure. She actually emailed us a word document with the time schedule and pinpoints. To be fair she was quite upset we did not memorize or at least printed out our plan.
It’s easy to create a plan. Much harder is to stick to it.
We prepared 2 countries and at least 8 major signs to see. To share it all with you is gonna take more than just one article. So much has happened. Now I’m gonna tell you all about our trip to the famous salt mine called Wieliczka.
Wieliczka is a small town in the south of Poland with one of the oldest salt mines in the world. It’s origin tracks back to the 13 century and nowadays is a popular tourist attraction as over one million tourists visit Wieliczka salt mine every year.
The start of our journey began at 3 in the morning when, my parents, my sister, and her boyfriend started our road trip. Unfortunately, my youngest sister was unable to take this trip with us as she had to work.
First stop: Salt mine Wieliczka
From my hometown of eastern Slovakia to Wieliczka town it took around 5 hours. We spend our time listening to the audio of Agata Christie’s detective stories and stand up comedy podcasts. Due to our early start, we arrived pretty early I would say, judging from the number of people we saw on our way out. From afar you could see many car parking spots and young boys in neon vests signing you to park there. Working on commission obviously.
Don’t worry you don’t have to park at the first one you see. For example, we continue further and we got a parking spot much closer to the salt mine entry. Parking costs 25 zlotys, aka the currency of Poland, which is like 0.25$ or 0.23€.
After a quick breakfast, we headed out of the parking lot to the Wieliczka salt mine. It was easy to find as it’s this big ass building with a huge fence around it. The whole orientation over the areal was pretty clearly marked and we went straight to the foreign language tickets.
The line in the morning was very short, just like 2 people in front of us. I was the spokesman for our group and it was so easy to communicate in English. We got tickets for 5 adults with English speaking tour guide that costed 95zlotys per person. There are certain places inside of the caves where you’re not allowed to take photographs unless you get a permit. Photography permit costs just 10 zlotys so we got one and it was worth the photos.
I and my family choose an English tour but there are other languages to choose from.
Obviously, polish, then Italian, French, German, Russian and Spanish. Polish and English were the most frequent so there was a new tour starting every 30 minutes. Therefore we didn’t have to wait long till our tour started. Other languages tours started like every 2-3 hours. Spanish for example just like 2-3 times per day.
On the inside, we got a recorder and one pair of headphones. We were told which frequency to type so we all hear our tour guide speaking into her device.
The tour guide was a young girl with very clean English and pronunciation.
The one you learn from school that’s very easy to understand even if you’re not a native speaker.
There was an obvious temperature difference from outside august day to 10-100 meters below the ground deep salt mine. To my surprise, it wasn’t as cold as I was expecting it to be. I was wearing jeans and a jacket and I was ok. After a while of walking, I even took my jacket off and walked around just in my tank top.
Tour begins with the hardest step. Well around 800 steps to be precise, as you’re about to walk down 55 floors. The whole way down would not be much of a problem but the wooden staircase goes in a circle and it’s all very narrow. Long story short you have to focus on each step very carefully and it’s hard to do when you get dizzy from going in circles. It took just like 5-8 minutes till we were all down below and the temperature lowered. My legs were shaking so much from all of those stairs and the more walking followed.
We moved through the mine as a group of around 20-25 people and the whole tour took 2,5 hours judging by the first photograph I took at 9:30 and the last at 12:00. Thank you apple, now it’s much easier for me to track my movement.
Wieliczka salt mine was beyond my expectations.
I didn’t think there would be many exciting things to see in a salt mine. Couldn’t ever imagine being interested in salt.
The great tour through the mines proved me wrong. It’s really hard to grasp the whole size of the mine as the visitors get to see just a glimpse of 1% of it all. Tourists are allowed to 3 floors of grand 9 floors below the ground. The distance is even more incomprehensive. Stunning 300 km long.
It takes hearing about how our ancestors actually dig through those tunnels to a whole new level. You get to hear how they made the chambers by blowing shit up. How they managed to bring horses into the mines. Tourists get to see actual devices people used to create all of their surroundings. Seeing huge ass barrels of slat that back in the day could be used to buy a whole village with people and livestock.
The whole experience is supported by visual aids and shows besides explanatory from the tour guide. We went from chamber to chamber, each named after an important person for polish history.
The most famous chamber got to be the wedding hall that’s just stunning. There were few of them actually. For obvious reasons, they were the most crowded ones. I was fascinated by the chandeliers that were made out of salt crystals. Just like the rest of the place that has been all made out of salt. The floors, the walls, the whole supporting system.
I’m sure you expect the place to be the clear white color as the salt is supposed to be, but those were the purest salt barrels missing the minerals that actually whiten them.
You are free to convince yourself of the salt origin of the walls. Lick them all.
But remember that each year those walls get licked by one million visitors. I personally didn’t dare. I was willing to taste the salty mineral water erupting in the caves. One drop that was so concentrated and salty I couldn’t even swallow it.
Along our tour, we came across more stairs and we kept going deeper and deeper. The original salt stairs were so slippery we had to be extra careful. More so when the tour guide told us that back in the day, when there was no proper ventilation in the caves and it got very hot, the stairs that got very slippery caused several accidents and even death on miners.
More death stories were heard when we came across one of the salty lakes inside the Wieliczka salt mine. Some time ago the part of the tourist attraction was a boat trip over the salty lake. One day a group of 7 people were enjoying themselves and rocking the boat. Unfortunately, they rolled over and due to the incredibly high saturation of the water, they were unable to swim up and drowned in the mines. The attraction is now forbidden.
A lot of action for a salt mine don’t you think?
Wieliczka is definitely more interesting than it seems.
I was expecting to feel some pressure difficulties as we were so deep underground, but nothing happened. Little kids were able to take part in the tour and there are even special tours for families with kids. Also, to my big surprise, even handicapped people or people in wheelchairs are free to take the tour. It’s much different from the regular one and they are getting all the way down by elevator, but the halls are wide enough for everyone to enjoy.
Along the way, we had 2 bigger breaks. One at the main wedding hall, to look around and take photos. Then in the middle of the tour in another big chamber where we could use toilets, but those were along the way as well. There were also smaller shops with food, drinks or souvenirs. You could buy packs of pure salt, salt crystals, jewelry made out of salts, bath salts, and beauty products made out of salt.
My favorite was the display of different salt crystals.
We parted our ways with our guide and group in another shop chamber by the end of our tour. We were left with several options. There is a lift back to where we were already for some extra money. We could also continue with the tour to the lower level on our own but as the tour guide explained, there are not chamber mostly just salty halls. The best to see is already on the floors we’ve been to. And at least we could follow the signs out.
We choose the last option and headed out as our schedule was quite busy and we were already late for our next stop. I couldn’t leave without getting myself a magnet from the place. There is even a buffet restaurant in the Wieliczka salt mine where we got quick lunch. Then we followed the exit signs until we get to the last big chamber where we were picked up by the tour guide.
Luckily there are no more steps to conquer on the way up.
Another tour guide lead us through the labyrinth of salt mine halls to the elevator. Thank God the guide was with us cuz it was such a maze.
The elevator was just a small iron square space that is supposed to carry 15 people. No propper closing door, just something like a barrier. We were all squished together and another wave of dizziness followed. We were up in an unbelievable 30 seconds but I had to keep my eyes closed the whole time.
On our way back we hung up the recorder and headphones, went through another gift shop, and were out of the building. That’s when the huge crowd of people hit us. I definitely, recommend getting to Wieliczka much earlier in the morning to avoid waiting in the line.
To sum it up.
It costed us around 200zlotys with parking, tickets, food, drinks, and souvenirs. Took us 3 hours with parking and toilet breaks. The temperature inside the mine is around 17°C and I would recommend taking a jacket just in case. There is no bigger baggage allowed. I had a small backpack and they didn’t even search it.
Worth it. Never knew salt could be that interesting.