The cave system near Divača in western Slovenia has seen tourist visits rise by nearly 20% so far this year, with the biggest increase in interest among foreign guests.
From January to July over 67,500 people visited Škocjan Caves, 52,000 of those coming from abroad, mostly from Europe. The site is expected to host around 120,000 visitors this year, making it the second most visited natural site in the country.
While the visitor figures pale in comparison to those of Postojna Cave, which welcomes more than half a million guests each year, it represents a significant burden on what has for nearly 30 years been an internationally protected site.
The six kilometre underground cave system, which is described as the natural pearl of the Kras region, is Slovenia's only site on the UNESCO list of world natural heritage, entered there in 1986.
Balancing conservation with tourism access is therefore the biggest challenge facing the Škocjan Caves Regional Park Authority, which manages the cave system and surrounding park.
To respond to the rising tourism numbers, the park authority has invested in upgrading infrastructure allowing visitors to experience the caves in a sustainable way. Much of the money for this has come from EU funds.
Guided tours are also distributed across the whole day to balance the number of visitors inside the cave at anyone time, the park authority has told the STA.
In an effort to provide tourists with a wholesome experience, the authority has also focused on enabling side activities and providing information outside of the cave itself, including with a new info point and museum.
As part of efforts to expand its offering to tourists, the park will also host a series of events in August, including exhibitions, ethnological workshops, and Jamnarkult, a biennial festival of scientific and documentary films.
Cave tourism is an increasingly important activity in a country in which nearly half of all territory is of Karst landscape. Scientists estimate that Slovenia boasts around 10,000 caves of various shapes and sizes.
A total of 22 caves in the country are registered to host organised visits, with the Postojna Cave and Škocjan Caves being the most popular among them.
Postojna Cave has until recently also been considered the longest cave, measuring 20.57 kilometres in length, but in 2012 an underground system in the Julian Alps was found to measures more, at close to 25 kilometres.