The Cango Caves South Africa
One of the greatest treasures to be found in the Little Karoo along the Garden Route, is
the Cango Caves in South Africa. Perhaps the earliest discoverers of this immense
5.3 kilometer long cave system were the San people who graced the entrance of the cave with beautiful
rock art some 10 000 years ago while living here. However, there is no evidence that the San penetrated
the caves much deeper than the large entrance – a task which would have been difficult at best for them.
Since 1891 when the cave was officially opened to tourists, many thousands of visitors have chosen to
explore the Cango Caves as part of a guided tour.
It all started when three brave men – Mr Van Zyl, Mr Oppel and Mr Windvogel – decided to explore the cave.
They promptly lowered Mr Van Zyl (since the cave was on his farm) down a precipice and into the cave. From
here he was able to make one of the most startling discoveries in South Africa at the time. By the light of
his home-made candle, he found that the cave was filled with all manner of fantastical stalactites. These
dramatic and colourful dripstone formations had taken eons to form and now they seemed to almost leak slowly
down from the ceiling of the cavern in impressive and beautiful cascades of limestone. The caverns were
extensive and no doubt took a long time to explore. Mr Van Zyl could never have dreamt of finding such an
impressive wealth of natural splendour when he entered the cavern that day.
On that day, the 11th of July 1780, these early adventurers discovered what is now known as Cave One. While
Mr Van Zyl no doubt recounted his adventures in the Cavern with some gusto to friends and family, he probably
never dreamt of opening the caves to the public. Tourism was a virtually unheard of commodity in those early
and difficult years. However, some 111 years later, this mysterious cave system was ready to be discovered by
the rest of the world. The first man to guide guests around the cavern was Johnny van Wassenaar. As the caves
grew in popularity, lights were installed to help guests see the beautiful rock formations more clearly. Research
was done into the formation of these dripping limestone deposits and people soon realised that the harsh lighting
was damaging the caves. Steps were taken to make the cave tours more environmentally friendly and this has had a
positive effect on tourism.
Over the course of the years, a further two chambers have been discovered and now guests can enjoy even more amazing
tours through the cave system. The largest cavern measures 107m across and 16m high. The entire cave system stays at a
fairly constant 18ºC and guests are encouraged to dress in light clothing. You can choose from an easy 30 minute tour
through two caverns, a one hour guided tour through eight chambers, or a roughly 90minute adventure tour where visitors
are required to wriggle through narrow passages and climb steep pipes. It is a good idea to be at least reasonably fit
before attempting the adventure tour. It is also advisable to book in advance for this as it is incredibly popular.
The Cango Caves in South Africa is one of the world’s great natural wonders. It has been estimated
that current stalactite formations were begun over 20 million years ago and that more continue to form even today. In
an effort to preserve this natural wonder, there are no facilities in the caves so it is advised that you take care of
possible nuisances before the tour starts. Tours take place daily and are conducted every hour though longer tours must
be booked for in advance. The tour guides are knowledgeable and their authority should be respected at all times. Smoking
in the caves is prohibited as is touching the formations or climbing them. Make sure that you don’t miss out on the world’s
finest stalactite cave!