Advantages A pleasant experience. Inexpensive. Easy to reach from Oudtshoorn. Nice restaurant.
Disadvantages The Adventure Tour wasn't enjoyable.
|Value for Money|
|Ease of getting around|
I visited Cango Caves in Oudtshoorn, South Africa, in January 2010 when I was visiting South Africa (for the second time) with my sister. We were driving from Cape Town to George and so we were looking for places to stop off along the way - and as we were driving through Oudtshoorn then Cango Caves seemed like a good place to make a scheduled stop.
The Cango Caves are a series of limestone show caves that have been known and celebrated in Oudtshoorn since the Stone Age - and have been a place for tourist to visit the 1800's (although I'm sure it wasn't as developed as a tourist attraction back then!). They hold the record of being South Africa's oldest tourist attraction and, as such, they are a firm favourite on the tourist trail. I have visited show caves in several countries, including some of the worlds most renowned show caves (such as Waitomo Glowworm Cave, Ali Sadr Cave, Velebit Caves) and these show caves are probably the most beautiful and inspiring I have visited. This cave system is known to be very extensive and it is worth mentioning that only a relatively small part of the known cave system is accessible to the public - although what is accessible to the public is definitely worth seeing.
The caves are not the easiest place to get to unless you're planning to stay or make a stop in Oudtshoorn. Oudtshoorn is a smallish town in the Klein Karoo, which is a desert type area of South Africa which could be compared to "the outback". Having said that, Oudtshoorn is situated on the legendary Route 62 which is the most picturesque route that can be taken from Cape Town down to the start of the equally legendary Garden Route - and so despite being a small town, it does get its fair share of foreign visitors.Driving the Route 62 from Cape Town to Oudtshoorn is about 300 miles (and takes about 5 hours) - and then from Oudtshoorn to George it is about another 50 miles. Although the drive from Cape Town to Oudtshoorn is quite a long drive, it is a beautiful drive and is not taxing as most of the roads are straight with fairly little traffic. If you leave Cape Town by 6am then you can easily be in Oudtshoorn by lunchtime and then this gives you the a good part of the day to spend in the town if you are planning to move on to one of the towns on the start of the Garden Route.
The Cango Caves are just outside of Oudtshoorn and they are will signposted once you get to Oudtshoorn. There is plenty of parking at the caves themselves. If you happen to go to South Africa without planning to drive (I really really recommend that you drive!!) then there are day tours you can book from Oudtshoorn - but this means rocking up in a coach and you're therefore likely to be in a very big group when you go into the caves and that may take away from the experience.Oudtshoorn does have other tourist attractions that are within about a 20 minute drive of the caves. There are several ostrich farms (I recommend Rietfontein Ostrich Palace) and a type of zoo called Cango Wildlife Ranch (which I don't recommend unless you have little kids).
As I said, if you're planning to visit the caves, you must book onto a tour as you are not allowed into the caves unguided. I think this is partly because of safety issues and partly because I'm sure they don't want the caves to get too busy at any one time. There are two tour options that you can book - the "Standard Tour" and the "Adventure Tour". Everyone does the Standard Tour and then for those who wish then they can also progress on to the Adventure Tour. We did the Standard Tour and the Adventure Tour.Both tours have a guide that speaks excellent English and who tell you interesting facts about the caves as you walk through. They seem knowledgeable and they were also very friendly and professional.
The Standard Tour takes you into the largest and the most easily accessible of the caverns. Having said that, even to do the standard tour you need to be relatively mobile as there are steps involved and the group is rocky and uneven. I wouldn't take very young kids in there or any person who finds mobility difficult. We didn't have kids with us at the time, but having down the tour I would say that the standard tour is okay for kids who are 8 years old or older (I think the younger kids may struggle a little and if they fall they could really hurt themselves).The first cavern you come to is called Van Zyl's Hall (the name of the first modern day explorer who helped put the caves on the map) and it is a very impressive cavern. The first thing I noticed about it is that it is absolutely huge and far bigger than any cavern I can remember being in. The dimensions are about 110m x 50m x 18m - which may not sound all that big, but for a cavern I can tell you it feels massive. This cavern is remarkable not only for its size, but also for the beautiful dripstone structures, in particular Cleopatras Needle which is 10m high and the impressive structure known as the Pulpit of a Great Cathedral. All of the structures of note are subtly lit by spotlight but not in a way that bathes the cavern in an overpowering light. The lighting is down sensitively and manages to keep an intimate atmosphere within the cavern. We were given time to wonder around the cavern and take a look at the various formations - both as a group or independently if you preferred. Then, as a group, we moved through to Botha's Hall.
Botha's Hall is a smaller cavern but one that actually I found to be more impressive that the first as there were many more formations over a smaller area. With a little imagination you can see the "Madonna and Child" and the "Three Wise Men". I did think that the formations really did look like the nativity scene and there was more than one person that uttered the phrase ".....it makes you wonder...". Regardless of whether you make these formations look like any religious scenes or not, the images within the cavern are very impressive and absolutely beautiful.You then go into the Rainbow Chamber which was probably my least favourite of the rooms as it was quite narrow and it felt a bit crowded with us all in it. Large areas of the cave were also roped off and so you couldn't really wander about and decide where you wanted to look. For me, this room felt a little inauthentic as it was overly lit and tried to make it more spectacular than it was - and it didn't really need to have coloured lights etc.
The remaining rooms are quite small and so you move through them fairly swiftly, but having said that they are worth seeing. To get down to The Bridal Chamber you need to go down some pretty steep stairs, but it is beautiful and looks like it has been ornately crafted by craftsman instead of by nature itself. The Drum Room, which is the last cavern on the tour (and the smallest and least spectacular I think) has structures within it that if you "play" and strike like a drum will resonate for a long way.This room marks the end of the standard tour. I would estimate that from beginning to end it takes about one hour and doesn't involve any strenuous activity. It was enjoyable and even beautiful in parts, and I think the whole cave system that is accessible on the standard tour is very well done with minimal artificial intervention. Sure, there is some lighting which helps you to view the cave, and there is are some roped off areas and some decking - but this seems to have been kept to as little as possible and it only seems to be such interventions when it's necessary.
At the end of the Standard Tour, you descend deeper into the cave system and end up in Lumbago Alley and as a small part of this alley is just over a meter tall, you will need to get down on your hands and knees - and its quite rough. At the end of here is the Crystal Palace which is basically a small cavern which has crystal style drip formations that look quite pretty. It is noticeably colder down here and wetter - but it's still well lit and I think this helps with the claustraphobia.From Lumbago Alley, you descend even lower down some even steeper steps into King Solomon's Mines - where there are more interestingly shaped formations - although I do have to say that at this point my interest was starting to wane a little.
After King Solomon Mines was where I really started to decide that I'd made the wrong choice to do the adventure part of the tour. From here, I needed to climb down a ladder into a very small tunnel which meant crawling as parts of this tunnel are really very narrow (30cm!) and very low (75cm). I did not enjoy this at all and I really hadn't expected such a narrow tunnel - and really felt more warning should have been given. Although the tunnel was pretty short, this part was slow going and just not enjoyable! Once you get out of this tunnel - and breathe a sigh of relief - you are into the Ice Chamber and then......thankfully.....we got to stand up again in the Devil's Workshop. The Devil's Workshop had more ornate formations - but to be honest, I did feel it was more of the same.....just a little harder to get to.And then, just when I really thought it couldn't get any worse......it got worse!
First came the Devil's Chimney - which I had been warned about but I didn't really appreciate how bad it would be. So - I actually don't know how I managed to get through an opening that was so small that at first I didn't even see it! The worst thing about it is that the Devil's Chimney goes upwards - and although short - it is almost vertical and about 50 cm wide. Yes, I did say 50cm wide. Hideous! It feels like you're slowly being squeezed and that you're going to get stuck and be left there to rot....because if you do get stuck I have no idea how they would get you out. Seriously! I grazed my knees on the way up - and one man behind me twisted his ankle. How this can be anyone's idea of fun is beyond me! But I made it......but there was no sense of relief because at the top of this hideous HIDEOUS tunnel was an even more hideous tunnel.The Devil's Postbox is another tunnel that is only 27cm high (although thankfully wider) and means slotting yourself through and then grinding your way forwards towards the opening - and the blissful end of the tour. I cannot tell you how happy I was! The Adventure Tour took about an extra 40 minutes on top of the time taken to do the Standard tour - and so you need about 1 hour and 45 minutes in total.
In conclusion, while the Standard Tour was really enjoyable, the Adventure Tour really was not - and unless you like feeling stuck, claustraphobic, cold, wet and like you're being buried alive - I really really would not suggest this part of the tour to anyone. I just didn't feel it added anything for me - and I didn't see anything on this part of the tour that I felt made the extra effort worth it. I would highly recommend the Standard Tour however - and then suggest you go to the coffee shop instead of progressing onwards!
There is a restaurant at the caves which is fairly decent and not too expensive. The speciality is ostrich meat - but as I'm not a big fan of ostrich, I had the Karoo lamb which really was very good. There is an outside patio area to sit which is in a beautiful setting within the mountains, or alternatively you can sit within the air-conditioned seated area indoors which still has lovely views. Unless it's particularly hot (or particularly cold) I would recommend eating outside because it's very beautiful.There is an interpretive centre which gives some history on the caves - but I really didn't find this particularly interesting and so really stayed in here only about 5 minutes.
There is the typical souvenir shop - which sells more products unrelated to the caves than related to the cave. There was a lot of ostrich - related souvenirs - as there is in most places in Oudtshoorn!
Visiting Cango Caves is actually very reasonable - as are most attractions in South Africa to be honest! In order to do the Standard Tour it costs R.69 (about £6) for adults and R.33 (about £3) for kids. To do the Adventure Tour it cost about R.90 (about £7.50) and for kids it was R.55 (about £5).
If you are in the area of Oudtshoorn or passing through Oudtshoorn then I would recommend spending an hour or so at Cango Caves. It is close enough to the ostrich farms in Oudtshoorn that you can stop off here first and then go on to the ostrich farm - and even onto Cango Ranch if you want to (although I didn't particularly enjoy Cango Ranch). However, I'm not sure I would suggest traveling miles to see the caves because, to be honest, South Africa is such a beautiful country that there are so many other things to see!
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