The Cango Caves of South Africa – Adventure and Claustrophobia

Written By: The Planet D

Do you want to do the adventure tour or the standard tour? That was the question asked when we booked our tour at the Cango Caves in South Africa during our road trip through South Africa.

Cango Caves South Africa

The country’s oldest tourist attraction. Naturally we answered Adventure! Little did we know that we’d be squeezing through the tiniest of passageways crawling through tunnels with names like the Devil’s Chimney and Lumbago Alley.

Lumbago is a term to describe pain in the lower back and believe me, with the hunching and crawling you have to do through this section of the Cango Caves, you’re back will be feeling it.

cango caves south africa dave

Memories of my claustrophobic crawl through the Cuchi Tunnels in Vietnam years earlier sprang to mind, but I kept up a brave face for Dave and our guide Cedric as we strolled through the first few chambers of this massive cave system.

The Cango Caves Adventure Tour

cango caves south africa crystals

One of the perks of the adventure tour is that you get to walk through all the caves that the standard tour takes you through.

The first stop is the giant Van Zyl’s Hall. At 90 metres long, 50 metres wide and 18 metres high, it is an impressive cavern.

Once upon a time concerts were held in this hall and as we looked at the old stage at the front of the chamber, I could almost imagine music echoing under the massive stalactites.

cango caves south africa lights

The next room may not be quite as large, but it is definitely the most beautiful of all the chambers.

With crystal waterfalls, pipe organ formations and giant stalactites and stalagmites with names like The Leaning Tower of Pisa, it is out of this world. And that is how it feels to be underground among this beauty.

You feel as though you are on another planet.

The Cango Caves are one of the most magnificent caves we have seen. We’ve been in large caves before and we’ve been in intricate caves before, but we’ve never been in the perfect blend of giant and detailed.

cango caves south africa formations

Tours of the Cango Caves

Tours started here in the early 1800’s and Cedric talked to us about how early travellers used to climb through the system with oil lamps.

They’ve opened up the passageways by clearing out all of the packed clay left over from the underground rivers, so today’s tours are much more comfortable than the early explorers of the Cango Caves.

It was a farmer in 1780 named Jacobus Van Zyl who discovered the Cango Caves.

He was lowered into the first chamber and discovered the giant cavern, twelve years later the second chamber was discovered and the rest is history.

stairs in cave

Now you can walk through the caves on packed clay floors with well-maintained stairs and soft lighting.

For the adventure seekers, there’s always the Adventure Tour and that is where the second half of our tour took off. The adventure tour starts where the standard tour ends and it is here that the fun happens.

After walking through a narrow passageway, you come to a steep ladder that takes you to King Solomon’s Mines.

map cango caves

You know you are in for a treat and instead of panicking about the narrow enclosures that you are about to walk through, you take a deep breath, trust your guide and enjoy!

tunnel south africa

As we moved deeper into the cave system, the air became thicker, you could smell the bat droppings in the room and the temperature rose.

Sweat poured off our bodies and our breathing became laboured.

I don’t know if it was from having to twist and turn through solid rock or if it was the stress and tension of wondering if you would become wedged within walls and the anxiety of knowing that you are hundreds of meters underground.

leg south africa caves

We scrambled through the Tunnel of Love, named so because you are so cozy as you pass through.

bottom of cango caves

We crawled up the coffin and ended at the Devil’s Post Box. Why is it the Devil’s Post Box? That would be because it is only 27 centimetres high?

Pushing yourself through this narrow opening is like putting an envelope through a standard post office box at home. I started to feel sorry for those envelopes as I slid down the smooth rocks.

deb in crevice of cave

I had to laugh though as Dave set up his camera and told me to hold on a minute. Here I was with nothing but solid rock above my head and I had to keep telling myself to breath. Don’t think of trying to sit up and don’t panic. You’ll be out of here soon enough!

devils mailbox south africa

I was glad to be out of the Devil’s post box, but I was so happy that we did it!

We survived and loved every minute of it. On our way out, we ran into another guide who had just come through the Tunnel of Love. We heard him yelling back at other people who were on their way in and Cedric started laughing. The people who were in the Tunnel of Love decided that it was too skinny and turned back.

There was no way they were going through the rest of the adventure tour and we felt pretty darn proud of ourselves for following through and finishing the tour.

To find out more about a tour at the Cango Caves, visit their website. If you are the adventurous type, make sure you book the Adventure Tour, you’ll love every minute of it and you’ll have bragging rights for the rest of your life.

Yes, you squeezed through 27 cm of pure solid rock. What a blast!


Read More

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

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47 thoughts on “The Cango Caves of South Africa – Adventure and Claustrophobia”

  1. Did the Cango Caves aged 15 in 1983 and remember feeling terrified in a narrow passage. Going back later this year and think the kids would love the adventure trail but not for me, I might get stuck! Slovenia is great for caves – think it was Skcojan we went to, amazing!

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  2. Glad you enjoyed it, but I think it would have been the death of me. We did an underground thing in Turkey and it was not much fun. And there were no postboxes or coffins, it was all hollowed out to be human size (sorta) and it was still claustrophobic.

    Beautiful pictures of the caves though.

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  3. No, I’m not sure I could do that! I’ve loved kayak cave tours, and the walkway photos shows how gorgeous these caves are. Like you said, maybe trusting the guide could get me through!

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  4. Woah – those photos of you guys in the small passageways are insane. I laughed out loud when I imagined you telling yourself to breathe! 🙂
    It sure looks like it’s worth it, though. I mean, what’s the most that can happen? You get a bit stuck and they have to grease you out! 🙂

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  5. I visited the caves in September and they were a fantastic highlight of my garden route tour from capetown to port elizabeth. I did not do the adventure tour so this is great to see the rest of the caves and what I missed. not sure my big feet would have made it through the mailbox

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    • Awesome! So glad you had the chance to see the caves. They are spectacular aren’t they? Glad we could show you the adventure tour. Haha, I think that’s a good reason to stay away from the mailbox, wouldn’t want to lose a shoe. 🙂

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  6. Those caves look really amazing! So gorgeous! But there’s no way I could do that. When I was in Easter Island last year, we went exploring some caves, and I never realized before that day, but apparently caves freak me out. I couldn’t even make myself go into one of them, and the other 2 were scary and I hit my head once. Then Andy and I went into some underground cave city thing in Cappadocia and and decided, no more caves for me!

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  7. Oh,man. I would love to see these gorgeous caverns, but I couldn’t handle the claustrophobia. It’s a good think I follow blogs like this, so that I can experience such adventures vicariously.

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  8. Wow…what an awesome adventure. Might be tough for me, enclosed spaces and all that, but would be worth the anxiety:)

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  9. Wow! I’ve always been fascinated with caves, and now you’ve got me even more fascinated with this post. Those pics are amazing. I’m glad you put a little copyright at the bottom of each one though, otherwise I’m sure you’d see them stolen and used all over the Internet.

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  10. The caves look amazing, like an underground palace, but the adventure tour wouldn’t be for me, I’m afraid, unless I plan confrontation therapy – these tunnels are just a bit too tiny for my complacency… It makes me respect you even more for going through with it even though you are claustrophobic, though:) Well done!

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    • It was pretty fun. I used to be worse, but I’m getting better. It’s funny, I’m becoming more adventurous as I get older. I wonder what’s up with that. 5 Years ago, you’d never get me in here. Now I’m even smiling…sort of :-)

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  11. Incredible pictures! I’ve always loved exploring caves… well ones that weren’t too tight of a squeeze anyway. I did Carlsbad Caverns last year and it was an experience I’ll never forget. Although I’m usually always thinking about ‘what if’ an earthquake were to happen the entire I’m underground 🙂

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    • Ha, it’s funny you mention that, because I always think that too. That was going through my head, but I never brought it up and I kept pushing it out of my mind. Dave never has a care in the world, I do enough worrying for the both of us! :D

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  12. This sounds like a lot of fun! I’ve been in some pretty tight caves before, one of those being in Laos where there were no lights and a lot of water. Kind of scary in parts but it was a lot of fun.

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    • I remember exploring caves in Laos. I loved it. They are so dark and scary. I remember renting a battery powered giant lamp to walk through one. Another we hired a guide and had to laugh at the exposed wires on the lamp. We were there in 2003 and everything was pretty basic and ancient. We were covered in mud by the time we got out of the caves and yes, they were a very tight squeeze indeed!

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    • I didn’t think I’d like it so much but it was a ton of fun! I thought I’d be more nervous going through the narrow chimney, but Cedric made us feel very comfortable. He gave me confidence to just go with it.

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  13. Wow, caves look spectacular! Reminds me of the Postojnska Caves in Slovenia I visited and wrote a post about recently. I’m assuming these ones were limestone & dolostone as well? Cheers!

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  14. Those caves are awesome! I could see how you get claustrophobia in there. Did some caves in Slovenia and they were awesome. HUGE!!! However, not quite the claustrophobic experience like this 🙂

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    • Slovenia must have great caves, Stephanie just mentioned that she did them as well. I’ll have to add it to my list when we go there next.

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  15. I think I would be incredibly embarrassed if someone told me, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS, fatty.” I am a bit claustrophobic though. I need meditation time to do things like this.

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    • Haha, You would be allowed to go my lady. I’ve seen you, you’re a petit thing. I think that they told the woman who got stuck discretely. But could you imagine. “sorry ma’am you’re too big for this hole.”

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  16. WHOA! This looks AMAZING! We did the ATM Cave in Belize and it was one of the most intense things I’ve ever done. There’s something about squeezing through tiny slots between rocks deep in the earth that wakes all the senses…

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    • Well put. There is no moving that rock if anything happens and when you are stuck in between them, you realize just how solid it is. You have to really free your mind and not think about the fact that you’re stuck between thousands of tons of solid rock!

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  17. Good times! Caves are awesome but what keeps me from spelunking in raw/primitive caves isn’t the claustrophobia but the albino spiders. Eeeewwww. 🙂

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    • Eww, I never thought of the albino spiders. Are they everywhere? Are they in South Africa? Are they poisonous? Haha, I have so many questions. I never saw any spiders when we were at the Cango Caves. Maybe they are deeper down. There are a couple hundred km of caves in this system.

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    • Thank you, we had a great time. It was also great to be able to have the time to photograph the caves, they are so beautiful. It made going through the adventure portion of them a little more challenging but I’m glad we lugged the camera along. Thanks to Cedric for taking it through some of the more narrow passageways for us while we grunted our way through.

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  18. I didn’t think I was claustrophobic until we did a caving adventure like this in Budapest. Even though the guide decided he better keep me close by, I made it through slithering through tiny cracks on my belly. Definitely something to be proud of!

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    • Isn’t that the truth. Sometimes you don’t even realize that you have a fear until you are in the middle of it. I remember when we were walking through the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam. I though it would be fun to go through the original entrance and the 150 metres of old caves. While I was inside, the lights went out and I freaked out. That’s when I knew I was afraid of tight places. I’ve been working through it over the years and getting much better

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  19. I’m not normally claustrophobic but I’ve always thought I might be in a cave squeezing though a place I might get stuck. Definitely an incredible place. Amazing formations.

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    • As long as you breathe and enjoy, you’ll be fine. Especially if your not claustrophobic. The Cango Caves truly are spectacular. I can see why it is South Africa’s oldest tourist attraction. People have been exploring them for over a hundred years!

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  20. Cool! I’m not too sure how I would do in that situation. I’m more scared of heights than I am claustrophobic – but as each year passes I get more fearful of doing anything! I’m assuming they have a size ‘limit’ for the adventure section – right? Good for you for finishing!

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    • Yes, they do have a size limit. They don’t come out and say it, but when one woman was stuck in the caves for 13 hours, our guide told us that she was advised not to do it. She didn’t listen, got herself stuck and paid the price. I don’t think I’d go in if I was over weight that’s for sure. Some of those passageways were tight.

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  21. No way could I do the adventure tour. I was having palpitations just enteringthe wide open Skocjan Caves last fall. Great pics like always!

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    • Where are the Skocjan Caves? We’ll have to give them a try. I’m sold on doing more caves, but I could never be a spelunker. I want to know what’s on the other end and know that I can get out. I don’t know how people explore caves for the first time and not know if they will get through or not and what’s waiting for them on the other side. I’d be terrified. An organized tour is as far as I’ll take it.

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