Recently the world held their breath as they watched 12 boys and their coach get rescued from a flooded cave. Newscasters expressed grave concerns of the survival of the group that ignored the warning signs not to venture past a certain point. With the arrival of good news of their rescue, people across the globe sighed with relief, many of them swearing off cave exploring. But don’t feel like the smart thing to do is to write cave exploring off your bucket list, it’s a fantastic adventure that everyone should experience once in their lifetime. The key is safety and always with a skilled guide.
South Africa is home to a popular cave that attracts tourists from across the planet. Cango Caves near Oudsthoorn is a natural marvel for those who brave the journey of going underground. During the tour, visitors will walk downward to a dark abyss and it won’t be long before they discover what looks like an underground melting cathedral adorned with over sized dripping candle wax and rocks protruding out of the ground like a set of Fantasia. Because the caves are visited daily, lights are installed throughout the vicinity, making it easy to see the highlights of its natural architecture in its full splendor. Walkways are flattened to provide an easy path for travelers.
The cave has a long tunneled route that stretches for 2.5 miles that can only be explored with a guide and never on your own. Visitors will have a choice between the Heritage tour (recommended for first timers) or the Adventure tour, where they’ll face claustrophobic routes, sometimes getting on their hands and knees to crawl through tight spaces. All tours are offered in multiple languages including German, French, Afrikaans, English and more.
What’s so unusual about the caves is the increased change of temperature as you step downwards. Most caves are known for being cold, some bitterly cold, to the point where hypothermia can kill you before starvation if you’re lost. Instead, visitors notice the sudden wave of humidity and heat, hence why you’ll see many of its quarters have sinister names like Devil’s Chimney and Devil’s Kitchen. No, you won’t be exploring all 2.5 miles long of underground landscape of dripping rocks, many parts of the caves are off-limits except for a designated area where you’ll be led by a tour and go on a climbing and crawling adventure (depending on which tour you go with). Throughout the tour, you’ll come across several iconic spots like King Solomon’s Mines (a giant rock formation that looks like a crowned man with a beard), The Devil’s Chimney (an ascending stairwell that arrives to an extremely narrow crack that you can wiggle through) and The Coffin (a hexagon-shaped hole in the ground that’ll leave you questioning if this was the former home of vampires).
During the tour, guests will also get a history lesson and learn about its first discovery in 1780. At the time, modern electricity wasn’t a thing, making cave exploring a daunting, and even deadly
task as explorers went on an uncharted and unknown trek in the pitch black darkness. It’s rumored that the cave was first explored by a local farmer, Jacobus van Zyl, who wandered into the cave searching for his lost cattle. Later the lore was disputed since there was no evidence of anyone by that name in the area. It’s currently believed that Johnny van Wassenaer, the first daredevil to explore the underground land in 1898 was the first. Mr. Wassenaer ventured in the darkness for 29 hours, trying to find the end of the cave and eventually came across an underground river. After his success, he took on a full-time job as a guide of the caves for the next 43 years until his retirement. Since then, scientists, geologists and researchers have studied the underground wonder, finding remarkable evidence that humans have known about the existence of the caves since prehistoric times. Bushmen art of the San people on walls and burnt ceilings from man-made candles that were used inside by the early people were among the evidence found.
After an hour of exploring the incredible caves, you’ll be reminded that the beauty doesn’t end there as you emerge back on ground level to see the beauty of Western Cape mountains surround you.
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