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TThe Klein (‘Little’) Karoo in Western Cape province is a long valley that lies between the Langeberg and Swartberg mountain ranges. As its name suggests, this area is the smaller sibling of the Great Karoo, found over the Swartberg to the north.
It has a wide variety of accommodation and activities – a unique and beautiful part of South Africa sandwiched between impressive mountains that offer ever-changing vistas. Even in this arid landscape, prone to seasonal droughts, there is plenty of vegetation to be enjoyed – many Karoo plants are jewel-like succulents, beautifully adapted to conserve as much water as possible.
The region stretches from De Rust in the east to Barrydale in the west and includes the towns of Calitzdorp, Ladismith and Oudtshoorn. The last is famous as the home of the annual national Afrikaans arts festival, the KKNK – and its boom-town role a century ago in the history of ostrich farming.
Because of its climate, the Klein Karoo is an interesting wine-producing area – its vineyards produce a variety of quality wines, especially sweet fortified wines like Muscadel that do well in this sunny region.
The most famous natural attraction in the Klein Karoo is the Cango Caves, about 30km from Oudtshoorn. This magnificent cave system was formed by rainwater eroding limestone over 20-million years, and depositing it in fantastic formations.
The caves and their gigantic stalactites and stalagmites were proclaimed a historical monument in 1938, and they remain among the world’s leading show caves, attracting thousands of local and international visitors annually.
The Cango Caves lie in the foothills of the Swartberg, which is also home to 1 of the most scenic and awe-inspiring drives in South Africa: the Swartberg Pass that connects Oudtshoorn with Prince Albert in the Great Karoo.
Take note, however: it’s not for the faint-hearted. Be prepared to navigate switchback bends on a narrow gravel road – but you will be rewarded with views that make the drive worth it.
Another equally spectacular drive is through Meiringspoort, as the road winds its way through a narrow gorge delivering lovely views of the rock formations typical of the Cape Fold Belt mountains.
The area also has beautiful wilderness areas, including the Gamkaskloof and Anysberg provincial nature reserves that are home to semi-desert flora, including a fascinating array of succulents, and fauna like the Cape mountain leopard.
TTravel tips & Planning info
How to get here
The Klein Karoo stretches on either side of the R62 from Barrydale in the west (around 260km from Cape Town) to De Rust, around 200km further east. Route 62 links Cape Town, Oudtshoorn, the Garden Route and Port Elizabeth, offering an alternative to the N2 highway.
Around the area
Nature reserves in the Klein Karoo include the Doringrivier Wilderness and the Gamkaskloof, Groot Swartberg and Anysberg nature reserves.
Tours to do
The Klein Karoo Wine Route and the Cango Caves. A visit to an ostrich farm near Oudtshoorn will usually include a tour, the opportunity to see ostriches up close and interact with them, and a variety of products on sale, from ostrich meat and leather goods to decorated eggs and other curios.
Driving, hiking and cycling are the best ways to experience the Klein Karoo.
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