Mpumalanga packs a mighty punch for a small province: it’s home to South Africa’s flagship wildlife reserve, Kruger National Park, as well as scenically stunning landscapes of dramatic gorges and mountains, waterfalls, forests and fertile farmlands, old towns with layers of history, and a wealth of adventure activities to keep even the most hardened adrenaline junkie happy.
It’s hard to fit all of Mpumalanga in on one trip, but make sure you include these unmissable highlights in the province which is known as “Paradise Country” for good reason.
Kruger National Park
The world’s most famous game reserve never fails to disappoint, with its spectacular year-round game viewing and accommodation options to suit every budget. Over a million people visit the park each year to see the Big Five, as well as the hundreds of other species of animals and birds spread across an incredibly diverse wilderness the same size as the state of New Jersey. You can do a self-guided trip, where you drive in a rental car around Kruger, and stay in the campsites or simple self-catering chalets in the different camps spread throughout Kruger, or opt to stay in one of the luxury lodges situated in private concessions within the park, where you’ll be taken on game drives with guides who’ll be able to track animals and give you the fascinating background on Kruger’s many flora and fauna species. The best way to see Kruger is on foot: many of the government-run camps, as well as the luxury lodges, offer walking trails, where you head off into the bush with a guide and a tracker. Whatever you decide to do, Kruger offers the quintessential safari trip: a magical experience of the African bush.
Mpumalanga is known as South Africa’s adventure capital, and with exciting activities on offer throughout the province, from the family-friendly and sedate to the positively daring, it’s not hard to see why. There’s ziplining through a forest canopy with Skyway Trails, white water rafting and canyoning in the Sabie River with Induna Adventures, abseiling and rock climbing in the Elands River Gorge at Waterval Boven with Roc ‘n Rope Adventures, freefall flying on one of the world’s highest cable gorge swings or zipping across a gorge on an aerial rope slide, mountain biking and quad biking through the Sabie River Valley with Sabie River Adventures.
Let Mpumalanga’s beautiful scenery unfold through your window as you take the famous Panorama Route, a road trip through some the province’s best sights on the escarpment of the northern Drakensberg, which drops down into the lush Lowveld. The route takes in some of province’s most scenic views and landscapes including Bourke’s Luck Potholes (impressive cylindrical river rock formations), God’s Window, Mac Mac Falls, the Blyde River Canyon and the Three Rondavels (three round mountaintops).
Kruger aside, Mpumalanga is full of other amazing animal experiences, from Chimp Eden near Nelspruit, where you can do guided tours of South Africa’s only chimpanzee sanctuary to the Hazyview Elephant Sanctuary, which offers interactive experiences with the pachyderms, as well as elephant-back riding. Encounter elephants on horseback as you ride through the bush and river valleys with Horse Whispers near Hazyview, or fly owls and other birds at the Dullstroom Bird of Prey and Rehabilitation Centre.
One of South Africa’s most famous views, and a highlight of the Panorama Route, is a magnificent vista from the edge of the Drakensberg mountain escarpment down steep cliffs into the Lowveld. On clear days you’ll even be able to see as far as Kruger National Park and to the Lebombo Mountains, which form South Africa’s border with Mozambique. It’s a bit of a climb through a forest to get to the top viewpoint (the lower viewpoint is an easy walk from the car park) but the breathtaking views are more than worth it!
Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve
The world’s largest green canyon (and the second largest canyon in Africa), the 20-mile long Blyde River Canyon – recently renamed as the Motlatse River Canyon – is one of Mpumalanga’s most beautiful natural sights. The 29 000-hectare Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve protects the wildlife – which includes vervet and samango monkeys, chacma baboons, bushbabies, hippos, crocodiles and antelope – of this dramatic gorge. Bird watchers will be in paradise – the reserve is one of the best birding spots in South Africa, home to Cape Vultures (the fourth largest colony in the world), Cape eagle owls, crowned eagles, jackal buzzards and Pel’s fishing owls. Activities here include hiking (try the 11-mile Hippo Trail), abseiling, and flying over the canyon in a microlight. If you want to wake up to astonishing views, stay at the Blyde River Canyon Forever Resort, which is perched on the edge of the gorge.