Mpumalanga Guide: Culture, Adventure And Nature In “Paradise Country”

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.

Adrenaline adventures

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.

three rondavels


Panorama Route

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).

Animal encounters

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.

God’s Window

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, South Africa (Shutterstock)

Blyde River Canyon, South Africa (Shutterstock)

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.

Pilgrim’s Rest

Take a step back through time when you visit the historic gold rush town of Pilgrim’s Rest. Established in the late 1800s, the town, which has been declared a national monument, feels like a living museum, with its original shop fronts and houses lining the one main street. You could visit on a day trip – take a slow wander through town, visit the Alanglade House museum, stop for a lunch of kudu pie at the Pilgrim’s Pantry, have a beer at the Church Bar (which was once a chapel in Mozambique) or stay overnight at the Royal Hotel, a well-preserved Victorian hotel with old-world charm.

Dullstroom (Flickr)

Dullstroom (Flickr)


Dullstroom is the perfect country town for a relaxing break with its quaint main street lined with lovely restaurants, homely pubs and fun outdoor activities such as fly-fishing (it’s South Africa’s fly-fishing capital), hiking, clay pigeon shooting and horse riding. If you’re into whisky, don’t miss Wild about Whisky, which has the largest collection of whiskies in the southern hemisphere, and offers tastings, where you can sip on some of the rarest whiskies from around the world. Beer lovers should make a beeline to Anvil Ale Brewery to try their craft beers, which go down well with their hearty pub food. After all that booze, check into Walkersons Hotel and Spa, which is set on a scenic 800-hectare estate and offers luxurious suites and self-catering cottages.

Lowveld National Botanical Gardens

These beautiful botanical gardens in Nelspruit, offer a peaceful escape into a world of lush tropical rainforest, dry bushveld rivers, a waterfall and Africa’s largest cycad collection. Apart from the fascinating flora, there are also 242 bird species in the gardens and other mammals such as the dwarf mongoose, squirrels and bushbabies. Take a picnic or have lunch at the Kuzuri Restaurant, which offers sandwiches, salads and pastas on a deck that overlooks the gardens.

Sudwala caves

At 240 million years old, the Sudwala Caves are among the oldest caves in the world. Do a guided tour and go deep underground to discover stalagmites, stalagtites and curious rock formations such as the Screaming Monster. The more adventurous can opt for the six-hour-long Crystal Cave Tour, which takes you a mile into the heart of the caves and involves wading through water and crawling through narrow tunnels.


In addition to the above mentioned hotels, there are hundreds of other hotels, lodges, guest houses, bed and breakfasts, hostels and self-catering apartments from which to choose. Visit’s Mpumalanga hotels page to see what your options are.

Getting There And Around

To get to Mpumalanga province by air, you can fly into either OR Tambo Airport (JNB) in Gauteng and drive to the province, or fly into the smaller Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (MQP) near Nelspruit.

If you plan to tour the province, a rental car is your best bet, as hiring a private driver would be rather expensive. Rental car agencies at JNB, MQP or major hotels will rent to anyone over the age of 25, provided they have a valid local or international driving license. Many locations, such as Dullstroom, Pilgrim’s Rest, Hazyview and Nelspruit can also be reached via inter-city bus.

Practical Considerations

Safety: Mpumalanga is no more or less safe than any other part of South Africa, and all the usual precautions should be taken: don’t flash cash, jewelry or electronic devices; don’t wander into unfamiliar areas at night (either on foot or in a car); when going out at night, go in a group; and be very careful who you give your credit card information to.

Weather: No more than 600m above sea-level Mpumalanga has a subtropical climate with an average rainfall of over 1000mm. Hot to very hot in summer especially in the Lowveld region, mild in winter, it can become very cold in the highveld areas. Mpumalanga is a summer rainfall area.

Banking and money: Banks and ATMs can be found in larger towns, such as Dullstroom, Hoedspruit, Hazyview, Retief, Middelburg, and Nelspruit. Most larger hotels and restaurants take credit or debit cards, but smaller merchants operate on a cash-only basis — so be sure to have a sufficient amount on hand.

Police and Fire Department:

  • Police : 10111
  • Crimestoppers: 08600 10 111
  • Ambulance: 10177
  • ER 24: 084 124
  • Fire Brigade : 998/999
  • Life Line: 086 132 2322


  • Barberton hospital, Telephone: 013 712 3011
  • Lydenburg Hospital, Telephone: 013 235 2236
  • Mapulaneng Hospital (Bushbuckridge), Telephone: 013 799 0214
  • Matibidi hospital (Graskop), Telephone: 013 769 8092
  • Matikwane hospital (Mkhuhlu), Telephone: 013 708 6024
  • Sabie Hospital, Telephone: 013 764 1222
  • Shongwe Hospital (Nkomazi), Tel: 013 780 0222
  • Themba hospital (Kabokweni), Telephone: 013 796 9400
  • Tintswalo hospital (Acornhoek), Telephone: 013 795 5804
  • Tonga Hospital, Telephone: 013 780 0222

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