With many things to do in Mpumalanga, the province is home to 6.5% of South Africans, incredible landscapes and wildlife.
Bordered by Mozambique and Swaziland in the east, and Gauteng in the west, it’s the second-largest citrus-producing area in the country and is responsible for one-third of the country’s export in oranges. Mpumalanga is an essential destination for any visitor!
Mpumalanga is where you’ll find some of South Africa’s most dramatic scenery; more waterfalls than anywhere else in the country; mountains that cocoon Earth’s oldest life forms; the oldest dolomite caves in the world; colorful cultures; an exciting gold-rush past; friendly little towns; and adventure activities for the most adrenalin-hooked action junkie.
Where is Mpumalanga
Mpumalanga lies in eastern South Africa, bordering Eswatini and Mozambique. It constitutes 6.5% of South Africa’s land area. It shares borders with the South African provinces of Limpopo to the north, Gauteng to the west, the Free State to the southwest, and KwaZulu-Natal to the south. Mpumalanga lies between Johannesburg and the Kingdoms of Swaziland and Mozambique.
How to get to Mpumalanga from Johannesburg
When driving, keep in mind that there are tolls and budget about ZAR 1000 for a roundtrip. For the exact amount check the Toll gate company website.
- A direct flight from Johannesburg (JNB) to Nelspruit Airport (NLP), the capital city of Mpumalanga, is the quickest method of travel and takes only 45 minutes.
- The drive from Johannesburg to Nelspruit (via the N12 and N4 highway) takes 3 – 4 hours, depending on the traffic.
- You can also travel to Nelspruit from Johannesburg by a bus, it takes t longer than driving yourself due to drop-off and pick-up stops.
Interesting facts about Mpumalanga
- Mpumalanga is the sixth-largest of the nine South African provinces.
- Mpumalanga is located in the east of South Africa, north of KwaZulu-Natal, and borders Swaziland and Mozambique.
- The word Mpumalanga in Zulu means ‘the land where the sun rises’.
- eMalahleni (previously known as Witbank) is the center of the local coal-mining industry in SA.
- Standerton, in the south, is known for its large dairy industry.
- Piet Retief in the southeast is a production area for tropical fruit and sugar.
Places to visit in Mpumalanga
One of the best things to do in Mpumalanga is to explore the many small towns.
Cradled by the Makhonjwa Mountains (a mecca for international scientists because of its microfossil plant life), this historic little town was born in the rowdy 1880s gold rush days and boasted South Africa’s first gold stock exchange.
This town is home to the world’s oldest mountain and one of South Africa’s 10 UNESCO world heritage sites.
Heritage walks, working gold mines, and adventure activities are on offer.
Mbombela is Mpumalanga’s capital city (previously called Nelspruit), it started life in the 1890s as a hub for gold diggers, farmers, and traders.
The city is home to The Mbombela Stadium is one of the stadiums constructed for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It’s now a thriving commercial center and a shopping magnet for neighboring countries Swaziland and Mozambique. Expect shopping malls, good restaurants, and lively nightlife.
Where to stay in Nelspruit
$$$ Luxury: Francolin Lodge
This modern, 5-star guest house offers stylish open-plan rooms with private balconies in the city center of Mbombela. Francolin Lodge includes an outdoor swimming pool with a deck, shaded seating area and a designated outdoor smoking area.
All of the luxurious rooms at Francolin Lodge have an LCD TV, kitchenette and en-suite bathroom.
Lodge Francolin is a 15-minute drive from Lowveld National Botanical Gardens and only 1.2 miles from Nelspruit Golf Club. The Numbi Gate of Kruger National Park is 39.1 miles away.
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$$ Moderate: The Aloes
Complete with a garden, The Aloes is situated close to the town center of Nelspruit. It offers an outdoor pool and is a short drive from Lowveld Day Hospital and Hoërskool Nelspruit.
This apartment with garden views features 1 bedroom and a bathroom with a bath. A flat-screen TV with satellite channels is offered. Guests staying at this apartment have access to a fully equipped kitchen.
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$ Budget: StayEasy Emnotweni
StayEasy Emnotweni is a Tsogo Sun Hotel – one of the best hotel groups in Africa!
Set in Nelspruit, 4.3 miles from Mbombela Stadium, StayEasy Emnotweni offers accommodation with a restaurant, free private parking, an outdoor swimming pool, and a fitness center. Among the various facilities of this property are a bar, a garden, and a casino.
The accommodation provides a 24-hour front desk, room service, and currency exchange for guests.
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The Panorama Route
The Panorama Route, one of the highest and most dramatically scenic routes in South Africa, takes you to several splendid natural wonders as it traces the Blyde River.
A good way to take in as much as possible is an easy half-day drive on which you’ll see the Pinnacle – an enormous quartzite pillar; God’s Window – with seemingly unending views of the surrounding countryside (and a good place to buy curios).
Bourke’s Luck Potholes, curious, deep rock pools named after an early gold prospector; and, at the end of the route, the Three Rondavels – massive rock formations resembling beehive huts with the Blyde River swirling hundreds of meters below. The view here is awesome in the full sense of the word.
As its name suggests, this little town is often surrounded by mountain mists.
Its proximity to two of the Kruger National Park gates makes it a good place to stock up on groceries and supplies before entering the park. There are an aerial cableways and the visitor-friendly Endangered wildlife sanctuary.
Best place to stay in Hazyview
Misty Mountain is situated on the Long Tom Pass, close to Kruger National Park. The lodge has a restaurant, pub, and a kid’s playground.
I loved staying on this property because of the activities available: from bird-watching, walking trails, mountain bike trails, guided quad biking, and trout fishing. Misty Mountain is also home to South Africa’s ONLY rail 1.7km toboggan. The lodge is located 14.9 miles from Sabie and 19.3 miles from Lydenburg
The property has studio apartments s and family units come with en suite bathrooms, log fires and private verandas with stunning views.
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Things to do in Mpumalanga
1. Go on Safari
Game viewing in Mpumalanga is probably as good as it gets. The iconic Kruger National Park is located about 350km from south to north along the Mozambique border and averaging 60km from east to west, is the size of a small country.
Opened in 1898 and spanning 19,485 square kilometers (that’s almost the size of Israel), Kruger National Park is the largest and oldest national park in the world. One of the many reasons it is so popular is because it’s practically guaranteed that you’ll see the “Big Five”: elephants, rhinos, buffalos, lions, and leopards!
The best safari experiences in the world are said to be found here, with over 140 animal and 150 bird species!
Kruger’s neighbors to the west, Sabi Sand Reserve, and other adjacent private reserves are also teeming with game. Your chances of spotting the beautiful, elusive leopard here are very high as Sabi Sand has the highest density.
2. See the Three Rondavels
Known as the “three rondavels” due to the rocky outcrops, whose points look like rondavels.
The Three Rondawels are also known as ‘The Chief and his Three Wives’. The flat-topped peak to the right is named Mapjaneng – the ‘Chief’, whilst the three wives are named Maseroto, Mogoladikwe, and Magabolle.
Towering in isolated and massive splendor behind them is the 1944 m high peak named Mareiepskop, which forms the southern portal of the canyon mouth. To the north of Magabolle is the magnificent, almost arrogant, jutting profile of the Swandini Buttress, which forms the northern portal of the canyon mouth. It offers a superb example of the powerful effect of wind and water on raw rock interspersed with layers of shale.
3. See the world’s largest underground coal-mining complex
Secunda in Mpumalanga is home to the world’s largest underground coal-mining complex.
4. Visit God’s Window
Just one look down and you will understand why it is called “God’s Window”.
God’s window is a viewpoint, from where you can see the beginning of the Blyde Canyon landscape. The panoramic view of the Lowveld more than 900m down into the lush indigenous forest-clad ravine.
If you visit on a clear day, you can see all the way to the Kruger National Park and Mozambique. Glance towards the east and you’ll see the Three Sisters, also known as the Three Rondawels. Just two kilometers north is Wonder View, the highest viewpoint in the region.
5. Admire The Blyde River Canyon
On every list of things to do in Mpumalanga, you will find Blyde River Canyon. It’s one of the best hiking spots in South Africa!
The views from the 26km-long Blyde River Canyon, the world’s third-largest canyon (after the Grand Canyon in the USA and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia), are superb, both from the bottom and the top, and are easily accessible by road or on foot.
6. See the Bourke’s Luck Potholes
Named after Tom Bourke who discovered alluvial gold in the area during the late 1880s.
The potholes were formed millions of years ago by the swirling of sand and pebbles, which resulted in the carving of the potholes into the underlying riverbed.
Bourke’s Luck had nothing to do with the potholes but rather a lucky strike in this gold-rich area.
7. Learn about the 1873 Golf Rush in Pilgrims Rest
This village was once the center of the 1870s gold rush. You’ll see many of the original buildings, like the Royal Hotel, the general store and the newspaper office (where the Irish editor kept a pair of loaded pistols on his desk), as you walk up the steep hill to the village.
Mining continued until 1972 and today Pilgrim’s Rest is a living museum, preserved in the exact architectural style of the gold rush period, boasting various buildings that have remained unchanged externally for more than a century.
While in Pilgrims Rest, head to Alanglade House Museum – for a living museum experience.
8. Stroll through Adams Calendar
With the shape of a circle and a diameter of 100 feet, the stones of Adam’s Calendar were built-in alignment with Orion’s Belt, which follows a 26,000 year-long cycle around the Earth.
It’s known as the oldest megalithic site in the world, and referred to as the “African Stonehenge“, it predates both Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza by tens of thousands of years.
9. Have a pint of beer at Sabie Brewing Co
Situated in the heart of the Panorama Route, and in the middle of one of the world’s biggest man-made forests (450km2 of pine and eucalyptus trees), this busy small market town, which once depended on gold, now derives its wealth from timber.
On my trip to Sabie, I went for a tasting at the AMAZING Sabie Brewery company located inside a 1921 building from the Gold Rush era. Sabie is close to the Kruger National Park and known for magnificent waterfalls!
10. Buy a Ndebele Doll
The Nguni tribe can be divided into four categories: Central Nguni (Zulu-speaking), Southern Nguni (Xhosa-speaking), Swazi (from Swaziland, and adjacent areas), and the Ndebele (of Limpopo Province and Mpumalanga).
The Ndebele people have always been known for their artistry. The women adorn themselves in jewelry, clothing, and ornaments that become more beautiful the higher their status in the tribe. Take a journey into the colorful world of art, history, and culture through the eyes of the Ndebele.
11. Swim in the Mac Mac Pools
A shallow rocky river that drops into a series of naturally formed swimming pools. These crystal clear, cool water pools make for refreshing swimming and splashing after a hot day’s sightseeing.
12. Brunch at Potluck Boskombuis in Graskop
A popular restaurant on a private farm, it’s the epitome of authentic South Africa and their farm has STUNNING views!
13. See Lisbon Falls
Named after the capital city of Portugal, The Lisbon Falls are the Highest waterfalls in Mpumalanga.
At 92 m, the Lisbon Falls are the highest in Mpumalanga. The river separates into three streams as it plunges into the pool below. These falls are located near God’s Window and just north of Graskop.
14. Hike Kaapsehoop
Hike through a maze of unusual rock formations for 20 minutes from Kaapsehoop and you will find yourself at the edge of the escarpment with jaw-dropping views.
Here the landscape plunges 1000 meters into the Barberton Valley. You’ll also find a little village that was pivotal in making South Africa the African powerhouse it is today. Hear stories from the early wild days of gold prospecting to political intrigue, murder, mayhem, mystery, and Kruger’s millions.
15. Berlin Falls
The Berlin Falls are shaped in what looks like a “white candle” and the waterfalls into a green pool, it is a must-see!
16. See Lone Creek Falls
Lone Creek Falls is a 68 m waterfall in the area of Sabie.
If you’d like to experience the falls in solitude and away from the crowd there is a path from the parking leading to the top of the falls. The walk is not too difficult and there are a few picnic sites.
17. Sudwala Caves
The Sudwala Caves are an incredibly deep system of caverns lying in the Mpumalanga region of the Drakensberg escarpment. Considered the oldest known caves in the world, this astonishing unplumbed complex of passages and giant chambers extend into the mysterious Mankelexele massif.
The caves are situated in the Precambrian dolomite rocks of the Malmani Group, formed over a period of some 3 000 million years, capturing in stone an era when this place was a shallow inland sea.
The very earliest known life forms are preserved in fossil form in these rocks. In the cave are fossils of the first oxygen-producing plants on the earth called collenia – fossilized bacterial colonies that date back 2.2 billion years! And there’s a Dinosaur Park too. Kids will love the life-size monsters guarding the cave entrance.
Keen for adventure? Time your visit on the last Saturday of the month and join one of the popular Crystal Tours inside the deeper chambers. You will be required to crawl through some sections be prepared to get wet. It lasts for six hours and bookings are essential.
Is Mpumalanga safe to visit
There are many things to do in Mpumalanga, but when it comes to safety in South Africa. It doesn’t matter which province you visit, it is advisable to be vigilant in your surroundings because neither is safer than the other!
I shared a local’s guide to safety in South Africa: From public transport tips to what to wear so you dont stand out.
South Africa Travel Guides
Get Insurance before visiting South Africa
Use travel insurance while visiting Mpumalanga so you are covered for theft and medical expenses. There are a lot of adventurous activities to do in South Africa, and it’s best to have peace of mind while hiking and exploring.
Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.