Guide to South Africa
Situated at the southern tip of Africa, South Africa is 1 233 404km² in size and is edged on three sides by nearly 3 000km of coastline, with the Indian Ocean to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The country is bordered in the north by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and also encloses two independent countries, the kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland.
South Africa has three capitals: Cape Town (legislative), Pretoria (administrative) and Bloemfontein (judicial).
Since the first post-apartheid elections in 1994, South Africa has had a democratic government. The Constitution is regarded as an example to the world and enshrines a wide range of human rights protected by an independent judiciary. The head of the country is the president. The current incumbent is Jacob Zuma, who is the head of the ruling party, the African National Congress.
Regarded as an emerging market, South Africa has a well-developed financial sector and active stock exchange. Financial policies have focused on building solid macroeconomic structures. The country’s central bank is the South African Reserve Bank.
The tourism industry is well established with an exciting sector of emerging entrepreneurs. The country is strong on adventure, sport, nature and wildlife, and is a pioneer and global leader in responsible tourism.
The last census in 2011 showed a population of about 52-million people, of varying origins, cultures, languages and religions, of which 79,2% are African, 8,9% ‘coloured’ (a term used in South Africa to describe people of mixed race), 8,9% white, and 2,5% Indian. Just over half the population is female.
South Africa's currency is the rand, which offers visitors great value for money. The rand comes in a range of coins (R1 = 100 cents) and note denominations of R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200.
South Africa is known for its long sunny days, hence the title, ‘Sunny South Africa’. Most of the nine provinces have summer rainfall, except for the Western Cape, which experiences winter rainfall. The high-lying areas of the interior can be chilly in winter. The South African Weather Service uses the following dates for seasons:
Spring: September, October, November
Summer: December through February
Autumn: March, April, May
Winter: June through August
South Africa has a well-developed communications infrastructure. A number of cellphone providers offer national coverage and there are well-established landline phone networks. Internet and Wi-Fi are easily accessible in most urban areas.
There are nine provinces in South Africa, namely: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North West and Western Cape.
The South African flag is a much-loved symbol of the ‘new’ South Africa. It comprises a geometric pattern of green, white, black, gold, red and blue.
South Africa’s national bird is the blue crane. The national animal is the springbok; the national fish, the galjoen; the national flower, the giant or king protea; and the national tree, the yellowwood.
South Africa’s national anthem is based on the Xhosa hymn, Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika (God Bless Africa), composed by Enoch Sontonga in 1897, and Die Stem van Suid-Afrika (The Call of South Africa).
South Africa is a multilingual country and there are 11 official languages, namely: English, Afrikaans, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Siswati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga. Although only about 10% of the population has English as its mother tongue, English is the language most widely understood, and is the second language of the majority of South Africans.
About 80% of South Africa's population is Christian. Other major religious groups include Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists. A minority does not belong to any of the major religions. The Constitution guarantees freedom of worship.
In urban areas tap water is usually of high quality and safe to drink. It’s quite safe to have ice in drinks and to eat salads. However, when travelling to remote rural areas and the bush you should take your own drinking water along or buy bottled water.
ANIMALS AND PLANTS
In 1998 Conservation International declared South Africa one of the 17 megadiverse destinations in the world because of its rich biological diversity. Expect majestic and intimidating animals such as rhinos, elephants and great white sharks, and smaller ‘cute’ ones such as meerkats, bush babies and bat-eared foxes, as well as diverse plant life from succulent Karoo through to fynbos and indigenous forests.
The South African electricity supply is 220/230 volts AC 50 HZ. With a few exceptions (in deep rural areas), electricity is available almost everywhere.
South Africa’s three major international airports are OR Tambo International Airport (Johannesburg); Cape Town International Airport; and King Shaka International Airport (Durban). There are also many regional airports, including the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport in Mbombela (Nelspruit).
TRAVEL BY ROAD AND RAIL
South Africa has an extensive road infrastructure including national highways and secondary roads. Speed limits are set at 120km/h on highways; 100km/h on secondary roads; and 60km/h in urban areas. Most roads are in good condition, but there are a few exceptions. There are rail connections between the main centres, such as Johannesburg and Cape Town.
For visa requirements, please contact your nearest South African diplomatic mission. South Africa requires a valid yellow fever certificate from all foreign visitors and citizens over one year of age travelling from an infected area or having been in transit through infected areas. Infected areas include Zambia and Angola in southern Africa.
South Africa has been well known for its medical skill since Professor Christiaan Barnard performed the first successful human heart transplant in the country in 1967. There are many world-class private hospitals and medical centres around the country, especially in the urban areas, while many state hospitals also offer excellent care, among them Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.
Most of South Africa is malaria-free, but if you are visiting the Kruger National Park or low-lying parts of northern KwaZulu-Natal, be aware that you are entering malarial areas and should take precautions in the form of prophylactic medication.
TIPS AND TIPPING
As a rough guide: give 10% to 15% to a waitron in a restaurant; about US$10 (or equivalent) per day to your safari ranger.
Use common sense and take basic safety precautions. Keep valuables locked away and don’t wear expensive watches or jewellery, flash expensive cameras, or walk in deserted areas. Keep car doors and windows locked at all times. If in doubt, ask a guide or at your accommodation for safety guidelines.
South Africa has its fair share of sporting, movie, music and political celebrities. From global political icons like former president Nelson Mandela and Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu to golfing greats such as Gary Player and Ernie Els, movie stars like Charlize Theron and musicians (think Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the group Freshlyground), expect South Africans to make news anywhere in the world.
Smoking is banned in public places, but there are usually designated areas where people can smoke. Under-18s may not enter a designated smoking area or buy cigarettes.
TRAVELLING WITH CHILDREN
Most places welcome children and many establishments have special facilities such as family rooms or children’s entertainment programmes. Enquire about these when you book. All national parks are child-friendly.
There are facilities for disabled people (although fewer than in the United States or many parts of Europe). All major hotels will have facilities for disabled people. When renting a vehicle, discuss special needs and parking dispensations with the car-hire company.
Gauteng is a dynamic province. Considered the commercial heart of the country, its energy and vibe are tangible from the moment you arrive. From historical and cultural attractions that speak of the country’s turbulent past to world-class cities that are distinctly African, Gauteng has much to offer visitors
Gauteng South Africa is the commercial powerhouse of the country. But its offerings are not limited to commerce and industry, Gauteng's tourism contribution is equally impressive, with Johannesburg, Pretoria, Soweto, Cullinan and Magaliesburg all ranking as top Gauteng attractions.
Anchored by the historical cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria, Gauteng provides plenty in the way of shopping and entertainment through its network of malls, casinos, flea markets and suburban stores.
Both cities house a number of museums, including the Hector Pieterson Museum, Apartheid Museum, Constitution Hill, Museum of Military History, Pretoria Art Museum and the Museum Africa.
Johannesburg and Pretoria are also home to several theatres and playhouses, offering authentic South African musical performances, drama, ballet and side-splitting local comedies.
Soweto is a very popular Gauteng destination. This is largely due to the pivotal role it played in South Africa's struggle for freedom but also, because of the unique cultural experiences it offers. Adventure tourism is also taking off and visitors can bungee jump and swing in and outside of Soweto's iconic Orlando Towers.
On the outskirts of these bustling metropoles, the cityscapes give way to Highveld grasslands that stretch out to the province's borders.
In Johannesburg, this extends south to the Sedibeng region and the watersports mecca of the Vaal River, and west towards the popular Cradle of Humankind, Sterkfontein Caves and the charming country village of Magaliesburg.
At Pretoria, it extends north into the Dinokeng tourism region, which is home to the quaint mining town of Cullinan with its diamond history, and rolling savannahs that feature a number of game reserves.
Aside from township tours, visitors to Gauteng can also delight in other cultural experiences, which include visits to the Credo Mutwa Cultural Village in Soweto, Heia Safari Ranch in Muldersdrift and the Zuluka Tribal Village just outside Pretoria.
Shopping is a must, with many excellent curio shops to be found at Sandton City, Rosebank Mall and Nelson Mandela Square - where you'll also find the enormous statue of Nelson Mandela - great for photographs and lunch.
How to get there:
Fly direct from any of South Africa’s major cities into OR Tambo International Airport at Johannesburg.
If you’re driving, from Durban take the N3 motorway to Johannesburg and from Cape Town take the N1 motorway to Johannesburg.
Best time to visit:
Gauteng is an all-year-round destination. Spring to autumn (September to May) is beautiful and warm, with hot summer days that usually bring rain. Winter days are mild, but morning and evenings very cold.
Where to stay:
The region offers a full range of accomodation from backpackers and B&B's to hotels and guest houses.
What to eat:
There is a range of foods to eat in Gauteng, from authentic African cuisine to boerekos (farm-style food). You will also find themed restaurants offering fare from around the world, most notably Indian, Chinese, Greek, Portuguese and Italian which reflect the influences of these cultures in South Africa.
Freedom Struggle tours e.g. including Hector Pieterson Museum and Nelson Mandela House in Soweto; Johannesburg CBD tours incl. Origin’s Centre Museum, Apartheid Museum, Museum Afrika, Newtown and Constitution Hill; Cradle of Humankind tours including e.g. Sterkfontein Caves, Maropeng Visitors Centre, Wonder Cave, African arts and crafts at shopping centres and flea markets around the province.
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, is a place of great scenic beauty. From mountains and midlands to pristine beaches, its natural splendour combined with a rich culture and historical heritage, make the province hard to beat.
KwaZulu-Natal holds many wonders. Mountain scenery, rolling midlands, bush and beaches come together to offer a compelling and intriguing KwaZulu-Natal tourism experience. All this is underpinned by the legacy of the Zulus and the wars which played out here, completing the picture of KwaZulu-Natal's alluring tourist attraction.
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, is regarded as the Zulu kingdom, for it is home to this mighty African tribe. The nation is highly regarded for its military tactics, introduced by King Shaka and successfully employed in wars against the Boers (Dutch-speaking farmers) and British.
Ample opportunities exist for visitors to immerse themselves in the Zulu culture at villages around the province, while extensive battlefields tourism routes bring these Zulu-Boer-British wars to life.
KwaZulu-Natal's cultural heritage also includes the San (Bushmen), with tens of thousands of San rock paintings to be seen in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg mountains
These exquisite mountains are a World Heritage Site and a major leisure attraction, offering walks, hikes and adventure activities. They house the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg National Park with its abundant biodiversity, including 300 bird species and 48 mammal species.
This mountainous terrain gives way to the rolling hills of the midlands where you can indulge in the treats of the famous Midlands Meander. This tourism route features almost 200 destinations, focused around the arts, crafts and cultures of this region
Travel through the beautiful Valley of a Thousands Hills to Pietermaritzburg and Durban, where you can uncover the liberation efforts of icons such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi on the Freedom Route.
From Durban, the province's 'capital' and home to a rich Indian culture, explore the beautiful coastline with its pristine beaches, from Port Edward in the south to Kosi Bay in the north.
The north is also home to birding hotspot, Zululand; the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, another World Heritage Site; and several game reserves such as the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve on the Elephant Coast.
HOW TO GET HERE
Fly from any of South Africa’s major cities to King Shaka International Airport.
If you’re driving, from Johannesburg take the N3 freeway direct to Durban. From Cape Town, take the N2 freeway to Durban.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
KwaZulu-Natal is an all-year-round destination, due to its warm climate. The coastal regions have hot, humid summers with high rainfall. Inland, summers are warm and winters mild, while around the Drakensberg mountains, winters are cold with frequent snowfalls.
AROUND THE AREA
Midlands Meander in the Natal Midlands; uKhahlamba-Drakensberg; Aliwal Shoal, Oribi Gorge and Lighthouse Tours on the South Coast; uShaka Marine World in Durban; rickshaw ride on Durban beachfront; iSimangaliso Wetland Park; bird watching in Zululand; game reserves of the Elephant Coast; the Battlefields routes; Natal Sharks Board; Freedom Route; Indian heritage tour.
WHERE TO STAY
The region offers a full range of accomodation from backpackers and B&B's to hotels and guest houses.
WHAT TO EAT
Famous Durban curries and bunny chow (a bread and curry dish); traditional Zulu fare at cultural villages; traditional South African cuisine at the game reserves.
Splashy Fen Music Festival in the Drakensberg in April; Fort Nottingham Highland Gathering in the Natal Midlands in May; annual sardine run in May (check); Midlands Meander Slow Food Festival in the Natal Midlands in June; Durban July Horse Race in Durban during July; International Film Festival in Durban during July/August.
Everything Indian including spices at the Victoria Street Market; Zulu crafts and artwork at the Durban Beachfront Market and at cultural villages around the province; local art, crafts and homemade goodies on the Midlands Meander.
The Free State is essentially an agricultural province and its appeal lies in its scenic beauty, rural tranquility and natural attractions. The eastern part of the province is the most beautiful, with its sandstone rock formations and rolling grassland. It also lies in the heart of South Africa as it borders six of the country’s nine provinces, as well as the kingdom of Lesotho.
HOW TO GET HERE
Fly direct from any of South Africa’s major cities to Bloemfontein Airport. If you’re driving; from Johannesburg and Cape Town take the N1 south and north respectively to Bloemfontein. From Durban, take the N3 out of KwaZulu Natal, and pick up the N5 at Harrismith to Bloemfontein.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Spring to autumn (September to April). Summer days get very hot, while winter days are mild, with cold evenings. Snow regularly falls on the eastern highlands.
TOURS TO DO
Tour Winnie Mandela House in Majwemasoeu; the region’s various wine cellars; the self-drive tourism routes (Battlefields, Friendly N6, Diamond and Wine, BBT Heritage, Maloti and Goldfields); the National Museum in Bloemfontein; the Basotho Cultural Village; the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.
In order to cover the large stretches of territory required, getting around by car is recommended.
LENGTH OF STAY
While great day trips can be organised, exploring the region fully would require one to two weeks.
WHERE TO STAY
The region offers a full range of accomodation from backpackers and B&B's to hotels and guest houses.
WHAT TO EAT
Traditional boerekos (farm-style food) and potjiekos (pot stew) in most towns and villages; authentic African cuisine at the many African cultural villages; the Free State’s famed corn on the cob and juicy cherries.
Philippolis Witblits Festival in June (a festival featuring traditional home-brewed alcoholic spirits); NAMPO Farm Show (agricultural show) at Bothaville in May; the Bloemfontein Show (agricultural and entertainment festival) at Bloemfontein in April; the Free State Food Fair and Macufe Mangaung African Cultural Festival, both at Bloemfontein in October; the Cherry Festival at Ficksburg in November.
Things to do:
The town of Clarens in the Eastern Free State, is an artist's hideout. One can easily see why creative people gain inspiration from its beautiful surrounds. For nature, art and fun, Clarens is an ideal getaway.
The town of Clarens was established in 1912, the same year the Titanic sank.
No sooner have visitors arrived in Clarens than they find themselves in a frenzy of art-buying, restaurant-hopping, cycling, game driving, trout fishing, birding and late-night partying; then ask themselves where exactly did that quiet weekend or couple of days go?
And that’s the point: a visit to Clarens is so rich with experiences, you need to make sure you set aside enough time in the area because it passes all too quickly.
Situated along the Highlands Route, a stone's throw from the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Clarens is blessed with soul-stirring views. The Golden Gate gets its name from the shades of gold and ochre cast by the sun on the sandstone cliffs for which the region is famous.
Many of the homes, restaurants and shops in Clarens were crafted from sandstone, contributing to the town's appeal. Make a point of popping into the local arts and crafts stores. Ask about the Artists Amble, a fun route that incorporates a number of galleries run by local artists. If you're in the mood for shopping, make a point of addling the colourful traditional Basotho blankets, arts and crafts to your list.
Ask any of the stores for a copy of the local community magazine, 'The Speckled Bean', which has loads of information on activities in Clarens, as well as insights into various social and community projects in the area.
The more adventurous should head out to a choice of holiday farms, such as Bokpoort Holiday Farm, in the Maluti Mountains near Golden Gate, which specialises in horseback adventures. Alternatively, find out about the fossil-hunting safari or visit the rock art at Schaapplaats Farm. History buffs should head for the Clarens Museum, Surrender Hill and other Boer War sites not far from town.
Clarens offers a fleet of attractions and is an adventure tourism hotspot, with quad biking, paintball, abseiling and white water rafting all available nearby. So plan a trip to Clarens now and find out for yourself why is called The Jewel of the Free State.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Free State
Famed for its golden-hued sandstone sentinels, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the Free State province is a superb family destination for lovers of wide, open spaces. Located in the foothills of Lesotho's Maluti Mountains, the park is renowned for its extraordinary landscape and abundance of caves and shelter.
Loved for its unusual scenery and renowned for its golden aura as the sun illuminates its sandstone cliffs and outcrops, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the Free State province lies equidistant from Johannesburg, Durban and Bloemfontein, and is the ideal escape for those longing to stretch their legs, breathe fresh mountain air and allow nature to restore their balance.
Situated in the western foothills of the Maluti Mountains, close to the Lesotho border, Golden Gate is South Africa's only grassland national park.
The park's most notable features, aside from its variety of resident grasses, are its extraordinary sandstone cliffs and outcrops – coloured in multi-hued bands and eroded by the sands and rains of time.
Millions of years ago, the area was a swampy delta ruled by dinosaurs. Later, wind and sand scoured the landscape to desert, and sculpted the park’s renowned golden-coloured cliffs. Finally, volcanic activity capped the landscape with dark peaks, known as Drakensberg basalt, and mineral-rich soils gave rise to the vast multi-species grassland biome for which the park was proclaimed – there are more than 50 species of grass in the park.
Today black wildebeest, eland, blesbok, oribi, springbok and Burchell’s zebra graze its wild, dappled pastures, and rare bearded vultures circle the skies above the lost pathways of the San hunter-gathers, who once dwelt in the park's caves.
Explore the largest of these, the Cathedral Cave, on a guided walk. In this cavern, where Basotho worshippers and Anglo-Boer war refugees once sought shelter in their own times, a colony of rare sacred ibis breeds.
Hike up the Brandwag buttress, or Ribokkop, the highest point in the park; spend the night in the wilderness on the two-day, one-night Rhebok Hiking Trail; visit the Vulture Restaurant; horse ride, mountain bike or go on a game drive; and make time to stop so you can absorb the park’s panoramic views and magnificent stillness
The Free State’s Gariep Dam Nature Reserve offers visitors fantastic fishing and all kinds of watersports. For those that prefer dry land there’s game viewing, horseback rides and hiking to absorb the rich natural environment and spectacular dam. Accommodation is plentiful and the reserve is the perfect stop between Cape Town and Johannesburg.
The Gariep Dam Nature Reserve is a haven for anglers, watersports enthusiasts and game watchers. The reserve is over 11 000 hectares in size and has the largest herd of springbok in South Africa. It is situated on the northern shore of the vast 36 487-hectare Gariep Dam on the Orange River.
The Gariep Dam in the Free State is a watersport enthusiast's heaven with sailing, power boating, canoeing, angling, swimming and skiing while a tour of the dam wall, which is an astonishing engineering feat, takes visitors right down to the bedrock.
Situated between Bloemfontein and Colesberg in the Free State this nature reserve is a perfect respite on the long drive from Johannesburg to Cape Town or vice versa.
The whole family can relax at the adjoining privately owned Aventura Resort with its choice of activities, including swimming, tennis, golf, mini-golf and watersports. You have the option to stay at the resort or at one of a range of guesthouses and B&Bs in Gariep Dam Village near this Free State nature reserve.
The area is famed for its game and bird life. Game includes impressive herds of Cape Mountain zebra, red hartebeest and black wildebeest.
On the sporting side, visitors can enjoy river rafting, canoeing, boat rides and fishing. The Gariep 500 Rubber Duck Race and Watersport Festival is held in February each year.
The Maloti-Drakensberg Heritage Route is a joint eco-tourism initiative between South Africa and the Kingdom of Lesotho. The route covers about 13 000km2 of the most awe inspiring mountain scenery along South Africa's north-eastern border with Lesotho.
You’ll catch famous names like the Amphitheatre and Giant's Castle and if you're a hiker or nature fanatic, you will instantly fall in love with this place as you make your way along the contoured paths that criss-cross these popular and scenic parts of the Drakensberg Mountain Range.
Along the way, you’ll come across more than 22 000 ancient rock art paintings. These etchings of history recorded the daily lives and spiritual adventures of the “First People” – the original South Africans.
In summer the Maloti-Drakensberg Heritage Route is a place of breathtaking beauty with grasslands, forests, clear streams, and a world of tree ferns and mosses that beg to be explored on foot.
But winter is when the mountains are at their grandest, covered in soft, white snow that urges adventurers to take to the slopes at Afriski, or watch raptors soaring above them at Sani Pass.
The Eastern Cape, South Africa, is a place of rugged beauty. Its pristine coastline, virgin bush and sub-tropical forests exist as though untouched by time. It’s the home of Africa’s Big Five and South African surfing, and the birthplace of Nelson Mandela. It boasts many natural, historical and cultural attractions and activities.
Regarded as South Africa’s ‘wild’ province, the Eastern Cape features expanses of untouched beach, bush and forest that yield a plethora of visitor activities and attractions.
Stretching from the snow-capped peaks of the southern Drakensberg to the lush forests of Tsitsikamma and flanked by the Indian Ocean, it's not surprising the Eastern Cape, South Africa, is described is a province of great extremes.
Its natural diversity is second to none: the Eastern Cape incorporates parts of all 7 ecological zones that occur in South Africa and features all 3 of the country's biodiversity regions, which is further enhanced by its 820 kilometres of untamed, if not wild, coastline.
This heralds a colourful assortment of fauna and flora, including Africa's Big Five an abundance of birdlife, with hundreds of recorded species and a rich and varied marine life, including 27 species of whales and dolphins. The Eastern Cape is steeped in cultural and historical significance and stories of Xhosa kings, early settlers, cultural conflicts and frontier battles abound. As the birthplace of Nelson Mandela, the province is also noted for its role in fuelling the fight for African democracy.
To assist visitors in exploring the province, Eastern Cape tourism routes have been established. These not only highlight its wealth of natural beauty and deep historical roots, but a number of must-see Eastern Cape attractions as well.
Visit Tsitsikamma and do the world's highest commercial bridge bungee jump or renowned Otter Trail see the Sundays River Valley with the world-famousGreater Addo Elephant National Park and 120 000 hectare marine reserve; or stopover at the aptly named Wild Coast, birthplace of Nelson Mandela and home to the Nelson Mandela Museum.
Do the Frontier Country route and see the sites of Britain's longest colonial war or the Karoo Heartland and immerse yourself in the intriguing geology of the region, including the awe-inspiring Valley of Desolation. Looking for snow? Head out on the Friendly N6 route and visit the southern Drakensberg mountains.
Wild, beautiful and totally absorbing - a world of wonder awaits the visitor in South Africa's Eastern Cape.
Things to do:
The Wild Coast
The Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape remains one of the world’s most untouched scenic locations. Beaches don’t come more beautiful than those of the Wild Coast and thanks to the rugged nature of the coast, they remain undeveloped. This is Xhosa tribal country, birthplace of Mandela and home of the inspiring Nelson Mandela Museum, with a landscape dotted by tribal huts and gentle rolling hills. Cattle roam freely, even on the beaches. Romantic shipwrecks, spectacular rock formations, pristine white sands, dolphins flashing in the waves and charming family
hotels make this area one of South Africa’s best kept secrets.
You can have an ecological adventure in Plettenberg Bay with miles of sparkling beaches set next to the green swathes of polo fields. Here you can encounter bottlenose and the rare Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins as well as some shark species. From Arch Rock you head into the middle of the Bay where pelagic seabirds are normally to be found some 7km from the shore. Out there our resident Bryde’s whales may be seen, as well as common dolphins, or southern right and humpback whales in their season.
Addo Elephant Park
Situated in a malaria free area and just one hour’s drive from the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, lies the Addo Elephant Park. Safe from the relentless persecution of the past, the grey leviathans of the bush now roam in peace. Today this finely tuned ecosystem is sanctuary to over 450 elephants, 280 Cape buffalo, black rhino, a variety of antelope species, as well as the unique flightless dung beetle, found almost exclusively in Addo.
Shamwari Game Reserve
The luxury Shamwari Game Reserve is the southernmost Big Game private reserve in Africa. This premier, award-winning game reserve forms a natural extension to the famous Garden Route. The 25 000 ha reserve is steeped in Settler history, and dates back to the time when game roamed freely in the Eastern Cape.
Grahamstown National Arts Festival
South Africa’s largest and most colourful cultural event offers a choice of the best of both indigenous and imported talent. Every year for 11 days (June/July) Grahamstown’s population almost doubles, as over 50 000 people flock to Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape for a feast of the best of South Africa’s theatre, music, arts, crafts and sheer entertainment.
The Northern Cape is the largest of South Africa’s provinces but has the smallest population, making it one of the more remote areas of the country. Among its key selling points are its vast, open spaces, unique vegetation – including the beautiful spring flower spectacle that transforms a semi-desert landscape – and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, which is famous for its lions.
If you love wide open spaces, wild flowers or Africa’s big cats, you’ll love South Africa’s Northern Cape province. Among its many attractions, the Northern Cape is home to one of the world’s most important diamond mining towns, most impressive natural floral display, and famous black-maned lions.
Most of the Northern Cape province lies south of the mighty Orange River and comprises desert and semi-desert landscapes. The province is characterised by vast arid plains with outcroppings of rocks, with the cold Atlantic Ocean forming its western boundary.
Although slightly off the beaten track, there are many tourism highlights located in the Northern Cape. During August and September, the area of Namakwaland (previously Namaqualand), is transformed into a brilliant carpet of wild flowers. This region is world-famous for its floral exuberance and photographic safaris to the area are very popular.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is one of the largest nature conservation areas in southern Africa and one of the largest protected natural ecosystems in the world. The park has a surface area of more than 2 million hectares and is one of the best places in the world to see rare black-maned lions. Once you have experienced its sheer size, clear skies, flamboyant sunsets, brilliant starry nights and incredible silence, you will never forget it.
The Richtersveld National Park is situated in northwestern Namakwaland. Here, the landscape has a starkness to it that most visitors find fascinating. The area is home to the Nama people, who are mainly sheep or goat-herders, and live off the land. The Richtersveld is popular with 4x4 enthusiasts and nature lovers who truly want to get away from it all.
The diamond town of Kimberley is also in the Northern Cape and home to the Kimberley Mine Museum. Part of the museum includes viewing decks overlooking the famous Big Hole, as well as a number of historic buildings. Known as a 'living museum', the old shops, bars, restaurants, churches and banks appear exactly as they were during the diamond digging days.
HOW TO GET HERE
Best is to use Kimberley as a starting point to explore the Northern Cape. Kimberley has direct air links to Cape Town and Johannesburg.
To explore the Northern Cape at your leisure, it is advisable to hire a car. Be prepared for long trips though: the Northern Cape is a vast area and it can take many hours to travel between destinations.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The Northern Cape is a semi-arid region with little rainfall in summer. The weather conditions are extremely cold in winter and extremely hot in summer. Factor this into your planning.
WHERE TO STAY
WHAT TO EAT
Enjoy traditional South African cuisine.
Pella Mission is truly in the middle of nowhere. Approximately 150km from Springbok, Pella boasts a striking yellow cathedral that was built by French missionaries in the late 1880’s.
Things to do
The evocative Northern Cape's Kalahari Desert evokes a picture of never ending red sand dunes, big, blue skies and undulating heat waves that descend unrelentingly on dry river beds.
Despite this immaculate wilderness, the Kalahari is not true desert, in the sense of being unable to support life. Parts of the Kalahari receive as much as 250 millimetres of rainfall, albeit erratically, throughout the year, and grasses and acacias easily support large species of antelope, hyenas, the famous black-maned lions of the desert, giraffe, warthogs, jackals and possibly the most endearing and iconic creature of the southern African deserts, the cheeky meerkat.
Namaqualand’s desert flowers
The Namaqualand is famous for its stunning display of wild flowers at the beginning of the spring season. It is after the first rains that the arid desert suddenly bursts into an endless carpet of flowers, becoming a veritable ocean of colour and scent. Approximately 4 000 species of plants can be found amongst the desert flowers including the mysterious Namaqua Halfmens, and the region is known for photographic safaris.
Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape
The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape is a remarkable mountainous desert region in the north-west of the country that is uniquely owned and managed by the Nama communities.
The Richtersveld’s incredible culture and history that dates back at least 2000 years, offers interesting insights into how people have existed in this harsh landscape and as a result the area has been proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The |Ais-|Ais/Richtersveld National Park includes some of the world’s richest flora and fauna and is well-known for its 4 x 4 trails.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
The very first transfrontier park to be proclaimed in Africa, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park combines the attractions of the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana and the Kalahari Gemsbok Park in South Africa – it’s an untouched wilderness that covers a staggering 3,6 million hectares. Here you will find the famous black-maned lions,
the enchanting pygmy falcons and the abundant antelope that follow century-old migration patterns through the park.
SA Astronomical Observatory
You can’t visit the Northern Cape without going on a stargazing safari. The South African Astronomical Observatory in Sutherland is home to the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) - the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. Here the clear night skies offer you the perfect opportunity to view the stars and learn more about this place known as ‘The Gateway to the Universe’.
Northern Cape highlights at a glance:
• Namaqualand in springtime
• The Augrabies Falls National Park
• San culture
• The Big Hole of Kimberley
• The |Ais-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
• Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
• Sutherland – home to stargazing in SA
• Pella Mission Station
• Karoo Highlands
• Adventure sports
The scenic splendour of the Western Cape has long been a drawcard in South Africa. This is where you’ll find the Cape Winelands and a beautiful stretch of coastline. Most visitors list Table Mountain, Robben Island (where the late Nelson Mandela was incarcerated) and a visit to the Cape of Good Hope, at the tip of the Cape Peninsula, as priorities.
In the Western Cape you will discover world-class wines, wonderful whale watching, contrasting landscapes, ample adventure options, as well as the magic of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, which meet at Africa's most southerly point.
The Western Cape is home to the world's longest wine route, found along Route 62, a scenic tourist route that runs from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, 850 kilometres up the eastern coast. If you don't have time to complete the whole route, consider visiting the wine-growing areas of Stellenbosch, Paarl, Wellington, Franschhoek, Ceres, Worcester, Bonnievale and Robertson. The Garden Route, from Cape Town to Knysna, is gorgeous, passing through many a quirky town, complete with welcoming locals and fresh produce stalls. Stop in at Swellendam, a town where the jailer once doubled as the postmaster, to experience Cape Dutch architecture at its best.
Several hours south of Cape Town is the southernmost tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. The journey to Cape Agulhas will take you through the scenic Overberg, along what is known as the Whale Coast. You could take a detour to Hermanus, a town famous for its whale watching. A trip up the West Coast will take you through many a small town, mainly quiet fishing villages such as Langebaan and Paternoster.
Be sure to take the time to enjoy the flora along the way - and stop in at Yzerfontein to experience a South African beach braai.
For serious peace and quiet, head north to the Karoo, one of the most arid regions in the country. This sparsely populated, semi-desert area offers open space, fresh air and historical architecture.
Outdoor enthusiasts are by no means left out when it comes to things to do in the Western Cape. Kite-surfing along the West Coast, shark cage diving in Gansbaai, sea kayaking in Simon's Town, hiking along the Otter Trail, ostrich riding in Oudtshoorn, bungee jumping at Bloukrans Bridge in Nature's Valley, and scuba diving along the East Coast are sure to keep the most ardent adrenalin junkies entertained.
HOW TO GET HERE
You can fly directly to Cape Town International Airport from most major airports around the world. The city is also linked by rail and air to the rest of South Africa.
Public transport in Cape Town is excellent, but hiring your own vehicle allows you to explore at your own pace.
specialise in fresh seafood such as fish, mussels, crayfish and calamari. Cape Town and the nearby winelands boast many of the country's best restaurants.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Any time of year though it will depend on what you plan to do and see: summer's are warm and dry; winter is cooler and wet.
AROUND THE AREA
Coastal towns in the Western Cape
WHERE TO STAY
There are accommodation options to suit all tastes and needs.
Things to do
Cape Town’s Table Mountain is the dramatic backdrop to one of the world’s top destinations. A sunset dinner on the top of Table Mountain is hard to beat, with a panoramic 360° view of the city and the rugged Cape Peninsula.
Table Mountain also provides numerous trails for walking and hiking and for the more adventurous there is rock climbing or paragliding. The mountain is accessible via a high-tech rotating cable car or by various hiking routes. Along the way you can enjoy the species of plant life and the scenery which makes the Table Mountain National Park part of the Western Cape’s Floral Kingdom, one of South Africa’s eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Robben Island and Historic Attractions
Situated some 12 km from Cape Town harbour, Robben Island is the notorious prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 (of his 27) years in jail. You can visit the prison and tour the island, and pay homage to the great struggle heroes of the past.
Other notable historic attractions in Cape Town include the District Six Museum -
which highlights forced removals under the apartheid regime; and the Bo-Kaap Museum – a tribute to the Cape Malay culture and the Castle of Good hope, the oldest surviving colonial building in Africa.
The Whale Coast
The Sensational Whale Coast stretches from the hamlet of Rooiels in the west to Quoin Point in the east and is flanked by ocean and mountain views. A major highlight is the sighting of the Southern Right Whales that takes place between June and November.
If you’re visiting us at the end of September, don’t miss the Whale Festival that takes place annually in Hermanus.
The Cape Winelands
While the verdant valleys of the Cape Winelands can be reached on a day-trip from Cape Town, they are also a wonderful location for a longer getaway. This is an area of majestic mountains, spectacular passes, the historic towns of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschoek, and gracious Cape Dutch wine estates dating back to the 17th century.
There are 13 wine routes in the Western Cape with over 2 000 varieties of wine to taste. Enjoy one of the many superb restaurants located at some of the country’s finest estates, and if you’re in the mood for something different you can tread grapes and blend your own wine (great for team-building).
The Klein Karoo and Central Karoo
Don’t be fooled by the dryness of the Klein Karoo and Central Karoo – under these infinite skies there’s much archaeology, wildlife, architecture and some of the most impressive mountain passes. The Cango Caves outside Oudtshoorn drip with stalagtites and stalagmites, while the ostrich palaces located on farms have retained their yesteryear elegance.
Vin de Constance
In the early 19th century the wine of Constantia reached the height of its fame. Kings vied for possession of it. Louis Philippe sent emissaries from France to fetch it and Napoleon drank it on the island of St Helena, finding solace in his lonely exile.
The Garden Route
Up the south east coast, runs the aptly named Garden Route incorporating Mossel Bay, Sedgefield, George, Wilderness, Plettenberg Bay and Knysna.
It’s a veritable Eden, edge-to edge in beaches, lakes, lagoons and forests, mixed with magnificent golf estates and cultural attractions and sprinkled liberally with thrills like bungee jumping, deep-sea fishing and sea kayaking.
You’ll find the Outeniqua Hiking Trail, The Otter Trail and the Dolphin Trail in the lush Garden Route National Park and if you’re in the mood for adventure why not jump off the highest commercial bungee jump in the world?
You can enjoy ocean encounters and ecological adventures at Plettenberg Bay with miles of sparkling beaches set next to the green swathes of polo fields. Here you can view bottlenose and the rare Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins as well as some shark species.
From Arch Rock you head into the middle of the Bay where pelagic seabirds are normally to be found some 7 km from the shore. Out there our resident Bryde's whales may be seen, as well as common dolphins, or southern right and humpback whales in season.
The West Coast
On the West Coast, walk the pathways of the early Khoisan, who left their signatures in hundreds of rock paintings, particularly in the rugged Cederberg mountain range. At the West Coast Fossil Park (a 90 minute drive from Cape Town) there’s a rich find of animal fossils.
About mid-year, depending on the rains, the region breaks into a field of daisies, proteas and shrubs as the flower season starts. Also remember, the West Coast is renowned for exquisite seafood including prawns, crayfish and calamari.
You can have an ecological adventures in Plettenberg Bay with miles of sparkling eaches set next to the green swathes of polo fields.
Here you can see Bottlenose and the rare Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins, as well as some shark species. From Arch Rock you head into the middle of the Bay where pelagic seabirds are normally to be found some 7 km from the shore.
Out there our resident Bryde’s whales may be seen, as well as Common Dolphins, or Southern Right and Humpback whales in their season.
Western Cape highlights at a glance:
• Cape Town’s Long Street for after-hours fun
• Table Mountain (either by aerial cableway or on foot)
• Superb beaches – Clifton, Camps Bay, Muizenberg, Boulders
• Robben Island – a UNESCO World Heritage Site
• The Cape Wine lands for a wine-tasting safari
• Whale watching in the Overberg
• The West Coast National Park
• The Garden Route – spectacular natural beauty
• The V&A Waterfront – shop until you drop
Previously called the Northern Province, Limpopo is a land of beautiful and contrasting landscapes, which is typical of Africa. Hence it has become a favourite destination for leisure and adventure travellers worldwide.
Come to a region of infinite scenic beauty with a great diversity of both natural and man-made attractions, rich cultural heritage and an abundance of wildlife and nature-based tourism opportunities.
Our network of protected areas and nature reserves is amongst the best on the African continent. Through these nature reserves, we seek to preserve our natural heritage for future generations and for sharing with the international community.
We have spectacular mountain scenery, which beckons hikers, climbers and bikers, while mystic cultural destinations intrigue both local and international tourists. The game viewing is absolutely fantastic and possibly the best in the country - hence we are the preferred Eco-tourism destination in Southern Africa.
Limpopo Province is located in the far Northern part of South Africa and shares borders with three neighboring countries: Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. For this reason, the Province is also known as the gateway to other African countries. The Province also shares provincial borders with Gauteng, Mpumalanga and North West provinces.
Limpopo landscape and vegetation varies from one area to the other. The vegetation ranges from Tropical Forests, Bush and Shrubs to semi-desert areas with small trees and bushes. The landscape also ranges from mountainous to flat land.
Limpopo is divided into five regions, strategically located according to the cultural inhabitants. Capricorn is the central region predominantly occupied by the Bapedi People. Waterberg is the largest region in the province with the majority of people being the Batswana people. The Vhembe region in the far north is dominated by Vhavenda and Vatsonga people. The Mopani region towards the Kruger National Park is dominated by Vatsonga, whereas the Sekhukhuni region is dominated by Bapedi and Ndebele people.
Limpopo is the only Province in South Africa with more than two cultural groups staying together in their original habitat in harmony. Other ethnic groups include the English and Afrikaner people.
English is regarded as a business language but other native languages of the province include Tshivenda, Sepedi, Xitsonga, Setswana, Isindebele and Afrikaans.
Limpopo has a predominant Christian religious society. However there are other traditional religions such as Islam and Hinduism.
Most of the businesses operate normally from 09:00 a.m. to 17:00 p.m and also accept credit cards (e.g. Visa). National Banks are also available and they offer services of international standards, e.g. FNB, Standard Bank, Nedbank, African Bank and ABSA.
Limpopo's land area takes 123.910 km2 with a population of 5.3 million. Polokwane International Airport is the main airport along with other local airports, such as Eastgate Airport in Hoedspruit and Kruger National Park Airport in Phalaborwa.
The Province has a network of tarred roads which cover the entire area, including the tarred road inside the Kruger National Park.
Internet operates in all areas and there are internet cafés available in major towns around the province. The value added tax is charged at 14%. Visitors may claim VAT refunds at major border posts and at international airports on departure from South Africa.
Things to do:
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mapungubwe was once the capital of a country as large as Swaziland surrounded by over 200 small villages.
Today the stones, bones and Baobab Trees of Mapungubwe are all that are left of this ancient civilization in the Limpopo valleys.
Archaeologists have been carefully picking over the ruins for decades that tell us the rule of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe extended from about 1050 AD to 1270 AD, just as Europe was struggling through the Dark Ages and dealing with a rampant Genghis Khan.
There is evidence that indicates that a mini Ice Age stripped the area of its resources, effectively bringing the kingdom down. Not long after the demise of Mapungubwe the fortified city of Zimbabwe (capital of the Monomotapa Empire) rose in the East.
Mapungubwe Hill lost many of its treasures over the years but enough remained for archaeologists at the University of Pretoria to slowly piece together its story. They found human skeletons lying in seated or foetal positions, often with artifacts like beads, ivory, animal bones and pots next to them. Burials on the hill were likely to be those of royalty as vast quantities of gold were found with their remains.
Thanks to a specially curated museum, you can experience this amazing story with your own eyes.
Meanwhile the most intact gold artifact, a small figurine of a rhino, is still under safekeeping at the University of Pretoria.
Sian Tiley, author of Mapungubwe - South Africa's Crown Jewels , says, “The beads found at Mapungubwe are thought to originate from India, Egypt, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.” Proving that this was indeed a commercial network that would truly make today's globalised traders envious.
While coming to Mapungubwe National Park to discover this fascinating ancient history for yourself is something that should feature on everyone’s bucket list, there’s so much more to Limpopo than just her history. The massive Limpopo River, the sandstone hills and the wonderful scenery are also just waiting to reveal their secrets.
The northern section of the Kruger National Park is an area of unique biodiversity. It's one of the few places where fever tree forests grow side by side with forests of giant baobabs. The trees line the banks of the Limpopo and Luvuvhu rivers: the slim, pale, luminescent green trunks of the fever trees glimmering between the massive dark brown trunks of the baobabs.
When you stay at Pafuri Wilderness Camp, one of the Kruger National Park's private lodges, you're in the ancestral lands of the Makuleke people, who, in partnership with Wilderness Safaris, act as custodians of this wildly beautiful area. Local staff are trained and encouraged by experienced rangers and service staff from all over South Africa.
Your birding guide will spot a fleeting feather as easily as you can find your way around your home town. If you're looking for that special bird, they'll find it, entice it nearer with its own individual call, and then all you have to do is tick it off on your list.
The crowned eagle, the wattle-eyed flycatcher, Bohm's spinetail and, of course, the elusive and highly sought-after Pels fishing owl, are some of the specials. The Big Five – lion, elephant, leopard, rhino and buffalo – are present, and you will encounter elephants everywhere.
Well over a million years ago, Homo erectus walked and lived here. You'll be shown Stone-Age hand-axes and unexcavated dinosaur fossils.
Crooks' Corner, which links South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, is where the villains of yesteryear hung out. In winter, when the Limpopo is dry, they could easily move from one country to another, dodging the herds of elephants which take mud baths along the banks.
The Waterberg district of Limpopo is a true natural wonder. It features ancient mountains, a rich tapestry of biodiversity, thousands-year-old rock art and a site of critical archaeological and palaeontological importance. Its rolling savannahs also make it a popular safari destination, where large herds of wildlife can be seen.The Waterberg district offers up a fantastic tourism experience that combines some of South Africa's best features. Mountains, Big Five game viewing and exploring a captivating pre-historic past are just some of Waterberg's attractions.
A major Waterberg drawcard is the UNESCO Waterberg Biosphere Reserve. It is the only savannah biosphere reserve in southern Africa and features a mix of rock formations, formed over millions of years, significant San (Bushmen) rock art sites and abundant bushveld plains that support a diverse array of fauna and flora.
The Waterberg district is renowned for its spectacular views, which are most evident within the sprawling biosphere reserve. Its pristine bush environment has also precipitated the rise of eco-tourism in this area. There are now a number of game reserves that offer authentic safari experiences, including Big Five game viewing.
Visit the Mabula and Mabalingwe Game Reserves or the Marakele National Park with what is regarded as the world's largest colony of endangered Cape vultures, to see Africa at its finest.
While the Waterberg mountains speak of San existence here thousands of years ago, the nearby Makapans Valley points to human presence in the region millions of years before. The valley is regarded as one of the country's most significant archaeological and palaeontological sites, as it has yielded hominid fossils dating back 3m years.
Make sure you visit Mokopane and book a guided tour of the valley and its intricate network of caves, which have been declared a national monument.
Other outdoor pursuits that can be enjoyed in the Waterberg include excellent fishing at the Mokolo Dam at Lephalale, bird watching at the exquisite Nyl floodplain in the Nylsvley Nature Reserve at Modimolle and hiking at Mookgophong.The Waterberg is also known for its hot mineral springs - many of its towns actually developed around these natural phenomena, which can still be enjoyed today at Bela-Bela and Mookgophong.
Limpopo offers dozens of superlative private game lodges, situated in prime wildlife areas, including the Waterberg, Welgevonden, Klaserie and Timbavati reserves. Sometimes more affordable than some of their famous Sabi Sand sisters, these reserves boast game galore, including the Big Five, scenic beauty and often fewer visitors.
Private game lodges in Limpopo offer superb game viewing, true wilderness, and accommodation that ranges from luxury bush retreats and community-conscious lodges to tree houses.
In the less-visited northern Kruger National Park, you can stay in the Pafuri area where giant baobabs rub shoulders with yellow-green fever trees, and where one of South Africa’s most sought-after birds – the elusive Pel’s fishing owl – haunts ancient rivers where giant crocodiles lurk, leopards hunt and hippos squelch.
The main private reserves in the Lowveld region of Limpopo are the Timbavati, Klaserie and Thornybush game reserves – about a five-hour drive from Johannesburg. As one of only 16 guests at the Timbavati family-owned Umlani Bushcamp, credited as one of South Africa’s Fair Trade Tourism lodges, you’ll stay in a traditional African thatch-and-reed dwelling, go on tailor-made bush walks, or sleep out in an exclusive tree house.
Also in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve is the five-star Kings Camp, another community-conscious private lodge. If you need a break from game watching, pamper yourself at the in-house spa, or take a helicopter trip over the awesome Blyde River Canyon in neighbouring Mpumalanga.
At Pezulu Tree House Lodge you can stay in one of eight tree houses, all of which have been built to blend in with the environment without compromising your comfort and safety.
The malaria-free Waterberg region of Limpopo – a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve – has ancient mountains, superb rock art and a site of critical archaeological and palaeontological importance, as well as rolling savannahs and great views. Stay at any one of the private lodges such as Mabula Game Lodge, or Shibula Lodge in the 37 500ha Welgevonden Game Reserve, and enjoy a classic safari experience.
Bela-Bela means 'boiling boiling’ in the Tswana language, which refers to the hot springs that are this town's main attraction.
Set in the foothills of the beautiful Waterberg mountains, Bela-Bela's hot springs were originally used for healing purposes by the Tswana people hundreds of years ago. Today these legendary waters have been turned into a series of fountains, pools and bathing areas at various health and holiday resorts.
Pack your swimming costumes and towels. Bela-Bela's ancient hot springs remain nature's gift and you can swim, soak, slide down watery tunnels or just lie in the shade and relax.
This is hiking, game-viewing, cycling, wandering country. Big skies and red sandstone mountains, abundant game and remarkable birdlife. Take your pick from a number of reserves including Mabula, Kunkuru and Sondela. Lapalala Wilderness has long been at the heart of conservation in the Waterberg, and here you can meet two orphaned rhino, one black, the other white, and find out about their history and habitat.
Birds, from ducks, sand pipers and kingfishers to storks, buzzards and fish eagles, are the main attraction at the nearby Nylsvley Nature Reserve. Nylsvley’s floodplain is the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere and is one of the top birding spot in the country.
From cycling to marathon running, there’s also lots of sporting action in Bela Bela. Over 15 000 people from around the country gather at Mabalingwe Nature Reserve near Bela-Bela annually for the Mabalingwe Lion Man Mountain Bike Race, one of the most popular mountain-bike events in South Africa.
The Warmbaths Dam, some 8km from town, is a popular spot for water sports and fishing. There are excellent golf courses in the area, many of them with wild animals sharing the greens.
You can also take a guided tour at the Thaba Kwena Crocodile Farm near Bela Bela, one of the largest commercial crocodile farms in the country
The Modjadji Cycad Reserve is set in the foothills of blue-green mountains above the village of Modjadji, near Tzaneen. The Modjadji Cycad Reserve is home to the biggest concentration of the rare endemic cycad, Encephalartos transvenosus, in the world. The Modjadji Cycad Reserve is also part of the realm of the legendary Rain Queen.
The 560ha Modjadji Cycad Reserve is a unique natural forest that remains unspoiled and very much like it was in prehistoric times when mammal-like reptiles roamed the area using these plants as their main food source. Some of the cycads here reach heights of 13m and bear cones that weigh in at a hefty 34kg, making them the giants of their species. The plants seed between December and February, the best time to view them.
Take a gentle hike through the reserve, which has a series of paths that lead up and down the mountain slopes. You may also spot game such as Blue wildebeest, waterbuck, nyala, impala and bushbuck, and some of the 170 bird species recorded here. There is a small museum at the cycad reserve, and a little shop selling refreshments and curios.
You can also take a guided tour of the village of Modjadji, that was settled in the 16th century by the original Rain Queen Modjadji. The legend goes that the Karanga tribe, a matriarchal tribe whose queen possessed special rain-making powers, fled here from Zimbabwe. Apparently the Rain Queen and her fellow travellers were enchanted by the cycad forests here as well as the beautiful Bolobedu mountains, and decided to start a new kingdom.
The newly formed tribe of the Bolobedu named their Rain Queens 'the Modjadji' and they have reigned ever since. Revered for her rain making powers, the Modjadji Rain Queen was said to have struck fear even in the heart of the mighty Zulu warrior, King Shaka.
The Mpumalanga province is dominated by the Blyde River Canyon – the world's third-deepest gorge; the Sudwala Caves – the world's oldest caves; and the Kruger National Park – arguably the world's most famous wildlife sanctuary. Yet it is South Africa's second-smallest province.
Mpumalanga means 'the place where the sun rises', and while it may be among South Africa's smallest provinces, what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in spectacular natural diversity.
Not only is Mpumalanga home to the world's most famous game park, the world's third-deepest canyon and the world's oldest cave system, the region is also dotted with numerous game reserves teeming with flora and fauna.
Four billion years ago Antarctica and Madagascar separated from Mpumalanga's Blyde River Canyon, leaving behind a spectacular and beautiful landscape, which rises towards the north-eastern mountains, ending in a massive escarpment that drops steeply to the lowveld below.
Historical influence is evident in Mpumalanga, from the legendary King Solomon and Queen Sheba to the ancient floating villages of Chrissiesmeer.
Rock art by Africa's early peoples, the San and Khoisan, abound while evidence of the gold rush of the 1870s, captured for posterity in the historical town of Pilgrim's Rest, can be found everywhere.
The region's twisting mountain passes, steep valleys, rivers and pristine forests have given rise to alluring natural phenomena, including the 3 000-million-year-old Sudwala Caves, Bourke's Luck Potholes, God's Window, Wonder View and the Three Rondavels.
Fluff out your tail feathers with some magnificent bird watching, hiking, horse riding and trout fishing, or go wild with an elephant-back safari, white-water rafting trip or waterfall abseil.
Wildlife is on everyone's lips in Mpumalanga, with South Africa's flagship Kruger National Park one of the world's largest wildlife reserves boasting an impressive and unsurpassed array of indigenous species taking pride of place.
However, for the intimacy of a more private game experience, opt for one of countless upmarket game reserves, or combine a classic wildlife experience with a little pampering by trying a safari-and-spa option.