Mpumalanga might be one of South Africa’s tiniest provinces, only taking up about 6.3% of the country’s land area, but did you know it’s home to incredibly diverse landscapes full of wildlife, stunning scenery, and fascinating things to do?
Whether you’re keen to spot the Big 5, wander through ancient caves, see the world’s largest green canyon, or learn more about South Africa’s gold rush, you’ll never be bored in The Place Where the Sun Rises!
However, with so many incredible things to do in Mpumalanga, deciding what attractions to add to your bucket list can be tricky. To help you out, here are 16 of the very BEST things to do in Mpumalanga!
If it’s your first visit to the Rainbow Nation, make sure to also read these handy travel tips.
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The Best Things to do in Mpumalanga
Spot the Big 5 at the Kruger National Park
Let’s kickstart this list of epic things to do in Mpumalanga with the province’s top tourist attraction, and one of the most famous landmarks in Africa – the Kruger National Park.
Best known as one of the world’s finest game reserves and the largest national park in Africa, the Kruger National Park covers a massive area of nearly 20,000 km2 filled with diverse wildlife and the most incredible scenery imaginable.
The easiest way to get acquainted with all of the Kruger’s best bits is by joining a guided safari tour, but you’ll be able to get so much more out of your trip if you choose to self-drive. That way, you can really slow down and take it all in!
If you’re only visiting on a day trip, stick to the southern and central corners of the park. Skukuza and Lower Sabie have one of the highest concentrations of leopard globally, and there’s a good chance to spot the Big Five here. The central grasslands is another popular game-viewing area, thanks to its large lion population. It’s also home to an abundance of other African animals, including some of the biggest herds of zebra, buffalo, impala, giraffe, and wildebeest in the Kruger.
For those with a bit more time during their Mpumalanga itinerary, book a few nights’ stay at one of the awesome rest camps or gorgeous bushveld lodges. There’s much more to see further north! In particular, the Letaba and Olifants Regions. Here you can trade the hardy bushveld and expansive grasslands for lush mopane veld full of elephants!
No matter where you go in the Kruger, though, you’re guaranteed some of the best game viewing in Africa accompanied by spectacular unspoiled landscapes. And with a bit of luck, spot all of the Big Five in one go!
- Entrance fee: SA Citizens: R105 per adult per day | International Visitors: R424 per adult per day
- Where to Stay: Kruger Shalati – The Train on The Bridge near Skukuza in Kruger National Park
Explore the Blyde River Canyon
Blyde River Canyon, also known as the Motlatse Canyon, is another must-visit place in Mpumalanga. Believed to have formed more than 200 million years ago, it is the world’s third biggest canyon and the largest green canyon on Earth!
With its long, deep valley stretching 26 km in length and soaring cliffs covered in lush greenery, the scenery here is simply breathtaking. The Nature Reserve spans over 290 km² and is home to abundant animal life, picturesque viewpoints, excellent hiking trails, and an array of adventure-packed activities for thrill-seekers. Hiking, horse riding, white water rafting, kloofing, hot-air ballooning, fly-fishing, and biking are just some of the fun things to do here. However, if you just want to take it easy, book yourself into one of the private lodges so that you can spend a few days immersed in nature.
- Where to stay: Blyde River Canyon Lodge
Visit the World’s Oldest Caves
Another unmissable attraction in Mpumalanga is the Sudwala Caves, located roughly 37km west of Nelspruit.
Considered to be the oldest caves in the world, the Sudwala Caves are part of the Malmani Dolomite Ridge and began to form some 240 million years ago.
The caves consist of an intricate network of chambers and tunnels full of ancient geological treasures. The main chamber, known as the PR Owen Amphitheatre, is the biggest (known) chamber in the cave. It measures about 70 meters in diameter and looms 37 meters high. Within the caves, you can spot various stalagmites and stalactites, and even a colony of horseshoe bats!
While the main chamber is nothing short of magical, be sure to join the Crystal tour for something truly extraordinary. The tour takes you deep into the caves to a crystal chamber that is blanketed with shimmering aragonite crystals! It’s a tiring trek involving crawling through narrow passages, wading through water, and scrambling over rocks, but the effort will be more than worth it!
Don’t forget to bring a light sweater/jacket as it’s quite chilly inside the caves.
- Entrance fee: R100 per adult and R60 for kids | The Crystal Tour costs R450 per person.
- Where to Stay: Southern Sun Emnotweni in Nelspruit
Get Your Thrills at the Graskop Gorge Lift
The Graskop Gorge Lift is a cool viewing lift that travels 51m down a gorge and into a thick Afromontane forest. Once at the bottom, you can walk along various wooden walkways, gawk at the Motitsi Waterfall and learn more about the diverse plant life that makes this part of Mpumalanga so famous. The entire trail only takes an hour to complete, but you can easily spend more time here.
If the gorge lift isn’t enough action for you, well, then you’re in for a real treat! You can also zip across the gorge on a 120m long zipline, freefall 70m into the depths on the Big Swing, or walk across the ravine on a 52m-long suspension bridge!
Afterward, enjoy a cuppa at the Lift Café or shop for souvenirs at the onsite craft market. Here you can pick up everything from colorful bags to beaded jewelry to handcrafted wooden bowls.
Oh, and travel tip – Back in town, don’t miss the lip-smackingly delicious ice cream & chocolate sauce pancakes at Harry’s Pancakes.
- Entrance fee: R30 person | Lift R205 per person | Big Swing & Zip-line Combo R570
- Where to Stay: Rustique in Graskop
Drive the Panorama Route
Driving the Panorama Route is an activity that should be on everyone’s South African bucket list!
The Panorama Route is a stunningly beautiful route that takes you over highlands and parts of the Drakensberg Escarpment. With endless views over mountains, canyons, and valleys, it’s easy to understand why this is one of South Africa’s most scenic self-drives.
Although the route can be accessed at various points throughout the Lowveld, one of the easiest entry points is near White River. Along the way, you’ll find some of the best gems in Mpumalanga, from the Three Rondawels to Blyde River Canyon to Ohrigstad Dam Nature Reserve and much more.
The best way to enjoy the Panorama Route is to explore the area at your leisure. There’s so much to do and see here, and it would be a pity not to see it for yourself!
See the Wild Horses at Kaapsehoop
Kaapsehoop is a tiny village located roughly 1468m above sea level along the Highveld Escarpment. The town came into existence during the late 1800s when gold was discovered in its streams. While there’s no gold left in Kaapsehoop, this National Heritage Site is well worth a visit. Interestingly, the town is today best known for something completely different – wild horses. The best part? You won’t need to wander far to spot these beauties either. Just walk through town, and you’re bound to see them grazing in the veld or someone’s lawn!
Besides seeing the horses, there are surprisingly many things to do here. You can browse the charming stores, hike along the escarpment, chase waterfalls or just chill in one of the restaurants. Koek ‘n Pan makes the most amazing pancakes imaginable, while Salvador’s is a cool place to relax with an ice-cold beer! Try the prego too – it’s delicious!
- Where to Stay: Silver Mist Country Inn
Marvel at the Three Rondawels
The Three Rondawels are three rounded peaks resembling traditional round huts and are iconic sights along the Mpumalanga Panorama Route.
The lookout point sits within the Blyde River Canyon Reserve and offers sweeping views over the northern edges of the Drakensberg escarpment. Come at golden hour to witness the changing skies and enjoy this scenic spot sans the crowds.
- Entrance fee: R30 per person
- Where to stay: Blyde River Canyon Lodge
Hike up to God’s Window
Sitting 1700m above sea level, God’s Window is one of the most spectacular viewpoints in Mpumalanga. Not to mention, a HUGE must on your Lowveld bucket list.
What really makes this viewpoint so special is that it offers incredible views over the escarpment and lower-lying valley. With emerald green hills that seem to go on forever, towering cliffs covered in lush greenery and deep ravines – the scenery here is breathtaking! The best part? On a clear day, you’ll even be able to see all the way to Maputo!
While God’s Window is beautiful any time of day, come just before sunset to watch the sun melt away over the horizon. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes, because it’s a steep walk up!
Oh, and travel tip – Bring cash as cards aren’t accepted.
- Entrance fee: R20
- Where to stay: Blyde River Canyon Lodge
Hunt for Waterfalls
With so many beautiful waterfalls in Mpumalanga, it’s hard to keep track of them all. While you can spot some waterfalls right from the road, others involve following pothole-studded gravel roads deep into timberland.
The Sabie Waterfall Route, in particular, is a great place to start. This 50km route, which begins right outside Sabi along the R532, is dotted with an incredible selection of waterfalls often touted as the best waterfalls in South Africa.
Some of the most iconic falls include Bridal Veil, Lone Creek, Lisbon, Horseshoe, and the Berlin Waterfalls. Each one is unique and definitely deserves a spot on your list of things to do in Mpumalanga! However, if you only have time to see one or two, make sure it’s one of these:
The 90m high Lisbon Falls (Google Maps) is the most popular and the highest waterfall of the lot, but if you’re looking for a secluded spot totally off the main tourist track, head to Lone Creek Falls (Google Maps). This 68m is an impressive sight, and the waterfall pool is perfect for splashing around and cooling off in.
Just a heads up, there’s a small entry fee to each waterfall, which usually ranges between R10-R30. Bring cash because you won’t be able to pay with a card.
- Where to Stay: Tanamera Lodge just outside Sabie
Swim in the Mac Mac Pools
Another cool thing to do in Mpumalanga is to pop by the Mac Mac Pools – a set of natural rock pools between Sabie and Graskop. Here you can swim in fresh mountain streams, have a braai, or just relax under the trees.
While one could easily spend hours here splashing around in the pools, rock hopping, or just chilling out, the 3 km loop Secretary Bird Walk trail is a good alternative for the more adventurous. Nearby, you’ll also find the Mac Mac Falls – a set of 65m high falls and a National Monument. The pools are only 5 minutes drive from the falls, so it’s easy to combine these two Panorama Route attractions on one trip.
Just a heads up, Mac Mac Pools is a very popular tourist spot in Mpumalanga, especially in summer. Don’t come too late because the picnic area fills up quickly. Oh, and remember your swimsuit!
- Entrance fee: R30 per person (cash only)
- Where to Stay: Lush Guesthouse in Graskop
Visit Bourke’s Luck Potholes
There are loads of geological wonders in Mpumalanga. And Bourke’s Luck Potholes, just 35km outside of Graskop, is one of them.
Here you’ll find a series of giant bizarre-looking rock sculptures formed by centuries of water erosion. The 700m trail takes you over walkways and bridges with loads of viewing points offering different angles to snap pictures.
The potholes also mark the start of the Blyde River Canyon, and it’s a lovely place to take photos, test your imagination and enjoy the crisp air. While it’s really cool to see the potholes for yourself, you should know that it is a rather expensive attraction in Mpumalanga.
- Entrance fee: R65 per person (cash only)
- Where to Stay: Lush Guesthouse in Graskop
Visit the historic town of Pilgrims Rest
A visit to Mpumalanga would simply not be complete without exploring the beautiful historic town of Pilgrims Rest.
Pilgrims Rest is a South African National Monument, best known for its gold rush days in the late 1800s, lovely Victorian architecture, and various museums and historical attractions.
The entire town is a living museum oozing old-world charm no matter which way you turn. Some of the must-visit sights include the Police Station, the Printing Museum, the Dredzen Shop & House Museum, The Royal Hotel, and the Anglican Church, with many of them more than 100 years old. If you get tired of exploring all the historical sights, you can also go gold-panning or dress up in old-fashioned clothing! Oh, and if you’re brave enough, head to the historic graveyard where you can find out why one grave faces a different direction than all the others!
- Where to stay: The Royal hotel
Wander through the Lowveld National Botanical Gardens
Just behind the Nelspruit Value Mart Complex en route to White River, you’ll find one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in South Africa – the Lowveld National Botanical Gardens.
The sprawling gardens cover roughly 159 hectares of land and feature an incredibly diverse selection of plant life consisting of 600 indigenous species and more than 2000 non-native varieties of vegetation.
There are many points of interest within the gardens, from a jungle-like African rain forest to incredible cycad and fig tree collections and stunning views over the Nels and Crocodile rivers that flow through here. The Cascades Viewpoint, right next to the Visitors’ Centre, offers a great view over the Crocodile River and its cascading waterfall, but for something really special, don’t miss the Nels River Viewpoint!
Even if you aren’t into plants, the gardens are a great add-on to your Mpumalanga to do list. You can take a relaxing stroll along various trails, enjoy a picnic and immerse yourself in nature.
However, if you simply want to kick back and enjoy the scenery, the Tea Garden is a lovely spot with an amazing selection of cakes! The Tindlovu Restaurant, located at the Visitors’ Centre, is another nice place to unwind. The restaurant sits right on the banks of the Crocodile River and offers great views over the river and lush vegetation across its banks. What’s more, spotting crocodiles and even hippos aren’t uncommon here!
- Entrance fee: R40 per person
- Where to Stay: Southern Sun Emnotweni in Nelspruit
Relax at Casterbridge
Just on the outskirts of White River, you’ll find one of the quaintest shopping centers in Mpumalanga – the Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre.
This tiny center is jam-packed with beautiful galleries, quirky shops, restaurants, a spa, and even the Barnyard Theatre. It’s a great place to stroll around, shop for all kinds of goodies, catch some live music, or simply just soak up the relaxing vibes. Don’t miss the boozy cocktails at Magnolia Restaurant and the craft gin tastings at Gin & Co!
Oh, and travel tip – for the absolute BEST sangria and Mexican food, slip into Picasso’s Taqueria just across Casterbridge.
- Where to Stay: Casterbridge Hollow Boutique Hotel
Visit the Jane Goodall Chimp Eden
Mpumalanga is famous for its continued conservation efforts and sustainable eco-tourism, and one of the best examples is the Jane Goodall Institute South Africa Chimpanzee Sanctuary.
Situated in the Umhloti Nature Reserve, near Baberton, the sanctuary is home to numerous rescued chimpanzees that have been displaced from their natural habitats.
If want to learn more about the chimps and the efforts to safeguard them, you can join a guided tour. Along the way, you’ll get to see the chimps in semi-wild enclosures from various walkways and viewpoints. A visit to this sanctuary is a truly unique thing to do in Mpumalanga, but more importantly, also helps support chimp conservation efforts.
Tours take 1 hour, and reservations are essential.
- Tour & conservation fee: R240 per person
- Where to Stay: Nirvana Country House
Visit the Land of Kings
If you’re looking for something entirely unique to do in Mpumalanga, then why not visit a country within a country?
Swaziland or Eswatini is a landlocked country in the eastern corners of South Africa and borders Mozambique. It is one of the tiniest countries in Africa, stretching only 130km from east to west and 175km from north to south.
Famous for its world-class nature reserves and national parks full of diverse wildlife, stunning scenery, rich cultural traditions, and turbulent history of kings, a visit to the Kingdom of Eswatini is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. While you could definitely visit independently, the easiest way to visit would be on a guided day tour from Nelspruit. That way, you can simply sit back and enjoy the scenery without planning a thing!
- Where to Stay: Phophonyane Falls Ecolodge
Where to stay in Mpumalanga
Mpumalanga covers a land area of roughly 76 000 km2, so deciding where to base yourself is key.
Nelspruit (also known as Mbombela) is the province’s capital city and also where you’ll find the widest variety of accommodation to match any budget. While it’s the perfect base to explore most of the gems included on this list of things to do in Mpumalanga, it’s important to plan according to your itinerary. If you really want to get acquainted with Mpumalanga’s best tourist attractions, it’s a good idea to book accommodation at various locations. (See my recommendations under each attraction above).
With that in mind, here are the best places to stay in Nelspruit.
Luxury: With the Riverside Mall right on your doorstep, Southern Sun Emnotweni is the perfect choice for travelers looking for an upscale stay. This 4-star hotel sports clean, elegant rooms with the comfiest beds under the sun. There’s also a great fitness center and an outdoor pool. The breakfast isn’t is bad either!
Mid-range: La Roca Guest House is a 4-star retreat hidden in the hills. The guesthouse features lavish rooms and neatly-kept gardens. What’s more, the shimmering pool is the perfect spot to watch the sunset with an ice-cold beer in hand.
Budget: Execustay offers beautifully decorated rooms with rustic touches at surprisingly affordable rates. The glimmering pool and lovely outdoor area is perfect for relaxing after a day out exploring all of Mpumalanga’s top attractions.
How to get to Mpumalanga
- Plane: The fastest way to get to Mpumalanga is by direct flight from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport just outside Nelspruit. Flights only take about 45 minutes but can be pricy if booked on short notice.
- Car: If you prefer to self-drive, it’s a 4-hour drive from Johannesburg to Nelspruit via the N12 and N4. There are several toll gates along the way, so remember to budget accordingly. Take the Long Tom Pass (R37) just after the Machado Toll Gate for sweeping views and a slightly shorter drive.
- Shuttle Bus: If you’re traveling solo or don’t feel like driving to Nelspruit, it’s best to book a seat on a shuttle bus. CityBug is reliable and has several daily departures from OR Tambo as well as Pretoria. The ride takes slightly longer than self-driving, but you won’t need to spend all that money on toll fees.
What to do in Mpumalanga in Conclusion
While this post barely scratches the surface of amazing things to do in Mpumalanga, it will give you a well-rounded glimpse of the very best tourist attractions on offer.
There you have it – a whole host of awesome things to add to your Mpumalanga to do list! If you think I’ve omitted any must-do activities, let me know in the comments below!
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