Getting Oriented

In a nutshell: imagine Mpumalanga as a large horizontally squashed ball in the northeast of South Africa with Limpopo to the north, Gauteng to the west, and Swaziland and KwaZulu-Natal to the south. The Drakensberg mountain range divides the high escarpment (where you’ll find the Blyde River [Motlatse] Canyon and more stunning scenery) from the low, lush, subtropical lowveld, home of Kruger National Park and other smaller game reserves, all teeming with game.

Mpumalanga. Mpumalanga (Mm-puma-langa) has activities galore, from poking around cultural villages and hiking on mountain trails to driving through game reserves. The best way to get around Mpumalanga is by car, either from Johannesburg or from the airports at Mbombela (Nelspruit), Hoedspruit, Skukuza, or Phalaborwa (if you're going into the central section of Kruger). Plan your road trip with booked-in-advance accommodations (there are superb options all over the province), and visit at least one of the farm stalls that dot country roads for fresh fruit and veggies (in season), nuts, and creamy farm milk.

Kruger National Park. Larger than Israel and approximately the same size as Wales, Kruger National Park encompasses diverse terrain ranging from rivers filled with crocodiles and hippos to rocky outcrops where leopards lurk and thick thorn scrub shelters lions and buffalo. Roaming this slice of quintessential Africa are animals in numbers large enough to make a conservationist squeal with delight: in all, there are nearly 150 mammal species and more than 500 species of birds.

Sabi Sand Game Reserve. Named after the Sabie and Sand rivers that flow through it, and situated adjacent to Kruger’s western boundary at its southern end (no fences separate the two), South Africa's oldest private reserve is famous for its abundant game and world-famous luxury lodges. You’ll find the Big Five here, including the best opportunities in South Africa of spotting leopards, plus hundreds of birds. It’s easily accessible by road and air.

West of Kruger. Manyeleti, Timbavati, Thornybush, and Kapama game reserves all lie north of Sabi Sand Game Reserve, but also border Kruger’s western boundary. Although the reserves are less well known than Sabi Sand, they offer much the same game experiences, often at more affordable prices.

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