With views, waterfalls and endless skies, it’s no wonder they call it the Panorama Route. Pictures don’t do South Africa’s most beautiful road trip justice. And while many may choose to safari in the north, the Panorama Route, centred around the Blyde River Canyon, can be found in the often-overlooked province of Mpumalanga.
South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province is home to the Panorama Route, aptly named for its endless number of stunning vistas and otherworldly splendour. Visitors can explore this serpentine route as it ambles along the Long Tom Pass (the highest tarred road in the country) and passes rock faces dotted with emerald flora, rotund boulders, showering waterfalls, and the small towns nestled in valleys.
The Drakensberg Escarpment houses the town of Graskop, long-considered the proverbial gateway to the Panorama Route’s most iconic attractions: God’s Window, extending majestic views of the Lowveld beyond; the Blyde River Canyon, best experienced from the viewpoint overlooking the Three Rondavels; or the Blyde river dam and Bourke’s Potholes, curious inter-connected rock pools that have formed over centuries.
A number of waterfalls populate this verdant region: Horse Shoe, Lone Creek, Bridal Veil, and Lisbon to name but a few. A hike through the sublime Echo Caves is also well-worth the effort. Charming towns dot the way: Sabie, home to the largest sawmill in the country; Pilgrim’s Rest, stuck in time as the site of a late-nineteenth gold rush; and Hazyview, conveniently close to the Kruger National Park. Visitors will definitely want a few days to explore all that this magnificent part of the world has to offer.
We've taken the liberty to answer everything you may need to know about visiting the Panorama Route.
Kruger is a year-round destination, but it remains seasonal. In other words, the best time to visit the Kruger National Park for a safari depends on your safari interests. Here's what you can expect to experience through the months of the year.
November to December: The summer months are hot and humid with either continual rains or very typically afternoon thundershowers, which generally clear before the game drives depart. Many newborn animals are around, most notably the impala lambs, which are beautiful but vulnerable to predators.
January to March: These usually are drier months with very hot days. If you're an avid birder, this is the time to see the beautiful migratory birds. Going on early morning drives with early returns to escape the heat is typical.
April: The vegetation starts changing from a thick, lush green bush to a slightly sparser and browning bush during this autumn season. The temperature starts cooling down at night, but the daytime is still warm. There could be an occasional thunderstorm in the afternoon.
May to June: You can expect cold temperatures at dawn and night during the winter months. Warm clothing is recommended, such as gloves, scarves, beanies and insulated jackets. The vegetation turns brown, and trees start losing leaves. Therefore, this sparser vegetation allows for better wildlife visibility during game drives. During this time, large herds of elephants are very mobile, increasing your chances of spotting them en route!
July to September: Over these months, the bush is very dry. Evening and early mornings are chilly, so layer up for your game drives! Game viewing is fantastic due to excellent visibility, and the wildlife congregates around the scattered watering holes. One of the best moment for Kruger National Park safaris !
September to October: Spring is at the height of the dry season, boasting hot, dry winds and colourless, sparse vegetation. Because the rivers and dams are low, you can see high concentrations of wildlife in these areas, making game viewing excellent. The first rain generally falls towards the end of October, and signs of spring and a new wet season are evident.
Whichever season you choose, our Rhino Africa Travel Experts will ensure you pick the best time to visit Kruger National Park according to your safari expectations.
The cost to visit Kruger National Park can range anything from $500 to $2,500 per person per night, depending on service providers, availability, and seasonality. We also have a selection of curated Kruger National Park tours, starting at $1700, but remember that all our tours can be tailor-made to suit your preferences.
In 2022, a day ticket for international travellers entering Kruger National Park costs anything from $28 per adult, per day and from $14 per child per day.
However, please note that the total cost to visit Kruger National Park depends on several factors, including but not limited to the duration of your trip, the type of accommodation, and the specific location within the reserve.
We always recommend that you stay at least three nights and choose one of the private concessions within the Greater Kruger National Park for a more exclusive Kruger National Park safari experience.
There are several ways of getting to Kruger National Park, each of which has a slightly different cost implication and levels of convenience to consider.
If you plan to travel from Johannesburg to Kruger National Park, daily charter flights operate between Johannesburg OR Tambo International Airport and many of the private lodges in and surrounding the Kruger. A "lodge hop" in a small light aircraft to your lodge of choice is the easiest and most convenient way to travel to the safari destination. The flights take about 90 minutes and deliver you straight to the corresponding airstrip of the lodge you are travelling to. Luggage is, however, limited to 20kg in soft-sided bags on these flights.
Alternatively, you can touch down in Kruger Mpumalanga Airport, Hoedspruit or Skukuza Airport, where a road transfer, often a game drive in itself, will bring you to your final destination. Commercial flights from Johannesburg take one hour, Durban an hour and a half, and from Cape Town to Kruger National Park, it's only just over two hours.
Self-driving to Kruger Park is feasible and enjoyable for those with more time. The gate is about a six-hour drive from Johannesburg, and the tarred road is well maintained, with clean service stations along the way. In fact, the Maputo Corridor means you will be travelling on a dual carriageway for most of the way. Fuel is never a problem in South Africa, and you won't get lost with Google Maps or Waze. Roads are also surprisingly well-signposted, and traffic density is generally low.
Based on your lodge of choice, time, and budget, our Travel Experts will gladly advise you on the best way to get to Kruger National Park or the surrounding reserves.
Where is Kruger National Park, and what is its history? Kruger National Park stretches across the northeastern part of South Africa and was originally founded by Paul Kruger in 1898 and called the Sabi Game Reserve. In 1926, it was enlarged and made into a national park. In 2002 the Kruger National Park became part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. This peace park links Kruger with the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe to the north and with the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique to the east.
The park is part of the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere, an area designated by the United Nations Education and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO) as an International Man and Biosphere Reserve (the "Biosphere").
Evidence of early humans is found in the area, dating back as early as 1,500,000 BC. The San people also existed in the area as far back as 100,000 BC. In 200 AD, while looking for more grazing land for their cattle, the first Nguni speaking people migrated south into the area and displaced the San.
By 800 AD, the Arabs started raiding the area for slaves, using the ports in Mozambique. A civilisation also sprang up in the northern regions of the park, and they built the Thulamela Stone Citadel, which was occupied between 1250-1700 AD. They also extracted iron ore from up to 200 mines, converting it into iron for trade.
The first known European to explore the now Kruger National park area was Francois de Cuiper, who led a Dutch East India Company expedition from the Cape Colony in 1725. However, the expedition was attacked by local tribes-people near Gomondwane and driven away.
Around 1838, Voortrekker expeditions led by Louis Trichardt and Hans van Rensburg explored the Lowveld, and later wagon routes were established to and from the Kruger area.
Gold was first discovered in September 1873 at Pilgrim's Rest and then in 1881 at Barberton. Fortune seekers rushed to the Lowveld. The prospect of finding gold banished all fear of lions, crocodiles, and malaria. This started the dramatic decline of wild animals in the region due to the hunting and trading of animal horns and skins.
The Park since the 20th Century
In 1912, a railway line was routed through the reserve. Stevenson-Hamilton (a British major who became the first warden of the Kruger National Park) successfully used this to get tourists to stop over for lunch. By 1916 a government commission was appointed to assess the future of the reserves. In 1926, as an act of reconciliation, the British administration officially renamed the reserve after Paul Kruger and declared it South Africa's first National Park.
In 1927, the park was opened to the public, who were charged a £1 fee. Only a handful of cars visited the new park that year, but in 1935 some 26,000 people passed through the gates. Today the number is around one million per year.
Here's a rough idea of what you can expect on a Kruger National Park safari. Please note that this differs depending on where you stay and what time of year you visit.
05:00: Wake up to get your day started!
05:30: Coffee with your ranger and tracker before going on safari, most often on an open 4x4 vehicle.
09:30: Start heading back to the lodge for a scrumptious breakfast.
11:00: Depending on where you're staying at what time of the year, you can often embark on a bushwalk with an armed tracker. This gives you a chance to appreciate the smaller wonders of the bush.
13:00: Enjoy your lunch and some leisure time.
16:00: Meet for your afternoon game drive.
16:30: Your evening game drive promises different sightings than the morning, with nocturnal animals coming out to play.
18:00: Watch the incredible sunset while you drink a G&T.
18:30: Using a spotlight, take a peek into the lives of your nocturnal creatures.
19:30: Return and freshen up for dinner.
20:00: Feast on dinner while your ranger tells you stories around the campfire.
Unfortunately, the Kruger National Park is not a malaria-free area. However, it is entirely possible to have a safe, malaria-free Kruger safari by using prophylactic drugs. Please note that we are not doctors, so you should always speak to your doctor about malaria prevention before travelling.
Here are our malaria prevention tips for your Kruger National Park safari:
1. Repel the Mosquitoes. Always wear repellent as well as long-sleeved shirts and long trousers in the evenings and mornings. Please note that clothes alone won't protect you, as they can bite through the material. Most of our lodges will have screened windows and doors, air conditioning systems, and mosquito nets to further protect you. The female mosquito responsible for transmitting malaria is a silent mossy, so you will have to ensure you repel them. They can strike at any time of day but are most active at dusk as well as dawn.
2. ALWAYS Take Anti-Malaria Tablets. The most important thing you can do to protect yourself against malaria is taking prophylactic tablets. Please note that you have to speak to your doctor before taking these tablets.
3. Keep an Eye Out for Symptoms and Finish Your Course of Meds. If you start to notice any flu-like symptoms, you must get a malaria test to be safe and catch it early because malaria reacts well to early treatment. Also, don't stop taking your meds until the course is complete!
When wondering what is the best way to visit Kruger National Park, we’ll always recommend to our guests that they opt for a private game reserve. So, what’s the difference and why a private game reserve?
Well, the public parks tend to be more crowded, and you could get stuck behind a convoy of other vehicles out on safari. This means that you might miss some animal sightings. There are also strict times when you’re allowed to be out on the roads in public areas, and you must stick to the main roads.
On the other hand, if you stay at one of the private game reserves sharing an unfenced border with the Kruger National Park, you have a more exclusive experience. The lodges within these private game reserves are also generally more luxurious. Because they have private land, you can go out on safari in open-air vehicles and go off-road to get a closer look at the wildlife. They also limit how many vehicles can be out at a time so that you have an uninterrupted view! Furthermore, there are no set times, and you can even head out on safari after dark!
You can also experience Kruger with all your senses by enjoying activities such as bushwalks, multi-day walking safaris, photo safaris, and more.