Panorama Route, South Africa: Best Places to Stop
The Panorama Route in South Africa is a 160 km stretch of road that lies in the province of Mpumalanga and is surrounded by the Drakensberg mountains.
It’s one of the most scenic drives in the world, with incredible key points of interest dotted along the way.
These places will blow your mind with their beauty.
When I headed to South Africa for a volunteer trip with GVI, we used our ‘days off’ to venture off the beaten track and into the mountains to tick off some bucket list locations along the Panorama Route.
Honestly, South Africa is one of the best countries to visit in Africa with so many incredible things to do.
In this post, you’ll find the best things to do along the Panorama Route in South Africa, as well as some key information that you’ll need ahead of your trip.
Key information about South Africa
- Language: there are 11 languages spoken in South Africa, however, Zulu is the most popular. 1 in 10 people also speak English too.
- Best time to visit: May – September
- Currency: Rand
- Plug socket: Type C, D, M & N
- Safety: There are parts of South Africa where you need to be extra careful, however, if you stick to tourist spots like the Panorama Route during the daylight then you should not run into any issues.
The best places to stop on the Panorama route in South Africa
Blyde River Canyon
Blyde River Canyon, nestled within the breathtaking Drakensberg mountains, proudly ranks as the third-largest canyon in the world.
Unlike its dusty orange rock counterparts, Fish River and The Grand Canyon, the landscape of Blyde River Canyon is a verdant paradise, with lush greenery and teeming with vibrant wildlife.
Coachloads of people flock to this natural wonder to embark on a short walk along the trail that traverses the canyon’s rim, offering awe-inspiring viewpoints at every turn.
You can spend as little as 30 minutes doing this and walk away with some epic photos, however, we highly recommend exploring Blyde River Canyon extensively on foot if you have the time.
You’ll find some additional hiking recommendations later on in this guide.
Duration: 30 minutes – a whole day
Blyde River Canyon entrance fee: R30
The Three Rondavels
The Three Rondavels reign supreme as the most iconic landmark along the Panorama Route in South Africa.
A nominal entrance fee will grant you passage to the cliff edge, offering a breathtaking view that stretches towards the magnificent Rondavels.
On occasion, a mystical veil of clouds falls over the Rondavels, teasingly concealing what lies beyond.
This is something we experienced during our visit – a slight setback, but a testament to the unpredictability of nature on this extraordinary journey through one of the world’s most scenic drives.
Plus, it was also quite unique to see and make the sight all the more special when they did appear.
The time you spend at the Three Rondavels will depend on how long you want to absorb the scenery, as there isn’t much else at the viewpoint – not even railings to keep you from falling off the edge of the cliff!
Although quite daunting, it’s nice that nature has been left untouched.
Duration: 30 minutes – 1 hour
Three Rondavels entrance fee: R35
Bourke’s Luck Potholes
Bourkes Luck Potholes is a sandstone site at the mouth of Blyde River Canyon.
Over the years, the river has eroded the canyon and left the rock with some unique holes – hence ‘potholes’.
‘Bourkes’ comes from John Bourke, who thought he found gold at the location, and hence ‘Luck’.
However, unfortunately, John Bourke was not so lucky, as there was absolutely no gold in sight!
Bourkes Luck Potholes is one of the bigger attractions along the Panorama Route in South Africa and there is actually quite a lot to do here.
You’ll find places to eat (at a bargain price), a museum, and a walking trail that’s just under a mile long.
Duration: 1 Hour
Bourkes Luck Potholes entrance fee: R55
Berlin Falls is one of the best waterfalls in the area and a spot that should not be missed.
At 160 feet tall, it spills over the rugged cliff edge and swoops down into a mesmerizing emerald pool that glistens in the sunshine.
Upon arrival, there will be a small entrance fee to gain access to the viewpoint of the waterfall from above – unfortunately, no visitors are allowed to go down to the base which is a shame.
Instead, this is the perfect spot to throw down a blanket and have some lunch while watching the abundance of birds that nest in the surrounding forest.
You’ll also find a few arts and crafts stalls selling handmade gifts, which is a great opportunity to support the local community and take home a reminder of your trip.
We picked up a few things from various stalls along the Panorama Route in South Africa, however, at this particular spot, we found a wooden, hand-painted, fruit bowl that we absolutely love.
Duration: 30 minutes – 1 hour
Berlin Falls entrance fee: R15
As soon as most people arrive, they ask ‘why is it called Gods Window?
And the answer is this: Gods Window is named after a nearby rectangular hole in a rock that looks out into the distance.
However, as it’s on private land, a new site (Gods Window) was created and offers the same views from slightly further along the mountain.
The ‘new’ Gods Window is arguably better – with a 0.6-mile trail through subtropical rainforest and three viewpoints along the way, providing panoramic views towards Kruger National Park.
The path to the peak is surprisingly steep and often clings towards the edge of the 700-meter-high Drakensberg escarpment.
Luckily, there are railings along this route for safety, unlike some of the other stops along the Panorama Route in South Africa.
You’ll find more arts and crafts stalls towards the car park, as well as toilets – something many of the other sites lack!
Duration: 1 hour
Gods Window entrance fee: R20
Mac Mac Falls
Mac Mac Falls is arguably the best waterfall in the area and gushes down from an impressive 65-meters high.
It’s a twin waterfall (albeit, it sometimes becomes one during the dry season!), with crystal-clear waters at the base for swimming in.
Upon arrival, you’ll find a picnic area with tables, as well as a braai area – which, for those who don’t know, is the South African name for a BBQ.
As with many of the stops along the Panorama Route, there is a viewpoint from above and arts and craft stalls to collect some more memorabilia from – this time, we picked up a wooden African mask!
Although slightly steep, there is a circular 3km route down to the falls, known as the Secretary Bird Trail.
It’s well signposted and definitely worth embarking on to get down to the falls while listening to all the different bird songs singing from the trees.
Duration: 1-2 hours
Mac Mac Falls entrance fee: R30
Panorama Route tours
There are a few different tours available when it comes to seeing the Panorama Route.
However, the tour which leaves from Hazyview is regarded as one of the best.
Check prices: From Hazyview Full-Day Panorama Tour
Here is what you can expect:
Starting from Hazyview, the journey sets off towards Graskop, marking the southernmost point of the Blyde River Canyon.
The scenic panorama route unravels before you, offering awe-inspiring views of the Blyde River Canyon, stretching endlessly over the Lowveld and beyond.
Along the way, you’ll be treated to the mesmerizing beauty of God’s Window, Wonder View, and the Three Rondawels, as you trace the escarpment’s edge.
One of the highlights on this route is the renowned Bourke’s Luck Potholes, fascinating cylindrical cavities sculpted by water erosion at the confluence of the Blyde and Treur Rivers.
Make sure to include a visit to Pilgrim’s Rest, an enchanting old mining town dating back to the gold rush era in the late 1800s.
During the lunch break, the tour pauses at Graskop, offering you the chance to savour a meal at a local restaurant.
If time permits, take a leisurely stroll through the nearby shops and sidewalks, where street vendors offer an array of goods, from nuts and fruits to beaded necklaces and intricately carved wooden animals.
As the tour progresses southward from Graskop, you’ll encounter the Sabie River’s origin and the cascading beauty of the Berlin Falls and Lisbon Falls before heading back to Hazyview.
The Panorama Route in Mpumalanga, South Africa FAQ
Where does the Panorama Route start and end?
How long does it take to drive the Panorama Route?
The distance from Three Rondavels to Gods Window is roughly 85km and takes 1 hour 30 minutes without stopping.
However, you will need to factor in the return journey on top of this.
How long should I spend driving the Panorama Route in South Africa?
You can easily see all of the best stops along the Panorama Route in 1 day.
However, 2-3 days is recommended if you want to take things at a steady pace or do some hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains.
Where do I rent a car from?
How much does it cost to drive the Panorama Route?
If you were to stop at every place that we recommend on this list, it would cost you R90 (£4.52/$6.37 USD), excluding car hire and petrol.
Is it safe?
Apart from the exceptional amount of potholes and cattle on the road, driving the Panorama Route is relatively safe.
I say relatively, as we were advised by locals to be back at our base before dark.
Panorama Route Accommodation
When it comes to finding accommodation along the Panorama Route, there are several options available to suit different budgets and preferences.
Graskop is a small town located near the Blyde River Canyon, making it an ideal base for exploring the Panorama Route.
There are various hotels, guesthouses, and lodges offering comfortable accommodations.
Although it’s a small town, it’s well-kept and there are a few shops and restaurants dotted around with some great-tasting South African Wine
Be sure to stop at Harries Pancakes before heading out of town for some sweet or savoury pancakes (sweet will always win my vote!).
Popular places to stay include:
Sabie is a charming town surrounded by forests and waterfalls.
In fact, it’s a great place to stay if you want to be close to the Mac Mac Falls – as it’s just 15 minutes away.
It’s a similar size to Graskop, with shops and restaurants on hand, however, it lies on the edge of the river and is surrounded by forest.
Popular places to stay include:
Hazyview is slightly further southwest of the Panorama Route – roughly 45 minutes from both Mac Mac Falls and Gods Window.
On the flip side, it’s only 20 minutes from Kruger National Park and so it’s a great option if you’re looking to visit both the Panorama Route and Kruger.
However, being so close to Kruger, it is slightly more expensive.
Popular places to stay include:
Additional activities along the Panorama Route in Mpumalanga, South Africa
Graskop Gorge Lift/Bungee jump
Graskop Gorge Lift drops you at a cliff edge 70 meters above, where you’ll be able to marvel at the nearby waterfall and embark on a network of trails that run through the forest.
You’ll find numerous suspension bridges, flowing streams, and information boards to learn about the area, as well as a small cafe to grab a bite to eat.
For the more adventurous, this is the perfect spot to take a leap of faith and tick a bungee jump off your bucket list. You’ll free-fall off the cliff face and plunge toward the river…yikes, far too terrifying for us!
Graskop Gorge Lift Entrance Fee: R30
Duration: 2-3 hours
Hiking in Blyde River Canyon – The Hippo Trail
A popular hiking route in Blyde River Canyon is the Hippo Trail. It’s a 14 km out-and-back route that allows you to explore the surface of the canyon and follow the river.
As the name suggests, there are hippos on this route, and if you think hippos are cute and friendly then you may be alarmed to learn that they’re one of the most dangerous animals in Africa – it goes without saying that hiking this route is at your own risk!
However, the chances of running into a hippo on this route during the day are slim – the African sun is far too hot for them and so they spend their days snoozing in the river and only venture onto land at night.
That being said, if you do bump into a hippo, climb a tree as quickly as possible (not even joking – it might save your life).
On a less terrifying note, you’ll likely be able to spot some monkeys (when you’re up that tree!) and antelope, both of which are much more friendly.
You’ll find conflicting information online about whether you need a permit to hike the Hippo Trail, most suggesting you do, however, we didn’t require one.
You simply rock up to Blyderivierpoort dam, pay the small entrance fee and embark on your quest along the Hippo Trail to find (hopefully) no hippos!
Route map: Hippo Trail
Hiking time: 7-8 hours
Start time: No later than 8:30 am to ensure you are back before the hippos come out of the water
Induna Adventures are located around 40 minutes from Mac-Mac Falls and 20 minutes from Sabie.
They offer 14 different activities, from 30 minutes to a full day, and cater to solo travellers, as well as small and large groups.
Some of their popular activities include rafting/tubing on the river Sabie, horse riding in the Lowveld Sabie Valley, quad biking, and ziplining through the forest at 100kph, to name a few!
Unfortunately, we were on a strict timetable due to our volunteering so didn’t get time to do any of these, but if you’re spending a few days driving along the Panorama Route in South Africa or have a spare afternoon, then these are great things to do for both adults and kids!
4×4 off-road adventures
Roughly 1 hour 30 minutes from Hazyview is Dusty Tracks Off-Road Adventures in Barberton.
It was too far south for us to squeeze into our trip along the Panorama Route in Mpumalanga, since we were coming from Hoedspirit and had less than 48 hours available, but we wanted to include this as it was a highly recommended activity and much more accessible if you’re staying further south.
Dusty Tracks Off-Road Adventures will take you on a journey through the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Makhonjwa mountains, to forgotten towns like Eureka City, and to one of the world’s oldest gold mines – Edwin Bray.
You’ll listen to stories about the area which is steeped in history, and have the chance to wild camp under the stars – the South African night sky is the clearest we’ve ever seen!
If we ever get the chance to go back to the Panorama Route in Mpumalanga, this will absolutely be on our list of things to do!
Mpumalanga helicoper ride
If you really want to make your trip along the Panorama Route spectacular, then Mpumalanga Helicopter Company provides an outstanding experience from above, starting from Hazyview.
They offer the below packages to tailor your needs, from 45 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes – each trip is a luxurious experience, with the last package even making a pit-stop for a picnic in the mountains!
What to pack for your trip along the Panorama Route in South Africa
A comprehensive packing list for your trip along the Panorama Route in South Africa is essential.
As already eluded to, there isn’t much around other than nature – which is great, but obviously has its drawbacks and a shift you’ll need to make if you’re coming from a westernized lifestyle.
Below is a list of what we packed, plus a few extra things that we wished we had thought of beforehand!
Bear in mind that we went to South Africa in May – so this list may differ slightly, depending on the time of year you’re visiting.
FOR EARLY MORNINGS
South Africa is extremely cold during the night until around 7:30 am. If you’re early risers like Tom and I and like to catch an epic sunrise, then below are some things that you won’t want to forget!
DAY TIME CLOTHING
As soon the sun rises, the heat picks up and the layers will soon peel off. Regardless, you’ll need to wear some appropriate clothing and footwear throughout your journey along the Panorama Route:
- A light and breathable top (him/her)
- Zip-off trousers (him/her)
- Shorts (him/her)
- Hiking socks (him/her)
- Hiking Boots (him/her)
- Flipflops (him/her)
DAY TRIP ESSENTIALS
With shops few and far between in the Drakensberg Mountains, it’s best to be well-prepared with the below essentials.
- Hiking poles
- Sun cream
- Bug spray
- Water bottle
- Picnic blanket
- Money belt
- First Aid Kit
- Drivers license
Let us know what you think about the Panorama Route in South Africa
So, what do you think of the Panorama Route in South Africa?
Let us know in the comments box below!
Or, perhaps you’ve already been – do you have any further recommendations?
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- TROODOS MOUNTAINS IN CYPRUS: A-Z GUIDE ON VENTURING OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
- MOUNT BATUR SUNRISE HIKE: WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Stay Wild Travels.
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