This is our itinerary for 15 days in South Africa and Swaziland by car. We travelled to South Africa and Swaziland (Eswatini) for 15 days over Christmas and New Year in 2018/2019. Eswatini is the current name for the country Swaziland. But as most travellers are more familiar with Swaziland, we use that name.
Using the map: Use the mouse to zoom and pan. Click the button in the top-left corner to open a navigation menu. There you can select or de-select specific types of content we have added to the map.
Itinerary for 15 days in South Africa and Swaziland by car
- Day 1: Arrive in Johannesburg and drive to Swaziland
- Day 2-3: Swaziland and Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
- Day 4-5: Kruger National Park, southern Kruger
- Day 6-8: The Panorama route with Blyde River Canyon
- Day 9-10: Kruger National Park, Klaserie private reserve in central Kruger
- Day 11-14: Louis Trichardt and Mapungubwe National Park
- Day 15: Drive to Johannesburg and fly back to Denmark
Day 1: Arrive in Johannesburg and drive to Swaziland
We arrived in Johannesburg at 7.15 AM and bought an MTN sim card from the store in the airport. MTN claims to cover Swaziland. However, our experience was that it did NOT work in Swaziland. We picked up the rental car from Hertz, which also had an office in the airport arrival terminal. There was a long queue, but as we are gold members of Hertz, we could skip the queue. The pickup still took almost 1 ½ hour, as they had to do all the paperwork for bringing the car in and out of Swaziland. There was a fee of 2,800 ZAR for border crossing. We needed international driver licenses to rent a car in South Africa. So, remember to bring it, if you do not have a driving license in English.
Want to know more about renting a car and driving in South Africa and Swaziland? Read all about our experiences here.
We hit the road around 10 AM and headed for Swaziland. It was a five hour drive to Forester Arms hotel in Swaziland. We were all quite tired after the night flight, so the kids had a good sleep in the back seat.
We stopped at a highway cafeteria for lunch. It was awesome to get out of the car and stretch the legs. The highway cafeteria had a quite large fenced area with animals next to a large terrace. While eating our lunch at the cafeteria terrace we saw antelopes, rhinos, zebras, ostriches etc.. We were thrilled to be in Africa and already seeing all the large African animals, even though they were not in the wild.
Read more about our experiences travelling gluten free in South Africa and Swaziland here.
Crossing the border to Swaziland
We continued to the Oshoek Border Post without longer stops. The border crossing took almost an hour. You must park the car, get everyone out of the car and into the immigration office, wait in the queue to get out of South Africa. Then you drive 50 m and must repeat the same thing to get through immigration into Swaziland. We are not used to this, living in Europe, where there is no border control. So, this was unexpected for us.
From the boarder we drove directly to our hotel Forester Arms approximately half an hour drive from the capital Mbabane. The roads are in decent conditions, but there are many pot holes and some serious road bumps. Once we failed to reduce speed before a bump, and almost went flying across it. They’re big!
Forester Arms Hotel was a lovely oasis in the strolling hillside. It had a beautiful garden with a nice pool area, a swing and a garden checkers. We had a family room, which was clean and comfortable, but nothing special. It was the quite surroundings and the high-quality food in the restaurant that really made this place something special. We booked Foresters Arms directly from their website, did not find them on booking.com.
Every evening there was a five-course gourmet dinner and the breakfast buffet was just as delicious. The service is very personal, with staff attentive to their guests. We ate much more than we had to, just because it was so delicious. We were happy for the weight that we were only staying at Foresters Arms for 3 nights.
Day 2-3: Swaziland and Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
Our second day was December 25th. In Denmark we celebrate Christmas on December 24th, but the day is still special in our family, as it is the birthday of Nikolaj. We had a slow morning enjoying the breakfast buffet, going to the pool and Nikolaj opening his birthday presents, that we brought from home.
While at the pool the amazing staff came and talked to us to suggest sights in the surroundings. We decided to go to the Mantenga Swazi Cultural Village to see the traditional dance performance, the traditional Swazi village and visit the nature reserve surrounding it. It was both entertaining and educational, and we had a good afternoon in the beautiful Swazi countryside.
We visited the beautiful Mantenga Falls, that can be reached by foot in app. 20 min walking from the parking lot of Mantenga Swazi Cultural Village and returned to the village just in time for the Swazi dance performance at 3.15 PM. The dance performance was stunning. The dance and accompanied drumming and singing just made you feel happy and the troupe was truly professional. This was a real highlight.
After the dance, visitors are invited on a guided tour of the village. We decided to stroll around on our own as we were too filled up with impressions to take part in the guided tour. After an afternoon ice cream in the cafeteria we returned to Forester Arms Hotel.
In Swaziland Christmas is celebrated on the evening of December 25th, so in the evening we had Christmas dinner. As it was the birthday of Nikolaj the staff served his dessert with birthday singing in Swazi and English. He got very surprised and shy, as everybody in the restaurant was looking at the performance. This was another highlight of the day.
Swazi Craft Market and Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
On our second day in Swaziland we drove over the hilly mountains on a very small paved road to the Swazi Craft Market in Malkerns Valley. Swazi Candle is both a shop and a workshop where they make the most impressive animal-shaped candles. We spend a long time wandering around the shop and seeing how they were making the candles.
There is a cafe at the Swazi Craft Market, and we had lunch there before we continued to Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary closeby. It is a small sanctuary, where you self-drive. There is lots of wildlife: zebra, blesbok, impala, blue wildebeest and warthog in the open grasslands, and also kudu and nyala. There is an enclosed area with roan and oribi antelopes.
We drove around Mlilwane and saw lots of animals, while also enjoying the beautiful scenery. There is a safari camp where people who book ahead can spend a night. The iconically African warthogs walk around the camp as well as antelopes. We passed the lake with crocodiles lurking in the surface before leaving the sanctuary.
Day 4-5: Kruger National Park, southern Kruger
It was sad to leave Foresters Arms, but we were looking forward to our next stop, Kruger national park in South Africa. We had planned our itinerary for 15 days in South Africa and Swaziland by car around visiting Kruger National Park.
The drive took us through the green hills of Swaziland and passed Mbabane before reaching the South African border at Jeppes Reef. It was much faster to cross the border this time, compared to entering Swaziland.
We continued north to the southern tip of Kruger national park at the Crocodile river. We had booked a bungalow at Pestana Kruger Lodge, just outside the southern entrance to the park.
We arrived at Pestana Kruger Lodge at lunchtime and had lunch on the terrace with panorama views across the river to the park. At the same time, a herd of elephants walked into the river from the park, just across the terrace. We could not believe our luck, as the majestic animals drank and bathed in the river, with the elders protecting and teaching their young.
Safari in Kruger
We booked a morning safari with the national park rangers and spent the afternoon around the pool at the lodge.
The safari booking system had been down as we booked, so all we had was a spoken agreement to meet at the park gate at 4 am to meet a ranger. It was pitch dark and there was no one else as we arrived at the closed gate. We doubted if we had understood the instructions correctly. But after some waiting, the gate opened, and a ranger in a safari vehicle appeared. And we were on our first Kruger safari!
Before sunrise, we saw hyenas, antelopes and giraffes. As the day broke, we saw rhinos, kudos, elephants and a few buffalos.
The vegetation in southern Kruger is more dense than further north, which means that animals are more difficult to see. Often there is tall vegetation on both sides of the road, and you don’t have long views. The rangers know where to find animals, and our ranger could point out animals before we could see them.
We decided to do a self-drive safari in the afternoon. We bought the ticket at the end of our morning safari. The amount of cars per day is limited, so it is better to buy in advance. The self-drive was also a good experience. We could drive at our own pace and stop where we wanted. And even though we don’t have the experience of the rangers, we saw many animals. It rained some of the time, which could be expected, as December is wet season in northern South Africa.
We enjoyed another dinner with great views across Crocodile river from Pestana Kruger Lodge.
Day 6-8: The Panorama route with Blyde River Canyon
We left southern Kruger national park in the direction of the Panorama Route. We stopped for lunch in the historic town of Pilgrimsrest. It was fun to see the old shops, but not a must-see. Further on, the Mac Mac falls are another good place for a short stop. From the parking it is a short walk to a platform with views to the Mac Mac waterfalls.
We continued to our accommodation, Misty Mountain hotel in the Long Tom pass at the panorama route. We had booked a bungalow with a spectacular view over the valley below the pass. The grounds of the hotel are large, and Peter and Helle enjoyed an afternoon run on a steep trail around the hotel. The hotel has a photogenic infinity pool at the outdoor restaurant deck which is great for Instagram but too small for swimming. We opted for the larger pool just outside the main building. The bungalow had a great view across the valley, and the service and meals were good. Misty Mountain is highly recommended.
The following day was dedicated to the Panorama Route. Starting at Misty Mountain hotel, we drove it from south to north. This worked well for us, as the most spectacular sights are to the north of the route.
First stop is the Pinnacle, a free standing quartzite rock approximately 30 metres high next to a waterfall in Driekop Gorge. It is surrounded by steep cliffs covered in deep green vegetation, very beautiful.
A few kilometres further on is God’s window, a view point on top of a steep cliff with views towards the mountains and forest below and ahead. A small path leads up from the view point to an area with rain forest, and as Nikolaj loves rain forests we had to go there.
Bourke’s Luck Potholes
Bourke’s Luck Potholes are further north, a series of circular pools in the rock carved by flowing water where Blyde River meets Treur River. It is another iconic stop at the Panorama Route, no less spectacular than the others. There is a visitor centre, but it has very little information about the area and is not worth the time to visit.
The Three Rondavels
The Three Rondavels marks the end of the canyon and was also what we found is the most spectacular. It is here you see the size of the Blyde River Canyon, the third largest canyon in the world after Grand Canyon and Fish River Canyon (Namibia). The Three Rondavels are three circular hilltops that remind of the traditional South African dwelling called rondavel. But it really is the canyon that is the highlight here. It is a long view to the north, with the Blyde river deep below, and the lush green hillsides providing contrast to the deep blue of the river. This was an absolute highlight of our trip! We were very happy we had included Blyde River Canyon in our itinerary for 15 days in South Africa and Swaziland by car.
On the last day at Misty Mountain hotel, we went to visit some of the waterfalls around Sabie and the Long Tom pass with a cannon from the Boer wars. We returned to the hotel early as it was December 31st. In Denmark we are used to celebrate the end of the year by decorating our home, having dinner with friends and fireworks at midnight. There wasn’t anything like that happening at the hotel or in the towns around. We found some Christmas crackers and funny hats in a supermarket we could use to celebrate on our own.
As we approached Misty Mountain hotel, it started to rain hard. The hotel is surrounded by hills, and the small stream that runs by the reception was overflowing with water. The water level in the beautiful lake in the park was already much higher than we had seen before, and rising. It was a powerful display of the forces of nature. The rain stopped soon after we returned, but water kept flowing from the hills in huge amounts. The staff told us they had never before experienced this much rain since the opening of the hotel in 1979.
Day 9-10: Kruger National Park, Klaserie private reserve in central Kruger
From Misty Mountain hotel we drove north towards the central part of Kruger National park, the second visit to Kruger on our itinerary for 15 days in South Africa and Swaziland by car. We had booked two nights in a bungalow at Gomo Gomo game lodge in the private Klaserie nature reserve that borders with Kruger, allowing animals to move freely.
We had spent a lot of time researching game lodges, as we found the price level high. Gomo Gomo Gama Lodge is at the lower end of the price range, but still a lot more expensive than the other places we had stayed. When staying at the lodge, all meals and game drives are included in the price you pay.
Most game lodges offer similar safaris organized around sunrise and sunset when the chance of seeing animals are best. Gomo Gomo lodges has the following schedule.
- 05:30 – 08:30 Morning Game Safari
- 09:00 Breakfast and optional bush walk
- 14:00 – 15:00 Lunch
- 15:30 – 16:00 Afternoon Game Safari
- 20:00 Dinner
Our kids need more sleep than they can get from 21 to 05 and they are bad at midday naps, so they were tired throughout our stay, but also really excited about the safaris, so it worked well. But more than two nights on safari schedule would have been too long for them.
The morning bush walks were unfortunately cancelled due to weather. We didn’t understand the logic behind at as the weather was good, and somewhat disappointed. We really enjoy discovering nature on foot.
The game drives are in safari vehicles with a ranger and a tracker. The ranger is important, he is the person who can tell you about the animals and plants you see. The ranger we had in our vehicle liked cracking jokes and driving fast off road. It would have worked better for us with a person more focused in giving information and talking about all things Kruger.
It seems to be a matter of pride for the rangers that all guest get to see all of the Big Five. Lions and leopards are the hardest to find, so they are communicating with other rangers via radio, sharing information about signs of these animals. We were lucky to see all of the big five. But there really are animals everywhere, especially elephants, rhinos, hyenas, giraffes, kudus. We got real close to so many animals and snapped a ton of photos.
The more open landscape in this section of Kruger allows long views and you can truly appreciate being in Africa. The sunsets with the sky painted red and acacia trees in silhouette were amazing!
Day 11-14: Louis Trichardt and Mapungubwe National Park
From Kruger national park we drove north to Louis Trichardt. We checked in to Cuckoos Nest guesthouse. Louis Trichardt is not a default part of an itinerary for 15 days in South Africa and Swaziland by car. We had included it as a quiet area of South Africa with beautiful landscapes nearby, and were not disappointed.
It is on the grounds of a large farm, and the guesthouse used to be the mansion of the family. The farm and guesthouse is still run by the family. We were greeted by the owner, Mark, who was a great host and ensured we had a good stay. One afternoon he invited us to a tour of his farm, and he showed us the crops they produced (specialising in macadamia nuts) and the beautiful hills where they sometimes went for sundowners. Everything was of high quality, and we really enjoyed the time we spent at Cuckoos Nest Guesthouse.
Mapungubwe National Park
We made a daytrip to Mapungubwe national park on the border with Botswana and Zimbabwe. Not many tourists come that way, it seems. We got close to the Zimbabwe border and passed towns where signs in the side of the road said “crime zone – don’t stop”. A bit unnerving, but we experienced no unpleasant situations. It was great to see many of the iconic baobab trees on the way, the first we saw in South Africa.
Mapungubwe is fantastic! The landscapes are incredibly beautiful, and there is lots of wildlife. Compared to Kruger, Mapungubwe is drier as well as more rocky and hilly. We were almost the only visitors to the park that day. We started at the very informative visitor centre. Don’t miss that!
You self-drive the roads in the park. There are a few places where you can leave the car, among others a tree-top walk to a viewpoint at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers on the border to Zimbabwe, a magical place to be for us with all the history and myth attached to it. From there we saw elephants walking lazily to water in the river.
We saw many elephants very close to the car, as well as giraffes, zebras, antelopes and warthogs.
We had really underestimated Mapungubwe, and would have loved more time there. We would have stayed in o close to the park. It is a 2-hour drive from Louis Trichardt, so we didn’t want to go two days in a row.
If you are planning an itinerary for 15 days in South Africa and Swaziland by car, we highly recommend including Mapungubwe national park.
Day 15: Drive to Johannesburg and fly back to Denmark
Our flight to Denmark via London was in the evening, so we could leave Louis Trichardt in the morning and spent the day driving to Johannesburg.