The Ivory Route in South Africa is one of the continent’s legendary destinations. Hunters decades ago identified its wealth in wildlife. Now tourism makes its conservation viable. Spend a few days in this land of elephants, baobabs, the rain queen, ancient cycads, sparkling waterfalls and the Big Five.

Did you know?

Phalaborwa's Hans Merensky golf course often has crocodiles at water hazards. 

Thousands of years ago, elephant migratory routes criss-crossed the paths of ivory, gold and slave merchants in the northernmost parts of South Africa.

This wild land, bordering Botswana, Zimbabwe and the northern reaches of the Kruger National Park, is a land of prehistoric secrets and rich archaeological sites that offer Stone Age and Iron Age relics.

Named by legendary hunters who stalked the herds once common here, the Ivory Route in South Africa has been brought back to life with a new spirit.

The Ivory tourist route arcs through 54 nature reserves, mountains and across sandveld plains, and includes the legendary rediscovered trading civilization of Mapungubwe, nearly a thousand years old.

The Ivory Route of South Africa is a place where elephants are granted right of way and the gargantuan ‘upside down' trees stand sentinel over mystical and outlandish landscapes. This is where an ancient Rain Queen's spirit guards exotic, sacred forests of 800-year-old cycads.

Every effort is being made to keep or return the Ivory Route to a wild state. Simple 4x4 tracks wind past thorn trees and baobabs to connect traditional villages with luxurious tented safari camps.

The Ivory Route in South Africa also links to the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Project. There's a wild dream that one day wildlife will be able to follow the old migratory routes right across the frontiers between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

You could take advantage of a number of organized tours, but there's also the option of a self-drive package. Experienced guides are available at many of the camps.

This is such a large slab of South Africa that it offers the opportunity to tailor-make a journey, focusing on archaeology, history, culture, birding or wildlife.

And there's something new behind each giant baobab.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

African Ivory Route
Tel: +27 (0)15 781 0690

Transfrontier Destinations
Tel: +27 (0)21 701 7860
Cell: +27 (0)82 565 6569

How to get here

Starting from Johannesburg or Pretoria, head north to Vaalwater. Masebe Nature Reserve from Marken is a great starting point. You could also approach it from Lydenburg (Mashinging) in Mpumalanga.

Best time to visit

Summers can be extremely hot in the north. Winters are mild and pleasant. Spring and autumn are also delightful.

Around the area

Don't miss the simply named 'Big Tree', a baobab that is believed to be 3 000 years old.

Tours to do

While in the northern parts of Kruger, ask about a tour to Thulamela archeaological site, where a civilisation lived and traded several centuries ago. And if you're anywhere near Mapungubwe, don't miss a tour there either.

Get around

Driving in your own or rented vehicle will give you the most freedom to explore.

Length of stay

Dedicate four or five nights to this route. The distances are large, and it's so scenic you'll want to stop often.

What to pack

Bring along your binoculars to see the Cape vulture colony at Blouberg, if you're interested. And never forget your camera and sunscreen.

Where to stay

There are 10 camps on the route: Four safari camps next to the Kruger National Park: Ndzakha and Buffelshoek in the Manyaleti area; Mtomeni in Letaba Ranch, Mutale Falls in Makuya Park in the north. Four are cultural camps: Blouberg, Modjadji, Fundudzi and Baleni on the Klein Letaba River. Two are wilderness camps at Mafefe and Ntubu.