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MMbombela, formerly called Nelspruit, is the capital of Mpumalanga province – a vibrant, subtropical city that combines a rich history with lots of wildlife and scores of nature attractions, plus adventure activities. This dynamic city is not only the gateway to the Lowveld and the Kruger National Park, but it is also home to a superb botanical garden and some great shopping.
The city, the seat of Mpumalanga’s provincial government, has lots to see and do, both within the city limits and in the surrounding area. For starters, you can visit the oldest caves on earth. It’s also at the centre of a huge farming area specialising in citrus − those oranges and grapefruit you buy in your home market could well have come from Mbombela.
Mbombela also boasts an international airport, making it a pleasant and handy stopover if you’re on your way to the game reserves and national parks further north. Visitors with an interest in flora rather than the Big 5 will enjoy the superb Lowveld National Botanical Garden, which features more 500 indigenous plants, a human-made rain forest and a spectacular exhibition of ferns and cycads.
Helicopter flips are a great way to see Mbombela’s attractions from the air. If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, venture to the Sudwala Caves, believed to be the oldest cavern system in the world. The Crystal Tour of the caves is a must – unless you’re claustrophobic. If you aren’t comfortable in dark, confined spaces, rather visit the open-air dinosaur park that recreates the world as it was when the caves were first formed.
Mbombela has a small but dynamic nightlife with clubs and restaurants, but chances are you will want to get to bed early after a full day of exploring the natural riches of the area.
If you do fancy a show and a drink, however, you can visit the Barnyard Theatre at the Casterbridge Centre on the city’s outskirts; the Barnyard chain is famous for a solid line-up of nostalgic jukebox musicals and band tributes, and shows include dinner. Casterbridge also has great shopping and a motor car museum.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)13 755 1988
How to get here
The Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport is only 22km north-east of Mbombela. The town is also easily accessible by road and is approximately a 4-hour drive from Johannesburg via the N4.
Best time to visit
Any time of year is good, but take note: summer can get uncomfortably hot, particularly from late November to mid-March.
Hire a car and self-drive: it gives you the most options.
Around the area
The Kruger National Park, Sudwala Caves, Lowveld National Botanical Garden and Jane Goodall Chimpanzee Eden are just a few of the local attractions; consult the Mbombela Municipality or Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency websites for a full list.
Length of stay
Three days minimum, but the area has enough attractions to keep you entranced for a week.
What to pack
Standard kit for most destinations in South Africa: sturdy walking shoes or boots, a hat, sunscreen, camera and binoculars. From October to March, you should bring rain gear or an umbrella, too.
Also note that parts of the Lowveld pose a moderate malaria risk, although Mbombela itself is not considered a malaria transmission area – nevertheless, if you’re spending time out in the bush, packing anti-malaria prophylactic medication and insect repellent to keep away mosquitos and ticks, which can also transmit some nasty diseases, is always a good idea.
Where to stay
The area is jam-packed with accommodation possibilities ranging from caravan parks, tented camps and backpacker lodges to hotels, guesthouses, and luxury private reserves.