Now that you’ve travelled all that way, from Cape Town to Kruger, it would be a great pity not to explore the other African countries around you and so close by! Because the Kruger Park extends such a long way from north to south, you have many options open to you. If you’re in the south, then it’s a simple hop, skip and jump to the Mozambican border post of Lebombo/Ressano Garcia. Ditto for the Swaziland border of Jeppe’s Reef/Matsamo.
Three African countries in one trip – South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique!
You can also enter Mozambique from the east side of Swaziland, at the Lomahasha/Namaacha border post.
In my experience, the Swazi border posts are probably the easiest borders in the world to cross – and I’ve experienced a few through Africa and around the world.
Getting through the Mozambican border post with South Africa is a little trickier, and in high season can mean a wait of a few hours. Once you’re through though, the exciting city of Maputo awaits, a mere 83 kilometres away.
A nip across the border for lunch in Maputo, or discover the south of Mozambique
Maputo has some of the best hotels I’ve stayed in. The Southern Sun Maputo is on what is known as the marginal, the beachfront road and the hub of Maputo. Step out of the rim flow pool and onto the beach in front of you; indulge in their unbelievable breakfast spread; or lie at the pool sipping cocktails, staring dreamily out to sea. The Radisson Blu Maputo with its beautiful sea views from the hill and excellent facilities is another of the more modern hotels. The grand old dame of Maputo is the Polana, perched high on the hill overlooking Maputo and the sea with regal aloofness. It has survived years of war and destruction, come out the other side and never fails to impress.
A city with so much charm you’ll want to keep going back
At first glance, Maputo is just another third-world city, with squalor and burnt buildings all over the place. The potholes in the roads can actually swallow an entire car. But spend a few days, and look a little deeper, and you will discover a vibrant city, amazing people and a rich history. The restaurants are all excellent – even the small, rural, out-of-the-way spots. You haven’t lived until you’ve tasted the Mozambican version of grilled Portuguese chicken, with an ice-cold Laurentina or Dos M (Two M) beer on a steamy day.
The restaurant at the end of the marginal, the Costa do Sol, has been famous for years, for their prawns and seafood platters, which are delicious. The restaurant opened in the 1930’s and was the last stop at the end of a dirt track before hunters headed off into the wilderness. It’s still pretty much the case actually, and has the feel of being at a beach resort, with nothing in front except for palm trees, beach and sea. It has become the meeting place for locals over weekends, which gives it a great vibe.
You might have heard the older generation speak of the famous “LM prawns”. This dish became Costa do Sol’s signature dish and is still spoken about today. The LM originates from Lourenço Marques, which was Maputo’s name from Portuguese colonial days.
Down to Ponta D’Oro, up north to Inhambane or across to an island…
If you only have a few extra days, you can take in all there is to see in the city – nightlife; the markets; the museums; the restaurants – as well as hop over to Inhaca island on the ferry; across to Catembe; see the Maputo Elephant Reserve; or travel down to Ponta D’Oro to swim with dolphins. If you have longer, you can take the EN1 and drive north, to Bilene; or as far as Inhambane, which is a popular beach resort-type holiday with good value accommodation. It is 480 kilometres from Maputo, which is an easy driving distance for a few extra days.
Bilene is a very easy day trip from Maputo and is a fascinating spot, almost with an island feel, thanks to the lagoon. Driving on the EN1, the national road north, is very easy – but remember to stick to strict speed limits and be aware that some lodges and resorts might need a 4×4 to reach.
Fly to the beach for a swim and a cup of coffee
Driving down to Ponta D’Oro will require a 4×4 vehicle. Or you could go by helicopter, as I once did! A guest of mine at the lodge decided he’d like to treat me for my birthday (and add some flying hours to his helicopter license…), so he hired a chopper and pilot from Nelspruit and we flew from the game lodge (near Malalane), over the Maputo Elephant Reserve, and landed on the beach at Ponta D’Oro.
My birthday is in June, which is winter in South Africa, so we left the lodge dressed in winter woollies and jackets, but took swimming costumes along for the beach. We had a quick dip in the ocean, a hot coffee and snack, changed out of our beachwear and back into winter gear, climbed back in the chopper and landed back at the lodge 20 minutes later. Definitely one of my more special birthdays!
Exploring Swaziland and northern KwaZulu Natal
You can also easily drive through Swaziland in a day, stopping at the various sites and attractions, and exit at the bottom (Lavumisa/Golele) into the KwaZulu Natal north coast region. It’s well worth spending some time here, at the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, and at the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, before travelling down the coastline and flying out of Durban, perhaps. By the way – if you want to know how to pronounce this one, the best I’ve ever heard was someone saying he always thought of his mom telling him, “shush Louis!”
Swaziland has its own special charm and if you can, it’s a good idea to overnight in one of their reserves. Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, Hlane Royal National Park and Mkhaya Game Reserve are three of the best options. Sleeping in a Swazi beehive hut is an experience not to be missed. It’s an even better idea to make sure that you catch at least one of their cultural experiences in one of the villages, even if you’re not staying over. The sound of their massive drums reverberating around you will touch your soul in a way you never expected.
Crook’s Corner and the wild and remote northern Kruger Park
Back to the Kruger Park for a moment. If you’re further north in the park and want to enter Mozambique directly, you can use the Giriyondo border post or the far northern border post of Pafuri. These are both a bit trickier, though, as you need a 4×4 vehicle for these routes.
Once you’re at the northernmost tip of the Kruger Park – being Pafuri – there is a spot called “Crook’s Corner”. This was so-named because it was the spot where fugitives were safe from the law, being able to literally step across into another country. Marked by a beacon, it is where three countries meet – in those days, the Union of South Africa, Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique) and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Today you can take a walk (only with a guide, of course), climb a hill to the top, and look out over the magnificent confluence of the Limpopo and Luvhuvhu rivers, and the three countries in one 360-degree scan. This is a spectacular sight.
The Makuleke Contractual Park
While I’m on this topic and in this area, it’s worth mentioning here what a special luxury game lodge The Outpost is (although we’ll go into the luxury game lodges in detail in later posts). There are a few unique aspects to this lodge, the first being the magnificent views over this wild and remote area of Kruger Park, and the Luvhuvhu river, from all areas of the lodge. The second is that it is owned by the local Makuleke community. It is jointly managed (very professionally and efficiently, I might add) by the community, the Kruger Park and various tourism operators, forming the Makuleke Contractual Park. Another is the very wild and different vegetation up there, giving an alternative game drive experience compared to down south. And lastly, the spectacularly designed “Luxury Spaces” – see the photo below and I don’t think I need to say any more!
And three African countries in the north… South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe!
From Pafuri gate, it’s then an easy drive to the Zimbabwe border post of Beitbridge. As you can see, the travel possibilities in this area are endless – kind of like driving through Europe, with the possibility of seeing a country a day! So, if you had originally considered only travelling to the Kruger National park, think again. Add a few extra days and easily explore the other African countries around you. To recap, just the immediate borders around the Kruger National Park give you the option of visiting Swaziland; Mozambique and Zimbabwe, in addition to exploring South Africa.
Just remember TIA… This is Africa… and plan accordingly!
As always, of course, there are plenty of fly-in options everywhere as well, if you don’t want to drive all the way. Some of the logistics of flying into and out of African countries can still present some challenges though. It’s worth noting that if you want to do a fly-drive combo, you’d do well to find yourself an experienced tour operator to advise you!
I once had some UK clients travelling to Mozambique from South Africa on honeymoon. They only wanted me to book the island resort part of their honeymoon, insisting they could do the rest themselves. I had one of those frantic, late-night panic calls from the newlyweds, half-way through their trip. They were stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no accommodation, en route to Vilanculos to catch their island hop flight. They’d thought they could get on the road and find a B&B stop-over somewhere like they would in England. They had not realized the incredible distances between towns, and that half of the towns would have no tourist accommodation!
I had to call in some favours and urgently find them a bed for the night, with a late check-in, as they still had two hours to travel in the dark. Where they thought they’d save money by not using a tour operator, it cost them an extra night’s (expensive!) accommodation. This, by the way, is a real misconception. It costs the tourist nothing to use the expert services of a tour operator who is a destination specialist and will, in fact, save them time, money and trauma.
Still so much to see and do everywhere, but this is just the beginning
Of course, each of these countries and regions needs a while to explore on their own, (and we will focus on this in later posts). To begin with, though, this is a perfect starting point to give yourself a “taste” of everything.
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Until next time!