Visit the Drakensberg, South Africa
Known in Zulu as Quathlamba (‘Battlement of Spears’), the Drakensberg rises like a great green fortress, forming a natural border between South Africa and Lesotho. Basalt buttresses jut into the sky and folds of land create deep valleys where waterfalls plunge into rock pools and rivulets seep down the sheer mountain faces.
Unsurprisingly, hiking is a popular pastime here. The mountains are riddled with trails, some more strenuous than others, set against one of the most impressive backdrops on the continent.
You can also explore by mountain bike or on horseback, or take a 4x4 along the Sani Pass into Lesotho. Meanwhile, tucked away in the area’s caves, you’ll find 2,000-year-old San Bushman rock art.
Drive just three hours northwest of Durban and you’ll reach the Drakensberg, its wall of rock rising like an impenetrable barrier. Mostly covered in a velvet carpet of grass and mossy forest, the mountains are far from barren. Exploring the escarpment’s valleys and peaks, you’ll pass babbling streams, encounter grazing eland and can begin to identify some of the region’s 300 or so bird species, including the endemic mountain pipit and the endangered Cape vulture.
Hiking is one of the best ways to take in the landscape and crisp mountain air. In areas such as Giant’s Castle, you can follow trails independently or in the company of a local guide, who can tailor walks to your interests and fitness level and tell you more about the region’s geology, flora and fauna.
Another of the most rewarding areas for hiking in the Drakensberg lies within the Royal Natal National Park. Known as the Amphitheatre, it’s a 5-km (3-mile) curve of rock over which the Tugela River spills. Stand in its midst and you’ll see the thin wisp of water falling 500 m (1,640 ft) down the valley side, forming the Tugela Falls.
The lodges in the Drakensberg tend to offer a variety of outdoor activities. You could join guided horse-riding trips, which cater to different abilities, whether you want to stick to gentle rides over flat fields or make exhilarating descents and ascents.
You can also go trout fishing or try a more exhilarating activity such as white-water rafting.
Spending time in this landscape, you can almost sense its age. For millennia, it has captured the human imagination, including that of the San Bushmen, indigenous hunter-gatherers who roamed this area thousands of years ago.
You can join guided trips to see some of the rock paintings they left behind, which have lined the walls of caves for more than 2,000 years. Illustrations range from animals of the time, including the eland you still see today, to human figures and symbols that are open to interpretation.
Crossing the Sani Pass
In the southern Drakensberg, we can arrange for you to experience the switchbacks of the Sani Pass, a steep 9-km (5.6-mile) mountain pass that takes you up to the highest point in Africa accessible by vehicle.
You’ll travel in a 4x4 driven by a guide experienced in navigating the pass’s narrow hairpin bends and rough tracks.
As you ascend 1,332 m (4,370 ft), you’re surrounded by wavy mountainsides and green rock-strewn valleys. The road you’ve just followed zig-zags behind you, and you’ll pass the occasional waterfall trickling down the valley side.
At the summit, which is 2,876 m (9,436 ft) above sea level, you pass the border into the Kingdom of Lesotho (undergoing a passport check). Then, you can sit down for a drink at the Sani Mountain Lodge — the self-proclaimed ‘highest pub in Africa’ — soaking up all-encompassing views over the pass before your descent.
Best time to visit the Drakensberg
The best time for hiking is in autumn (April and May) or spring (September and October). The days are warm at this time, but cooler than during the hotter summer months (November to March), when you’ll also experience daily thunderstorms. July and August are cooler and there might be snow on the peaks.
Map of the Drakensberg
Places & hotels on the map
Places near the Drakensberg
- The Midlands 70 kilometers away
- Spioenkop 81 kilometers away
- Lesotho 111 kilometers away
- The Battlefields 163 kilometers away
- Durban 163 kilometers away
- The South Coast 163 kilometers away
- Umhlanga Rocks 165 kilometers away
- Port St Johns 250 kilometers away
- Coffee Bay 291 kilometers away
- Hluhluwe-IMfolozi Game Reserve 300 kilometers away
- Thanda Safari Private Game Reserve 317 kilometers away
- iSimangaliso Wetland Park 334 kilometers away
- Phinda Private Game Reserve 337 kilometers away
- Lake St Lucia 339 kilometers away
- Eswatini 370 kilometers away
- Johannesburg 389 kilometers away
- The Elephant Coast 427 kilometers away
- East London 428 kilometers away
Accommodation choices for the Drakensberg
We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit the Drakensberg. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.
Situated in the Kwazulu-Natal Drakensberg region, Montusi Mountain Lodge is a family-owned resort with thatched-roof accommodation and a wide range of outdoor activities, as well as stunning, uninterrupted views of Drakensberg’s famous Amphitheatre escarpment.
Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse is a real gem, perfect for those looking for a remote, luxury hideaway, offering all sorts of activities and superb gourmet food.
Located in a protected area of the Drakensberg, Cathedral Peak Hotel nestles below a towering mountain of the same name, which makes the hotel very special.