Welcome to Nelspruit, South Africa!
Nelspruit (now officially called Mbombela, although locals rarely use the new name), is Mpumalanga’s ram shackled but working provincial capital, where you will dodge potholes en route to shiny modern malls. Don’t be mistaken, Nelspruit has so much to offer. The city has botanical gardens that will appeal to nature lovers, caves that will feed the adrenaline hunger of any adventure junkie, and even a slow pace to life, for you who are looking to just relax. With so many nature reserves and game parks within easy reach (20-30km from the center), it’s also the perfect place to get close to the wild.
The tourists arriving at Nelspruit Airport only know the famous highlights of the city, but a worldwide local knows the ins and outs of Nelspruit. This is a guide to help you not only include this South African town in your travels, but to make the most out of your visit.
Worldwide Local Tip: The town’s proximity to Kruger Park has made it a trendy holiday destination, particularly among international tourists, resulting in the establishment of a significant number of luxury game lodges, guest houses, self-catering accommodation, and tented camps catering. For the best accommodation deals, make sure to book well before the peak season, which falls between December and March.
For the Animal Lover
Kruger National Game Park has to be your first stop, while in Nelspruit. The largest game park in South Africa, will offer you an exhilarating and up-close wildlife experience. The diversity of wildlife, bird-life, and vegetation is unmatched anywhere else in South Africa. A game drive is a great way to get to see nature without having to get down and dirty, and this is the best drive in Nelspruit. If you really want to get up close and personal, nothing beats taking a walking tour in the Big 5 territory.
Worldwide Local Tip: Taking a day trip in Kruger National Park means spending a rather large part of your day in the car. Make sure to pack some snacks for those times when all you can spot is another Impala or Zebra. A cool box is a must-have, but if you can afford to, a12-volt camping fridge, even better as it will make all the difference on a hot day.
Dive Deep Underground
Have you ever fancied exploring the underground world and uncovering the secrets buried far beneath us? If you have, then Caving by Candlelight is definitely for you. The tour takes place near Sabie’s famed Lone Creek waterfall and guides you through caves down in the gold mines, where gold is still visible on the walls. The main section of the trip has ample headroom for you to walk easily through the caves without bending. What makes these caves unique, is that unlike traditional caving where powerful headlights and torches allow you to see for hundreds of meters ahead of you, going through the paths with candlelight adds to the enchantment of the caves by only revealing glimpses of it at a time.
Worldwide Local Tip: If you are more adventurous, four crawl trails will provide you with an alternative adrenaline-filled route to the main path. These are not for the faint-hearted as you will find yourself wet, muddy, and on your hands and knees trying to balance and not letting the candle wax drip on you! But don’t worry, you will be provided with overalls and hardhats, and the sense of satisfaction afterward is definitely worth it.
Eat Like a Local
Nelspruit’s increasingly multi-cultural society has resulted in the establishment of eateries with menus from nearly every corner of the world, catering to voracious carnivores, fervent vegetarians, and everyone in between. The most distinctive ingredient in Nelspruit’s cuisine is probably peri-peri, a Mozambican spicy relish made from chili, garlic, and lemon.
Worldwide Local Tip: Do not leave South Africa until you indulge in a mouth-watering barbecue, which is locally known as “braai”- under the star-filled sky in the bush. Most game lodges and tour groups will offer you bush dinners around bonfires, where you will be served fish, beef, lamb, chicken, pork, and game meat like kudu, ostrich, crocodile, or wild boar. Mpumalanga, with so many lakes and rivers, is also famous for its fresh trout.
Nelspruit After Dark
Nelspruit does not have a big nightlife scene, though there are a few decent pubs in the city. Head to bar-restaurants such as Cicada and the spit-and-sawdust Jock Pub & Grill for a beer. By day, Food Fundi and Crisp are good options. The action tends to be spread around the city centre, Nelspruit’s many malls, with a multi screen cinema, ice rink, and game arcades adding to the fun at the I’langa Mall on Samora Machel Dr.
Enjoy Your Visit!
To those unfamiliar, Nelspruit is a town you pass by when heading other action-filled South African Cities, but for a worldwide local, this is a town you stay at for the adventure, relaxation, and everything in between.