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By Alex Martin | June 14 2019
In this latest article in an ongoing South Africa series, Elite Traveler brings you its essential Panorama Route guide.
South Africa is a vast and beautiful place. From the amazing safari parks in the northeast to the cosmopolitan city of Cape Town in the southwest, it is one of the most diverse countries in the world.
Away from the cultural capital and the big five lies a lesser-known slither of paradise called The Panorama Route. This 120-mile stretch of road is not only steeped in South African cultural history but links many of its most amazing natural wonders.
The best way to explore it is a self-driving tour, so Elite Traveler brings you some top tips for planning your trip.
The Panorama Route officially begins just outside the small town of Lydenburg, but most tourists begin their journey by renting a car in Johannesburg 200 miles to the west.
Set aside a day just to complete this journey and spend the rest recuperating in Lydenburg, a historic town home to the mysterious Lydenburg heads: hollow terracotta sculptures that date back 1,500 years.
The route takes in a number of storied towns and they are all worth your time, particularly Pilgrim’s Rest. The former gold-mining town has been restored to its former glory and is now a classified national monument. Visitors can get a sense of what life was like during the gold rush of the 1800s when 1,500 prospectors descended on the town in search of a life-changing fortune.
However, the reason most people travel all of this way is to see the plethora of natural wonders, the sweeping views from mountain tops and ancient caves. The Panorama Route has more of these than some entire countries. So, what are the top sites to see? Click through to see our top picks.
There are six significant waterfalls along the Panorama Route and all are beautiful in their own right. What separates Mac Mac Falls apart is the nearby pools. These natural bathing sites are prone to overcrowding in peak season, but you need not walk far from the parking lot in order to find your own private spot. Other waterfalls worthy of a visit are the Bridal Veil Falls and Lone Creek Falls, both near the town of Sabie.
The first stunning panorama on the route is God’s Window, named as such because you can see pretty much everything from this 3,000ft-high viewpoint. On a clear day, the horizon stretches out across the entire Mpumalanga Lowveld to Mozambique over 120 miles away.
These cylindrical rock sculptures are almost alien-like and are the result of thousands of years of erosion from eddies: swirls of water caused by the meeting of the Treur River and the Blyde River. Its unusual name comes from a local prospector, Tom Bourke, who staked a claim for the land after predicting the presence of gold but found none.
At 16.2 miles long and 2,625 feet deep, the Blyde River Canyon is the largest of its kind in the world. Luckily for you, the Panorama Route travels right past its greatest viewpoint. The Three Rondavels Viewpoint may not have an inspirational name (you can view three rondavels, meaning ‘huts’ in Afrikaans, from this point), but the vista will certainly take your breath away.
Located towards the end of the Panorama Route, it acts as a stunning finale to an incredible road trip. Get here early when the sun is still rising to avoid the crowds and catch the canyon at its most beautiful. The sharp-eyed will also be able to spot hippos and crocodiles basking in the morning light in the river below.