Avoid the crowds as you enjoy 10 days of safari and cultural adventures around the most secluded and beautiful locales in South Africa. You're in control as you get behind the wheel and hit the road to the mountains and waterfalls of Magoebaskloof, the Soutpansberg Conservancy, and the vast savannas of Mapungubwe National Park, where safari excursions await. You'll also stay in 5-star bush lodges in private game reserves abounding with more exotic wildlife, like the rare white rhino.


  • Spot Big Five safari animals like elephants and rhinos at lesser-visited reserves
  • Mix safari fun with cultural highlights as you follow the Ribola Art Route
  • Stay in first-class bush lodges at private game reserves and resorts
  • Enjoy adventure activities (like zipline tours) in South Africa's northern mountains

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Johannesburg, Soweto Bicycle Tour Johannesburg
Day 2 Drive to Magoebaskloof, Outdoor Activities Magoebaskloof
Day 3 Magoebaskloof Canopy Tour Magoebaskloof
Day 4 Drive to Soutpansberg Conservancy, Village Tour Soutpansberg Conservancy
Day 5 Travel the Ribola Art Route Soutpansberg Conservancy
Day 6 Drive to Mapungubwe National Park Mapungubwe
Day 7 Mapungubwe National Park Activities Mapungubwe
Day 8 Drive to Welgevonden Game Reserve Welgevonden Game Reserve
Day 9 Welgevonden Game Reserve Activities Welgevonden Game Reserve
Day 10 Drive to Johannesburg, Soweto Tour, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Johannesburg, Soweto Bicycle Tour

Welcome to Johannesburg, the Cradle of Civilization

Welcome to South Africa! For culture, history, and natural beauty, you can't beat this diverse nation at the southern end of the continent. People flock to its dozens of national parks and reserves to embark on memorable safari adventures, but this diverse nation also delivers the goods where it concerns art. A 10-day self-drive road trip is the best way to experience many of the highlights most travelers miss.

It starts with your arrival in Johannesburg. Known as "Joburg" or "Jozi" to locals, South Africa's largest metropolis occupies a region home to some of the globe's most vital archaeological finds—hence it's other nickname: the Cradle of Civilization. A driver will be waiting at the airport for the transfer into the city and your hotel. Then, you'll meet a guide for the drive to Johannesburg's southwest end and Soweto, a district rich in culture and infamous recent history.

The township was founded in the 1930s by the white government of South Africa as a segregated residence for the Black population of Johannesburg. You'll learn about Soweto's contentious apartheid history on a guided 2.5-hour cycling tour. During the ride, you'll stop at some interesting historical sites, including a workers' hostel, Nelson Mandela's former home, and a local shebeen (pub), where you can mingle with locals over a beer.

Day 2: Drive to Magoebaskloof, Outdoor Activities

Embark on nature hikes and marvel at the local wildlife (photo courtesy of Graceland Eco-Retreat)

Let the road trip adventure begin! Pick up your rental car in the morning and leave Johannesburg on a scenic four-hour drive north to the famous Drakensberg Mountains. This majestic range stretches 621 miles (1,000 km) across the eastern part of the country and is known for its high plateaus and jagged peaks. It's also the site of today's destination: Magoebaskloof, a mountainous region in Limpopo province. It's the perfect place for adventure sports and a haven for birders—its Afromontane forest canopies are home to rare Cape parrots, crowned eagles, black-fronted bush shrikes, and mountain wagtails.

Known as "The Land of the Silver Mist," this region is right out of a fairy tale, featuring lush valleys, native forests, and mist-shrouded mountains. Once here, you'll check into Graceland Eco-Retreat, a comfy family-run lodge in the forest. This will be your base for the next couple of adventures, including nature hikes, birding, and even zipline tours over the forest canopy. There's no need to wait, either. After dropping off your bags, you can hit the trail on a nature hike through native forests and along mountain ridges. Or opt for another adventure, like horseback riding, mountain biking, or a waterfall picnic.

Day 3: Magoebaskloof Canopy Tour

Strap in and soar over Magoebaskloof's lush forest canopy

Get ready to enjoy one of the most thrilling activities in Magoebaskloof. It begins with a morning hike up through native forests to ancient mountain cliffs. Eventually, you'll arrive at a viewpoint overlooking the spectacular Groot Letaba River gorge, a narrow canyon with waterfalls and lagoons. It's an ideal spot for a zipline ride, which is what's in store next.

At a platform rising over three 65-foot (20 m) waterfalls, you'll strap into a harness and begin a series of thrilling rides over the river and falls. As a bonus, your expert guides will also point out the exotic flora and fauna in the area, which include orchids and kingfishers, who regularly swoop down into the river below. At the end of the tour, you'll return to the eco-retreat and will have the rest of the day to enjoy more outdoor activities.

Day 4: Drive to Soutpansberg Conservancy, Village Tour

Your mountaintop lodge is located next to forests and native villages (photo courtesy of Leshiba Wilderness)

Bid farewell to Magoebaskloof this morning as you get back behind the wheel for a 2.5-hour drive north to the Soutpansberg Conservancy. This unspoiled wilderness area lies at the foot of the densely forested Soutpansberg Mountains near the border with Botswana. Translating to "Salt Pan Mountain," Soutpansberg is the country's northernmost range, encapsulating 80 miles (130 km) of pristine forests, rugged peaks, agricultural fields, and baobab-dotted plains.

You'll arrive in the small town of Makhado. Located in Soutpansberg's Vhembe region, it's the ancestral home of the Venda people. This Bantu-speaking ethnic group has a rich cultural and historical legacy in the area, which you'll discover quickly. Upon arrival, check into Leshiba Wilderness, a luxury mountaintop lodge where you'll spend the next few nights amid a private game reserve. Then, meet a local guide for a tour of a nearby Venda village. Not only can you meet local artisans and browse their work, but you'll also visit sites featuring ancient rock art.

Day 5: Travel the Ribola Art Route

Ribola Art Route
Browse the intricate handicrafts on offer from local tribespeople on the Ribola Art Route
Plan your trip to South Africa
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

The morning is yours to embark on excursions arranged by the lodge. The options for activities in and around Makhado are many, and include hiking the many trails in the Soutpansberg range (the Hangklip and Wyllie's Poort trails are popular options). You can also visit the Ndzalama Nature Reserve for more nature hikes as well as birding. There are around 300 avian species here, including raptors and other birds of prey.

Then, after lunch, you'll hit the cultural trail. Immerse yourself in the region's heritage of diverse Indigenous cultures as you follow the Ribola Art Route (named after the area's Ribola Mountain). The excursion will take you between regional towns like Mbokota and Elim to see arts and crafts produced by various cultures, including Tsonga, Venda, and Shangaan.

Know that these cultural expressions go beyond the tactile—Ribola also celebrates the culture through music and the age-old African storytelling tradition. Speaking of which, part of the day will be spent in various workshops. These immersive experiences include making traditional clay pots, creating batik garments, and jamming with local musicians. At the end of the day, you'll return to the lodge in Makhado.

Day 6: Drive to Mapungubwe National Park

Mapungubwe is a haven for both exotic animals and archaeological finds

Continue north after breakfast on a drive up to the borders of Botswana and Zimbabwe and Mapungubwe National Park. Located in Limpopo province, this compact national park spans just 108 square miles (280 sq km), yet it's remarkably diverse. Ecosystems here range from woodlands and riverine forests to vast savannas. These are habitats for various wildlife, including elephants, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, and different bird species.

Your accommodation for the next couple of nights will be at Mopane Bush Lodge, set amid a private game reserve with lodging ranging from simple safari tents to a 4-star luxury lodge. After checking in, you can opt for any activities showcasing Mapungubwe's highlights. Undoubtedly, one of the park's biggest draws is Mapungubwe Hill. This UNESCO World Heritage Site contains the remains of a city dating to the 11th century CE that was the center of a powerful kingdom. On a site tour, you can see remnants of stone walls, artifacts, and evidence of early trade networks.

Day 7: Mapungubwe National Park Activities

Embark on safari game drives and keep an eye out for lions

After an early breakfast, venture into Mapungubwe for a full day of park activities arranged by the lodge. Game drives are a popular option, and as you cruise the plains, you can spot elephants, giraffes, buffalo, hippos, and (if you're lucky) the famous white rhino. Or hit the trail on foot for a morning walk with a local guide who will point out exotic wildlife and reveal fascinating info about the history and culture of the Mapungubwe people.

Whatever you decide, clear your schedule in the late afternoon and ride out to a prime spot near a river. There, your guides will make a fire, and you'll finish the day enjoying a delicious bush braai (barbecue) as the sun sets over the savanna.

Day 8: Drive to Welgevonden Game Reserve

Enjoy 5-star accommodations in the African bush (photo courtesy of Mhondoro Safari Lodge)

Say goodbye to Mapungubwe this morning as you drive south to another marvel of Limpopo province: Welgevonden Game Reserve. This private conservation area covers 138 square miles (360 sq km) of diverse terrain, including rolling hills, grassy savannas, and wooded valleys. Besides the Big Five animals, plenty of other wildlife call this area home, including zebras, hippos, cheetahs, and antelope. It's also a birder's paradise, as there are around 300 avian species here, ranging from raptors to waterbirds and more. 

Not incidentally, this private reserve is also known for its many 4/5-star accommodations, including swank wilderness lodges and luxury bush camps. You'll be staying at one such option: Mhondoro, a 5-star private safari lodge and villa. It fuses African chic with opulent European influences to offer the utmost in comfort and amenities while surrounded by the beauty of the African wilderness.

You'll have a few days to enjoy more outdoor adventures—for now, perhaps spend the rest of the afternoon in your villa, complete with a private plunge pool. Or, if you can't wait to explore, set off on an afternoon game drive through the park. Return to the lodge for dinner and a relaxing nightcap around the outdoor fire.

Day 9: Welgevonden Game Reserve Activities

Spot African elephants, among other remarkable species, at Welgevonden

Make the most of your last day in South Africa with a full itinerary of bush activities. You can embark on a total of two game drives (morning and afternoon) to spot the more than 50 mammals, hundreds of bird species, and thousands of types of plants in Welgevonden. Also included in the itinerary are bush walks led by park rangers who will point out the reserve's exotic flora and fauna as you go.

Optional activities include a dedicated excursion in search of the rare white rhino and a trip to view ancient rock art. Cap the day with dinner back at the lodge, followed by fireside chats and maybe even a little stargazing. This remote and vast region is free of light pollution, meaning you'll be treated to dazzling views of the vivid constellations above.

Day 10: Drive to Johannesburg, Soweto Tour, Depart

Once segregated, Soweto is now a bastion of color and culture
The fun isn't over yet. Pack a bit more fun and culture into your last morning in Africa as you depart early for the four-hour drive south back to Johannesburg. There, you'll return to Soweto Township and continue exploring on a tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw) tour.
This is a full-day excursion during which you'll travel around the township, meeting residents and sampling more local cuisine (try the bunny chow). Part of the tour even includes stops to marvel at colorful street art. Afterward, you'll continue to the international airport in time to catch your flight home. Safe travels!

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