10 reasons to visit the Drakensberg Mountains

Sani Pass - Southern Drakensberg

There are a lot of reasons to visit the Drakensberg Mountains and these are our best Drakensberg attractions. Use these as a guide ensuring that your time in the mountains will be filled with fun, adventure and some picturesque downtime whilst you’re there.

Drive the tortuous 4×4 Sani Pass to Lesotho

There are not many drives like this. The Sani Pass rises 1300 metres in less than 9 kilometres as it climbs from the plains of South Africa to the mountain kingdom of Lesotho.

The authorities won’t let you up without a 4×4 and for good reason. This narrow rocky road has loose boulders, small valleys carved by rain, hairpins that require 3 point-turns and vertical drops on one side.

Sani Pass - Southern Drakensberg
Drive the Sani Pass into Lesotho

Stare at the awesome Drakensberg Amphitheatre

The Drakensberg Amphitheatre is 5 kilometres long with a vertical drop of just over 1,200 metres, giving it a cliff face more than 10 times the size of El Capitan in Yosemite. It’s an awe-inspiring spectacle from above on the Tugela falls hike or below on the gorge hike.

Hiking at the Amphitheater

Hike to the highest waterfall in the world

Tugela Falls - Drakensberg Mountains
The Tugela falls – highest waterfall in the world – One of the best reasons to visit the Drakensberg Mountains

Tucked into the Drakensberg Mountains, the Tugela Falls plunge almost 1,000 metres making them the second-highest falls in the world.

But, in spite of their height, they’re not the easiest to see. In winter (when it is dry) they often have no water at all. In summer, their beauty is only revealed after a long hike to get to them.

You can look down on the elegant cascade from the Sentinel Peak hike which winds its way up the side of the Drakensberg Amphitheatre. Or you can clamber through the Tugela Gorge catching a glimpse from a jungle-shrouded distance. Both are an excellent day out.

Scale nerve-jangling metal chain ladders

The Drakensberg Mountains have numerous walls of vertical rock which provide dramatic scenery and interesting challenges. If you are going to make good progress along the well-marked walking trails, then these sheer cliff faces need to be climbed. The South African solution is chain ladders – metal ladders that hang vertically over the cliff face. There are a few dotted about the northern Drakensberg but the highest and most challenging is nearly 100 steps of vertigo inducing drama. If you fancy a challenge of mind over matter and a massive sense of satisfaction, then this is for you.

Tugela Falls chain ladders

Chat to the Lesotho shepherds & goat herders

The plateau at the top of the Drakensberg Mountains is a different world from that at the bottom. Instead of fast growing South African towns, small Lesotho communities live a rural way of life.

Here Basotho (Lesotho’s citizens) roam the high mountain grasslands looking after their goats, sheep and horses. Dressed like Jedi in sweeping robes and hoods – eyes obscured from the harsh Lesotho sun – they often approached, curious as to why we were on their land.

“Going for a walk” seemed like a strange response to them. But a quick friendly chat in broken English is an insight into a simple undiscovered culture.

Climb the 3,000 meter Cathedral Peak

Getting from the bottom of the Drakensberg Mountains to the top is not easy. The sheer sided cliff face makes most hiking routes impossible. But this sensational hike to the summit of 3,004m Cathedral Peak can be done as a walk. Just not an easy one.

Considered ‘non-technical’ the return day trip is 19 kilometres, ascends 1600 metres and takes 9 to 10 hours. However it’s not just the length that tricky, the final section up to the summit is a challenging scramble on exposed edges using fixed aids. The rewards are magnificent views and immense self-satisfaction. First-timers should take a guide.

Boulder hop up sheer-sided gorges

As rivers pour over the Drakensberg escarpment, they cut dramatic valleys which narrow into tight canyons. These sheer-sided gorges are a joy to explore.

You can swim in the rivers and pools; boulder hop along the stream bed or simply stare up at the vertical walls. As you head upstream they get tighter, steeper and more challenging, adding to the already strong sense of adventure.

Rainbow Gorge in Cathedral Peak and Tugela Gorge in Royal Natal National Park are two of the finest. But make sure you check the weather conditions before you depart; heavy downpours are a regular afternoon occurrence.

Indulge at the Cathedral Peak Wine Estate

When you have had enough of adventure, or rain is on its way, then the Cathedral Peak Wine Estate is the perfect place for lunch. Out of respect for the region in which the winery is based, their finest wines are named UNESCO 985 – the identification number for the Drakensberg successful UNESCO application in 2000.

Wine tasting is R10 (€0.50 / $0.56 / £0.45) per glass and can be accompanied with their tasty meat and cheese platter. Try the full-bodied Merlot in the Estate Range or the uniquely South African Pinotage and while away the afternoon looking out over the vineyards backed by the impressive Drakensberg mountains.

Explore millennia old San rock art

South Africa’s original people San (or Bushmen), inhabited the Drakensberg Mountains for thousands of years before practically disappearing in the late 1800s. Fortunately they left behind a fragile legacy: stone-age rock art. There are over 600 rock-art sites and tens of thousands of paintings spread across the region but the finest can be found at Games Pass Shelter near Kamberg, Main Caves near Giants Castle Camp or Battle Cave near Injisuthi. The Didima Rock Art centre in Royal Natal National Park also has an informative museum dedicated to the rise and fall of the San and their art. Our recommendation of the best rock art site to visit is Game Pass Shelter in the Kamberg

Rock art at Game Pass Shelter in the Kamberg Nature Reserve – Central Drakensberg

Ramble the 60 kilometre Giants Cup Trail

If scaling chain ladders, boulder-hopping and steep climbs sounds all a bit too much then consider this excellent multi-day hike, widely considered the best long-distance walk in the Drakensberg. It takes 5 days and covers 60 kilometres. Although it’s long, it’s only moderately difficult.

It starts at the bottom of Sani Pass and winds its way along streams and valleys through the Drakensberg’s dramatic rugged scenery to Bushman’s Nek.

It is the only hutted hike in the Drakensberg. As the accommodation is basic, you’ll need to provide your own bedding and food. It’s cold showers all the way.

The best attractions at Antbear Lodge in the Drakensberg Mountains

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