Blyde River Canyon, South Africa is the third largest canyon in the world. Its beauty surpasses your wildest expectations.
Blyde River Canyon is well-known to South Africans but a well-kept secret to the rest of the world. This spectacular landmark is a Unesco site and offers the visitor so much more than just views.
The area is well known for hiking, mountain biking, fishing and bird watching. If that wasn’t enough there are also great opportunities for adventure seekers such as helicopter sightseeing tours, white water rafting, and kloofing, South Africa’s version of canyoneering.
Where is Blyde River Canyon?
Blyde River Canyon is in the heart of the Mpumalanga province, South Africa. Mpumalanga means “Place of the rising sun” and I can guarantee that the name is definitely well deserved.
This beautiful and now protected area was once at the heart of one of South Africa’s historical gold rushes and a thoroughfare for foreigners landing on the coast of Mozambique over 100 years ago. I promise the roads have greatly improved since then.
The area surrounding the canyon is part of the Blyde River Nature Reserve. The nature reserve is best explored by hiking the beautiful trails that lead you through some of the most fascinating wilderness that you will encounter in South Africa.
You want to be cautious with your food while hiking though, I had some run-ins with Baboons during my stay and let me tell you, I’m pretty sure their bite is as bad as their bark.
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Blyde River Canyon’s More Beautiful than I Expected
Needing some R&R I decided that the Blyde River Canyon Forever Resort would be the best place to enjoy great scenery, fresh air and some much-needed adventure time. I was not disappointed.
We stayed at the Blyde River Canyon Forever Resort, which is right on the edge of the canyon with the most breathtaking views right from your room.
The rooms are self-catering and come with a kitchen that has all your necessities including coffee and tea, perfect when you just want a quiet cup enjoying the pre-dawn stillness.
Our first day was spent taking scenic walks and enjoying views of the canyon and its beautiful centerpiece, the three rondavels. The resort has its own lookout point on a protruding rock high above the canyon.
I am afraid of heights but love the idea of overcoming my fears, so I crawled across to take in the view. And, yes, you read right, I crawled, much to the delight of the tourists hanging around. By the next morning the I had gotten used to the heights and went out to take in the beautiful sunrise.
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The sun’s rays create the illusion of a crown behind the biggest of the Three Rondavels. This is fitting as the mountain was once home to a revered African King.
As we sat there, watching the world awake, we could hear the sounds of animals signaling each other that a new day had come. We were lucky enough to watch a Fish Eagle hunt while we sat there.
The area is also home to the endangered Samango Monkey, which I didn’t get an opportunity to see.
Hiking in Blyde River Canyon
There are several hikes that you can do in the area. Most of these start at the Blyde River Canyon Forever Resort. If you booked at the Resort the hikes are free. If you’re staying nearby and just want to spend the day hiking then you can buy a hiking license at the Resort
You can choose between several different hikes that range in difficulty, some of them even pass through shallow parts of the Blyde River.
I would have loved to do a more strenuous hike but due to time constraints and the fact that we had kids with us, we decided to do the Kadishi trail. The trail is just 2km long and you can explore the banks of the Kadishi river.
We passed several small pools and waterfalls, some of which are safe to swim in. Its the perfect way to cool off during the hike. I would recommend taking some snacks with and spending a few hours enjoying the cool, fresh river water. Just make sure not to litter.
I have heard that the Leopard Hiking trail is the best of the trails as it really tests your hiking abilities.
It is advisable to have shoes with a good grip on this trail though as it can get quite steep and slippery in some places. You would also cross parts of a river on this trail so make sure your shoes can dry off quickly.
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Visitor Info for Blyde River Canyon
How to Get There
Blyde River Canyon is 6 hours SE of Johannesburg. There are tours and shuttles available from all the major cities, but I recommend renting a car and driving through.
Besides having a unique South African experience, and a great opportunity for some sing-along road-trip music, it is a beautiful drive that will take you through several different natural terrains.
If you’re feeling daring you could even attempt driving through the Panorama route, which is a winding road that takes you past the highest point in South Africa. I wouldn’t attempt this one if you’re prone to motion sickness though, its roller-coaster worthy.
Accommodation at Blyde River Canyon
I stayed at the Blyde River Canyon Forever Resort and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the area. The Resort offers you everything from swimming pools, tennis courts, excellent hikes, and horse riding. There is a small supermarket on the premises if you need to stock up on anything. For those that love camping, the camping facilities are excellent.
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Blyde River Canyon Tours
This boat cruise is the perfect way to relax and take in the sites. The cruise takes you through the Blyde Dam and gives you an opportunity to learn about the rich history and diversity of the area. You’ll get to see a completely different side of the Blyde River Canyon.
This tour goes from the nearby town of Hazyview (one of the gates to the Kruger National Park). If you are visiting the Kruger then this is the perfect way to see something different and unique during your stay. Spend the day touring the Blyde River Canyon and other landmarks in the area.
You’ll even make a stop at Harry’s Pancakes which serve the best pancakes in South Africa. No trip to the Panorama is complete without these.
Other things to do in the area
What I love the most about Blyde River Canyon is that it is so close to other must-see places in the area. If you’re in the area be sure to check out Bourkes Luck Potholes. These are natural rock formations carved by the flow of the river. They really do look like potholes.
You can also visit God’s Window, hike to the top and find yourself engulfed by an indigenous rain forest. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see right across Mozambique to the Indian Ocean. You can also explore the Echo Caves which are home to ancient African rock paintings. If you are interested in African history and culture this is a must-see.
The best part about this area is that you’re not far from the Kruger National Park. You can easily two of South Africa’s landmarks in one trip.
While your visiting Blyde River Canyon, make sure to pick up some great hand-made gifts from the locals. This truly is a place that will stay fresh in your memory for a very long time.