Hiking in the Drakensberg

Grapple with South Africa’s highest mountain range while camping in caves and watching for wildlife in this remote yet serene mountain terrain.

View All Adventures
Hand-picked adventures using only the best local hosts
Pain-free booking and rapid customer support
Credit for future bookings and other loyalty benefits
Help us save the world by supporting local businesses

The Zulu call it the ‘Ukhahlamba’ – barrier of spears – for the Drakensberg Mountains rise like sharp daggers to separate the Kingdom of Lesotho and South Africa.

Hike along high-altitude wetlands where around 300 species of birds appear between the grasses and frogs call out for their mate. Then steadily climb the huge sandstone escarpment known as the Amphitheatre, which embraces the Southern African plateau, while wild camping in caves where ancient art adorns the walls.

There’s no easy way to climb from peak to peak, be it the tallest Mt Mafadi or the dramatic Cathedral Peak, and you’ll need a steady foot to negotiate the chain ladders. But what awaits are thundering cascading waterfalls, natural pools, game reserves filled with endangered species such as the elusive white rhino and eland, as well as vistas that extend for miles.

Hiking the Drakensberg during April and May means you’ll have the best chance for stable weather, though it can be done at any time of the year. Go in July and August and expect the peaks to be covered in snow, while December to March brings thunderstorms and heavy rain.

Mount Mafadi

South Africa’s highest peak is one to be reckoned with. Towering high at 3,451m above sea level, it’s a challenging yet hugely rewarding hike. It sits right on the border between the Kingdom of Lesotho and South Africa, and one of the more popular routes up is via Leslie’s Pass.

Ideally, you would spread the hike over around five days so that you have enough time to take it all in at each stage you reach. You’ll be climbing up its huge escarpment, trekking below wacky sandstone formations, wild camping in caves overnight and reaching for head-in-the-clouds panoramas.

Cathedral Peak

There’s no shortage of drama when it comes to hiking up Cathedral Peak. This 3,004m-tall mountain pierces the sky with its razor-sharp peak, and the walk up passes by the second highest waterfall in the world, Tugela Falls.

Start off trekking through the wildlife-rich wetlands at the source of Orange River, traversing along remote, lush valleys and rocky ridges where the only people you might come across are shepherds tending to their flocks. Explore the caves en route by spending the night in one or dip in to check out some 4,000-year-old wall art from the Stone Age.

Chain ladders help you up the famous Amphitheatre, then you’ll need old-fashioned sweat and perseverance to conquer the trails and cliffs towards the summit. Expect to be joined by bearded vultures swirling above the peaks.

Various routes can take you to the top, ranging from intense one-day strenuous hikes or more leisurely three- to five-day moderate to difficult trails.