If the word “Mbombela” is not immediately familiar, that may be because – in terms of the map of South Africa – it is rela-tively new. The capital of north-easterly Mpumalanga province has only worn its current identity for a decade. Between its birth in 1895 (as a cattle-ranching outpost, and later as a key railway town) and its re-christening in 2009, it was (maybe better-) known as “Nelspruit” (after 19th century beef barons, the Nel family).

But if the name is a relative newcomer, then the reasons to visit the city are not. Mbombela is mostly seen by travellers as a gateway to Kruger National Park, on whose south-western doorstep it sits – and most of the visitors who pass through it continue on into South Africa’s most eulogised enclave of lions and leopards, crocodiles and cheetahs.

And yet, there is more to Mbombela and the area around it than an instant dash for the safari vehicle. Directly north of the city, Lowveld Botanical Gardens are a labyrinth of walks and waterfalls - while the Riverside Mall is a playground for 21st century shopping.

Most unmissable, however, is Blyde River Canyon (also known as Motlatse Canyon). Part of the Drakensberg Escarpment of mountains, this great gulf in the ground is a definite reason to reach for your camera. If not quite a Grand Canyon in scale (it is 16 miles long and around 750m (2,460ft) deep), it has a geographical magnificence that can leave the observer whistling in admiration. The main stars of the show are the “Three Rondavels” (also known as the “Three Sisters”); a trio of rounded, grass-covered peaks whose name raises its hat to the circular shape of the traditional Mpumalanga homestead.

TOP FIVE ATTRACTIONS WE RECOMMEND IN Mbombela formally “Nelspruit”

Sudwala Caves

The Sudwala Caves were thought to have formed 240 million years ago and are now one of the most popular attractions in Mbombela. These spacious chambers contain an impressive amphitheatre which can hold up to 500 people and is commonly used for local musicians and various choirs because of its incredible acoustics. Attractions inside the cave include the Devil’s Workshop and the Map of Africa in the ceiling of the cave.

God’s Window

The view from God’s Window has inspired many artists and photographers from all over the globe. It’s found along the panorama route, and down a steep stepped footpath to reach a magnificent viewpoint over South Africa and some stunning waterfalls. The majestic cliffs plunge down 700m to reveal the exact reason that this spot was given it’s name. If you visit on a clear day you can see as far as Kruger National Park and the Mozambique coastline. If you fancy a bit of adventure on your Lions Tour then this is a must visit.

Bourke’s Luck Potholes

Another of the natural wonders in the Mpumalanga area is Bourke’s Luck Potholes. These strange rock formations mark the beginning of the Blyde River Canyon. They are a result of water erosion which has created a fascinating network of tunnels and tubes with interconnecting whirling pools that create a striking and colourful landscape. A 700m trail guides you across to the best vantage points of these cylindrical rock sculptures that wouldn’t look out of place on the moon.

Chimp Eden

Chimp Eden is the first and only Chimpanzee sanctuary in South Africa. Part of the Jane Goodall Institute, the sanctuary opened in 2006 as a rehabilitation centre for chimpanzees who have been rescued from traumatic situations. Take a short tour to learn about the residents of this sanctuary and their heart-warming survival stories. You might even recognise some of these from the Animal Planet series ‘Escape to Chimp Eden’.

Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park boasts an impressive 2 million hectares and is home to an extraordinary number of species. It is one of the most famous and largest nature reserves in the world and is nationally known as a home to the Big Five. It has more than 12,000 elephants, 10,000 rhinos, 27,000 Buffalo and 2,500 Lions and Leopards. Check out the Kruger National Park destinations page to find out the different ways to explore the park.