When Noel and I first set out on our overland trip in South Africa, we were overwhelmed by the number of campsites. With literally thousands to choose from, the country is a camper’s paradise.
The only thing we didn’t like about camping in South Africa was, oddly enough, how well equipped most campsites are – especially in the numerous caravan parks dotted around the country. We just wanted to feel ‘out in the bush’, but sometimes we found ourselves on top of our neighbours, queuing for the showers.
So we thought we’d compile a list of our favourite campsites for our fellow travellers who may be looking for more secluded, rustic camping experiences in outstandingly beautiful places. Without further ado, here are the best campsites in South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho according to us, and in no particular order:
Campsites in Mpumalanga / Limpopo
#1: Buffalo Gorge, Mpumalanga
Just a few hours drive from Pretoria, the rustic campsite at the Buffalo Gorge Eco Adventure Centre is the only one we visited that is truly proud of its one-star status. The site has 20 campsites cut into the natural bush, each one far from any neighbours.
No electricity, but there are fire pits and basic toilet facilities to come home to after a long day of hiking through the beautiful gorge. The grounds are huge, and also offer 4×4 adventure trails and abseiling into the gorge. It’s dog friendly, and accessible via 2WD, although the highly-recommended wild camp is accessible by 4WD only.
Price: R75 per person per night, plus R15 for the vehicle
GPS coordinates: 25°30’51.0″S 29°34’00.1″E
#2 Tsendze Rustic Campsite, Kruger National Park
Just 7km south of Mopani Rest Camp in Kruger National Park is this SAN Parks-run gem, the Tsendze Rustic Camp Site. Unlike many of the other camps in Kruger, Tsendze is a camping-only site. Each of the 34 campsites is surrounded by natural bush, making each feel private and secluded.
And when they say ‘rustic’, they really mean it – there’s no electricity here. Just you, the bush and some clean, solar-powered ablutions (with outdoor showers to boot!). The ‘no noise’ rule is strictly adhered to as well, making it a peaceful and quiet retreat for nature lovers. But don’t worry – you’re not completely cut off. You can still book game drives and bush walks in nearby Mopani, and they will even pick you up from the gate at Tsendze.
Price: R275 per night for 2 people (plus conservation fee)
GPS coordinates: 23°33’23.1″S 31°26’34.9″E
Campsites in Kwa-Zulu Natal
#3 Mabibi Beach Camp, Elephant Coast
Along a sandy coastal road, deep in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, is this amazing community-run campsite: Mabibi Beach Camp.
We loved our experience at Mabibi – a truly remote, ‘stop the world’ kind of place. Each of the 10 campsites are cut into the sand dunes and coastal forest, providing a private and natural camping experience. No electricity here – but with just 100 steps from our campsite to an empty, beautiful beach, we didn’t mind one bit!
Price: R104 per person per night
GPS location: 27°19’49.0″S 32°44’50.3″E
#4 Utshwayelo Campsite, Kosi Bay Mouth
Just a few kilometres from the border between South Africa and Mozambique is this community-owned site, the Utshwayelo Lodge and Campsite.
Although not the most rustic of sites (ablutions and power points are provided), each site is enclosed in reed fencing, offering privacy. But the best part is that the campsite is located on top of the entrance to the stunning Kosi Bay Mouth, and issues car permits, which you would otherwise need to get at the KZN Wildlife office (if you can find it first!). And if that weren’t enough, the site is on land owned by the Tsonga community, which receives benefits from the lodge.
Price: R160 per person per night
GPS Location: 26°53’34.0″S 32°51’29.7″E
#5 Herman’s Wood Campsite, Drakensberg Mountains
The Hermit’s Wood Campsite in the Garden Castle Nature Reserve sits in the gorgeous Mlambonja River valley, with stunning views of the southern section of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site. The 10 campsites at Hermit’s Wood are located at the start of major hiking routes to the Garden Castle and Rhino peaks.
There are basic, open-air ablutions, and no electricity at this rustic site. But who needs power points with a view this good, tons of hiking trails leading to natural swimming pools, and plenty of visitors (including wild horses).
Price: R75 per person
GPS Location: 29°44’50.4″S 29°12’29.7″E
Campsites in Eastern Cape
#6 Coffee Bay Campsite, Wild Coast
At the heart of South Africa’s Wild Coast is Coffee Bay and the gorgeous Coffee Bay Campsite. With 30+ campsites cut into the beach forest, only feet away from the ocean, this site is a camper’s paradise. There are ablutions, and some sites with electricity.
The only downside to this site was the unfortunate proximity to several backpackers – unless you enjoy listening to trance music and drumming until the wee hours of the morning of course 🙂 Oh well, the close proximity to beautiful coastal drives and the Hole in the Wall certainly made up for the noise.
Price: R14o per person per night
GPS Location: 31°59’07.7″S 29°08’55.7″E
#7 Pearson Park Resort, Port Elizabeth
We stumbled on the Pearson Park Resort, after finishing a 4×4 training course in Port Elizabeth and needing someplace to stay. We didn’t expect much from this caravan site that mostly attracts fishing enthusiasts, but we pleasantly surprised by the gorgeous views of the Riverside campsites.
There is no electricity at these sites, and when we stayed, no running water in the ablutions, giving the place a truly ‘back to basics’ feel.
Price: R275 per site
GPS Location: 33°41’26.7″S 25°49’40.0″E
Campsites in Western Cape
#8 Nature’s Valley Rest Camp, Tsitsikamma National Park
Set in the stunning Tsitsikamma National Park, on the banks of the Groot River, is this forest retreat: Nature’s Valley Rest Camp. Each campsite is carved into the forest, with tree canopies providing natural shade from the elements. There’s no electricity, but there are ablutions and laundry facilities. And tons of activities on offer for nature lovers, including hiking trails through forests and along beaches, and canoeing.
Price: R200 for two people camping
GPS Location: 33°58’19.0″S 23°33’48.0″E
Campsites in Swaziland
#9 Malolotja Nature Reserve, Swaziland
Ok, so this one is in Swaziland. But it was just too good to leave out of this list. The jaw-droppingly gorgeous Malolotja Nature Reserve was by far our favourite spot in Swaziland. With over 18,000 hectares of unspoilt mountain wilderness, 200km of hiking trails, and numerous waterfalls, we spent two amazing days exploring here.
The reserve is run by the Swaziland National Trust Commission, and we were really impressed by the well-maintained and value-for-money campsites, set on the top of a hill with stunning views of the mountain scape. The campsites are also a perfect place to stargaze – camping under the enormous night sky was a perfect place to try out our new Howling Moon Stargazer roof top tent.
Price: E80 per person per night
GPS location: 26°08’49.8″S 31°08’16.4″E
#10 Mlilwane Nature Sanctuary, Swaziland
Our second favourite campsite in Swaziland, the Mlilwane Nature Sanctuary is one of the country’s three ‘Big Game Parks’. The reserve is Swaziland’s first-ever protected wildlife area, and home to a plethora of wildlife.
We were pleasantly surprised by the well-maintained campsite, cut into a forest of Eucalyptus trees. Each site has its own fire stand, and the ablutions are clean and spacious. We also had some friends stay with us in the campsite – a Nyala and some Zebra 🙂
Price: E105 per person per night
GPS location: 26°29’33.9″S 31°11’07.0″E
Campsites in Lesotho
#11 Semonkong Lodge, Central Highlands
In our experience driving through the Mountain Kingdom, camping left a lot to be desired. So we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the stunning Semonkong Lodge, deep in the Central Highlands. The lodge only has a handful of campsites, right on the banks of the river, with ablutions and power points.
The lodge offers a number of activities, some of which benefit the local community, including pony trekking and abseiling. We gave abseiling a miss, but did spend an enjoyable morning pony trekking to the Maletsunyane waterfall, which at 204 metres is higher than Victoria Falls.
Price: LSL100 per person per night
GPS Location: 29°50’35.6″S 28°02’37.1″E
#12 Katse Dam, Thaba-Tseka
After 100km of steep dirt roads, snaking perilously around mountains at 2,800 metres, we were never been so happy to see paved road when we reached the stunning Katse Dam.The Dam is Lesotho’s second largest, part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which supplies water to nearby South Africa and also hydroelectricity for the country.
Even for those not interested in civil engineering, the views of the Dam from the free campsite (next to the visitor’s centre) cannot be beat! With toilets and showers to boot.