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Your guide to Bethlehem
All About Bethlehem
In the eastern Free State province, on the fringes of the Liebenbergsvlei River, lies Bethlehem, a small town in the center of South Africa’s wheat-growing country. Fields of grain and golden sunflowers blanket the Free State’s landscape, and the region’s fertile soil makes Bethlehem the largest commercial center in the region. The city displays its Dutch heritage in its monuments, museums, and historical sandstone buildings such as the NG Kerk Church in the town center.
Hiking and biking trails will bring you alongside the sandstone mountains and over the rolling hills that surround Bethlehem. Sporkerans Trail is a 6.7-mile loop that takes you up steep slopes to find sweeping vistas of the region and rocky outcrops. In the northeastern end of the region, in the nearby city Clarens, you’ll find the Golden Gate National Park. The park, tucked at the base of the foothills of the Maluti Mountains, is home to 2,000 species of plants and animals. Its orange-hued sandstone cliffs and outcrops have been the site of fascinating paleontological finds, including dinosaur eggs and skeletons.
The best time to stay in a vacation rental in Bethlehem
Because South Africa is in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are opposite to what you might be used to. Summers (December through February) are warm but bring a good deal of rain, so be sure to pack an umbrella. The fall and winter months (March through September) bring cooler temperatures and drier weather. This is the best time for viewing wildlife, as the dry climate makes for sparse vegetation, drawing animals farther out in the open. Be aware that temperatures can drop below freezing overnight during this time, so if you’re out after dark be sure you have outerwear. In August, the town hosts its annual Bethlehem Air Show, which includes a captivating display of aerobatics, rides, and a variety of stalls from local vendors. In the spring months, blooming wildflowers blanket the surrounding mountains.
Top things to do in Bethlehem
Ash River Outfall
The Ash River Outfall is a legacy of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, an impressive engineering feat. An intricate network of tunnels and dams redirect water from the mountains into a weir and eventually the Ash River. A self-drive tour is a popular way to explore the Ash River Outfall — the spot where the water emerges from underground — and leads through spectacular vistas, the Titanic Rock natural feature, and verdant farmlands.
Housed in the old Nazareth Mission Church, originally built in 1906, the Bethlehem Museum highlights the town’s history with exhibits that include an old steam train, farming equipment, and war memorabilia. Furniture and other domestic artefacts help tell the story of how Bethlehem’s residents once lived.
Basotho Cultural Village
Nestled at the foot of soaring sandstone mountains in the Qwaqwa Nature Park, this cultural village offers a glimpse of life in South Sotho from the 16th century through the present day. Its array of traditional huts are each built and furnished according to a specific era. A gallery also showcases the work of local artists as well as photographs documenting the building of the village.