There are so many must-see places in South Africa, that the country is the perfect destination for any traveler. It is full of experiences not to miss in one’s lifetime.
See wild lions, catch a wave on a surfboard, relax in a 7-star lodge, jump off the highest bridge bungee bridge in the world, snap a selfie with penguins, or get up close and personal with whales.
We just spent two months touring the beautiful country and here’s our list of must-see places in South Africa.
The Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park in South Africa is one of the largest game reserves in Africa and with such a dense animal population it makes for one of the best places to take a safari. The national park is roughly the size of Israel, so it almost feels like its own country.
The animal and plant diversity here is staggering with 404 woody plants and 224 kinds of grass, 53 fish, 34 amphibians, 118 reptiles, 517 birds and 147 safari animals. So grab a guidebook and start checking off your sightings because you will lose count. For more info check out the national parks site.
Located on the Southwestern tip of South Africa, Cape Town is a must-see for the world. It is Africa’s most visited tourist destination and has one of the best backdrops in the world with the iconic Table Mountain. The city enjoys mild year-round weather and is surrounded by natural beauty.
The surrounding cape area is gorgeous offering beautiful beaches, wine lands, and mountains. You can see wild penguins, shop at a wonderful craft market, climb a mountain, indulge in an adventurous activity, and dine at a hip restaurant all in one day in Cape Town. It’s not hard to see why so many people flock here.
The Drakensberg Mountains
The Drakensberg Mountains were a must see place in South Africa for us as I have a passion for a good hike. The Drakensberg region offers some of Africa’s best hiking, and maybe even some of the best in the world. You have great mountain lodges, dramatic mountains, snowboarding, culture, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, and the best small town in South Africa here.
It all culminates in the one of the most impressive natural formations on the planet, The Drakensberg Amphitheater. Don’t forget to visit the mountain country surrounded by South Africa, Lesotho. We stayed at a number of charming places, but the highlight was the Montusi Mountain Lodge.
Cape Wine Lands
Do you like to drink wine? Because the wine lands around the Cape of South Africa produce some of the best wines. You can choose from Paarl, Stellenbosch, and Franschhoek for a great wine tour or all of them. We visited Stellenbosch, the largest, and sampled some of their fine wines.
They make excellent Sav Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Shiraz, Cabernet, and their own specialty Pinotage. The whole region is stunning with plenty to offer, such as fine dining restaurants and boutique hotels. Our two favorite places to stay were Oude Werf and Rozendal cottages.
This fishing town is home to whale-watching. And it’s proximity to the Southernmost point of Africa makes for a great day trip. The real draw here is the ability to see whales, seals, manta rays, and sharks in the wild. And for those brave enough you have a chance to see great white sharks up close and personal from the water from the nearby town of Gansbaai.
Yes, we even got in the water and took a dive with them! The sharks are massive, beautiful, and terrifying. In Hermanus, you come to respect the majestic marine life in our oceans and understand just how important it is to protect.
One of the Many Townships
A major reason to travel to South Africa is the culture. It’s not in the fine restaurants, art galleries, or national parks. The culture of South Africa stems from the brimming townships. They are an important aspect of South African history. A living testament to the damage inflicted by Apartheid and a harsh reminder of the poverty that afflicts Africa.
It is also a source of vibrant culture. The streets are filled with street art, colorful houses, and smiling faces. Don’t listen to the bad rap they often receive, with the right tour guide they are safe and welcoming. One must simply know where to go.
The Garden Route
The Garden Route is right along with Cape Town for being one of the most trafficked tourist destinations in South Africa. This beautiful stretch of road along the coast extends from Mossel Bay to Storms River. The name comes from the unique vegetation that can be found here with quaint towns and cities dotting the coastline. It’s also home to one of our favorite game reserves offering visitors to explore the Fynbos.
Towns like Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, and George are sure to the amuse those looking for something more relaxed, like day walking along the beach followed by a fresh seafood dinner along the water. Or you can throw yourself off the world’s highest bridge bungee instead!
Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa
Madikwe is a tremendous reserve located in South Africa’ North West province home to 10,000 animals that are spread out over 60 species including the legendary Big Five.
While many think of Africa’s National Parks for safari, there are some tremendous private game reserves such as Madikwe that promise to deliver visitors and unforgettable safari. Madikwe is the fifth largest game reserve in South Africa.
We spent four incredible days here and on our first game drive out we were treated with sightings of rhino, leopard, elephant, and everything in between. It’s a great alternative to Kruger National Park and is only a four hour drive away from Johannesburg.
Waterberg Reserve, South Africa
We’ve been fortunate enough to have some incredible safari experiences over the years, but riding through the bush on horseback was a first. The Ant’s Collection located in the Waterberg in South Africa has been treating guests to horseback safaris for two decades.
So for a long weekend away from Johannesburg, we were treated to some delicious food, luxurious accommodation, wildlife, and some beautiful horse rides. It wasn’t our first time riding a horse, but we’d never rode at a canter through a private reserve before.
Riding a horse up to a giraffe or other antelope is a completely different safari experience than when in a game viewer. The safari animals view you and your horse as one animal, instead of a human and animal and let you get incredibly close. No sound of engines or exhaust here – just pure nature.
40 species of animals roam the reserve including zebra, sable, roan, wildebeest, eland, rhino, porcupine, and giraffe. It’s also not an official resident, but we did come across leopard tracks as they’ve been known to migrate through the region with their ability to scale fences.
There is plenty more to South Africa!
This is really only the tip of the iceberg of must-see places in South Africa. It’s a big country filled with hundreds of interesting sites. We could spend several months exploring South Africa and still not feel we’ve seen it all. However, if you’re pressed for time checking one or all of them off the list are sure to not disappoint any visitor to South Africa.
Travel Tips for South Africa
- Languages Spoken: The most widely spoken language is Zulu, then Xhosa, followed by Afrikaans. However, just about everyone speaks English.
- Capital: South Africa has no legally defined capital city. Instead, there are three South African capitals. They are Pretoria (executive capital), Bloemfontein (judicial), and Cape Town (legislative).
- Currency: South African Rand 4 (ZAR) – $.
- Visa: Some nationalities are issued a 90-day visa on arrival. Check with your embassy for the best information. The visas are consecutive, not concurrent, don’t be like us and get kicked out.
- Weather: Hot and humid especially during the summer months.
- What to Pack: Depends on the season and where you are at. Definitely bring hiking shoes, a bathing suit, and a jacket.
- Malaria: Not a major threat in South Africa. In the rainy season, areas around Kruger and the north are at mild risk of malaria.
- Stay Connected: Vodacom, Telcom, OneCell, and MTN are the cell phone and internet providers. Check here for more information.
- Adaptor: You’ll need this adaptor in Southern Africa.
- Tipping: This is a tipping country and visitors should expect to tip for anything from a lunch out, to gas station attendants, to security guards in parking lots. Tips to car guards can be anything between 2 and 10 ZAR while 10% is the norm for waitstaff.
- When is the Best Time to Visit Cape Town: See our full post for the weather in South Africa.
Book A Safari Near Cape Town
Traditionally if you wanted to book a safari you’d have to go to a travel agent and have them book your safari for you. They made suggestions for camps and lodges then presented you with a large bill. Most of the industry still operates in this fashion.
However, Timbuktu is a new platform that allows you to select the lodges you’d like and see the pricing per day that way you can select the best itinerary for yourself. They will then contact the lodges and help you through booking your safari. With experts on staff, they can also provide suggestions and arrange the little details much like a travel agent.
What to Pack for South Africa
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun in Africa since you’re near the equator. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Africa. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the African sun and it can be very hard to find outside major cities.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals. They’re mineral based and usually only cost a few dollars more to help protect our oceans. If you’re not going to swim in the ocean just go with a reliable name brand.
For those Cape Town summers, it’s a tremendous idea to have a comfortable sundress. Not only is a dress more comfortable, but it’s also cute and can bring you from day to night easily.
It’s even possible to take easy hikes in dresses, like along Table Mountain. You can check out the best safari dresses here.
A good pair of sandals is great for being comfortable on any day in Cape Town. The city is super laid back and relaxed and a sturdy pair of flip flops is well worth the investment.
I travel with my Rainbow leather flip flops which have gotten me through 80 countries so far. We spend 90% of our time in a pair of sandals when traveling around Africa. The only time we opt for our boots is on bush walks, long hikes, and in busy dirty streets. You can always try hiking sandals like Tevas or Chacos too!
I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in Africa. I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding in the mountains. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!
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Last Updated on March 25, 2020