South Africa is a dream destination. Ranked one of the most beautiful countries in the world, South Africa will mesmerize you with its incredible natural scenery, unsurpassed wildlife, mountain ranges, and big cities. Full of so many wonders, there really is something for everyone.
South Africa is only home to the “Big 5”, but is also home to the “Marine Big 5”: whales, sharks, dolphins, seals, and penguins. It’s not all wildlife in South Africa, however. You will also find some incredible cities, with the busy hustle and bustle on the streets.
If you’re big on outdoor adventure, South Africa has that too. And a lot of it. You’ll find everything from adrenaline activities to not-to-be-missed views of the city and landscape.
We spent a month wandering the beauty of South Africa, and these are what we felt were the Top Things To Do In South Africa:
Table Of Contents
- Kruger National Park
- Pezulu Treehouse Lodge, Limpopo
- Cape Town
- Robben Island
- The Cape Peninsula
- The Garden Route
- Johannesburg And Pretoria
- Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve
- Know Before You Go
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is the most well-known game reserve in South Africa. Wildlife lovers come from all across the globe to search for the “Big 5” (buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhino).
There is so much adventure in Kruger National Park that you’ll need at least a few days to even scratch the surface. Catering to different budgets, you can do a self-drive safari, stay in a luxury safari lodge, or stay in a basic campsite.
Though you can do a self-drive safari, we recommend taking a splurge on a safari with a guide. The guides are very knowledgeable, are impressively fantastic at spotting everything from the Big Five, right down to a scorpion crossing a dirt road. A good guide will also be able to tell you endless information about everything you see, as well as anything you want to know about Kruger National Park itself.
Pezulu Treehouse Lodge, Limpopo
The Pezulu Treehouse Lodge is a small lodge located just 40 minutes from Kruger National Park. Staying in a dream treehouse at Pezulu is an incredible way to top off your adventure in Kruger National Park. We were able to pull the bed out onto the balcony to sleep under the African sky and witness the stars as we had never seen before. With game drives, educational programs, and an outdoor boma, you’ll want more than one night to experience it all.
The best part was waking to find the giraffes feeding off the trees surrounding us, and watching the animals at the watering hole from our treehouse balcony.
Cape Town, rated one of the best cities in the world, is a place you will not want to miss when you’re visiting South Africa. There are few places in the world that offer so much in an easily accessible bundle. Incredible nature, history, delicious cuisine and wine, a bustling waterfront, endless adventure, and wildlife; Cape Town really has it all.
Traveling around Cape Town, you’ll immediately notice Cape Town’s most famous landmark and backdrop, Table Mountain. Towering over the city at 1100m tall, Table Mountain is a sight you will want to see. You can jump on the cable cars for an easy ride up, or hike one of the trails to the top for some beautiful views of Cape Town. If you’re brave, you can even abseil down it. Take a helicopter ride over Cape Town for mesmerizing birds-eye views.
Enjoy some beach time at Camps Bay, while you admire the view of the 12 Apostles. It is also a fabulous spot to watch the sunset. Another great beach is Muizenberg with its iconic and colorful beach boxes.
Take a drive along Chapman’s Peak Drive and time it for sunset. Chapman’s Peak is a mountain on the Cape Peninsula and is one of the world’s most scenic drives. This drive is an absolute must-see on your Cape Town itinerary.
If you’re looking for adventure, take the short trip to Gansbaai to go cage diving with Great White Sharks in the Great White Shark capital of the world. On the bucket list of every adrenaline junkie, feel the thrill of seeing these largely misunderstood creatures in their natural habitat. To view the sharks, you’ll descend into the water while protected in a cage, wearing full scuba gear so you are able to breathe underwater.
Don’t forget your underwater camera, but make sure you keep all your limbs inside the cage.
Hop on a ferry from the bustling Victoria and Alfred Waterfront (another must-see!) in Cape Town over to Robben Island. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned here for 18 of his 27 years in prison. An important symbol in South Africa, it represents the triumph of democracy over apartheid. Our guide, and many of the tour guides, are former prison inmates. There really is no better place to understand where South Africa has been, and their hopes for a better future.
The Cape Peninsula
See the penguins waddle at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town, a suburb of Cape Town. Boulders Beach is a sheltered beach made up of inlets between granite boulders, which is also how the beach got its name. Under threat from the loss of habitat and declining fish, your visit can help these cute waddling locals.
Cape Point, about an hour’s drive from Cape Town, is a beautiful and peaceful reserve full of towering cliffs, rocky escarpments, and unique flora and fauna. Cape Point is located within the Table Mountain National Park, within a section of the park referred to as Cape of Good Hope. You’ll witness some of the most dramatic landscape and coastal scenery in the world where the mountains and ocean meet. Both the Cape Of Good Hope and Cape Point have breathtaking scenery. The southernmost portion of the Cape Peninsula is quite unspoiled with its wild and rugged beauty.
It is a misconception that Cape Point is where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. In fact, the two oceans actually meet at Cape Agulhas.
The Cape of Good Hope is one of Cape Point’s most popular tourist destinations. You’ll want to walk up to Cape Point’s first lighthouse, which was built in 1859. You can also take the funicular up instead of walking if you prefer.
The lighthouse sits too high above the ocean, making it covered by clouds. This caused approaching ships to approach too closely, causing many shipwrecks. The treacherous rocky reefs surrounding Cape Point are home to 26 recorded shipwrecks, though there have probably been many more.
The Garden Route
Another top scenic drive in South Africa is the Garden Route. At 200 kms long, it runs through some of South Africa’s most beautiful coastal scenery from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to Storms River in the Eastern Cape.
Hiking in Robberg Nature Reserve in Plettenberg Bay is absolutely breathtaking. This hiker’s paradise was one of our favorite hikes in South Africa. From the trails, you can also spot wild dolphins. Later, take a kayak tour to try to kayak with the gorgeous animals.
Enjoy educational wildlife experiences at Birds Of Eden and Monkeyland. Climb through are a series of dripstone caverns in the Cango Caves that open into vast halls of towering stalagmite formations. Take the adventure tour if you want to crawl through some small spaces. The smallest passage you must wiggle through is just under 30cm high.
Johannesburg And Pretoria
Johannesburg, otherwise referred to as Jo’burg or Jozi is the “city of gold,” as it was built on a rich history of gold mining. The Apartheid Museum walks you through the apartheid story of South Africa’s history through the use of exhibits of photos, artifacts, film footage, newspaper clippings, and indescribable personal accounts. Visit Soweto Vilakazi Street and see the former homes of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, both Nobel Peace Prize winners. Also, do not miss the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, honoring not only the museum’s namesake but all the brave students that protested apartheid during the Soweto Uprisings. Johannesburg really is emerging as a travel destination in its own right.
Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve
The Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve is located within the Drakensberg escarpment region of eastern Mpumalanga, South Africa. It is the largest Green Canyon in the world, stretching over 26 Kilometers and is over 800 meters deep. The UNESCO-listed reserve is a great stop when driving between Johannesburg and Kruger National Park. You won’t want to miss God’s Window, named for the sheer natural beauty contained in the view. Other incredible sights include the Echo Caves, The Three Rondavels, The Pinnacle, Kadishi Tufe Waterfalls, and Bourke’s Luck Potholes.
So Much To Experience
The above experiences are just the tip of the iceberg. There is still so much to be seen and experienced in South Africa. South Africa is an incredible destination. We hope this list gives you a good starting point to experience all that South Africa has to offer.
Know Before You Go
We get a lot of questions about our grand South Africa adventure. These are the questions we are asked most:
Is South Africa Safe?
South Africa does have a high crime rate. However, if you are aware of your surroundings, do not do anything you would not do at home, and do not engage in risky behavior, you should be completely fine. We drove around South Africa and did not have any problems. Usually, the risk to international tourists is low as the most violent crime happens in areas that tourists would not venture. As with any other place in the world, there are places you will be told to stay away from. If you’re concerned, ask the staff questions at your accommodations.
Driving Around South Africa — Is That Actually Safe?
We were warned by some locals to not drive around at night, so we didn’t. Ask questions wherever you stay about areas you should be wary of leaving the vehicle. We also kept the doors locked as we drove around. As long as you use common sense, you will be totally fine.
What Is The Safest City In South Africa?
Cape Town has some of the most desirable neighborhoods and is considered to be the safest major city in South Africa.
When Is The Best Time To Visit South Africa?
Honestly, South Africa is a great year-round destination. However, there are a couple of times you want to consider when you should visit. If you are basing your trip on a safari, the best time is from May to September. This is the dry season, where and animals congregate around waterholes and rivers. Our safari was in September and the viewing was excellent!
Is South Africa Expensive?
The most expensive purchase of your trip will likely be your plane tickets. The expensive plane tickets are usually why people assume it will be a pricey destination. However, once you arrive, the weakness of the South African Rand will help your vacation be quite affordable.
What Is The Minimum Amount Of Time I Need To See South Africa?
If you’re flying all the way to South Africa, we would suggest that you give yourself a solid two weeks. We had a month adventuring around South Africa, and we feel like we barely scratched the surface. Two weeks would give you time to experience an incredible Safari and see the contrast of natural beauty. If you only have one week to spare, it is best to concentrate on one area instead of trying to pack in too much, thus not getting to really experience anything.