South Africa is fast becoming the adventure capital of Africa. We’ve had the pleasure of visiting the country several times and have discovered many cool things to do in South Africa.
From the first time we cycled down the entire west coast of South Africa from Namibia to Cape Town to driving the entire East Coast of South Africa from St. Lucia to the Cape of Good Hope, we’ve covered a lot of distance in the country.
We want to give you a round-up of the best things to do in South Africa to help you plan your vacation. From safaris to caves, marine life to scenery, South Africa has it all! Enjoy.
Great Things to do in South Africa
1. Go on an African Safari
There is no doubt that any trip to Africa let along South Africa should involve a safari. South Africa has many game reserves and national parks where you can go on an African safari in search of the Big 5 (African Buffalo, Rhinos, Elephants, Lions and Leopards. No trip to South Africa would be complete without going on safari. Trust me, we skipped it on our first trip to South Africa and regret it for years until we could return. Whew.
There are several game reserves in South Africa and some of the best national parks to go on safari in South Africa are Addo Elephant Park, Kruger National Park, iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Pilanesberg National Park. Hluhluwe & Imfolozi National Park is South Africa’s oldest wildlife reserve and we had some very interesting safari experiences there. Read on to find out more.
2. Game Reserves
There are several private game reserves in South Africa that can guarantee wildlife spotting of the best African safari animals. We loved going on Safari at the Kariega Game Reserve, where we had one of the most luxurious safaris we’ve ever been on. The river lodge was surrounded by wildlife.
The game reserves of South Africa are different than the Masai Mara or Serengeti as the animals are enclosed within the huge conservation areas. Your chances of seeing wildlife are 100% as guides know exactly where to find them. See our experience on safari here.
3. Kruger and Other South Africa Safari Parks
South Africa’s largest safari park Kruger National Park is the number one place to go on safari but besides here and other game reserves, there are other places to see wildlife in Africa. Spanning 19,000 square km, this is a unique game drive compared to other African safaris as you can drive yourself.
Hluhluwe & Imfolozi National Park is South Africa’s oldest game reserve that is known for its white and black rhino population, Hluhluwe & Imfolozi have the largest rhino population all of Africa! Addo Elephant National Park is one of the best places to see elephants.
4. Horse Safari in Hluhluwe & Imfolozi National Park
Our personal favorite location for a safari in South Africa is in St. Lucia at the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park. It was here that we went on a horse safari riding through Hluhluwe & Imfolozi National Park surrounded by zebras and wildebeest. Read all about it here at Horse Sfari through Isimangaliso Wetlands.
5. Hippos Spotting at iSimangaliso Wetlands
At iSimangaliso Wetlands we also went on an extraordinary Hippo River Cruise.
6. Kayak with Crocodiles
If you are feeling adventurous, a pure adrenaline rush is to go kayaking with crocodiles in the same river where the hippos are above. I am not sure if I should even mention this one as we felt on edge the entire time but honestly, how many people can say they kayaked in crocodile and hippo-infested waters?
There’s nothing but fibreglass separates you from the crocodiles below. The water in the estuary is an average of 1 metre deep and with 1200 crocs and 900 hippos you can be sure they are lurking below, even if you don’t spot them right away.
- We booked our tour with Kayaking tours with St. Lucia Kayak Safaris start at R 290 ($32 USD).
- Read more about our kayaking adventure at Kayaking, Hippos and Crocs Oh My!
7. Spot Turtles Laying Eggs
St. Lucia on the northeast coast of South Africa is one of the best places in the world to spot Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles laying their eggs. Your tour begins and 9:00 pm and goes until the wee hours of the morning. You drive right through the iSimangaliso Wetlands where we also saw rhinos, hippos and the world’s smallest lizard.
Sadly only 1% of newly hatched turtles make it out to sea and during our safari, we came upon a Jackal feeding on a nest of baby turtles that had just hatched. Mother Nature can be brutal at times.
8. South African Braai in St. Lucia
You’ve heard of putting a shrimp on the barbie in Australia, well in South Africa, you put some meat on the Braai. At Umlilo Lodge in St. Lucia, we enjoyed our very first Braai dinner with our fantastic hosts. A Braai is South African for Barbeque but for some reason, a bbq in South Africa is so much better than a bbq at home.
9. Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve
Blyde River Canyon is one of the largest canyons in the world third only to The Grand Canyon and Fish River Canyon in Namibia which we saw during our cycling tour down South Africa. If you haven’t seen one of these beauty’s you’re missing out. But what sets Blyde River Canyon apart is the lush green vegetation.
Blyde River Canyon is part of the Panorama Route, a popular road trip in South Africa that includes Mpumalanga highlands, The Drakensburg Mountain Range, and Kruger National Park.
10. Drakensberg Mountains
If you fly into Johannesburg, there are two places that you won’t want to miss when you visit South Africa. Kruger National Park (see #4 on our list of things to do in South Africa) and the Drakensberg Mountains. Drakensberg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is great for outdoor adventures, hiking, and cycling. It is South Africa’s highest mountain range and it stretches 1000 km. So chances are you will have an adventure or two here.
The Drakensberg Mountains can be reached by Johannesburg or Durban, depending on where you make a home base. We made our base in Durban.
11. Explore Cape Town
Cape Town is one of those amazing cities where you find yourself saying “I could live here!” It’s beautiful, it’s filled with culture and modern living, it has everything from markets to boutiques and it has adventure.
Table Mountain is the backdrop of the city with the V&A waterfront in the foreground. The view from a boat is magnificent. You can take a cable car up Table Mountain or you can hike. There is paragliding off Lions Head and Abseiling (rappelling) off the mountain. It’s the number one thing to do in Cape Town.
- There are so many things to do in Cape Town, it deserves its own article And we have one here!
- Cape Town is also filled with beautiful beaches and is a popular places for surfing and kite surfing. Read all about it here.
12. Visit Robben Island
One of the more sobering attractions in South Africa is a visit to Robben Island. It is a must-do when visiting Cape Town to learn more about the apartheid era in South Africa. It was where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 29 years and is now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Take a boat out to the island and see how political prisoners were treated during the Apartheid. It is a sobering tour to hear how political prisoners were kept in this maximum-security prison. You’ll be able to see Nelson Mandela’s cell that has not been changed since his incarceration.
Our tour guide was a former prisoner who told us of his time in prison. I couldn’t imagine the hopelessness they felt being able to see beautiful Cape Town with no way of escape.
- Book this Township and Robben Island Combo Tour – Tour where Nelson Mandella and other political prisoners spent decades behind bars.
Where to stayed in Cape Town Hotels
- Lawhill Luxury Apts – Located in the heart of the V&A Waterfront. Luxurious, own kitchen, den.
- Twelve Apostles – Located at the beach, this is as good as it gets. 5 Star Luxury, tastings, scenery.
13. Spy on the Simons Town Penguins
South Africa is one of the best places to see penguins outside of Antarctica. Rent a car and see the Penguins in Simons Town at Boulder’s Beach. The drive takes you through one of the greatest scenic drives on earth, Chapman’s Peak. They are the cutest definitely the cutest of attractions in South Africa to spy on from the boardwalk.
While you on a day trip to Simon’s Town, continue driving to the Cape of Good Hope for spectacular coastal views. The road out from Cape Town is one of the best drives in the world.
- Take this interesting tour to the stunning Cape of Good Hope. You’ll the Simon’s Town Penguins, enjoy aglass of wine in the wine region of Constantia, and see where the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Oceans meet
14. Try Sandboarding
We went sandboarding at the dunes just outside of Cape Town and it was spectacular. We had no idea that South Africa had such massive sand dunes. Sand boarding is a lot of fun and it can be a bit intimidating to be sitting at the top of a massive dune getting ready to glide down on a tiny piece of wood.
15. Relax in Stellenbosch Wine Country
Located just 40 minutes from Cape Town is the wine region of Stellenbosch. South Africa has made a name for itself as having some of the best wines in the world and it is here that you can go on wine tours and relax in the rolling hills of the South African wine region.
- There are huge estates where you can go for tastings, relax in town or just simply take in the scenery.
- If you can’t make it to stay over is Stellenbosch this Winelands Half Day Tour offers a taste fine South African wines.
16. Dive with Great White Sharks
A safari is a must, but our Number 1 Choice for things to do in South Africa outside of dry land is to go Cage Diving with Great White Sharks! We have seen it on Shark Week, we’ve watched it on National Geographic and we did it in South Africa.
Anyone can cage dive. You don’t need to be a certified diver, heck you barely even need to know how to swim. It’s the easiest diving we’ve ever done, but it is also by far the most exciting. You are in a cage attached to the side of a boat and all you have to do is hold your breath to look at them as they swim by.
Watch our Video of Cage Diving in South Africa
Sharks are an endangered species and the more people understand the shark and learn to love them rather than fear them, the better the entire ecosystem will be.
- We went with White Shark Projects in Gansbaai who focuses on education and conservation when taking people out to see the sharks.
- Read more about our adventure and watch the video at Shark Diving, In the Cage with Great Whites
- You can book your own adventure from Cape Town through this eco-friendly cage diving experience.
- Gansbaai is one of the premier places for whale watching tours in South Africa as well and deserves a night or two spent in the region.
17. Microlight Flight Over Durban
Durban is only 3 hours from St. Lucia down the east coast of South Africa and in this thriving city you can swing from the only stadium swing in the world at Moses Mabhida Stadium. It is fast becoming the adventure capital of South Africa with another amazing adventure, a microlight flight over the spectacular coastline. Feel the wind whip your face as you watch dolphins and sea turtles swim in the Indian Ocean below.
- If you time it right, you may be there for the whale migration season! We booked our tour with the Ballito Microlight School.
- Read more about our trip at Microlight, an Adventure in the Sky
Hotels and AirBnBs in Durban
We stayed at these two hotels in and near Durban and they were fantastic.
- Oyster Box Hotel – This was an absolutely stunning hotel in Durban located on the ocean –
- Durban Hilton– Located in Durban business district close to major sights.
18. Take a Canopy Tour
South Africa Canopy Tours has zip-lining adventures all around the country. For a beginners zip line adventure, try Tsitsikamma on the Garden Route between Port Elizabeth and Durban. This was so much fun to zip through the jungles of South Africa on this multi-course canopy tours.
For the more extreme thrill seekers, stay in Durban and check out Karkloof Canopy Tours. This was hands down the best canopy tour we’ve ever taken. (and we’ve done a lot).
- Book here at Karkloof Canopy Tours. Pre-bookings are a must!
19. Explore the Cango Caves
The Cango Caves are the oldest tourist attraction in South Africa and one of the best cave systems we’ve ever visited.
The standard tour is an easy and beautiful walk through massive chambers, but if you are up for the challenge, take the adventure tour. The adventure tour takes you through narrow passageways with openings as small as 26 centimeters. It’s not for the faint of heart, but great bragging rights after the fact.
Visit the Cango Caves Website for more information. Read more about our time at the Cango Caves in Claustrophobia at the Cango Caves
20. Get a Neck Massage at an Ostrich Farm
One of the most unique attractoins in South Africa is to visit the Cango Ostrich Farm. Ostrich are not an endangered animal and if you visit the Cango Ostrich Farm, you’ll learn about how ostriches are raised, what they are used for and you be able to get up close and personal with the largest bird on earth.
You can get an ostrich massage and feed the ostriches that are held in captivity. Find out more information at the Cango Ostrich Website.
21. Drive the Garden Route
It is one of the great road trips in the world. The Garden Route of South Africa. It’s a short drive, but it packs a large punch. We actually drove through the short 200 km stretch of the Garden route while on a drive down the entire east coast from St. Lucia to Cape Town. Technically the Garden Route is from Mossel Bay to Storms River, but we suggest doing it all from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth.
There is everything to do here. From game drives to diving, mountain adventures to world class wineries, this is our favorite part of the country. Adrenaline junkies will want to go bungee jumping at Bloukrans Bungee at South Africa’s highest bridge!
Suggested Garden Route Hotels
- Birkenhead House – One of our favourites, right on the beach near Hermanus
- Views Boutique Hotel – Luxury with stunning views. Great place for a base on the Garden Route.
South Africa Travel Resources
- Lonely Planet South Africa – This is our go to travel guide around the world and it’s a great resource to have in hand when traveling South Africa
- Lonely Planet Cape Town and Garden Route – for a more specialized guide, pick up the LP that covers just the Garden Route and Cape Town.
- Suggested Tours South Africa a 16 Day Odyssey
Sure there is a lot more to do in South Africa, but if you follow this route, you’ll go away feeling like you experienced everything the country has to offer.
We had the perfect blend of local hospitality, world-class wildlife viewing, enjoying everything from luxury accommodation to quiet family-run operations, fine dining, incredible adventures, and spectacular sunsets.
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So there you have it! This itinerary should keep you busy doing all these amazing things in South Africa! Did we miss anything? Are you planning on going to South Africa? Let us know in the comments below.