South Africa offers a diverse range of activities for travelers. In Johannesburg, explore urban landscapes, while the serene Cape Winelands provide a contrast. Wildlife enthusiasts can enjoy safaris to spot the Big Five, history fans can delve into the nation’s past, and thrill-seekers can find plenty of adventure. The Garden Route beckons with scenic drives, Cape Town tempts with its world-class cuisine, and vibrant local art scenes are everywhere. Discover the varied experiences that make South Africa an unforgettable destination.
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Great Things to do in South Africa
We cycled through South Africa from its northern border in Namibia through the Western Cape to Cape Town. After our first cycling journey through Africa, we fell in love with the continent and have visited South Africa two more times since. South Africa has everything from safaris to caves, marine life to scenery! Enjoy.
1. Go on an African Safari
Any trip to Africa, let alone South Africa, should involve a wildlife safari. South Africa has many game reserves and national parks where you can go on an African safari searching for the Big 5 – African Buffalo, Rhinos, Elephants, Lions, and Leopards.
There are several game reserves in South Africa. 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.
During our first visit to the country, we didn’t book a game drive and it was a regret we had for years. Even if you have a short time you should book at least a day. This game drive from Cape Town takes you in an open-top all-terrain vehicle to the Aquila Private Game Reserve, where you’ll spot wildlife with an expert ranger followed by a delicious lunch at the lodge.
2. Stay at a Game Reserve
Several private game reserves in South Africa 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 National Park
Even though there are several places to go on Safari in South Africa, Kruger National Park is the star of the country. Spanning 19,000 square km, this is a unique game drive compared to other African safaris, as you can drive yourself if you are doing a road trip through South Africa. (which we highly recommend).
This vast park offers an authentic safari experience, where visitors can witness the famed Big Five – lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos, and buffalos – on a guided tour or their own. The park offers various safari options, from self-drive adventures to guided tours, catering to different preferences and budgets.
Accommodations range from luxury lodges to camping sites, providing an immersive experience in the African bush. Beyond wildlife, Kruger National Park is also rich in archaeological history, with sites like the Albasini Ruins and Thulamela. A visit to Kruger is more than just a game drive; it’s a deep dive into the heart of African wilderness, offering a chance to connect with nature and learn about the diverse ecosystems of South Africa.
4. Horse Safari in Hluhluwe & Imfolozi National Park
Hluhluwe & Imfolozi National Park is the oldest game reserve in South Africa that is known for its white and black rhino population, Hluhluwe & Imfolozi have the largest rhino population all of Africa!
Our personal favorite location for a safari in South Africa is in St. Lucia at the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park. Here, 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. Addo Elephant National Park
Addo Elephant National Park is one of the best places to see elephants. This National Park is located in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa and is renowned for its large population of African elephants. But it’s not just about elephants; Addo is home to diverse wildlife, including the Big Five and the rare flightless dung beetle. This is quite funny to us that the dung beetle is considered rare because while cycling through Africa, we saw many dung beetles on our journey.
Visitors can embark on self-guided or guided safari drives, experiencing the thrill of spotting wildlife in the sprawling savannahs and dense bushland.
The park also features a variety of accommodation options, from luxury lodges to cozy campsites, allowing visitors to immerse themselves fully in the natural beauty.
6. Hippos Spotting at iSimangaliso Wetlands
At iSimangaliso Wetlands, we also went on an extraordinary Hippo River Cruise.
7. 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 fiberglass separates you from the crocodiles below. The water in the estuary is an average of 1 meter 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 starting at R 290 ($32 USD).
- Read more about our kayaking adventure at Kayaking, Hippos and Crocs Oh My!
8. Spot Turtles Laying Eggs
Sodwana Bay, 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 at 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.
Part of the iSimangaliso Wetlands, Sodwana Bay is also one of the best places to go scuba diving in the country. It has a healthy coral reef and plenty of marine life including sea turtles.
9. South African Braai in St. Lucia
You’ve heard of “Putting another 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.
10. 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 beauties you’re missing out. But what sets Blyde River Canyon apart is the lush green vegetation.
One of the most popular things to do here is hike to God’s Window. God’s Window is perched along the panoramic Drakensberg escarpment, providing a majestic view that stretches over lush forests and rolling hills and extends towards the Kruger National Park on clear days.
Blyde River Canyon and God’s Window are part of the Panorama Route, a popular road trip in South Africa that includes the Mpumalanga highlands, The Drakensberg Mountain Range, and Kruger National Park. The viewpoint is easily accessible via a short walk, leading to various lookout points, each presenting a unique and awe-inspiring perspective of South Africa’s diverse terrain.
11. 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 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.
Known for their dramatic landscapes, these mountains are not only a haven for hikers and nature enthusiasts but also a treasure trove of ancient rock art. Created by the San people over thousands of years, these rock art sites are among the most significant in the world, offering a glimpse into the lives and beliefs of these early inhabitants.
The Drakensberg is home to thousands of these ancient rock art sites, with the most famous ones located in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This park combines the awe of natural wonders with the intrigue of ancient history, making it an essential visit.
The Drakensberg Mountains can be reached by Johannesburg or Durban, depending on where you make a home base. We made our base in Durban.
About the Great Escarpment
The Great Escarpment stretches more than 5,000 kilometers, reaching elevations of up to 3,482 meters above sea level. At its highest point, it forms a dramatic cliff face that separates the high central plateau from the lower lying areas. This natural marvel is located predominantly along the eastern and southern coasts, extending into the Northern Cape.
The Great Escarpment is a paradise for its day hikes and bird watching plus its spectacular views, particularly in areas like the Drakensberg Mountains region.
12. Visit 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.
13. District Six Museums
The District Six Museum in Cape Town offers a poignant and educational insight into a significant era of the country’s history. Situated in the city’s center, the museum chronicles the impact of apartheid through the lens of the District Six community, which faced mass evictions under these policies.
Here, visitors will find an array of exhibits displaying personal stories, photographs, and artifacts that tell a story of resilience in the face of adversity. A standout feature is the interactive map, where former residents have marked their previous homes, providing a personal and emotional connection to the past.
Open from Monday to Saturday, the museum is accessible with a reasonable entry fee, making it a must-visit for those looking to understand Cape Town’s history. The District Six Museum offers more than just a history lesson; it’s an engaging and heartfelt experience, essential for travelers who seek a meaningful understanding of Cape Town’s journey through and beyond the apartheid era.
14. Take the Cable Car Up Table Mountain
Ascending Table Mountain, the iconic landmark of Cape Town, is an unforgettable experience and a highlight for any traveler. The journey to the top is made spectacularly easy and scenic with the Table Mountain Cableway. This cable car ride offers a 360-degree panoramic view of Cape Town, the Atlantic Seaboard, and the surrounding mountains.
The cable car’s unique rotating floor ensures that all passengers get an unobstructed view of the changing landscapes. At the summit, visitors are met with impressive vistas of the city and numerous hiking trails to explore.
The cable car operates daily, weather permitting, and it’s advisable to purchase tickets online in advance to skip the queues.
15. Go Paragliding off of Lion’s Head
Paragliding off Lion’s Head in Cape Town is an exhilarating adventure that should top the list of things to do in South Africa. This prominent landmark in Cape Town provides the perfect launch spot for paragliding, thanks to its ideal height and the favorable winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean.
As you glide through the sky, you’ll be treated to unparalleled vistas of the iconic Table Mountain, the sparkling waters of Camps Bay, and the urban landscape of Cape Town stretching below. Suitable for beginners and experienced paragliders alike, this activity is overseen by professional instructors ensuring a safe and memorable experience.
Paragliding from Lion’s Head is not just an adrenaline rush; it’s an opportunity to witness the beauty of Cape Town from a unique perspective. It’s an activity that combines adventure, stunning natural scenery, and the thrill of flight, making it a must-do for anyone visiting South Africa.
16. 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 of the country. It was where Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists were imprisoned. Nelson Mandela was kept here 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 which has not been changed since his incarceration.
When we toured this prison in 2008, our tour guide was a former prisoner who told us of his time in prison. It is doubtful that many people are left from this time now. 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 – Take a guided tour our where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners, and anti apartheid activists spent decades behind bars.
Where to stay in Cape Town
17. Apartheid Museum
South Africa’s history is deeply intertwined with the era of apartheid, a significant chapter that shaped the nation’s identity and governance. This period of racial segregation and inequality, lasting from 1948 to 1994. After much pressure from around the world, the South African Government finally repealed apartheid laws and eventually elected a black majority government led by Nelson Mandela
South Africa offers many sites that honor the apartheid from the District Six Museum to the historic streets of Soweto, where the struggles and triumphs of the anti-apartheid movement came alive, to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.
The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg is located in the heart of the city and offers deeply moving experience detailing the apartheid era through powerful exhibits and narratives. It’s an essential visit for those looking to understand the country’s past and its ongoing path to reconciliation.
Open from Tuesday to Sunday, 9 am to 5 pm, the museum provides ample opportunity for visitors to explore its extensive collections. The entry fee is modest, making it accessible for all travelers. Located conveniently, it’s easily reachable from central Johannesburg, offering a compelling and educational day out for anyone interested in the pivotal moments of South African history. Visiting the Apartheid Museum is more than just a tourist activity; it’s an immersive journey into the heart of what has shaped modern South Africa.
18. Go Surfing
South Africa is a top destination for surfers, offering a remarkable coastline and world-class waves, especially in the Western Cape. This region is renowned for its surfing spots, such as the famous Jeffrey’s Bay with its perfect right-hand break, and Dungeons, known for its challenging waves.
The Western Cape caters to all levels of surfers, from beginners to experts, providing a diverse range of beaches. Surfing here is more than a sport; it’s a chance to engage with South Africa’s lively beach culture, connect with nature, and experience the powerful mix of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. For travelers seeking an adventurous element in their South African trip, riding the waves in the Western Cape offers an unforgettable blend of exhilarating sports, scenic beauty, and the unique atmosphere of South Africa’s shores.
In Port Elizabeth on the South Coast of South Africa on Jeffries Bay, you can book surfing lessons….
Durban is also a popular destination for beginners. Plus, the waters of the Indian Ocean are much warmer than the Atlantic side of the country.
19. 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 the country to spy on from the boardwalk.
While you are 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
20. 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 dunes. Sandboarding 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.
21. 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.
22. 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 ourselves!
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 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.
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
Gansbaai is also one of the premier places for whale-watching tours and deserves a night or two spent in the region. You can book your own adventure from Cape Town through this eco-friendly cage diving experience.
23. 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. Durban is fast becoming the adventure capital of South Africa with another fantastic adventure, a microlight flight over the spectacular coastline of the Indian Ocean.
Feel the wind whip your face as you watch dolphins and sea turtles swim. 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.
24. Go Whale Watching
Whale watching in South Africa is an awe-inspiring experience, attracting visitors from all over the world. The best season for whale watching is between June and November when majestic whales migrate through both the eastern and western sides of the country – The Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean. During this period, the waters of the South African coast became a haven for these magnificent creatures.
Key locations for the best whale-watching experiences include Hermanus, known as the whale-watching capital of South Africa, and the Garden Route, which offers spectacular views of whales frolicking close to the shore.
The Western Cape coastline, in particular, provides unparalleled opportunities to witness Southern Right Whales and Humpback Whales in their natural habitat.
25. Take a Canopy Tour
South Africa Canopy Tours has zip-lining adventures all around the country. For a beginner’s 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 tour.
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!
26. Explore the Cango Caves
The Cango Caves are the oldest tourist attraction in the country 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
27. Get a Neck Massage at an Ostrich Farm
One of the most unique attractions in South Africa is the Cango Ostrich Farm. Ostrich is not an endangered animal, and if you visit the Cango Ostrich Farm, you’ll learn about how ostriches are raised and what they are used for, and you can get up close and personal with the largest bird on earth.
You can get an ostrich massage and feed the ostriches held in captivity. Find out more information at the Cango Ostrich Website.
28. Drive the Garden Route
The Garden Route of South Africa is an incredible road trip. In fact, it is one of the greatest road trips in the world. 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.
The scenery is beautiful going through mountain ranges, dense forests, and a striking coast. There is everything to do here. From game drives to scuba diving, and mountain adventures to touring world-class wineries, this is our favorite part of the country.
29. Bloukrans Bridge Bungee
Adrenaline junkies will want to go bungee jumping at Bloukrans Bridge Bungee at South Africa’s highest bridge! It is a must-stop on any road trip through The Garden Route. The Bloukrans Bridge stands at a staggering height of 216 meters above the Bloukrans River and is one of the highest bungee jumps in the world.
You don’t have to jump to make this a stop, the bridge itself is an engineering marvel, providing a secure and safe platform for the ultimate bungee experience. Participants are treated to stunning views of the valley below as they prepare for their jump, making the experience as visually spectacular as it is thrilling.
Suggested Garden Route Hotels
- Birkenhead House – One of our favorites, right on the beach near Hermanus
- Views Boutique Hotel – Luxury with stunning views. Great place for a base on the Garden Route.
We had the perfect blend of local hospitality, and world-class wildlife viewing, enjoying everything from luxury accommodation to quiet family-run operations, fine dining, incredible adventures, and spectacular sunsets.
When is the Best Time to Visit South Africa
Deciding on the best time to visit South Africa depends largely on the activities and regions you plan to explore. Generally, the months from May to September offer the ideal conditions for wildlife viewing, especially in the northern parks like Kruger National Park. This period falls within the dry season when animals congregate around waterholes, making them easier to spot.
For those interested in whale watching along the southern coast, the peak season is from June to November, when whales migrate to the warmer waters.
If your journey includes the Western Cape and its renowned vineyards, the months of February to April are perfect, with warm, dry weather and grape harvesting in full swing.
South Africa’s diverse climate means something special happens throughout the year, from vibrant wildflower blooms in the Cape in spring to prime surfing conditions in winter. This versatility makes South Africa a year-round destination, with each season offering its unique set of attractions and experiences, catering to all types of travelers.
How to Get to South Africa
South Africa is located on the southernmost tip of the African continent. Bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west, South Africa boasts a long, picturesque coastline stretching over 2,800 kilometers. This unique geographical positioning provides the country with a variety of stunning beaches and marine ecosystems.
South Africa shares its borders with six countries: Namibia to the northwest, Botswana and Zimbabwe to the north, Mozambique and Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) to the northeast, and it completely encloses Lesotho, a sovereign kingdom.
The primary gateway to South Africa is Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport, Africa’s busiest airport. It serves as a major hub for international flights, offering numerous connections from Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
Cape Town International Airport is another key entry point, especially popular for tourists due to its proximity to major attractions. It provides a range of international flights, with direct connections to key cities in Europe and other African countries.
Durban’s King Shaka International Airport, while smaller, also connects travelers to South Africa’s eastern coast, offering flights from select international destinations.
Most major airlines operate regular flights to these airports, ensuring accessibility from various parts of the world. Upon arrival, visitors can easily connect to domestic flights, exploring different regions of the country.
Is South Africa Safe to Visit?
Like many popular tourist destinations, it’s important for visitors to stay informed and take standard safety precautions. South Africa has significantly enhanced tourist safety, particularly in well-traveled areas like Cape Town, Johannesburg, and major wildlife reserves.
Tourists are advised to stay in reputable accommodations, use official transportation services, and avoid isolated areas, especially after dark. Booking with local tour guides and sticking to recommended tourist routes can greatly enhance safety.
The country’s government and tourism sector are actively working to ensure a safe environment for international visitors. Additionally, travelers should stay updated with travel advisories from their respective governments. With sensible precautions, South Africa remains a remarkable and enriching destination in 2024, offering a unique blend of cultural, historical, and natural attractions that continue to draw visitors from around the globe.
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.