Places to visit in South Africa
South Africa is a country that really has it all. From the best surfing spots in the world to endless hiking opportunities, to spectacular wildlife to luxury shopping and decadent nightlife. South Africa isn’t just a continent in a country – it contains a whole world within its borders! With endless ways to be amazed, it’s hard to know where to begin and what to do.
You could spend years in South Africa and not see nearly all the precious sites. For those with limited time, we have traversed the country and come up with a list of our favorite destinations. These destinations offer city-life, culture, safaris and game drives, hiking and adventure activities.
South Africa is one of the most diverse countries in the world and definitely not a one hit wonder. You can (and should) try to experience as much of the diversity as you can while you’re in the country.
Here are some of the top destinations.
Kruger National Park
This is one of the Big 5 Game Reserves in South Africa. While planning your South African safari, there’s no doubt you’ll come across Kruger National Park – with good reason.
The Kruger park is home to an assortment of plants and animals including more than 2,000 varieties of plants, 118 reptiles, 517 birds, and almost 150 species of mammal. A popular area to do a game drive is near Phalaborwa gate, where you can expect to see many of these animals. Remember to pack warm clothes for your game drive/guided tour (It’s freezing cold in an open vehicle at sunrise). You can also take advantage of the variety of birds and go bird watching (It's important to carry binoculars to observe the great variety of species).
Kruger has a subtropical climate and the summers are humid and hot while the rainy season is from September until May. Whether you decide to take a guided tour or self-drive, remember that Kruger is the most popular game reserve in Africa and can get very, very busy during peak season which means you’re likely to wait to see anything and should book your Kruger National Park safari tours well in advance.
What’s great about the Kruger is that it has options that suit whatever you’re planning – a family South African safari, a solo South African safari, or even a honeymoon South African safari.
Blyde River Canyon
The Blyde River Canyon, its name meaning “glad” or “happy” in Dutch, is a lesser-known attraction that people tend to skip on their South African safari.
Located in the province if Mpumalunga, you’ll find one of the largest canyons in the world. Some of the most unbelievable views in South Africa can be seen from the rim of Blyde River Canyon – and from one spot it’s possible to see over the border to Mozambique.
If wildlife is what you’re after more so than spectacular views, you’ll be thrilled to know that this canyon is brimming with superb fauna, including all five species of South African primates. With majestic sights such as God’s Window, you definitely won’t regret a stop at the Panorama Route in Mpumalanga.
The endless skies and waterfalls are a breathtaking backdrop that photos don’t do justice to. There are numerous lookout points and stops, each charging a nominal fee to visit. Some of these stops include Kadishi Waterfall, whose rock formation strikingly resembles a face that is crying profusely, and is thus known as ‘the weeping face of nature’. On the other hand, if you’re an adrenalin junkie, the Big Swing is a must. You can choose between the 68 m freefall or fly across the gorge on the 130m above ground “foefie slide”.
This is one of the attractions that make it a great addition for your solo South African safari. Insider tip: One of the best viewpoints to take a picture is in the parking lot of the Aventura Blydepoort Nature Reserve Resort.
The Drakensberg mountain range is the highest in South Africa. You can enjoy incredible panoramic views of the landscape of mountains and forests. It is divided into the Southern, Central and Northern regions with Southern Drakensberg being about a 2-hour drive from Durban and Northern Drakensberg being 3 hours away from Johannesburg, so it’s close enough to some of the main cities in South Africa.
Attractions of note in the region are Cathedral Peak, Mont-aux-Sources, Monk's Cowl, Sani Pass (On the Lesotho border) and Champagne valley. If you’re an avid hiker you will be spoilt for choice in the Drakensberg region. Don’t despair if the only exercise you do is walking up the stairs; there are lots of other activities in the region that don’t require as much energy from you. Some of these activities include trout fishing, kayaking, tubing, swimming, 4x4 trails, quad biking, horse riding, photographic safaris, bird watching, rambling, rock climbing and hot air balloon rides over hidden valleys.
Either way, the beauty, and panoramic views the Drakensberg has to offer are unmatched and definitely worth visiting. It’s also a great honeymoon South African safari destination as well as the perfect destination to propose to your loved one.
Cape Town - Table Mountain
Undoubtedly the tourism capital, the best activities in South Africa can be found in sunny Cape Town. Located on the west coast of the country, it is home to one of the most spectacular 7 wonders of the world – the majestic Table Mountain.
A visit to Cape Town will make you realize that it’s a destination for all kinds of travelers and a one-week stay is barely enough to even scratch at the surface of all the activities this city has to offer.
You can visit the iconic Long Street at the heart of the city that houses the trendiest restaurants, coffee shops and bars in town. A hike up Lions Head or Table Mountain will reward you with stunning views of the whole city. The colorful houses in the Bo-Kaap neighborhood will make you feel like you’re at the carnival and give you a taste of Malay culture.
With Table Mountain and The Twelve Apostles in the background, the white sand and blue water at Clifton beach is the best place to get a tan with a view. You can also visit Cape Point, the southernmost tip of Africa or better yet, go on a tour and see it all.
Addo Elephant National Park
About 70km northeast of Port Elizabeth, you’ll find Addo Elephant National Park. The closest airport is Port Elizabeth airport and the closest international airport is Cape Town International, over 800km away. This means that you’re most likely to make quite a long drive to Addo – road trip!
In fact, one of the things that really makes Addo Elephant National Park stand out is that it’s primarily a park to self-drive, and just about any car can handle the terrain. It’s also the third largest National Park in South Africa and has the highest density of elephants anywhere in the country.
Don’t despair if elephants aren’t your cup of tea, there are over 600 other species to find in Addo. There are some 4×4 trails, you can do some hiking or even horseback riding. If you’re someone that likes an “off the beaten path” destination, then Addo would suit you. It’s certainly not as big or impressive as the Kruger but it has its own unique charm and gives you an opportunity to enjoy everything a South African safari has to offer without dealing with massive crowds. Addo is a great addition to a family South African safari since it gives you enough time to bond while the family is on the road together.
Hluhluwe-Imfolozi and iSimangaliso Wetland
Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park is located in the heart of Zululand. It is one of the great South Africa safari parks, which also happens to be the oldest game reserve in the continent, and there you can find the largest population of white rhino in the world (not that many left in the world).
It’s a mere 2-hour drive from King Shaka International Airport and the cosmopolitan city of Durban. Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park is home to 86 special species including Nile crocodile, hippo, cheetah, spotted hyena, blue wildebeest, jackal, giraffe, zebra, waterbuck, eland, kudu, impala, duiker, reedbuck, common warthog, mongoose, baboons, monkeys, a variety of tortoises, terrapins, snakes and lizards.
Just a few kilometers out of Hluhluwe is where you’ll find iSimangaliso Wetland Park and the town of St Lucia. McKenzie Street, the main street going through St Lucia, is packed with restaurants, lively hostels and bars, but the quieter avenues behind it offer a touch of nature and a good selection of B&Bs. It’s not uncommon to see hippos in and around the town of St Lucia and Lake St Lucia!
St Lucia and Hluhluwe is a great family South African safari – the more the merrier!
Tsitsikamma National Park
South Africa Wildlife
Animals you can see in South Africa
Big, small, tall, short, herbivores, carnivores, reptile, amphibian, mammal and even smelly ones – South Africa’s wildlife diversity is amazing and the country is home to all these kinds of animals. Some animals, like the big 5, you’ll see on your South African wildlife safari, others, such as sheep and goats, you’ll occasionally see crossing the road while some, like monkeys, you’ll most likely see in the backyard of your BnB! It’s a good to have an idea of the kinds of animals you can expect to see in South Africa, that way you won’t be disappointed when you don’t see kangaroos (And no, you will most definitely not see kangaroos in South Africa but one of the country’s thousands of other species will make up for it!)
The Big Five
We're sure you remember exactly which animals make up the Big 5. These predators and terrestrial mammals can no doubt kill you in an instant but don’t worry, South African rangers and tour guides are highly trained and you’re safe in their hands (As long as you don’t try any funny business). The big 5 animals in South Africa are one of the main attractions for tourists and locals alike and you can bet your lucky socks you’ll want to see these vicious creatures on your South Africa wildlife safari (Don’t worry, they don’t roam the streets and your only chance of seeing them is if you book a good South African wildlife safari)
Elephant – that huge mammal with the trunk and 2 tusks. Luckily for you, elephants are herbivores and mainly eat leaves and twigs.
Buffalo – extremely large, ox-like animals that can be unpredictable and dangerous. It isn’t advisable to get too close to a Buffalo on your South African wildlife safari as they often feel threatened.
Lion – the king of the jungle needs no introduction. Unlike most feline species, lions are a more social animal and their pride typically consists of a family unit of around 15 members. Lions are opportunists and often scavenge carcasses that other animals have killed or hunt their own prey.
Leopard – as the saying goes, a leopard never changes its spots. Leopards are the most elusive of the Big 5. These shy and cunning carnivores are solitary animals and often attack animals that intrude of their space. This is one animal you do not want to see when you go camping in South Africa.
Rhinoceros – this large, primitive mammal has been hunted almost to extinction. The population has declined by 90 percent in the past 40 years with only 5 rhino species left in the world. Man is the only cause of the demise of the rhino, with these mammals being hunted for their horns. Be a responsible visitor to South African Game Reserves and stand with local communities taking an active stand against rhino poaching.
Southern right Whale – they usually pass South Africa from June to December, these enormous sea creatures delight holidaymakers with their playful antics. You can spot them from beaches in Cape Town all the way down to the Garden Route coastline.
Hippopotamus - these dangerous amphibious mammals are the 3rd largest living land animals. They are most commonly found in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park area – don’t be surprised if you wake up to rhinos wallowing in Lake St Lucia.
Cheetah - one of the South African big cats, reaching speeds of up to 70 miles per hour, these mammals tend to be difficult to spot. They are often confused with leopards and can be differentiated by their solid spots and black ‘tears’ running from their eyes to their mouths. Because of how fast they are, chances are you won't see them.
Antelope - South Africa has an abundance of different species of antelope and you’re bound to come across a few of them during your South Africa safari drive. Some of the most common include Duiker, Eland, Kudu, and, the national animal of South Africa, Springbok. The Impala is the most common of all, followed by Kudu. Whether you’re out camping or on a South African game drive, you’re likely to see these. Luckily, most of them are friendly.
As a typical sunny country, South Africa offers a unique environment for cold-blooded creatures. This huge biodiversity counts with more than 350 species of reptiles. This richest habitat is home to the richest diversity of lizards, snakes, crocodiles, tortoises, turtles, and chameleons. The famous Black Mamba, the Nile crocodile, rattlesnake, or the Leopard tortoise are some of the famous inhabitants of South Africa. The Kruger national Park is one the main locations to observe most of the South African species of reptiles, as well as Mpumalanga and the reserves into KwaZulu-Natal. South Africa offers you all the possibilities for herping adventures with a private or group tour. Nonetheless, you will certainly spice your classic game viewing with several reptile species.
In the last decade, South Africa has become one of the favorite destinies for bird enthusiasts from all over the world. Thanks to the well-established tourism industry you can indulge yourself with a top class bird-watching. The possibilities are endless from nest building to dazzling breeding plumages. The best locations for lovers of ornithology are Kwazulu-Natal, Western Cape, Mpumalanga.
Regardless of your preferences, there is no safari experience without the classic various bird sounds of the grasslands or the savannah. Widowbirds, bishops, whydahs, or the noisy weaverbirds compose the fantastic soundtrack. Finally, do not forget to visit the renowned penguins if you are near Cape Town.
We have already mentioned the wonders of South Africa. But, what makes South Africa one of the most complete destinations for enjoying a wide range of wildlife is its marine life. The South African waters are the habitat for one of the richest marine mammal’s environment. There are several options to watch different types of Dolphins and Whales. From comfortable boats or dolphin kayak trips to scenic flights. KwaZulu-Natal's south and north coasts offer high chances to find Humpback and Bottlenose Dolphins, or the Humpback Whales migration.
Near Cape Town or Port Elizabeth are great locations to spot a large variety of Seals. And in June the Southern Right Whales leave the Antartic for the warmer waters to mate and play, they are so common you may watch them from the road anywhere along the False Bay coast.