The ideal destination for any adventurous traveler, South Africa has so many amazing experiences on offer, from off-roading on a safari to diving with great white sharks. With its wonderful array of wildlife, beautiful beaches, divine vineyards, and magnificent mountains, there’s no doubt that this is a land of diversity.
The southern tip of Africa may have left the years of apartheid behind, but much of the nation still struggles with poverty and there remains a vast disparity between wealth and race. The country offers numerous chances to learn about its tumultuous history, land and peoples, with museums and trips to Robben Island or a visit to a Township.
Leave the cities behind, grab yourself some wheels, and head off on a road trip through the varied landscapes of the Garden Route. Make sure to stop off at Hermanus, known for its opportunities to spot southern right whales from the shoreline. Take a walk on the wild side in the Kruger National Park, where lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and buffalos roam free, and leap into the unknown as you take in the views from the top of Table Mountain. It’s hard to name another holiday destination that offers as much variety. Here’s a look at the best places to visit in South Africa.
Map of South Africa
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10. Johannesburg Where to Stay
Johannesburg, or Jo’burg, is the economic heart of Africa and the most common entry point into Southern Africa. With more than 3 million people it is also the second largest city on the continent. Historically it is where money is made and fortunes found. It has been stereotyped as a cruel, concrete jungle, plagued by crime, but residents defend it fiercely as a city of opportunity and raw energy. A visits to the infamous Soweto township is getting increasingly popular.
Most of South Africa’s vineyards are located in the lush Boland Basin around 80 km (50 miles) to the northeast of Cape Town. The river valleys that flow into the basin are ideal for growing a number of varietals, including Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. The Cape Winelands region is also home to five-star restaurants, exclusive boutiques and charming hotels. A trip to South Africa’s wine country is a journey of indulgence.
Located in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa, the Addo Elephant National Park is one of the country’s larger parks. The Park is famous for its elephant population that has a special, brownish skin color due to the red soil. Amongst the elephants other animals, like ostriches, antelopes and warthogs can be seen. As part of the park’s expansion, a group of lions and a group of spotted hyenas have been introduced to the park in 2004.
7. Hermanus Where to Stay
Located on the southern coast of Africa near the Garden Route, Hermanus is famous for its shore-based whale-watching. The sheltered, shallow waters attract southern right whales that migrate to the region each year to mate and breed. A 10 km (6 mile) long cliff-side walk with built-in telescopes and benches offers visitors plenty of opportunities to view these social animals as they raise their flukes in the sea breezes. Whale-watching boat tours are available as well.
6. Durban Where to Stay
South Africa’s second-largest city, Durban is located on South Africa’s eastern coast. Durban’s subtropical climate, scenic beaches and close proximity to Johannesburg have made the coastal city a popular vacation destination for South Africans. The English Colonial architecture that once dominated the city has been enlivened by a mix of Zulu murals, Islamic mosques, Hindu temples and Christian churches.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is located in the Kalahari regions of both Botswana and South Africa and came into being as the official merger of the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana and the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa. The park offers a majestic and unending red dunes with migrating herds of wildebeest, gemsbok, springbok and eland, and predators like lion, cheetah and leopard.
The Garden Route is a scenic stretch of the south-eastern coast of South Africa. It extends from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the Eastern Cape. The name comes from the diverse vegetation encountered here and the numerous lagoons and lakes dotted along the coast. It includes some of the best places to visit in South Africa including Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and Nature’s Valley.
The Drakensberg is a mountainous region that forms the boundary between South Africa and the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, and offers some of the country’s most awe-inspiring landscapes. The name ‘Drakensberg’ is derived from the Dutch, meaning “mountains of the dragon”, while the Zulu named it Quathlamba, meaning ‘Battlement of Spears’. The Zulu word is a more accurate description of the sheer escarpment but the Dutchname captures something of the Drakensberg’s otherworldly atmosphere.
2. Kruger National Park Where to Stay
Covering a wide stretch of bush and savannah in the northern reaches of South Africa, Kruger National Park borders the countries of Mozambique and Zimbabwe. For its dense animal population and the variety of its flora and fauna, the park is considered the jewel of South Africa’s extensive park system. Numerous well-kept tarred and gravel roads have made the park a favorite choice for self-driving & self-catering expeditions.
1. Cape Town Where to Stay
Located on the southwest tip of South Africa’s Western Cape Province, Cape Town is the most popular tourist destination in all of Africa. The metropolis enjoys a mild, Mediterranean climate, a well-developed infrastructure and a spectacular natural setting. Cape Town’s center is located in a relatively small area between Table Mountain and Table Bay. The city also serves as a home base for exploring nearby attractions, including the region’s many diverse beaches as well as the rolling hills and valleys of the Winelands.
⇒ related: Top Cape Town Attractions