Best things to do in South Africa

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An incredible country with wild landscape, incredible migration safaris, stunning Southern Ocean, Indian and Atlantic Ocean views and rich biodiversity, South Africa is a stunning destination with so much to see.

Below, we’ve detailed the best things to do in South Africa including free things to do in this beautiful part of southwest Africa.

South Africa regions to visit

Cities and places of interest in South Africa

South Africa has a population of 59 million people with the largest city Johannesburg home to over 5.6 million people.

Unusually, the country has three capital cities, with the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government based in Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Cape Town respectively.

O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) near Johannesburg and Cape Town International (CPT) are two of the main entry points for visitors wondering how to get to South Africa to parks including Kruger National Park and Phinda Game Reserve.

The country is bordered by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Eswatini and entirely surrounds Lesotho in the east. A large plateau dominates the centre of the country, with rolling hills falling to plains and the coast.

South Africa boasts remarkable natural attractions such as desert lands and inspiring coastlines as well as incredible destinations such as Table Mountain National Park in Cape Town, Hout Bay, Cape Point and the Cango Caves in Oudtshoorn.

Afrikaans and English are the most popular foreign languages spoken in South Africa although there are eleven major languages spoken in the country. Almost 10% of South Africans speak English as their first language especially in the provinces of Western Cape, Gauteng, and KwaZulu-Natal.

Visitors should also be aware of the latest South African vaccines required, Covid-19 restrictions and South Africa visas prior to booking their trip.

The country has 9 provinces:

  • Western Cape: Cape Town is the legislative capital, home to Table Mountain and where the country’s Parliament can be found.
  • Eastern Cape: Home to East London and some of the best beaches in all of South Africa. Its stretch of beaches includes a section with around 800km of untouched and pristine coastline complete with breathtaking sand dunes and ocean views.
  • Northern Cape: The largest and most sparsely populated province of South Africa, bordered to the north by Namibia and Botswana.
  • North West: Created in 1994 from portions of Transvaal and Cape of Good Hope provinces. North West is bounded by Botswana to the north and northwest.****
  • The Free State: Bloemfontein, in the Mangaung metropolitan municipality is the judicial capital and home to the Supreme Court of Appeal.
  • Gauteng: Pretoria, in the City of Tshwane metropolitan municipality, Gauteng, is the administrative capital. It is home to the Union Buildings and a large proportion of the Public Service.
  • KwaZulu-Natal: Located in the southeast of the country and a melting pot of African, European and Indian cultures. This province boasts two World Heritage Sites, the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park and the majestic Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park.
  • Limpopo: The northernmost province, named after the Limpopo River and famous for its Baobab trees, with the biggest one in the world situated here.
  • Mpumalanga: The name means “East”, or literally “The Place Where the Sun Rises” in the Swazi, an area known for its natural beauty where waterfalls meet wetlands, deep forests, and savannahs filled with grazing wildlife.

The biggest cities in South Africa are Johannesburg, Soweto, Cape Town, Durban and Pretoria.

ProvinceLargest city
Western CapeCape Town
GautengJohannesburg
Eastern CapePort Elizabeth
KwaZulu-NatalDurban
BloemfonteinBloemfontein
NelspruitNelspruit
KimberleyKimberley
PolokwanePolokwane
MahikengRustenburg

Cape Town

Located in the south west of the country and one of the most beautiful cities in the world by virtue of the pristine natural environment into which its cityscape is built.

Cape Town has beaches both on the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and offers stunning landscapes including Lions Head and Table Mountain, great food, nearby vineyards from nearby Stellenbosch and Boschendal, superb weather and a fascinating culture.

Excellent shopping and dining experiences can be had at the excellent Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, situated on the Atlantic shore.

The thing that stands out most however is the people. Big bright smiles, booming voices, beautiful clothes and genuinely kind and caring natures make you feel totally at ease.

Visit the nearby Camps Bay, a village-like suburb, famous for its beautiful white sand beaches, chic cafes, beachfront restaurants and its location between the azure Atlantic and the Twelve Apostles mountain range.

Durban

The third largest city in South Africa is a bustling place, thanks in part to its gigantic port – the largest in Africa. Much has changed in recent decades – the end of apartheid saw the city welcome many nearby Kwa-Zulu residents, who now make Durban one of the most African cities in the country.

In addition to this, its huge Indian population also gives it an Asian flair, as demonstrated by the streets, markets and restaurants which you´ll come across.

Lying on the Indian Ocean coast, Durban has a picturesque harbor as well as a lovely waterfront lining the expansive public beaches that many Jo´burgers come to enjoy.

Although there is a slightly gritty feel to the city due to the port, recent developments have seen Durban much improved and even better to visit than before.

Johannesburg

With around ten million residents, Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa and is the economic heart of sub-Saharan Africa.

For a revealing and eye-opening look into South Africa´s tragic past, the Apartheid Museum is a must, and there are many other great museums to visit.

It is quite a welcoming place and its infectious energy will encourage you to keep exploring all of the great shopping, sporting spectacles and vibrant urban culture.

South Africa safari: The main event

South Africa: A global safari destination

A blockbuster combination of sublime landscapes and some of the best wildlife viewing on the continent will undoubtedly make your South Africa safari a trip you’ll never forget.

South Africa continues to be a safe, friendly and diverse country to visit and home to iconic and richly rewarding safari destinations.

South Africa boasts the world renowned Kruger National Park, the country’s premier safari destination where visitors will be in awe at the quality and quantity of wildlife viewings including the Big Five, namely the lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino among many others.

Understanding the best time to visit can be useful when planning the ideal time of year to visit and trip pricing.

Our comprehensive South Africa Safari Guide is a helpful resource in helping visitors to plan their trip.

The 3 Best Parks and Reserves to Visit in South Africa

All the parks and reserves in South Africa have their own unique draw and offer something different and unique. However, a safari visitor to South Africa should take in the following must-see parks on their safari trip:

Kruger National Park

The jewel in the African crown and a wildlife lover’s dream. Located in northeast, Kruger is one of Africa’s largest game reserves with high densities of lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalos and hundreds of other mammals, eagles and storks.

A bucket-list essential is the safari search for the legendary Big Five and the phenomenal creatures that you’ll see in the process. There are over 145 species of mammals found in Kruger and over 500 species of bird, some of which are not found anywhere else in South Africa.

The park is also home to five vegetation zones, each with their own special flair and diverse range of species. From arid semi-desert to thickly wooded areas with flowering trees, it’s a mixed bag of remarkable nature at its best.

Be on the lookout for the iconic Baobab trees that pepper the region, and the interesting creatures that make them their home.

Phinda Game Reserve

This is Kwazulu Natal’s best private game reserve. All of the Big Five are easily spotted and the reserve’s flagship species is the cheetah with sightings very common for this unique creature.

Phinda in Zulu means “return” – and that’s exactly what you will want to do once you visit. Landscapes vary from woodland to grassland, wetland to forest, and even mountain ranges within the reserve.

The foothills of the Lebombo Mountains are located on the south of the reserve. There also are two rivers running through the Phinda Game Reserve, which create a fertile marshland.

There are lions, leopards, hyenas, various species of antelopes – such as the tiny red duiker, and the suni; as well as kudus, impalas and nyalas. There are elephants, zebras, giraffes and hippos.

MalaMala Game Reserve

An independent private game reserve that shares unfenced borders with Kruger National Park to the east and Sabi Sand Game Reserve on all other sides. Easy sightings of the Big Five and the leopard.

Visitors can find the cheetah, hyena, wildebeest, zebra, hippopotamus pods, giraffe, Cape wild dog and it was the home of Tjololo, a famous leopard.

A large number of photojournalists and film-makers have made MalaMala their destination of choice to capture footage of wildlife viewing that would rival any Hollywood production for thrilling and breathtaking animal encounters.

MalaMala’s Camps (MalaMala Main Camp, Sable Camp and Rattray’s on MalaMala) are the embodiment of an authentic safari experience pioneered at a time when the safari was simple – unassuming camps, vast sweeping plains and the African sky and the bush in all its splendor.

Other places of interest in South Africa

Other places worth a visit on your trip to South Africa include:

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve

The flagship park of the Kwazulu-Natal province and one of the oldest parks in Africa. Rhino are very common in the park.

Sabi Sand Game Reserve

Sabi Sands shares a 50km/30mi unfenced border with Kruger NP with each of its individual private game reserves all offering the ultimate Big Five experience, luxury safari accommodation, great service and excellent food.

Table Mountain

Recognised as one of the world’s most remarkable attractions – a scenic, historic, cultural and recreational asset which is a blend of rugged mountains, moonlit beaches, ancient forests and much more surrounded by the city of Cape Town.

There are 360-degree views of the entire Cape Peninsula, accessible via cable car or hiking. You can see the stunning beaches around Clifton and Camps Bay, the Table Mountain range, the City Bowl, the harbor and Waterfront, and the unspoilt wilderness of the park.

Cape of Good Hope

The Cape of Good Hope is a popular excursion for visitors staying in Cape Town, a beautiful place on the southern coast with great hiking adventures, inspiring ocean views and adorable penguins, an unforgettable experience.

Stellenbosch winelands region

Stellenbosch is renowned for its beautiful environment, many places of interest, wine farms, street cafes, restaurants, quality wines, historical buildings and excellent educational institutions.

In the Cape Winelands municipality, Stellenbosch has a small-town aura with a leisurely lifestyle in an atmosphere where art, music and theater reign supreme.

Visitors can also enjoy the Stellenbosch wine tram, a hop-on-hop-off tram between various vineyards, eating and drinking the best foods and wine in the Franschhoek valley.

Plettenberg Bay

Apart from excellent beaches and great white sharks, Plettenberg Bay attractions focus on the wildlife of South Africa. The Birds of Eden ecompasses more than two hectares of indigenous forests and boasts the title of the largest free-flight dome in the world. It contains over 3,500 birds spanning 250 species.

The Panorama Route

A scenic road in South Africa connecting several cultural and natural points of interest. The route, steeped in the history of South Africa, is in Mpumalanga province in the east of the country, centered around the Blyde River Canyon, the world’s third largest canyon, a stunning drive.

Robben Island

Most famous as the place where Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected president of South Africa, was imprisoned for 18 of his 27 years in jail. The island has since become a tourist attraction and a symbol of the triumph of democracy and freedom.

Addo Elephant National Park

The third largest national park & one of the best places in South Africa to see large herds of elephants. The Big Five are present also.

Madikwe Game Reserve

A state-owned, private game reserve with all drives are conducted by the private lodges dotted around the reserve, a very exclusive experience.

Tembe Elephant Park

Hosts all the Big Five, but above all it is a place for elephant lovers offering incredible encounters with some of the largest elephants in Africa.

Karoo National Park

Most of the wildlife that once roamed here has been eradicated, but Karoo National Park is a relatively small area where this unique habitat and its animals are protected.

Mapungubwe National Park

A UNESCO World Heritage site with spectacular scenery and Mapungubwe Hill, the site of an ancient civilization. Elephant, white rhino and several antelope species are regularly spotted.

Isimangaliso Wetland Park

One of the outstanding natural wetland and coastal sites of Africa. Covering an area of 239,566 ha, it includes a wide range of pristine marine, coastal, wetland, estuarine, and terrestrial environments which are scenically beautiful and mostly untouched.

Other activities in South Africa

South Africa also has many other activities that visitors can add on during their safari vacation. Carrying a small amount of South African currency, the rand (ZAR) can be useful when paying for smaller ticket items.

Luxury safari lodges

With excellent wildlife viewing and lodges with incredible design and décor, South Africa is home to some of the African continent’s most supreme luxury lodges with beautiful, modern suites, well trained staff and excellent food.

Sleep under the stars

This extraordinary, experiential sleep out, under the stars is a truly amazing encounter. Eco-friendly boutique lodges provide specialized stargazing tents offering prolific views of the twinkling night sky.

Walking safaris

Explore the wildlife and wilderness via a guided walking tour, an authentic means of exploring wildlife in South Africa.

Bloukrans Bridge Bungy

One of the world’s highest commercial bungee jumping sites at 216 metres (709 ft) above the Bloukrans River.

It is situated at Bloukrans Bridge on the N2 Highway at the border between the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape in the Tsitsikamma area of South Africa’s Garden Route.

Hike The Otter Trail

The trail takes 5 days and 4 nights of camping under the stars to cover a distance of 28 miles. The scenic beauty of this famous hiking trail is incredible medicine for body and soul.

Visitors will be left breathless by the fauna, flora, waterfalls and rock formations along the way. The trail is unique as it boasts the best of both worlds – the magnificent forests and clear pools as well as the pristine South African coastline.

Explore The Cango Caves

These spectacular caves are situated at the foot of the Swartberg mountains, a quick 25 minute drive from the town of Oudshoorn in the Western Cape. There are two tours you can choose from, the “standard tour” and the “adventure tour”, we highly recommend the latter!

The highlight of the 30 minute adventure tour is passing through the famous “Devil’s Chimney”, measuring a tiny 45 cm. Visitors will also be amazed at the incredible rock formations, stalagmites and stalactites as well as the ancient bushman paintings.

Abseiling Down Table Mountain

You probably know it as the famous flat topped mountain in the beautiful city of Cape Town with views for days but did you know you could abseil right off the edge?

With the Atlantic Ocean below you and breathtaking views of Robben Island and Camps Bay, this will be an experience you’ll remember for years to come.

It’s one of the best things to do in South Africa. The whole process only takes about an hour or so, leaving you with time to do a lot more exploring around the mountain.

Snorkel With Seahorses in Knysna

Swimming amongst these pint-sized creatures is a must-do if you are visiting the beautiful Garden Route of South Africa.

Situated on the banks of the famous Knysna lagoon lies a warm water estuary that is home to these enchanting little marine fish.

Trips are always done at high tide and your experienced guide will take you to the best spots to see the seahorses.

Be prepared to fall in love with these almost mythical looking creatures. With the head of a horse, the tail of a monkey and eyes like a chameleon, these upright swimming little guys really are a sight to behold.