10 Best Places to Visit in South Africa
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.
10. Blyde River Canyon [SEE MAP]
Mister-E / Flickr
Tangled in subtropical foliage, the Blyde River Canyon is the largest green canyon on the planet, and one of the deepest natural canyons on Earth. Located along a sensational tourist drive known as the Panorama Route, the canyon is dotted with sensational hotspots – from waterfalls to unusual geology.
One such highlight is Bourke’s Luck Potholes – a series of giant potholes that have been spun into the riverbed by the movement of swirling water where the Blyde and Treue rivers meet.
With its lush valleys, mountain scenery like the Three Rondavels, and astonishing viewpoints like the appropriately named God’s Window, the Blyde River Canyon is understandably a popular spot for exploring by car, on foot, or horseback. Keep an eye out for a variety of wildlife along the way, such as hippos, crocodiles, and Samango monkeys, as well as Cape vulture, African fish eagle, and Knysna lourie. It’s one of the best bird-watching spots in Mpumalanga.
9. Cape Winelands [SEE MAP]
coda / Flickr
If you’re a wine connoisseur, you’ll be in your element in South Africa’s extraordinary Cape Winelands. Located just a 45-minute drive from Cape Town, it’s one of the most picturesque wine-producing regions in the world, with undulating vineyards and spectacular mountain views from just about anywhere.
The exact region you pick depends totally on you, but Franschhoek and Stellenbosch are two of the most popular. Here, you can enjoy the unique offerings of hundreds of wine estates with everything from wine and cheese or biltong platters (South Africa’s famous dried meat) to outdoor picnics with a bottle of estate wine surrounded by row upon row of vineyards. Head further afield to towns like Montagu to enjoy the hot springs after a sensational day of wine tasting, or Tulbagh to enjoy wine tasting sessions by bike.
8. Addo Elephant National Park [SEE MAP]
exfordy / Flickr
With humble beginnings as a small elephant sanctuary established to protect just 11 reddish-colored Addo elephants in the 1930s, Addo Elephant National Park is now one of South Africa’s largest national parks – and possibly one of the best for spotting these gentle giants. As the park has swelled and expanded over the years, it now consists of five different sections, each offering its own unique characteristics.
The Colchester section is the main game reserve. Here, you can enjoy exhilarating self-drives or camp-run game drives to view the massive populations of elephants, zebras, and antelopes in the park. The Darlington section is home to a dam that attracts some great wildlife, while the Kabouga section is available only to four-wheel-drive vehicles. If you prefer to explore on foot, the Zuurberg and Woody Cape sections have some wonderful trails.
Spotting the Big Seven (South Africa’s famous Big Five as well as southern right whales and great white sharks along the coast) is one of the major highlights here. Safari-goers won’t go home disappointed.
7. Hermanus [SEE MAP]
Knutson Laura / Flickr
The once-sleepy, now touristy town of Hermanus in the Western Cape is the whale watching capital of South Africa – and for good reason. Every year, southern right whales come to this corner of Walker Bay to give birth to their young. While boat trips are touted daily, whale watching from the cliffs is just as phenomenal, if not better.
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 – particularly during the Hermanus Whale Festival in September.
Encompassed by glorious mountains and the aquamarine water of the Atlantic, Hermanus is home to idyllic little beaches and the Hemel en Aarde Wine Valley with its decadent wine-filled experiences. Even the name itself means Heaven and Earth. Spend your days hiking to waterfalls, fishing in the lagoons or ocean, and horseback riding on the beach. Hermanus has it all.
6. Durban [SEE MAP]
Kleinz1 / Flickr
While often overshadowed by bigger sisters Cape Town and Joburg, the port city of Durban (South Africa’s busiest) has plenty to offer all of its own – particularly if you are visiting during the southern hemisphere winter. With average temperatures in the mid-20s from June to July, winter simply doesn’t exist here!
Luckily, all that great weather doesn’t go to waste, as Durban is home to a glorious stretch of coastline with some popular sandy beaches lapped by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Spend your days surfing the waves on the east coast of South Africa or exploring life beneath the waves with a snorkel or dive.
Back on land, Durbs (as it’s affectionately called) is known for its excellent curry. Interestingly, the city is home to the largest Indian population outside of India! Tucking into a traditional bunny chow (curry served in a half loaf of bread) isn’t just encouraged here, it’s a rite of passage.
5. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park [SEE MAP]
scorbette37 / Flickr
Reaching out into both South Africa and neighboring Botswana, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (meaning ‘Great Thirst’) is a desert wilderness with terrain that’s totally unique. Amidst the salt pans, bushveld, and rust-red dunes of the Kalahari are hordes of plains game, such as wildebeest, springbok (South Africa’s national animal), and gemsbok (its original namesake) that are hunted in turn by predators like lions, cheetah, and leopards. Surrounded by nothing but barren wilderness, the game viewing here is simply astounding.
The Kgalagadi was once split in two: South Africa’s Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and Botswana’s Gemsbok National Park were combined to form one official park in 1999. Due to its vast expanse, part of the Kgalagadi is inaccessible without a four-wheel-vehicle – and even then, it’s an adventure.
Many visitors prefer to stay at one of the park’s camps and enjoy one of the included game drives or bush walks to spot the park’s phenomenal wildlife. If you prefer to explore on your own, though, you can follow one of the many routes along the riverbeds of the Nossob and Auob on the South African side.
Named after the Kgalagadi tribes who formerly lived in this corner of the desert, some of the descendants of the original communities can still be found here today, such as the Mier Community and the Khoe-speaking Khomani Community, so make sure you include a visit!
4. Garden Route [SEE MAP]
tbsnwrth / Flickr
One of the most beautiful drives in the world, the Garden Route meanders past seaside villages, game reserves, forests, lagoons, and white sandy beaches, with the brilliant blues of the Indian Ocean right alongside you. Stretching from Mossel Bay to St. Francis, this tourist route is what lures most international visitors to South Africa.
There’s so much to see along the Garden Route that it’s hard not to stop every five minutes; you’ll need at least five days, if not longer, to make the most of it. Explore the quaint village of Wilderness with its tranquil beach, bungee jump off the highest commercial bridge bungee in Storms River, and get up close to African elephants at Knysna Elephant Park.
Plettenberg Bay, besides beaches, offers a host of wildlife watching opportunities and hiking trails in the sea-facing Robberg Nature Reserve. A short drive away, you can spot tropical birds in one of the world’s largest free-flying aviaries at Birds of Eden, or walk through the forest surrounded by squirrel monkeys and capuchins at Monkeyland.
3. Drakensberg [SEE MAP]
tbsnwrth / Flickr
The Drakensberg is a mountain range in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. Often shortened to just ‘The Berg’ by locals, the Drakensberg means ‘Mountains of the Dragon.’ The meaning of such a dramatic name isn’t lost on you when you see the might and majesty of these mountains. Forming part of the Great Escarpment, the area is home to a mix of waterfalls and hiking trails split into the northern and southern reaches.
The Northern Drakensberg tempts visitors for its warm climate ideal for hiking. This side gets hardly any snowfall. Enjoy a one or two-day hike to the Amphitheater and explore UKhahlamba Drakensberg Park and the Royal Natal National Park, home to Tugela Falls, the second-highest waterfall in the world.
The Southern Drakensberg is for adventurers. Take the blood-curdling drive up the Sani Pass that leads to landlocked Lesotho, via the highest pub in Africa, or sign up for challenging trekking and mountaineering tours.
2. Kruger National Park [SEE MAP]
Arno & Louise / Flickr
One of South Africa’s most famous and accessible game reserves, the Kruger National Park is a wildlife lover’s dream. Located in the north-east of the country , Kruger covers an enormous stretch of ecosystems that support all kinds of wildlife – from grasslands and dense forests to thickets and dry riverbeds.
While it was established as far back as 1898, it was only in the 1920s that the park opened to the public. Since then, Kruger has been a tick off the bucket list for locals and tourists alike hoping to spot one of the renowned Big Five. Highlights include hippo and croc spotting from the Crocodile River viewpoint and a visit to the reconstructed Iron Age ruins of Masorini village.
While park-run game drives are available regularly, Kruger is a fantastic game reserve to explore on a self-drive. Follow the Sabie and Crocodile rivers and keep your eyes peeled for lions, rhinos, elephants, buffaloes, and leopards lurking amongst the undergrowth. Kruger is also a birding paradise, so don’t forget your binoculars!
1. Cape Town [SEE MAP]
paulscott56 / Flickr
The Mother City, with its gorgeous beaches, majestic mountain views, and friendly people, is a highlight on any South African bucket list. It may only be the second-largest city in the country, but it’s easily one of the most recognizable cities in the world. Located on the southwest tip of South Africa’s Western Cape Province, Cape Town enjoys a mild, Mediterranean climate and a spectacular natural setting. Flanked by Table Mountain and overlooking infamous Robben Island, Cape Town has a bit of everything – history, nature, culture – you name it, Cape Town’s got it.
Explore the colorful streets of the Bo Kaap (a Cape Malay area) and wind your way above the treetops of Kirstenbosch before a picnic amidst the botanical gardens. Or do both with an open-top city sightseeing tour – with wine tasting to boot!
As the legislative capital of South Africa, the Houses of Parliament are well-positioned in the Cape Town city center. Free daily tours offer an inside look into the National Assembly and the notorious old assembly used during Apartheid. If you’ve got time, take a scenic drive to Cape Point Nature Reserve located on the wild and rocky Cape Peninsula.
Map of South Africa
© OpenStreetMap © MapTiler © Touropia
15 Best Places to Visit in South Africa
With more landscapes and terrain than just about another country on Earth, South Africa takes the lead when it comes to diversity. As any country should that boasts hippo sightings on the Limpopo River and penguin sightings on the Cape. An epic country at the tip of an epic continent, wildlife is likely your first draw. But don’t forget about the entertainment, nightlife, dining, and coasts. There are several incredible national parks and equally incredible national dishes (on a completely different scale!). South Africa struggled for decades under apartheid, and the evidence of this can still be felt in places. But the education and welcome you’ll receive will give you hope for the country’s future. Be sure to plan for a long trip, or at the least plan to return again and again, because you’ll need a lifetime to experience and appreciate this magnificent country. Let’s explore the best places to visit in South Africa!
Source: flickr Bloemfontein, Free State, South Africa
The capital of Free State and one of South Africa’s three national capitals, Bloemfontein is sometimes called “the city of the roses” thanks to the rose festival held here each year. But it’s more than just beautiful to look at; the city has a plethora of cultural, historical, and natural attractions. For a start, try the Oliewenhuis Art Museum, the National Museum, the Free State National Botanical Garden, Vodacom Parkland the Anglo Boer War Museum. For round two, try the digital planetarium, the music scene at die Mystic Boer, and then go fishing at Maselspoort. The lists are endless so plan to stay at least a couple days.
2. Cape Town
Source: travelnoire Cape Town
The Mother City is a microcosm for the country’s diversity. All major religions peacefully coexist here and provide wonderful religious and cultural influences – despite South Africa’s difficult history. This is where you’ll find the iconic Table Mountain, the spectacular flat topped mountain. There are also nature trails, water sports, fine dining, unbelievable wine estate, and golden beaches. Be sure to head to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens as well as Green Point Park. If you like an adventure, try abseiling off Table Mountain or tandem-paragliding off Lion’s Head. Cape Town was designated a World Design Capital in 2014 and is full of street art and amazing architecture. End your visit with a trip to one of the historic farms in Constantia for a relaxing wine tasting.
Source: flysaa Durban
Durban is one of South Africa’s most popular holiday destinations because of its year round near perfect weather. If you want to stay outside, check out the gondola rides, fishing, uShaka Marine World, Gateway Theatre, and every water sport you can imagine. When you want a break from the sun, head downtown and discover the wonderful art deco facades and explore the more urban parts of town. The city feels decidedly Asian, and has a large Indian community. Stroll through the markets and you’ll wonder if you’re still in South Africa.
Source: flickr Comaro Street, Johannesburg
Jo’burg has it all: fine dining, intoxicating nightlife, headline entertainment, arts, couture shopping, and the Gautrain. This rapidly changing city has a tough history with nearly 20 years of decline. But the economy has seen an influx of business and tourism lately. In Newtown and Braamfontein, the two cultural districts, you’ll find the restaurants, cafes, museums, and theatres. There is so much energy here, it’s infectious. The Inner City is quickly becoming a tourist hot spot. You’ll want to make a stop at Maboneng, a hipster type neighbourhood on the eastern side of the Inner City. It’s a city still struggling with its history, but Johannesburg isn’t pretentious and has a lot to offer. Don’t forget to make a stop at the Apartheid Museum for a sobering reminding of the countries past.
5. East London
Source: flickr Nahoon River, East London
If you want a laid back beach scene that doesn’t have the crowds, East London is perfect for you. You’ve got everything you want in a beach, warm ocean, water sports, outdoor adventure, and plenty of sunshine. The heart of the city is an industrial town, and its neighbours generally have more attractions and excursions, if you’re looking for perfect beaches and a chance to escape, you’ll love the bay front location and the huge sand hills.
Source: zulu Pietermaritzburg
This heritage city is located in the forests and rolling pastures of the Natal Midlands. It’s considered one of the best preserved Victorian cities on Earth. A tour through town to look at the historic buildings will take you back to another age. Many of these grand buildings have been converted into museums. The city is made up of a large student population as well as a Zulu community which brings a lot of colour to the place. Pietermaritzburg makes the perfect base camp for exploring both the Midlands Meander and Kwa Zulu-Natal.
Source: flickr Kimberley
Another historic city is Kimberley, also known as “the city that sparkles.” Located in the heart of the Diamond Fields region, it’s the home of De Beers and has a rich mining past. The city has capitalized on its history and there are many areas where you feel like you’re in the Old West. Have a drink in an old timey saloon, enjoy a ghost tour to learn about the miners of the past, or take a look at the world’s largest hand dug hole. There’s a lot of history to discover here so be sure to put some of their many museums on your list.
Source: flickr Pretoria
“Jacaranda City” is swimming in a sea of purple Jacaranda trees. A similar city to Johannesburg, but much more laid back, Pretoria has great museums, historical buildings, and natural attractions for your enjoyment. Once the heart of apartheid South Africa a new energy is infusing the city and foreign embassies, businesses, and tourism reach Pretoria. When you want a relaxing stopover as you travel the country, Pretoria is definitely worth a visit.
9. Port Elizabeth
Source: flickr Port Elizabeth
Most South African cities seem to have a nickname, and Port Elizabeth’s is the “Friendly City.” At the end of the Garden Route, it lies along Algoa Bay at the western end of the Sunshine Coast. You’ll find blue-flag beaches, water sports, and a surprising amount of history here. Port Elizabeth, along with the satellite towns of Despatch and Uitenhage, are collectively known as Nelson Mandela Bay. Head to the suburban centres for some up-market shopping, bars, and restaurants.
Source: wikipedia Soweto
Some say the real South Africa can be found in townships like Soweto. Famous for the part it played in the apartheid struggle, you can discover many historically significant sites here. There are official township tours and these are a great way to explore. The tours include places like Walter Sisulu Square where South Africa’s Freedom Charter was signed in 1955, or the Hector Pieterson Memorial, where the 1976 uprising began. There’s also Vilakazi Street, once home to Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. For some fun, take a look at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. It’s listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest hospital in the world.
Source: flickr Knysna
Part of the famous Garden Route, Knysna is famous for the oyster festival and incredible views that stretch from Leisure Isle all the way to the Knysna Heads. The Heads are a difficult passage in the water – many vessels have been shipwrecked here. Check out the Featherbed Nature Reserve as well as the incredible Knysna Elephant Park and Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary. Dolphin sightings are pretty regular in Knysna and there are several dolphin spotting boat trips that include a stop at Plettenberg Bay or Robberg Peninsula to see the noisy seal colonies. For those looking for a little bit of relaxing, combined with a little bit of adventure, this is your place.
Source: flickr Oudtshoorn
Welcome to the ostrich capital of the world. Oudtshoorn is located between the Swartberg and Outeniqua mountains and is ideal for outdoor and nature lovers. You have to travel through Klein Karoo to get there; a beautiful semi-desert area. The mountain range has been declared a Cape Floral World Heritage Site and you’ll see some stunning vistas as you explore the area. Nearby are the Cango Caves and the historical village of De Rust. If you’re in the mood for a road trip, consider crossing the Swartberg Pass or driving down the 25km Meiringspoort. If you’re there around Easter time, don’t miss the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees – the largest language arts festival in the country.
Source: flickr Stellenbosch
During the Anglo-Boer War, British soldiers who showed courage and valour on the battlefield where sent to Stellenbosch as a reward. It’s a beautiful town with restaurants, street cafes, vineyards, historic buildings, and a famous university. These days, the town is centred on the university, one of the leading educational institutions in the country. There are also some of the most fantastic wine estates here – check out Spier (established in the 17th century) to enjoy Segway tours, picnics, Eagle Encounters, and an amphitheatre for entertainment. Other top picks include Thelema, Tokaa, and Blaauwklippen. Two of the top ten “Best Restaurants in South Africa” are in Stellenbosch as well as Ama Zink, a restaurant that has a night dinner show recounting the history of the Kayamandi Township with music and dance.
Source: flickr Blyde River Canyon, Mpumalanga
Though it’s a very small province, Mpumalanga is truly exciting. Mountain vistas, cooler climates, and green valleys make the region a magnet for outdoor lovers. Abseil down waterfalls, river raft, canoe, inner tube, trek, mountain bike, or throw yourself off a cliff! The main attraction here is definitely Blyde River Canyon, which has been carving its way through the Drakensberg Escarpment for centuries; truly one of South Africa’s iconic sites. Right next door is Kruger National Park which is a great place to have as your base camp while you spend plenty of time exploring this magnificent area.
15. Kruger National Park
Source: flickr Kruger National Park
The density of diversity and volume of animals within Kruger National Park makes it one of the world’s greatest parks. You’ll find all the iconic safari species here – leopards, lions, cheetahs, rhinos, buffalo, giraffes, elephants, and zebra. Plus about 140 other mammals and 500 varieties of birds. Covering almost 20,000 square miles, this is a powerfully beautiful place. Granite hills cover the south; the Lebombo Mountains border the savannah in the east, while the tropical forests can be found in the north.
17 Best Places to Visit in South Africa (+Map & Tips)
If you are reading this because you searched for the best places to visit in South Africa, then it probably means that you already know that South Africa is one of the most remarkable countries in the world and that you are considering a trip there. Go for it! South Africa is one of the most beautiful destinations you’ll ever visit!
South Africa is so special and unique that it’s often called The World in One Country. And so it is! S-A is like a perfect mix of the very best of the entire world in one place. At the same time, it’s like no other place on Earth…
In this article, you can find a list of the very best places to see in South Africa. 17 incredible destinations in South Africa that are worth a trip from the other side of the world. Find out!
Disclosure: This article is sponsored by South African Tourism. It’s not a secret that South Africa is our absolute favorite country in the world, so we are really excited to be working with them to inspire you to discover this incredible country. All opinions and enthusiasm about South Africa are, of course, our own.
We fell in love with South Africa the first time we visited it many years ago and I’m sure you’ll feel the same way too. It’s a place that captures your heart forever.
Camps Bay and Twelve Apostles Mountain Range near Cape Town
Below, you can find the list of the most amazing places you should visit in South Africa.
This is in no way a complete list, but it should give you a good idea of what to expect and where to go when visiting for the first time. It’s the list of the very best things to do and places to see in South Africa.
I ranked this list by putting my own favorites on top. So if you are limited in time, I suggest that you start with the top of the list and work your way down. At the bottom of this article, you can also find the map indicating all the main tourist attractions in South Africa mentioned in this post. Find out!
TIP: If you are not sure how to plan your trip, please check our South Africa 2 week itinerary that covers most of the must-see places in South Africa. Please note that it’s a very complete itinerary, but it doesn’t leave much extra time to explore deeper.
If you want to visit every place from this list, you’ll need at least 3 weeks and it will be rushed. If you want to see all the best places in South Africa mentioned in this article AND have some time to explore somewhat deeper, you’ll probably need at least a month…
These are the best places to visit in South Africa:
1. Cape Town
If there is one place you absolutely have to see in South Africa, it’s Cape Town. It was the oldest European establishment in South Africa (1652) and is therefore often referred to as the Mother City.
It’s difficult to describe in just a few words what Cape Town is all about. You really have to experience it in order to be able to appreciate the mingle of African and European cultures, a mix of tradition and modern, and the unique blend of city life and nature… If South Africa is the world in one country, then Cape Town is the world in one city. Absolutely not to be missed when visiting South Africa!
Here are some of the main places you have to see in Cape Town: Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, Table Mountain, Signal Hill & Lion’s Head, Robben Island, Bo-Kaap area, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Two Oceans Aquarium, and also the city center with its local markets, shops, restaurants, and museums.
TIP: If the gondola to the top of Table Mountain is open, go there first. It often gets closed due to high winds, so don’t leave it for the last day.
Cape Town is an absolute must-see in South Africa
2. Cape Peninsula
Together with Cape Town, Cape Peninsula is one of the most impressive regions of South Africa. This is one of those places that you really don’t want to miss!
The absolute highlights of the Cape Peninsula include Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point and the stunning 12 Apostles coastline from Camps Bay to Hout Bay and further south along the Chapman’s Peak Drive.
Not to be missed is Simon’s Town with Boulder’s Beach penguin colony (yes, you can see wild penguins in South Africa!) and also an ocean walkway from Muizenberg to Kalk Bay via St. James beach is really nice. Groot Constantia wine region in Cape Peninsula has spectacular scenery and some of the best wines in South Africa.
Also, in Hout Bay you can take a boat to see a seal colony – it’s called Duiker Island, but most people just refer to it as Hout Bay Seal Island. This is a very popular tourist attraction, so you may want to book in advance. For a more unique experience, you can even go snorkeling with the seals.
TIP: One day is hardly enough to see the highlights of Cape Peninsula. So if you can, try to spend at least a few days in this area. I recommend at least a week for Cape Town and Cape Peninsula, with 3-4 days being an absolute minimum.
Cape Peninsula is one of the most beautiful places in the world
3. The Garden Route
Another absolutely amazing region, the Garden Route is one of those places you really have to see in South Africa as well. This +-200km stretch between Mossel Bay and Stormsrivier is one of the most scenic routes in the world, but you have to take the time in order to truly appreciate it.
You could drive the Garden Route in just half a day, but you won’t see much just by sitting in the car. So ideally you take at least a couple of days to explore this area. Some of the nicest places along the Garden Route are Storms River and Tsitsikamma National Park, Robberg Nature Reserve, Plettenberg Bay, the whole area around Knysna (don’t miss the Heads and the Featherbed Private Nature Reserve!), Wilderness, and the beautiful coastline along the entire route.
Oudtshoorn, famous for its ostrich farms and Cango Caves, is a bit out of the way from the rest, but it’s also considered as part of the Garden Route. Well worth a visit.
TIP: If you are traveling with kids or if you just love wildlife, don’t miss Monkeyland and Birds of Eden (both just next to each other). Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve is a great place for a family-friendly safari along the Garden Route and Knysna Elephant Park is one of the best ethical places to interact with elephants in South Africa.
Tsitsikamma National Park along the Garden Route
4. Kruger National Park
Without any doubt, Kruger National Park is one of the best-known places to visit in South Africa. If you want the best wildlife safari experience in South Africa, then Kruger NP is definitely the place to be.
Kruger is the oldest and also the biggest National Park in South Africa. To give you an idea, with 2,000,000 hectares (20,000 km 2 ), it’s about the size of Israel or the state of New Jersey. In other words, Kruger NP is huge! Ideally, you plan to spend at least 2-3 days in Kruger NP and make several game drives.
Hundreds of animal species call Kruger home and it’s also the best place to see the Big 5 in South Africa. The Big 5 refers to five most difficult African animals to hunt on foot: lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and Cape buffalo. Hunting is really not cool anymore, but this term is widely used as a sort of ‘5 must-see African animals’ list.
There are 101 ways to explore Kruger National Park. You can opt for one of the many luxury lodges and private safari rides, organized day tours, or you can drive and explore Kruger NP with your own car. No matter which way you choose to explore Kruger National Park, it’s a place that you really must see in South Africa!
If you have never been on a safari before, please check our ultimate guide to safari in Africa.
TIP: Combine a visit to Kruger National Park with the nearby Panorama Route and Blyde River Canyon (see below).
Leopard in Kruger NP
5. Blyde River Canyon & Panorama Route
Blyde River Canyon is one of the most beautiful natural landmarks of South Africa. It’s also one of the largest canyons in the world. Due to its proximity to several main entrances of Kruger National Park, Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve and the whole Panorama Route make a very popular day trip in the area.
Together with Kruger NP, Blyde River Canyon is one of the most popular tourist attractions in northern South Africa.
Start your day with breakfast at the famous Harrie’s Pancakes in Graskop. Then head north to the Pinnacle, God’s Window, and Wonder View. Further highlights of the Panorama Route include Lisbon Falls and Berlin Falls, also Bourke’s Luck Potholes, and Lowveld viewpoint. But the most impressive of them all is the Three Rondavels viewpoint. The scenery here is simply spectacular!
Three Rondavels was one of the first places we visited just after arrival in South Africa and that image stayed with us forever. It was here that we fell in love with this amazingly diverse country and realized that it has so much more to offer than we ever imagined… Don’t miss if you are visiting Kruger NP and have a day to spare!
If you have more time, you can also consider a visit to the Echo Caves or a small museum-town called Pilgrim’s Rest.
Blyde River Canyon along the Panorama Route
Hermanus is my husband’s favorite place in South Africa, one we always wish we had stayed longer at…
The town itself isn’t that special, but its coastline is second to none! Grab a picnic and explore the beautiful coastal walking path. The bay near Hermanus is known as the best place to see whales and dolphins in South Africa and it definitely lives up to its reputation!
You can take a whale watching boat tour and get really close to these majestic animals, but you can usually also see them from ashore. Both experiences are very different and each special in their own way. I really recommend both – taking the boat tour and also walking the coastal route in Hermanus and watching whales and dolphins from the shore.
Please note that whales are not always around. The best time to see whales in Hermanus is between June and December, but some years they arrive earlier or leave later, so you just never know.
We have been on many whale-watching tours all over the world, but nowhere did we see so many whales from so close by as in Hermanus. There were tens of whales just meters away from our boat… We also saw hundreds of dolphins while walking along the coast. It sure is one of the best places to go whale – and dolphin-watching in the world.
TIP: Nearby Gansbaai is also a beautiful place with a stunning coastline and a good chance to see the whales. It’s not as well known and therefore much less visited than Hermanus, but it’s a perfect place to visit for those who have more time in the area and looking to discover some off-beat hidden gems.
Hermanus coastline – can you spot the dolphins?
7. South Africa Wine Region: Stellenbosch and Franschhoek
South Africa has become world-famous for its wines and the best region to see the wineries and taste some wines is the beautiful area between Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek. It’s just a short drive from Cape Town and is therefore really easy to visit, even if you only have limited time in South Africa.
Stellenbosch and Paarl are bigger towns and I’m not sure if they are worth a visit, but the nearby wineries and the surrounding scenery is a must. We loved the quaint little Franschhoek town with its white buildings, hilly landscapes, and a very cozy atmosphere. Such a beautiful region – a place you have to see in South Africa!
TIP: Don’t drink and drive! If you are staying in Cape Town, you can visit the wine region with an organized day tour. Here is one of the best-rated and most complete wine region tours from Cape Town that I was able to find.
Franschhoek – Stellenbosch wine region
8. Cape Agulhas – Southernmost Tip Of Africa
Cape Agulhas, the Southernmost place in Africa, is so far from every other landmark in South Africa and main tourist routes that it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. But what a beautiful and unique place it is! Standing at this point where two oceans meet you truly feel like you’ve reached the end of the world…
The best way to visit Cape Agulhas is by making a stop there on your way from Cape Town to the Garden Route (or vice versa). We once did it in a day, just stopping there when driving from Knysna to Cape Town, but it was a really long drive.
TIP: I suggest that you break the drive and either stay in Cape Agulhas or in the area around Hermanus or Gansbaai for one night.
Cape Agulhas, the place where Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean
Another wonderful region a bit off the beaten tourist path in South Africa is the Drakensberg mountains. The Dragon Mountain is a +-200km mountain range between the Kingdom of Lesotho and KwaZulu Natal province in South Africa, a few hours drive from Durban.
The region is known for its incredible vistas, countless waterfalls, mountain streams, rock pools, caves, and tranquil scenery pretty much undisturbed by human development. The Drakensberg is the highest mountain range in South Africa and if you visit here in the winter (July) as we did, be prepared for the freezing cold temperatures at night.
Theoretically, you could visit the Drakensberg region just for a day, but ideally, you spend at least a couple of days here. There is a wide range of outdoor activities available, such as hiking or golf to mention just a few…
TIP: If you stay close to the Underberg area (we stayed at this hotel), you can pop over the border and visit Lesotho for a day (day tours are available too).
Drakensberg mountain range
10. Addo Elephant National Park
If you are looking for a malaria-free family-friendly safari experience in Africa, Addo Elephant National Park is one of the very best places to do that. South Africa’s third-largest National Park is located in the southern part of the country, close to Port Elizabeth and just a few hours drive from the Garden Route.
As the name suggests, Addo Elephant NP is a perfect place to see wild elephants. This park is home to over 600 elephants and they are all around. Many other African animals live here as well and if you are really lucky, you may even get to spot The Big 5…
TIP: You can easily explore the park on a self-drive safari. But – as always – a guided open-jeep safari tour will give you a very different experience. If you come here for a few days and have your own car, I suggest you do both – visit the park on your own but also book at least one safari ride.
Elephants in Addo Elephant National Park
11. iSimangaliso Wetland Park
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, iSimangaliso Wetland Park has a lot to more to offer than it looks at first sight. It’s not that widely known and definitely not one of the main tourist attractions in South Africa, but it’s well worth a trip.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park has it all: beautiful scenery, unique landscapes, white-sand beaches, snorkeling, diving, and lots of wildlife. You can expect to see rhino, zebra, buffalo, troop baboons, wildebeest, and even elephants, to name just a few…
One of the main reasons tourists visit this area is to see hippos in the wild. iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a paradise for water-loving animals and is, therefore, one of the best places to see hippos and crocodiles in South Africa.
TIP: You can visit the park by car, but if you really want to get close to the hippos and the crocodiles in a safe way, it’s best to book St. Lucia estuary boat tour. The boat tour takes just two hours, so you can spend the rest of the time self-driving and exploring the park.
The safest way to see hippos is from a boat
12. Pilanesberg National Park
Just over 2 hours drive from Johannesburg, Pilanesberg National Park is probably one of the easiest and best-accessible places for a wildlife safari in South Africa.
Pilanesberg Game Reserve is set in an extinct volcanic crater, where the soil is rich with grasslands, perfect for wildlife. A man-made lake, Mankwe Dam, is used as a drinking waterhole – a perfect place to see African animals. Wildlife here includes zebras, lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, and many other species. Because the park is rather small, it’s quite easy to find the animals, even if you come here just for a few hours.
TIP: You can visit Pilanesberg National Park as a day trip from Johannesburg, but if you have some time to spare, stay a few days. If you like places like Las Vegas in the US, don’t miss the nearby Sun City with entertainment for young and old.
From luxury resorts and casinos, waterparks and golfing, to outdoor activities, wildlife viewing, and even hot air balloon safari – this area truly has it all.
Can you imagine going on a hot-air balloon safari?!
13. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park
One can never have too many safari experiences in Africa, right? So if you are visiting St.Lucia/Durban area, then I really recommend a day trip to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.
This park is not as well known as Kruger and the other National Parks mentioned above, but it’s just as beautiful and offers amazing wildlife viewing. Africa’s Big 5 live here and, of course, many other animals.
TIP: You can visit this park on a self-drive safari or take a guided safari tour from Durban. If you want to make the best of your short time, you can also opt for a tour that combines Hluhluwe and iSimangaliso Wetlands, mentioned above.
Rhinos in Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park
14. West Coast National Park
Just an hour drive north of Cape Town, West Coast National Park is the locals’ favorite, so if you come in a warm season, expect it to be busy. This park has beautiful beaches, stunning coastlines, scenic hiking trails, wildlife, and lots of wildflowers. Springtime (August – September) is the best time to see the flowers and the park might be even busier than usual.
West Coast National Park is considered a real jewel. It’s not a must-see in South Africa if you are short on time, but if you are staying in Cape Town and have a day to spare, definitely check it out!
TIP: There aren’t many facilities here; it’s all about nature. So if you come for a day, make sure to bring some food and plenty of water.
Postberg Flower Reserve in West Coast National Park in spring ©Photo Andrea Willmore via iStock
Durban is considered one of the cities that you should see in South Africa. We found that there were better ways to spend our time in South Africa than visiting its cities… so we didn’t stay in Durban longer than necessary. Just in case you wonder, Cape Town is a whole other story, one city you have to see.
Nevertheless, if you are traveling in this area, you shouldn’t miss Durban. One of the best things to do here is go to the beach and stroll the Golden Mile, visit UShaka Marine World or Durban Botanic Gardens.
Durban is also a good base for a day trip to the earlier mentioned Hluhluwe-iMfolozi NP and iSimangaliso Wetland Park, and also to the Drakensberg mountains. A really interesting thing to do in Durban is also this Shakaland and Zulu culture day trip.
TIP: If you are short on time, fly from Durban to Port Elizabeth or Cape Town – it will save you lots of driving.
Durban UShaka Pier
The largest city in South Africa, Johannesburg’s history goes back to the 19th century. It’s hard to believe that this bustling city with a population of 1 million started as a gold-mining settlement.
If you want to learn about South Africa’s long part to democracy, then don’t miss Soweto township (go with a guide!) which was once home to Nelson Mandela and also Desmond Tutu.
Must-see in Johannesburg is the Apartheid Museum and Constitution Hill, a former prison complex. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and tens of thousands of others were imprisoned here at some point in South Africa’s turbulent history…
Johannesburg skyline © Photo Gregda Silva via iStock
17. Namaqua National Park & Namaqualand
Namaqualand and Namaqua National Park, close to the Namibian border, are so far from all the other tourist attractions in South Africa that you’ll hardly ever see it mentioned as one of the best places to visit in the country. It’s actually more of a hidden gem of South Africa.
Come spring and the dusty valleys are transformed into a magical wildflower wonderland. The whole area is covered in colorful flower carpet, attracting local visitors and international tourists alike.
If you are visiting South Africa in August-September and feel like getting off the beaten path, you may want to include this unique region in your itinerary.
Namaqua National Park in spring ©Photo Aberson via iStock
Best places to visit in South Africa on the map
In order to help you plan your trip to South Africa and visit as many of the highlands as possible, I created this map indicating all the places mentioned in this article. This way you can get a better idea of where everything is located and plan accordingly.
How to Use This Map: Use your computer mouse (or fingers) to zoom in or out. Click on the icons to get more information about each place. Click the arrow on the left top corner for the index. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view the saved map on your smartphone or PC, open Google Maps, click the menu button, and go to ‘Your Places’/’Maps’.
So, this is our list of the most beautiful and trip-worthy places to visit in South Africa. If you are wondering where to go and what to see in South Africa, now you should have a much better idea.
South Africa Travel FAQ
Here are some of the popular questions our readers ask about visiting South Africa:
South Africa is a year-round destination and every season has something to offer. The best time to see wildlife in Kruger National Park is the dry season between May and October. Whereas the best time to visit Cape Town and the Garden Route is between September – November and from March to May.
South Africa is huge and there are so many beautiful places to see. But if you have to choose just one area to visit, we recommend Cape Town and Cape Peninsula.
South Africa is not the safest place to visit in the world and the crime rate is quite high. That being said, if you are cautious, aware of your surroundings, and do not take unnecessary risks, crime against tourists is really not that common. We visited South Africa several times, also with kids, and we never experienced any problems.
No, South Africa is not an expensive destination. The biggest cost or the trip is the flight to get there. Accommodation, food, and activities are quite cheap in South Africa. But – as everywhere in the world – a lot depends on the choices you make and mostly on the accommodations that you choose.
2 weeks is the minimum time if you want to see the most beautiful places of South Africa. If you have about 10 days, spend 3 days in Kruger NP and fly to the south of the country for the rest of the trip. If you have 1 week or less, it’s best to concentrate on just one area – either Kruger NP and surroundings or Cape Peninsula and the Garden Route.
TIP: When planning a trip to South Africa, make sure to also check our South Africa itinerary. It contains most of the highlights of South Africa from this list and shows you how to see all the best places in just two weeks. Check it out – it will help you plan a trip of a lifetime!
And if you are traveling with a family, check out this guide for more info on what to expect and where to go when visiting South Africa with kids.
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