10 amazing destinations in South Africa not to miss
This guide sets out 10 amazing destinations in South Africa not to miss on your trip. Get handy tips and great ideas on what to do and see, right here.
South Africa’s rich cultural heritage, diverse landscapes, and fantastic wildlife have long intrigued visitors from around the globe. And for a good reason. The country, situated at the tip of the African continent, is not only tremendously beautiful but also known as a haven for food lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and history buffs.
Also, many destinations in South Africa boast with some of the most scenic wonders in the world. From rolling hills and mountain ranges that stretch as far as the eye can see, desolated areas populated only by dassies and buck to lush forests and turquoise waters rich in marine wildlife. Not to mention, varied fauna and flora which scatter every inch of this magnificent country.
Whether you’re looking for bustling city vibes, a bush getaway, some of the best surf accompanied by white sandy beaches, or off the beaten path adventures, there’s no doubt that you’ll be spoilt for choice in South Africa. No matter your budget or traveling style.
In this curated guide, we set out the best holiday destinations in South Africa – all topping the list of the best places to visit in South Africa.
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Why you should visit these destinations in South Africa
Some of the most popular holiday destinations to visit in South Africa are found in the Western Cape and Mpumalanga. The Western Cape is home to iconic Cape Town, world-class wineries, the Garden Route, and a booming food and arts scene. Mpumalanga, on the other hand, is known as a place where crickets chirp you to sleep, and the roars of lions wake you. And if going on an African safari to spot the big five isn’t enough reason to visit South Africa, you can also enjoy natural wonders such as God’s Window and the Blyde River Canyon here.
South Africa is also an extremely romantic destination. If you’re planning on celebrating a special occasion, this guide to South Africa’s top honeymoon spots will also come in handy.
Since there are so many wonderful places to explore in South Africa, choosing where to go might also not be as easy as it seems. Because frankly, the options are endless! Luckily, we’re here to help. We recently got together with some fantastic travel bloggers from around the globe to share their favorite holiday destinations in South Africa.
The best destinations in South Africa: What are the best places to visit in South Africa?
The Wild Coast
Erin from Sol Salute fell in love with one of the gorgeous holiday destinations in South Africa, the Wild Coast. Here’s her take on why the Wild Coast should be on your must-see list.
The Transkei in South Africa may be hard to get to, but it is worth every bit of effort. Also known as the Wild Coast, this long stretch of coastline north of East London and south of Durban is nothing short of paradise. The rolling green hills go on further than the eye can see and are dotted with villages made up of rondavels. The beaches are expansive, and we spent our days walking from one end to the next. (Careful not to disturb the cows taking their naps on the sand).
The coast here is on the Indian Ocean, and the water was cold but perfect for surfing. People woke with the sun at our backpacker’s hostel each morning and made their way down to the waves. There are kayaking excursions into the rivers that spill out into the ocean, as well as long hikes along the cliffs. I fell in love with the Transkei during our time there and hope to return time and again in the future.
Storms River Mouth
Campbell & Alya from Stingy Nomads explored one of the most amazing and unique destinations in South Africa; the Garden Route. Along the way, they were overwhelmed by the beauty of Storms River. Read on to see why Storms River Mouth should be on your bucket list.
We’ve made many road trips in South Africa, but the Garden Route is still our favorite area for traveling and exploring. It’s difficult to choose a favorite place on the route – Mossel Bay, Wilderness, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay are all fantastic. But, we developed a soft spot for Storms River, Tsitsikamma National Park, where we spent most of the time.
Tsitsikamma National Park is a fantastic place with fantastic scenery; the ocean, lush green hills, rocky cliffs, narrow canyons, and breathtaking lookouts. There are many activities that visitors can do in Tsitsikamma; hiking, kayaking & lilo, snorkeling, swimming, watching wildlife – whales, dolphins, otters, genets, dassies and many different birds can be spotted here
Things not to miss in the park are two suspension bridges, the beautiful waterfall, and the ideal lookout point. After an active day of exploring the area, you can relax and enjoy great local seafood at the restaurant with incredible views over the ocean. Many tourists come here as day visitors, but we’d recommend staying here overnight – there are different accommodation options from camping at sea to staying in cottages and chalets. We love camping at Storms River Mouth Rest Camp – it’s such a pleasure to sit in the evening with a glass of wine watching the sunset.
Alma from Roaming Fox highly recommends adding the Drakensberg to your must-see list. Find out why below.
Many people seem to miss the Drakensberg when they”re looking for places to visit South Africa. Yes, the Cape has its winelands, and it’s certainly worth looking at wild animals in our game reserves. But, the Drakensberg can give you so much more.
The Drakensberg is situated in KwaZulu Natal. The mountain range stretches for 1,120 kilometers and in places reaches 3,500 meters in height. You are spoilt for choice when choosing where to go in the Berg, as South Africans fondly call it because the range is divided into the southern, central, and northern Drakensberg. I would base my decision on the activities you would want to line up.
You won’t get bored if you visit the Drakensberg, as it’s a hub of activities from gentle strolls and munching on sweet treats or pairing wine with chocolate, to exhilarating adventures such as zip-lining or hiking up chain ladders. Throw in a helicopter flip or a hot air balloon ride over the scenic landscape, and you may never want to return home.
Did you know it is the home of the Drakensberg Boys Choir? You can add a touch of culture by attending one of their performances too.
The Kruger National Park
There are so many safari options when it comes to South Africa, but after hours (nay, DAYS!) of intense research, it was clear that Kruger National Park was where we would want to adventure out. There were several reasons why Kruger was our top pick. First, accessibility was one of the best for safaris anywhere in Africa. A quick flight into Johannesburg and then either a quick charter flight into the park or a few hours drive and you are in the heart of the bush. Also, with just the sheer size of the park, it offers so many choices to every type of traveler and every budget. As frugal travelers, we loved this! However, it doesn’t lack in luxury accommodation, either! We were able to find the most perfect, middle of the road option to fit our small group.
And of course, when going on an African safari, you hope to see some fantastic animals. On our three day safari, we saw giraffe, elephants, lions, hippos, water buffalo, springbok, monkeys, zebra, and more! There is nothing more exhilarating than trying to find roaring lionesses as the dusk is setting!
Surely, if you are traveling to South Africa, you are also looking for where to go on a once in a lifetime safari. Whether you are looking for a self-drive option or a high-end luxury experience, Kruger has it all. And everything in-between!
Also read: Kaapsehoop: The best place to spend your day
Karoo National Park
Gabrielle from Up and Gone shares one of her favorite holiday destinations in South Africa; the Karoo National Park here.
If you want unseen South Africa, The Great Karoo—one of South Africa’s 20+ National Parks (and a fine name for an up-and-coming magician)—is it. It springs up out of nowhere on the long, inland drive from Johannesburg to Cape Town, and looks like something out of a Jurassic picture book. Long, flat mountains (called Karoo koppies) that sprung abruptly from flat, rocky ground. Craggy cliffs descending into deep gorges where kudus roam in the shade. While there are no longer live dinosaurs wandering the wide badlands, you can see their remnants along the Karoo Fossil Trail, which itself has been deemed a paleontological wonderland.
For those looking for
Some more tips? Visit the park early (before it gets too hot) for the most animal sightings. You can stay in the park at a collection of historical cottages. The entrance fees are reasonable too, starting at R192 pp (International Visitor as of 1/2018).
The Midlands Meander
Monique from MC Adventure Blog describes the Midlands Meander as any foodies’ dream and highly recommends adding it to your must-see places to visit in South Africa list. See why below.
The Midlands Meander is an arts and crafts route winding through the gorgeous green hills of KwaZulu Natal. This area has a special place in my heart as it is where I got married. It is the perfect day trip from Durban or Pietermaritzburg and is very family-friendly. Grab a free map online or at any of the shops along the route, and get ready to explore a variety of art studios, craft shops, restaurants, pubs, and hotels.
One of my favorite memories as a child is of having picnics along the Meander, and you really can enjoy a lunch on any of the grassy, picturesque spots along the route. If you’re feeling more adventurous, have a day at Midmar Dam, or enjoy zip-lining or hiking. There is something for everybody here, even if you need to get out and grab a coffee with friends. The Meander is also a treasure trove of homemade goodies, from goats cheese to fantastic leather goods at Groundcover Leather. Be sure to also stop by Culamoya Chimes, where you can explore the gardens full of substantial wind chimes, and even take home something for your window to remember the magic of the Meander.
Sion and Ben from The Globetrotter Guys had a fantastic time exploring one of the most underrated, but undeniably beautiful destinations in South Africa; Oudtshoorn.
During our time in South Africa, we spent 12 days working our way along the ‘Garden Route’ from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. One of our favorite stops was Oudtshoorn; a beautiful town up in the mountains known as the ‘ostrich capital of the world.’ And it does have the world’s largest population of ostriches!
Oudtshoorn relies heavily on ostrich farming to fuel the town’s economy. This comes from both agriculture for meat, eggs, and feathers, but also from tourism as there are a lot of farms open to the public to visit. Visiting a working ostrich farm was a major highlight of our trip. This includes seeing the eggs during incubation, the tiny baby ostriches, and the huge herds out in the fields.
Another must-do while in Oudtshoorn is visiting the Cango Caves. These run for over 4km, with a quarter of these open to the public to attend. Make sure you book the Adventure Tour – as this allows you to climb the formations and crawl through tunnels! Although, maybe not if you’re claustrophobic!
And finally, as if you needed any other reasons to visit, it is the most beautiful town. Located between two mountain ranges, the views stretching in every direction are simply stunning!
Monique from MC Adventure Blog loves exploring Clarens and fondly calls it a sleepy Free State gem. Find out why she thinks it is one of the most unique destinations in South Africa, below.
Clarens is a quirky art town snuggled into the mountains of the Free State. Home to microbreweries, art galleries, restaurants, guest houses, and all the homemade edible goodies you can manage, Clarens really is a holiday-maker’s dream.
One of the most beautiful things you can do in the area is road trip through Golden Gate Highlands National Park, a 340 square kilometer wonderland of towering sandstone cliffs and caves with San rock paintings. You can camp in the park, and enjoy numerous hikes and walks in the area.
If you want a more indulgent experience, stay just outside of Clarens at Omega Mountain Lodge. The private little self-contained units open out onto a beautiful mountain view, not to mention your own jacuzzi!
Clarens also has a craft beer festival in February every year. So, grab yourself a room and enjoy country living at its finest in this friendly and arty town. This is one of the most romantic places in South Africa, and I’d go back in a heartbeat. Every time we visit, we have a fantastic time and leave with full stomachs and happy hearts. Don’t forget your camera!
Pilanesberg National Park
Gabrielle from Up and Gone shares her tips and thoughts on Pilanesberg National Park, here.
Two separate South African friends told us that Pilanesberg National Park & Game Reserve shouldn’t be missed—and they were entirely right. A 2.5-hour drive from Johannesburg, Pilanesberg stretches over 55,000 hectares (a little over 200 square miles). It feels less touristy than Kruger—more of a local spot. It’s as lush and green as a scene out of the jungle book.
The park offers guided tours at several intervals throughout the day, and the option to self-drive during the sunlit hours. We chose to do both—the day spent self-driving, and an evening guided drive. While the main streets are paved, the rest is dirt road; if you are self-driving, make sure you have a sport wagon or 4×4. We spent a gorgeous day wending our way around the park, relishing the thrill of spotting 4 out of the big 5. What I really liked is that though the park is enormous, visitors are restricted to the areas around three major watering holes, which gives you plenty to see while ensuring a healthy space for the animals to roam and be wild.
If we could do it again, we’d spend at least two full days self-driving through the park. Bring picnic supplies to hang out in the safe areas for a braai and to stretch the legs. The prices were reasonable: entrance fees (as of Jan 2018), two international adults, one car: R80 pp, R230 total.
Sylvia from Wapiti Travel spent three amazing weeks in South Africa, but one of her favorite destinations in South Africa remains the ‘City of Gold’; Johannesburg.
Johannesburg is the economic Capital City of Johannesburg. It’s known as an unsafe city, but despite its lousy name, it’s also the city that best reflects the country’s turbulent past and challenging future.
Vibrant and lively Soweto has become much more safe over recent years. It’s still not a good idea to visit this township on your own, certainly not after dark, but a guided tour of Soweto is an excellent option to discover the place where the apartheid revolution started and where South African history was written. You can also get a deeper awareness of African history in the very instructive Apartheid Museum.
At Constitution Hill, you can witness the progress that South Africa has made up until today. The site is a former prison and military fort that bears testament to South Africa’s turbulent past and, today, is home to the country’s Constitutional Court, which endorses the rights of all citizens. Many famous South Africans that laid the cornerstones of South Africa as we know it today have served time here.
Have you visited any of these destinations in South Africa? What suggestions do you have to add to this list? Drop your comments below.
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