Looking for unique experiences to add to your South Africa bucket list? Then this post is for you!
South Africa is one of the most beautiful places in the world! Endless coastlines dotted with gorgeous beaches, incredible landscapes, and colorful cities. Throw in diverse cultures, rich history, amazing food, and abundant wildlife – and you’ve got all the ingredients for a dream vacation!
Whether you want to spot wildlife, go wine tasting, lounge on the beaches, or learn about the history, South Africa is full of incredible things to do and beautiful places to visit. While you could easily spend months in South Africa and not see it all, there are a couple of things that simply have to go on your cannot miss list! And in this ultimate South Africa bucket list guide, I’ll share the very best of them!
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20 Unmissable Things To Do On Your South Africa Bucket List
Go on Safari in the Kruger National Park
A trip to South Africa would simply not be complete without a safari adventure. And the very best place to do that is at the Kruger National Park.
The Kruger National Park is the biggest game reserve in South Africa and one of Africa’s most famous landmarks. It spans 20,000km2 and is home to a myriad of plant and animal life. Although the Kruger is home to approximately 147 mammal species and more than 500 bird species, it’s the chance to spot the famous Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and African buffalo) that makes it such a must-visit place in South Africa.
Skukuza and Lower Sabie are among the most popular areas within the southern corners of the park, and you’ll have a good chance to spot the Big Five here. But don’t stop there! A visit to Letaba and Olifants in the central grasslands is just as rewarding, and you’re almost guaranteed to see herds of elephants here.
To really experience the park’s incredible wilderness and wildlife, rent a car and explore the park at your own leisure. You’ll find loads of fantastic rest camps and bushveld lodges both within and near the park, perfect for spending a few days in the African bush. If you prefer not to plan a thing, there are many multi-day safari trips, full-day safari tours, and even walking tours on offer too.
Go Wine Tasting in the Cape Winelands
South Africa is home to so many prestigious wineries that it’s hard to keep track of them all, but you’ll find the crème de la crème of wine farms in the Cape Winelands.
The Cape Winelands is hands down South Africa’s premier wine region, offering impeccable natural scenery, fine food, and fantastic wine. While the area covers more than 21,000 km², its key areas consist of Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek.
All of them are unique in their own right, but for a truly remarkable experience, head over to the Franschhoek Valley. This stunningly beautiful area is home to some of South Africa’s best wineries and has a fascinating history dating back more than 300 years when the Huguenots first settled here.
There are many beautiful wine farms to explore in the area, and you can easily spend hours hopping from one to another. Among the top-notch wine farms not to miss while here are Boschendal, Haute Cabriere, Babylonstoren, Chamonix, and Grande Provence. Many of them can also be accessed via the Franschhoek wine tram, which allows visitors to hop on and off at various wine farms along the route.
Franschhoek is only about an hour’s drive from Cape Town, making it an easy day trip destination. However, spend a few days there to really appreciate the area’s beauty. If that’s not an option, this Cape Winelands day tour is a great alternative for those with limited time.
Take a Road Trip Along the Garden Route
The Garden Route is an absolute must on any South African bucket list!
Arguably one of the world’s most beautiful road trip routes, the Garden Route is a stunning coastal road covering some 200km along South Africa’s southern coastline. The route spans over two provinces (the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape) and runs from Mosselbaai to Storms River Mouth.
Nestled among lush mountain ranges and the Indian Ocean, driving the Garden Route is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Along the way, you’ll encounter incredible scenery, oodles of nature reserves, dreamy beach towns, and plenty to do. Some of the highlights along the route include visiting the beautiful towns of Wilderness, Knysna, and Plett and hiking along stunning coastal scenery at Storms River Mouth Nature Reserve. Also, don’t miss Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve, Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary, and Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary if you’re a wildlife lover.
While it is possible to do the entire stretch in one day, you’d really be missing out if you didn’t slow down and experience all of its best bits. At a minimum, spend at least three days driving the route. And if you really want to get acquainted with this beautiful part of South Africa, stay even longer.
Take the Cable Car up Table Mountain
Cape Town’s most iconic tourist attraction, Table Mountain, is a huge must on any Cape Town itinerary.
With its flat-top resembling a tabletop, Table Mountain towers above the Mother City at a height of 1086m. The entire mountain is a dedicated national park, and it’s filled with hiking trails where you can get a close-up look at the unique fauna and flora on offer here.
The easiest way to enjoy a visit here is to take a cable car up the mountain. The ride only takes a few minutes and offers incredible views over the entire city. To fully enjoy this South Africa bucket list experience, though, make sure to reserve your tickets well in advance. It’s one of the most popular things to do in the city, so the lines get long quickly!
For more adventurous travelers, hiking up to the top is an experience you don’t want to miss! The Platteklip Trail is the most famous hike, and there are many great guided hikes available.
See the Wildflowers at West Coast National Park
If admiring gorgeous wildflower fields is for you, visiting the West Coast National Park is a bucket list experience not to miss when touring South Africa.
Established in 1985, the West Coast National Park is a sprawling nature reserve that stretches from Yzerfontein to Langebaan. It offers some of the rawest natural scenery in the country. Home to a wide variety of bird species, animal life (both on land and in water), incredible plant life, rare fynbos, and stunning beaches, the park is a paradise for nature and outdoorsy folk.
The West Coast National Park is a popular destination year-round, but for a truly unique experience, visit from August to September. During these months, a carpet of kaleidoscopic wildflowers blankets the land, creating one of the most beautiful settings imaginable. For the best wildflower-spotting, head to Postberg, an idyllic part of the park that’s only open during wildflower season.
West Coast National Park is an easy day trip from Cape Town and a fantastic pitstop for those heading to the beautiful fishing village of Paternoster.
Drive the Panorama Route and See Blyde River Canyon
Next up on your South African bucket list is the Panorama Route.
Tucked away in the eastern corners of the country, the Panorama Route is another unmissable route and a highlight on any Mpumalanga trip.
Surrounded by the Drakensberg mountains, this 160km stretch of road takes you through deep-lying valleys over towering mountains and past breathtaking scenery. There are dozens of gems dotted along the route, but the star attraction here is Blyde River Canyon – the world’s largest green canyon stretching more than 26km!
There are loads of amazing adventurous things to do within the Blyde River Canyon Reserve, too – from horseback riding to white river rafting to hot-air ballooning. If that’s not for you, take a relaxing boat ride on the river or unwind at one of the cozy cabins.
The best way to enjoy this road trip is to slow down and explore the area at your leisure. If you can, spend at least 2-3 days here. That way, you can really enjoy all of the Blyde River Canyon’s best bits, work in a few hikes (don’t miss God’s Window), marvel at the Three Rondawels, and cool off in one of the dreamy waterfalls nearby.
Go Hiking in Robberg Nature Reserve
While the beautiful seaside town of Plettenberg Bay might be best known for its gorgeous beaches and trendy eateries and bars, there is yet another reason to visit here. And that’s Robberg Nature Reserve.
Robberg Nature Reserve is s sprawling reserve that stretches all along the Robberg Peninsula and features beautiful natural scenery and an abundance of fauna and flora. As a result, it is one of the best places in South Africa to immerse yourself in nature.
To fully experience the beauty of Robberg Reserve, grab your hiking boots, camera, and hat and tackle one of the reserve’s three circular hiking trails. The easiest hike is The Gap (2km), while The Witsand (4km) and The Point (11km) hikes are ideal for more serious hikers.
All of them offer incredible views. And with a bit of luck, you might even spot the tiny blue duiker, great whites, dolphins, and whales along the way! Robberg is also home to a thriving Cape fur seal colony, and you’re almost guaranteed to spot them baking in the sun or playing in the water. But if you’re a bit more adventurous, this swimming with seals excursion is a great alternative.
Go Whale Watching in Hermanus
The Western Cape’s sunny shores are famous for whale sightings. And if that’s an experience you’d like to add to your South African bucket list, then you’ve got to get yourself to Hermanus.
This gorgeous seaside town is the premier whale watching spot in the country. And since it’s located just a 90-minute drive from Cape Town, it makes for a great day trip and even an extended stay.
For the best chance to see whales, you’ll want to visit between early June to late November, with October being the peak season. The two most common species you can see here are the humpback whale and the southern right whale.
While touring Hermanus’s coastline on a whale watching boat tour is a fun experience, you can actually spot these gentle giants right from the shore! The best viewing spots are Voëlklip Beach, Grotto Beach, Walker Bay, and anywhere along the 12 km coastal walking route. If you’re not sure where to start, listen out for the whale crier who blows his kelp horn to signal sightings.
Besides whale watching, Hermanus has a lot going for it – great food, excellent hiking trails, tidal pools, quaint museums, and tons of galleries to explore! Therefore spending a few days here is highly recommended. Just be sure to book accommodation at least a few months in advance to avoid disappointment!
Cruise along the Knysna Lagoon
The gorgeous town of Knysna is jam-packed with unmissable things to do. But one experience that definitely deserves a spot on your South Africa bucket list is taking a boat cruise on the Knysna Lagoon.
Fed by the Knysna River, the Knysna Lagoon is a large warm-water estuary that opens up between the Heads – two towering sandstone cliffs, once believed to be the most treacherous harbor entrance in the world.
The best way to relish the lagoon’s beauty is by boat. And in town, you’ll find tons of charters offering boat cruises. Most cruises last 75-90 minutes and sail across the Knysna Lagoon cruising through the Knysna Heads. Along the way, you’ll be greeted with the most idyllic scenery imaginable – crashing waves, verdant mountains, and the chance to spot various bird species.
However, for the ultimate experience (and the most amazing photo ops), consider joining a sunset sailing cruise. That way, you can really soak up the views as you watch the sun dwindle over the horizon with a glass of bubbly in hand – pure heaven!
Drive Chapman’s Peak Drive and Marvel at the Cape Peninsula
Named after John Chapman, a humble Captain’s mate of the English ship, the Consent, Chapman’s Peak Drive is one of the most beautiful coastal roads in the world.
This high-level road, hewn out of the mountain, features a whopping 114 curves. The 9km long road took seven years to complete and officially opened to traffic in 1922.
Today, Chapman’s Peak Drive is more than just a road connecting Hout Bay and Noordhoek. It’s also one of South Africa’s most scenic driving routes! Boasting spectacular views over mountains and the ocean, Chapman’s Peak is a popular spot among photographers, nature lovers, and tourists. There are oodles of viewpoints along the way. And as a result, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to marvel at the scenery, take photos or even have a picnic.
Make sure to bring cash as there is a small conservation fee (ZAR 54) to access this toll route. And remember to check the route’s official website as rockfalls could lead to road closures.
Join a Tour of Soweto
By Claudia from My Adventures Across The World.
Many people decide not to go to Johannesburg when traveling to South Africa. While the city certainly isn’t the most charming in the country, it offers an incredible cultural experience that will help you better understand its history, culture, and overall vibe. It is also chockfull with excellent sites and museums. One of the unmissable things to do in Johannesburg is a tour of Soweto.
The name Soweto stands for South Western Township, and until 2002 it was a separate municipality from Joburg. The township is the largest in South Africa, counting more than 1.3 million people, and it is located around 20km from Johannesburg. Soweto was founded in the 1930s, during the Apartheid Regime, to keep the black population separate.
The best way to experience this part of the country is on a guided tour. However, there are excellent bike tours that depart regularly near Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers, too. This will help you appreciate the complex history and the (unfortunately still) very challenging present. Places you will visit during a tour include the Memorial Site of Hector Pieterson and Vilakazi Street where Nelson Mandela lived with his family.
Sleep with Elephants in Knysna
By Angela from Where Angie Wanders.
There are many incredible bucket list animal experiences in South Africa, and the magical destination of Knysna Elephant Park is high on the list. Visitors to the park will find out how the remaining elephants that once roamed the Knysna forests have been rescued from poachers and conserved in the safety of this elephant sanctuary.
Spend a day with the elephants and watch them interact with one another and their handlers. Or, for a completely unique experience, choose a sleepover and sunrise walk with the Knysna elephants. Stay the night in the elephant lodge and watch the elephants come into their pens at night, fall asleep, and snore throughout the night through an adjoining bedroom window—a completely mesmerizing experience.
At sunrise, have a chance to interact with the elephants by feeding them breakfast before walking with the herd to the watering hole. From here, watch their early morning routine as they drink, play, and bathe in the water. Visiting the Knysna Elephant Park is an absolute bucket list experience for wildlife lovers exploring South Africa!
Go Hot Air Ballooning in Pilanesberg National Park
By Linda from Muy Linda Travels.
A hot air balloon safari in the Pilanesberg National Park is sure to be a highlight of a trip to South Africa. Floating in a hot air balloon over the stunning landscape of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, spotting wildlife, and just enjoying the beauty of the sunrise is a spectacular way to start the day.
Just two hours northwest of Johannesburg, an extinct volcanic crater encloses the Pilanesberg. The National Park is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including elephants, lions, leopards, and rhinos, and they’re easy to spot from the air. The balloons often fly low over the still water of the lake, and you can see evidence of hippopotamus moving around beneath the water as air bubbles rise to the surface. As the sun rises, you can see early morning sunlight reflecting off the golden coats of giraffes and other wildlife.
After an hour or so in the air, the balloons land in the grasslands. The ground crew are looking out for the more dangerous wildlife to keep you safe, but if you’re lucky, you’ll see lion tracks in the dust. This spectacular morning safari ends with a glass of champagne and a delicious breakfast at the lodge. A hot-air balloon safari in the Pilanesberg National Park is definitely a South African adventure for your bucket list.
Dive with Great White Sharks
By Debbie from World Adventurists.
Cage diving with great white sharks in Gansbaai, South Africa, is an incredible thrill. Shark Alley is known as the great white shark capital of the world. Great whites can grow up to an impressive 20 feet and weigh up to 5,000 pounds. An up-close encounter with these massive and largely misunderstood creatures will blow your mind!
You will climb into a large cage, wearing a wetsuit and goggles. The cage is securely attached to the boat and will sit no more than two meters below the surface, so this heart-racing activity can be done without having diving qualifications. The cage will protect you from any physical contact with the shark. Just make sure to keep your limbs inside the cage. The crew will chum for sharks but will not willingly feed them.
You will have a couple of turns in the cage, each lasting around 20 minutes. However, do not miss the opportunity to observe sharks from onboard the boat too. There is plenty of action to be seen at the surface.
The best shark diving in Gansbaai is from March to September. However, even in the low season, Gansbaai has a great success rate of shark sightings. Many companies offer experience packages that include pickup and transportation from your hotel.
Take a Boat Trip to Robben Island
By Marquita from Marquita Travels.
You can’t come to South Africa without learning about Nelson Mandela, the first Black president of South Africa and a key influence to the end of apartheid. Robben Island is the prison Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment. In fact, the majority of the prisoners were South African Freedom Fighters.
The tour starts with a ferry ride which disembarks from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. Please note that this tour is weather-dependent due to the ferry ride. Additionally, it’s best to book the tour in advance.
Once you arrive at Robben Island, your tour guide will take you through the 500-year-old historical grounds. The tour includes the prison’s graveyard, the army and navy bunkers, prison cells, and so much more. The amount of details that is shared is both impressive and impactful. Once you leave the grounds, you’ll have a good understanding of the day in the life of the prisoners who once occupied the premises.
Go Bungee Jumping at Bloukrans Bridge
By Lara, The Best Travel Gifts.
Bungee jumping at the Bloukrans Bridge is probably the number one bucket list thing to do in South Africa for adventure seekers!
Why? Because it’s at a beautiful location and bungee jumping is fun. And oh, with its mere 216 meters, it’s only one of the highest bungee jumps in the world.
The jump is run by Face Adrenalin, a professional organization that does a great job at making you as a jumper feel both safe (as far as you can feel safe when you’re about to plunge off a 216 meters tall bridge) and super stoked for your jump.
The easiest way to reach Bloukrans Bridge is by car. It’s about a 30-minute drive from Plettenberg Bay. You can buy your tickets online in advance or when you arrive.
And one last tip before you take the jump, make sure to wear comfortable clothes. Skirts and dresses are not the most practical clothes to wear when you’re about to free-fall for about 216 meters.
Swim with Penguins at Boulders Beach
By Natasha from Planes, Trains and Karcz
Nestled along the South African coast – just southeast of Simon’s Town, a charming seaside village located on the Cape Peninsula – is Boulders Beach.
Boulders Beach is an idyllic spot for a day spent swimming, soaking in the sun, or (as it’s most commonly utilized for) wildlife spotting. And it’s here, upon its sandy shores, that a penguin colony has made its claim.
For nearly 40 years now, the penguins of Boulders Beach have drawn crowds of both locals and travelers alike, each eager to witness these quirky birds in their natural habitat. And largely due to the bay’s unique surroundings made of massive, protective boulders (hence the name), a calm, shallow inlet has been created that lends itself to people to enjoy just as much as the wildlife does!
Consider a visit in January for the best chance at witnessing the penguins up-close and personal. Since this is the prime juvenile molting season, always maintain a respectful distance – for the animals’ safety and yours. Plan your trip accordingly and arrive early in the day to ensure you get to see the birds at their most active.
If you’re not joining a guided tour, bring a bit of local cash with you to cover the conservation fee upon entry. And don’t forget your camera to capture this remarkable spectacle. It will undoubtedly earn a high spot on your South African bucket list!
Do a Magoebaskloof Canopy Tour
By Sarah from In Search of Sarah
A South African activity that should be on everyone’s bucket list is ziplining!
Magoebaskloof Canopy Tour in Georges Valley is an exhilarating outdoor adventure with 11 zip lines over waterfalls, mountain cliffs, and the amazing Groot Letaba River gorge.
Upon arriving, you’ll be briefed on the safety of zip lining as you gear up and trek down the canyon to the first zipline. Your experienced guides will inform you of the ins and outs of ziplining. Be sure to keep your eyes open because it goes by quickly!
Throughout the ziplines, you’ll have incredible views over three giant waterfalls standing over 20 meters tall, surrounded by gorgeous natural surroundings, including colorful wildflowers, animals, and birds. Some of the cables are 150 meters in length, allowing you to fully appreciate the beauty around you as you glide through the gorge.
Light refreshments are included in your tour. Be sure to wear comfortable clothing and sturdy shoes! Magoebaskloof Canopy Tour is suitable for families and children from ages 7+.
Drive the Sani Pass
By Sayali from Yo Tripp.
If you love road trips, Sani Pass is by far one of the most bucket-list-worthy items to add to your South African itinerary. It is a treacherous mountain pass that snakes through South Africa’s Drakensberg mountains and connects with Mokhotlong in Lesotho, the highest country in the world.
This pass is a tough road even for the most skilled drivers to drive on, and it requires a 4×4 vehicle. The breathtaking views afforded by the mountains and valleys, combined with sharp hairpin bends, winding twists, and plunging drops, make this road trip quite an exciting adventure.
Sani Pass climbs up an altitude of about 1332m from start to finish and tops at a whopping 2876m. Due to the difficult nature of the drive, it is best to avoid the pass during winters (June through to August). The best time to visit is between November and March, when you enjoy the scenery without the difficulties of fickle weather.
You do require a permit if you intend to cross through the Sani Pass. However, most hotels or tours can organize it for you. If you wish to visit Sani Pass, stay overnight so that you can also access leisurely hikes in the region.
See the Hippos in St. Lucia
By Erin from Sol Salute.
Going on a safari is the most epic South Africa bucket-list experience, but not all safaris are in trucks and game parks. Imagine yourself on a pontoon just mere meters from hippos and crocodiles, two of the most dangerous animals in the wild! St. Lucia is a small town on the Indian Ocean in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province. One of the best things to do in St. Lucia is to go on a hippo and croc cruise in the estuary.
Hippopotamus are notoriously aggressive and very dangerous to encounter in the wild. However, the pods that live in this estuary are accustomed to the boat tours that respectfully cruise its waters. It’s a rare opportunity to observe these animals up close and personal. Tours run throughout the day but morning and late afternoon offer the best temperature and lighting for photos. In the morning, you’ll see more crocodiles as they sun themselves to warm up for the day. In the evening you’ll see the hippos be a bit more active.
Stay in St. Lucia for the night and spend the next day on the beaches of Cape Vidal, on a whale-watching excursion, or a safari in nearby Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park.
South African Bucket List in Conclusion
South Africa is a dream destination that definitely deserves a spot on any traveler’s must-see list! While there are undoubtedly way more than 20 bucket list things to do in South Africa, the options listed above are an excellent starting point!
Tell me, did your favorite South African attractions or activities make this list? If not, let me know in the comments below so that I can check them out on my next visit!
Save these South African bucket list ideas for your future travels to South Africa!