South Africa Tours and Travel Guide
South Africa Attractions & Landmarks Guide
Spanning nine provinces and eight UNESCO heritage sites, South Africa is a haven for adventure seekers, history buffs, naturalists, wine connoisseurs, and hikers, among many others.
The smallest province, Gauteng, is the most densely populated and hosts a powerhouse of attractions, including Johannesburg (the largest city) and the township of Soweto, site of the anti-apartheid 1976 uprisings. Johannesburg, which was built on the discovery of gold in 1886, hosts the Apartheid Museum, which documents South Africa’s freedom struggle. Just outside the city, the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site contains some of the most important paleo-anthropological discoveries in the world, with 14 excavated fossil sites and 200 unexplored caves.
What to see in Cape Town
Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities, sitting right off the Atlantic Ocean. For views of the city and the ocean, hike up Table Mountain. If hiking isn’t your thing, there is also a cable car that will take you to the top and back down.
Note, you’ll have to take the cable car back down Table Mountain, even if you hike. It’s too steep to hike back down. Another great options for unbeatable views is Signal Hill. Drive or walk to the top of the hill, to be met with views of the city, the ocean, and Table Mountain.
Watch the sunrise over Table Mountain, or the sun set over the Atlantic. You can even paraglide off of Signal Hill! This makes for a great alternative hike, because it isn’t as steep as Table Mountain.
There is plenty of outdoor activities in Cape Town, and opportunity to see wildlife and plants. Visit the Kirstenbosch Arboretum, sitting on the south side of the of the base of Table Mountain. Many travelers make this a single day trip, starting their morning at the Arboretum, and winding up the hiking trail to the top of Table Mountain.
The Kirstenbosch Arboretum is a botanical garden. Winning the “International Garden of the Year” award in 2015. Also at the garden is the treetop canopy walkway, known as the “Boomslang,” winning another title in 2015, the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa. Another must visit in Cape Town is the Cape of Good Hope and Boulder Beach, home of the “penguin beach.”
Check out the hundreds of penguins up close (the beach is closed off, but plenty of close viewing points) who like to chill out on the beach. You’ll even catch a few who like to wander over to the ocean, and be swept back by the waves onto the beach. Another great day trip is to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held captive for nearly two decades before being released.
A must visit is the Cape Winelands. Visit the Stellenbosch/Franschoek region for some relaxing time outside the city. Take the wine tram and visit multiple wineries throughout the region. Enjoy the small town filled with shops and restaurants, while taking in the views.
You may get to spot some wildlife! Up in the higher hills of the wineland, there are signs saying beware of the baboons. It’s not uncommon to come across baboons in the road while in South Africa. Make sure to stay on the lookout! Another highly recommended area nearby is Camps Bay, a neighborhood in Cape Town.
Sitting on the beach, this luxurious area (think Beverly Hills) is home to great shopping, plenty of restaurants, the beach, and awesome views. Stroll through the neighborhood and admire the fancy cars and beautiful homes that overlook the ocean.
What to see in Johannesburg
Johannesburg is one of the most popular cities in South Africa. Johannesburg is also intense, so it’s important to be aware of what areas you should and shouldn’t visit. Not to say this should dissuade you from the city, because there are some awesome spots.
Just be careful of your surroundings. A popular neighborhood is the Maboneng Precinct, filled with food, markets, trendy shopping and art. Another great neighborhood is the Sandton neighborhood. South Africa has had a rough past, and one way to learn about this is by visiting Soweto.
You can also find the Mandela House in Soweto. A visit to the Apartheid Museum allows visitors to learn about the apartheid era through exhibits (warning, some are graphic). A great option for families is Gold Reef City, an amusement park based on the gold mining industry.
Johannesburg has plenty of markets, that depend on the day of the week. One popular market, the Market on Main, happens on Sundays. Saturday offers the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein, filled with innovative foods. Food from across the globe is sold here, as well as different arts and souvenirs.
If you’re in Johannesburg, consider checking out the Administrative capital of South Africa, Pretoria. There is a botanical garden, a zoo, and numerous nature reserves.
The Western Cape
Many tours take in the Western Cape’s natural attractions, including Cape Point, home to scenic bays, beaches, rolling hills and valleys. Cape Point falls within the Cape Floral region, which harbors nearly 20 percent of Africa’s flora. Along the province's eastern coastline lies the picturesque Garden Route, which stretches from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. The perfect end to a Garden Route tour is a visit to the Addo Elephant National Park near Port Elizabeth.
South Africa’s main beach scene runs north and south of Durban on the east coast. To the west sprawls the Cultural and Natural World Heritage Site uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, home to the Drakensberg, South Africa's largest mountain range and more than 600 rock-art sites, with paintings by the San people who once roamed here. The province is the heart of the Zulu Kingdom.
Game Drives in South Africa
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park (Africa’s oldest) is one of the most well known safari destinations in the world. This is a great option for those looking to do a self-guided tour, since the paths are well-marked. Guided tours are also a smart option, because the guides know the park, and know what to look like. There are safari options for people who are on a budget, as well as those who are looking to splurge on this opportunity.
For wildlife spotting, including the Big Five, Kruger is the place. Tours typically include morning and evening game drives and bush walks -- and often add on scenic drives along the waterfall-and-mountain-laden Panorama Route as well as deep Blyde River Canyon, one of the largest canyons on earth.
Pilanesburg National Park
Sitting about 2.5-3 hours northwest of Johannesburg is Pilanesberg National Park. This is a great option for those who want a closer safari than Kruger, since drive time is about half of what it would take to get to Kruger. S
tride Travel Writer Brooke stayed at Bakubung Bush Lodge in March 2019 when she went to South Africa. She raved about the gorgeous views, the incredible brunch and dinner buffets, and her overall stay. The lodge offers sunrise and sunset drives, when the animals are most active and you get away from the sweltering heat.
Groups are usually capped off at 16 per vehicle, making for an intimate experience. Many people go to Kruger park because it’s so well known, but Brooke highly recommends considering a visit to Pilanesberg.
The Garden Route
A spectacular way to see the diverse landscapes of South Africa is the Garden Route. The Garden Route stretches from the Storms River to Mossel Bay, and can continue up to Cape Town.
See the gorgeous landscapes of South Africa, including beaches and rivers, forests and mountains, and potential for wildlife sightings (Stride Travel Writer, Brooke, encountered baboons on the road twice!). If you’re looking to add the Garden Route to your route, here are some places that are worth a visit:
1. Marine Big 5 Safari in Hermanus – a different type of safari, observe the “big 5” wildlife of the region: whale sharks, seals, penguins, dolphins and seabirds.
2. Wilderness National Park – great for hiking, canoeing, and visiting the beach. Where else can you see forest, mountains, and the oceans within 30 minutes of each other!? If you’re seeking adventure, consider tandem paragliding or canyoning in Wilderness.
3. Knysna Elephant Park – Homing and housing for orphaned African Elephants. An ethical way to see wildlife up close!
4. Plettenberg Bay is a great stop for whale and dolphin watching.
5. Another noteworthy visit – if you’re heading from George to Cape Town, take a detour to visit CapeL’aghulas. Take a photo where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, which is also the most southern point of the African continent!
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