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Must See South Africa Attractions
1. Kruger National Park
As one of the largest game reserves in Africa, this world-famous park is home to thousands of species of native wildlife and fauna. The park was established in 1926 in the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga in the North East of South Africa and spans over an incredible 2 million hectares.
Kruger NationalPark is also a part of the UNESCO ‘Biosphere’, and is host to several endangered species, wildlife rehabilitation and breeding centers. Within the park there are several popular sites, such as the Mathekenyane viewpoint, the Red Rocks, Nsemani Dam, Crooks Corner and Timbavati private game reserve.
The most popular activity here is, of course, the game drives that take you up close to Africa’s ‘Big 5’: which includes elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards, and buffalo. There are a range of Kruger safari tours available, from pricey private guided tours to more affordable group tours.
The best safaris are the ones in the early morning or evening time, as this is the most active period for the animals. The tours will take you to various parts of the park either by vehicle, or by foot via one of the many wilderness trails. You can even take to the skies and see the expansive network of rivers and savannah plains on a hot air balloon flight.
Because of its vast size, visitors are encouraged to stay in one of several Kruger Park lodges or breezy tented camps. Sabi San Private Game Reserve hosts the most luxurious safari lodges in the country and is known as being one of the best wildlife watching spots on the continent.
2. Cape Town
The city of Cape Town is one of the most fascinating in the world. With a rich and turbulent history and a range of incredible natural wonders, there is no shortage of things to do in this multicultural port. Located at the tip of the African continent, Cape Town’s unique scenery is nestled between stark mountain ranges and the choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Within the urban center, there’s the brightly colored and historically significant neighborhood of Bo Kaap and the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront (V&A)- a family-friendly destination on the seaside which boasts boardwalk attractions such as the Two Oceans Aquarium and a Ferris wheel. A visit to the District Six Museum and Robben Island, located just off the coast, introduces tourists to the triumphs and struggles of Nelson Mandela, and the large strides South Africa has taken post-Apartheid.
Cape Town’s beautiful skyline is dominated by the iconic flat-topped Table Mountain and smaller Signal Hill. An aerial cable car can take you up to the breathtaking viewpoint at the top of Table Mountain, or you can traverse the popular but difficult trails up and around the mountainside. Another sought-after experience is the sunset hike up Lion’s Head, but be wary of crowded paths and trail runners.
Cape Town is also known for its scuba diving, including the terrifying shark cage diving, which takes you up close and personal with gigantic Great Whites. For a more playful experience, visitors can head over to Hout Bay and Duiker Island, a hot-spot destination for seal spotting and snorkeling. And just out of the city is Simon’s Town and Boulder Beach, a delightful sandy stretch that’s home to a colony of African penguins.
A longer coastal drive along the Cape of Good Hope will take you to Cape Point, one of the southernmost points in Africa. Here you can see the evening fog roll in over the mountain ranges and spot the occasional whale.
From Stride Travel Expert, Brooke: Enjoy a scenic drive through the mountains and along the coast of the Cape Peninsula. Stop at one of the many beaches while en route to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, filled with plants and an opportunity to see wildlife such as baboons and Zebras. Don’t miss a stop the Boulder’s Beach to see the penguins!
Brooke traveled to South Africa in 2019
In Stellenbosch, an idyllic little town situated north of Cape Town, you’ll find yourself transported to another era. As one of South Africa’s oldest settlements, Stellenbosch features leafy streets filled with old Cape Dutch colonial houses and vast swaths of pastoral vineyards. Some of these dwellings date all the way back to the 1700s.
At the quaint Village Museum, you can trace the history of the Dutch colonials at the museum’s collection of preserved homes that showcase the original fashion and design of the period. In town you can also find many haute cuisine restaurants and weekend markets that are foodie delights.
However, most visitors come to the area for the lush wine estates that surround the town. The Stellenbosch Wine Routes take you to some of the 200 wine producers in the valley and give you a glimpse of the beauty of South Africa’s Wineland. There are tons of group and private guided tours that take you wine tasting at the world class wineries, such as the Waterford Estate and Spier Wine Farm.
You can also try your hand at wine blending or learn the art of winemaking from a local. For nature lovers, there’s the Stellenbosch University Botanic Gardens and the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, a stunning mountainous Fynbos with hiking trails, mountain biking paths, waterfalls and charming picnic areas.
From Stride Travel Expert, Brooke: For some of the absolute best views of South Africa, visit the Cape Winelands. Whether you visit Stellenbosch, Franschhoek or Paarl, you’ll be met with beautiful scenery and some of the best wine in the world! There is a wine tram for those who want to go winery hopping. This makes for a great overnight trip as well, allowing visitors to explore the “downtown” part of town. Restaurants, street markets, and shopping line the streets.
Brooke traveled to South Africa in 2019
4. The Garden Route
The Garden Route is an incredible coastal drive that traverses fewer than 300 kilometers and runs from Mossel Bay in Western Cape to Storms River Village in Eastern Cape. This route takes you through the ecologically diverse landscape of South Africa, including stunning wetlands, rugged mountains, temperate forests and ocean vistas. Each main stop on the Garden Route is a short drive from the last, making it a laidback holiday escape.
Knysna, arguably the most popular town on the route, is home to Knysna Lagoon, the Featherbed Nature Reserve and The Heads. At Storms River Village you can take multi-day treks through Tsitsikamma National Park, experience a forest canopy tour or take part in a number of other eco-tourism type activities.
For more wild encounters, there are The Crag’s wildlife sanctuaries, which include an elephant center, Monkeyland and Birds of Eden. Further on in Outdshoorn, visitors can explore a vast labyrinth of underground passageways at the famous Cango Caves. The area also boasts the world’s biggest ostrich farms.
Beyond these adventurous excursions through native flora and fauna, The Garden Route also takes visitors past several important marine reserves that are home to coral reefs, dolphins, seals and endangered Humpback Whale nurseries.
5. Valley of A Thousand Hills
In the KwaZulu-Natal Kingdom lies a breathtaking landscape of cascading hills, gorges and ravines called The Valley of A Thousand Hills. The area, which is roughly 30 minutes out of Durban, is a popular destination for beachside visitors seeking an escape into nature.
With unspoiled scenery, this place is a beautiful setting to discover more about the heritage of the native Zulu people who live in the area. You can visit the local Arts and Crafts Village or see a Zulu Kraal and a traditional Zulu dance.
Within the hidden valley lies the Inada Dam and Umegeni River, which flows elegantly through the hills. There are even guided 4x4 trails for adventure seekers looking to fully experience the incredible topography.
In Bothas Hill, you can catch a glimpse of the native wildlife through a game drive at the private reserve Phezulu Safari Park and the Phezulu Crocodile and Snake Park. The lush environment and rich cultural history of the valley, and its proximity to Durban, makes this gem of a spot a must-see destination in South Africa.
6. Drakensberg Mountains
The Drakensberg Mountain range is one of the most beautiful natural sites in South Africa, and is home to a plethora of environmental wonders. It makes up the eastern portion of the Great Escarpment and has four large valleys. The area was nicknamed the ‘mountain of the dragons’ by the early Dutch settlers who thought the stark crags and ridges looked like the back of a dragon.
With steep rock walls and pinnacles, Drakensberg offers a variety of landscapes, from snow-topped peaks to dry and rugged gorges. It’s also home to Tugela Falls, the world’s second highest waterfall.
The most beautiful sites in Drakensberg are located along Blyde River Canyon, a breathtaking mountain scenery with loads of cascading waterfalls and panoramic view points. God’s Window, a popular sightseeing destination on the way to Kruger National Park, looks out over canyons, rock formations and waterfalls.
The vista extends over 900 meters down to an indigenous forest with walking, hiking, horse and mountain bike trails. There’s also the dolomite rock formation, Three Rondavels, which spirals out of the far wall of Blyde River Canyon and glows with green and orange lichen.
From Stride Travel Expert, Brooke: This is a great place for adventure seekers. Activities include Heli Mountain Biking, Ice climbing, Paragliding, Rock Climbing, and White Water Rafting, to name a few. The mountains are known for it’s beautiful scenery, and regardless of what activity you choose, you’ll be met with incredible views.
Brooke traveled to South Africa in 2019
7. Cradle of Humankind
In Gauteng Province, just to the Northwest of Johannesburg, is the Cradle of Humankind. This historically significant spot is home to a complex limestone cave system where 40% of the world’s human ancestor fossils were found.
Starting in 1947 with the discovery of the 2.3-million-year-old Australopithecus Africanus fossil, archaeologists have uncovered hundreds of pieces of animals, plants and human remains that have been fossilized in the dolomite landscape. This UNESCO World Heritage site contains about a dozen caves, a visitor’s center and museum that traces the evolutionary journey of our species.
The Sterkfontein caves, a magical limestone cavern filled with dripping stalagmites and stalactites, is open to visitors and features the original excavation site of the first hominid fossil to be found in the area. Other incredible destinations include Wondercave, and the Rising Star cave system with the Dinaledi Chamber.
Johannesburg, a major metropolitan area in the heart of South Africa, is the largest city in the country. It’s located right next door to the capital, Pretoria, and is a bustling urban destination with industry and history commingling. The vibrant neighborhoods of the city have been historically known for their high crime and poverty levels, but in recent years major revival programs have lightened up the seedier corners of the city.
It has a dark heritage, tinged with memories of Apartheid, but the Johannesburg of today is a hugely multicultural community that celebrates its incredible mishmash of cuisines, languages and styles.
The city was founded originally for its rich gold deposits that rocked the gold trade in the early days of settlement. This geological history is celebrated at the unique Gold Reef City amusement park filled with mining-themed rides. There’s also the Apartheid museum and Constitution Hill, which memorialize the trials of segregation and the eventual democratization of the rainbow nation.
On the outskirts of town is Soweto (South West Township), a large collection of townships that are home to the city’s traditional black population. This township sheds light onto the realities of the Apartheid, and is the location of Nelson Mandela's house (now a museum), and the infamous Regina Mundi Church, which has welcomed dozens of world leaders. For those interested in South Africa's recent politicial history, these activities are a must-do.
9. Robben Island
This island, located off the coast of Cape Town, is one of the most historically significant landmarks in South Africa’s contemporary history. The island was once home to a maximum-security prison for political dissidents that dated back to the 17th century.
Former inmates include South African President Nelson Mandela, who was infamously incarcerated at the prison for 18 years, and the current President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma. The prison closed in 1991 and was later transformed into a tourist destination and museum that memorializes the struggles of Apartheid resistors.
Visitors can take a short ferry ride from the V&A Waterfront to the island through choppy and scenic waters. Some Robben Island tours are guided by former inmates on the island, and include a visit to Nelson Mandela’s old cell. The experience is certainly a somber reflection on South Africa's turbulent past.
The island is also home to a lighthouse, which was established by the Dutch in 1865, and tens of thousands of rabbits, which were introduced by colonizers.
From Stride Travel Expert, Brooke: Robben Island is a must visit for anyone traveling to Cape Town. Seeing where Nelson Mandela spent nearly twenty years in captivity is an unforgettable experience. Plus, Robben Island is a quick ferry ride away from the waterfront.
Brooke traveled to South Africa in 2019
Known as the go-to holiday destination for South Africans, Durban is a beautiful beach town that’s rife with relaxing resorts, adventurous activities and sunny landscapes. The city is the third most populous in South Africa, and is home to an extraordinary mix of cultures, including the largest population of Indians outside of India. With this extreme multiculturalism comes culinary delights and art- a great compilation of Zulu, Indian and British heritage.
The warm subtropical environment and vast swaths of beaches makes Durban an exceedingly popular vacation escape. The Golden Mile, a stretch of coastline that is home to resorts, restaurants and clubs, is the heart of the city and features some of the best beaches.
Beyond being a relaxing paradise, Durban has an abundance of historical sites, including the Inanda Heritage Route that hosts Mahatma Ghandi’s house, the Natal Sugar Mills, the old British Gentlemen’s Club, and the Zulu Kingdom.
The uShaka Marine World theme park is an amusing look into the varied marine life of the Indian Ocean, and boasts shark cage diving experiences. When visitors aren’t swimming, surfing or diving, they can journey just out of the city to the magnificent Drakensberg Mountains and the Valley of a Thousand Hills.
Other Can't Miss Attractions in South Africa - from Stride Travel Expert
Our Travel Expert Brooke recently visited South Africa and gives her take on some other great things to see in this vibrant and beautiful country:
Soweto is the home of Nelson Mandela, making this a popular day trip for those visiting Johannesburg. There are many half and full day tours starting at 600 rand. Tours visit the Mandela home, monuments dedicated to those during the Apartheid era, and the nearby Apartheid museum. Don’t miss a chance to see crucial South African history.
Lesotho is about five hours away from Johannesburg. Lesotho is a tiny kingdom that is entirely surrounded by South Africa. Known as the “Kingdom in the sky,” Lesotho has the “highest low point” in the world, clocking in at 1400m. Visit one of the historical sights in Thaba Bosiu, or visit the Katse Dam as part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.
13. The Maboneng Precinct
One of the coolest neighborhoods in Johannesburg, this area has seen a huge transformation. The area used to be known as a “no-go zone,” but has undergone significant transformation. A Sunday market, The Market on Main, fills the street with street food from around the world. During the week, visitors will find restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries and clothing boutiques.
14. Cape L’agulhas
Sitting on the coast of the Western Cape, Cape L'agulhas is the most southern point of the African continent. A little bit of a detour off the garden route, but well worth it! Take a photo at the market that indicates the southern tip, where the Atlantic and Indian Ocean meet. There is also the second-oldest operating lighthouse in South Africa, the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse.
15. Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Sitting at the bottom of table mountain, this garden is one of the greatest botanical gardens in the world. Take a stroll along the canopy walk. Soak in the views of Table Mountain, and walk among the top/through the trees of the Arboretum. Consider catching an outdoor concert in the amphitheatre.
16. Table Mountain
One of Cape Town’s most popular attractions, a visit to Table Mountain is a must. For those who like to be active, hike up one of the trails to the top of Table Mountain. For those who may not be interested in hiking, there is a cable car that takes you to the top and back down. Whichever way you get up the Mountain, you’ll be met with awesome views of the city and the ocean.
1,169 South Africa Tour Reviews - Summary
This is a very good trip and value for your money October 20195.0
Operator Hazyview Buffalo Game Lodge
Fantastic Trip in Southern Africa September 20195.0
Operator Intrepid Travel
Exceeded even my highest expectations July 20195.0
The crew were excellent July 20195.0
All have been excellent July 20195.0
Enjoyed most experiencing different landscapes July 20195.0
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