Did you know that South Africa is the adventure capital of the world? All the daredevils reading this will be interested to know that there are at least 130 different extreme exploits available, including white-water rafting, abseiling and shark cage-diving.
South Africa has almost 3,000-km of beautiful coastline for all the sun worshippers out there. Plus, there’s plenty of opportunities for golfing, hiking, climbing (imagine a view of the sunrise from the peak of Table Mountain), in all sorts of different terrains, from forest to desert.
Here are the 11 Best Places To Visit In South Africa that you should put in your next adventure challenge.
1. Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is justifiably one of the most famous parks in Africa. The park is the size of a small country and supports a huge variety of wildlife. All of the Big Five are present in large numbers. A comprehensive road network that is fine for 2WD cars means Kruger is one of the best parks for self-drive safaris.
Kruger National Park offers magnificent wildlife viewing. All the major safari animals are present including the Big Five. The big cats are present in healthy numbers, and lions, in particular, are frequently seen. Elephant and buffalo are common throughout, while white rhino, though still numerous, are under threat from poaching. Kruger NP has a wide variety of antelope including greater kudu and the very common impala.
The Dry season (May to September) is usually regarded as the best time to visit Kruger. Skies are normally clear, wildlife viewing is at a premium and it is low season – a big drawcard for a park that can get very busy (especially in the south).
2. Cape Town
With Table Mountain, one of the most spiritual places on earth, at its heart and two oceans at its feet; the city of Cape Town, strategically situated at the south-western tip of Africa, has been famed for centuries as the Tavern of the Seas.
Vibrant, cosmopolitan and an eclectic mix of old and new, this laid-back city is as much at home with its 17th-century castle – whose cannons have never been fired in anger – as it is with its sleek skyscrapers and trendy malls.
Home to South Africa’s first mosque, oldest wine farm, a 350-year old garden, award-winning eateries and timelessly beautiful beaches, it’s no surprise the legendary spectral ship, the Flying Dutchman, has spent eternity sailing the city’s shores.
3. The Garden Route
The 200 km stretch of coast connecting Mossel Bay to the Storms River Mouth is commonly referred to as the Garden Route in reference to its beguiling diversity of wide sandy beaches, lovely lakes and lagoons, shady evergreen forests and protea-studded slopes.
Lined with family-friendly beaches, but also ideally suited to hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts, the region is home to the patchwork Garden Route National Park and a host of protected indigenous forests. Large terrestrial wildlife is scarce, but the region offers fabulous aquatic and forest bird watching, including striking avian endemics such as Knysna turaco, yellow-throated warbler and olive woodpecker, while seals, dolphins and whales are commonly seen from seaside cliffs.
The truly magnificent Drakensbergs or “dragon mountains” stretch over 100 miles along the border between Lesotho and South Africa. This mountain range is a mecca for avid hikers of the world. This is due to its sheer grandeur, its accessible plateaus and the many passes and slopes that make for some of the best climbing in Africa.
You will be in awe of Drakensberg’s famous mountain peaks like Giants Castle and Cathedral Peak, but you will also be drawn to its foothills that are filled with incredible waterfalls, rock pools, mountain streams and prehistoric caves. If you want to be in the heart of all the action then stay at Sani Valley Nature Lodge. This is a wonderful place to call home while you explore all the Drakensbergs have to offer.
5. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a merger of Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and Gemsbok National Park in Botswana. Most tourism happens on the South Africa side, which has excellent facilities. The Botswana side only has very basic campsites. The red sand dunes in the inhospitable desert form a magnificent backdrop for wildlife viewing and photography.
The Kgalagadi is not a Big Five destination, as it has no elephant, rhino or buffalo. Animal numbers are lower than in more classic safari destinations, but the open terrain makes for very good viewing. Predators are the park’s biggest attraction. These include leopard, cheetah, spotted and brown hyena and smaller species such as bat-eared fox and Cape fox. Lions are numerous and males are known for their spectacular black manes.
The period of transition from the Wet season (October to April) to the Dry season (May to September) is the best time for wildlife watching. The worst of the heat will have passed, and there’ll be enough water in the rivers to draw lots of animals. Just remember to pack plenty of warm clothes to deal with plummeting temperatures in the evening, as well as the chilly morning air.
6. Durban’s Golden Mile, KwaZulu-Natal
The Golden Mile is one of most popular tourist attractions in Durban, and as such, is certainly worth exploring. As its name implies, it boasts a gorgeous stretch of several golden beaches, which are lapped by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. These are flanked by the hustle and bustle of some of Durban’s best accommodation, restaurants, entertainment hubs, shops, and cultural attractions.
The Golden Mile is home to some of Durban’s best beaches. These include South Beach (popular for those learning to surf), North Beach (great for swimming and surfing), Addington Beach (excellent for swimming, surfing and paddling), and the Bay of Plenty (this has the added advantage of being excellent for fishing). The Blue Lagoon is scenic and fabulous for picnics, fishing and just spending time with the people that mean the most to us. The beaches are protected by shark nets and lifeguards.
The warm sands are irresistible for joggers, those wanting a romantic stroll, swimmers, surfers, and sun-bathers that are after the bronzest of tans. Just remember to keep applying a good quality sunscreen to avoid being burnt by the rays.
7. iSimangaliso Wetland Park, KwaZulu-Natal
iSimangaliso means “miracle and wonder” in the Zulu language, and it’s a fitting name for this World Heritage Area, home to Africa’s largest estuarine system. Formerly the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, iSimangaliso lies on the northeastern coast of Kwazulu Natal and connects eight interwoven ecosystems, including coral reefs, croc-filled rivers, lakes, towering coastal dunes, swamplands, and savanna.
Not surprisingly, the area supports an incredible variety of wildlife. More than 526 species of birds inhabit the reserve, as well as leatherback and loggerhead turtles, leopards, rhinos, and Africa’s highest concentration of hippos and crocodiles.
This unique wilderness area offers you the chance to combine a classic safari experience with coastal adventures in the marine reserve, such as kayaking, fishing, diving, and snorkeling.
8. Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, Mpumalanga
Say the word ‘Blyderivier’ (the Afrikaans version of Blyde River) and on the tip of every South African’s tongue is the unmistakable ‘canyon’. The third largest canyon in the world is virtually an icon it is so recognisable. However, the average person does not realise that it is encompassed within the Blyde River Nature Reserve.
The 29 000 hectare Blyde River Nature Reserve rests against the Greater Drakensberg escarpment and preserves not only the canyon but other natural wonders of Mpumalanga as well – Bourke’s Luck Potholes, the Three Rondavels, Pinnacle Rock, and the Devil’s and God’s Window.
God’s Window is the type of marvel for which people travel miles. From this southerly viewpoint a series of undulating sheer cliffs fall over 700 metres on to the lowveld below, the way the cliffs of Dover plummet into the sea at the coast of Britain, with a more gradual decline, but no less graciously.
Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve stretches for some 60km, its southerly reaches extending from just beyond Graskop all the way north to the Abel Erasmus pass.
9. Pilanesberg National Park
The Pilanesberg has a lovely setting and plenty of wildlife. Set in the eroded remnants of an ancient volcano, the Pilanesberg is a very scenic Big Five destination. The fully fenced park is well stocked but might lack wilderness appeal to purists. Only a two-hour drive from Johannesburg, it makes a very attractive weekend option.
Pilanesberg GR is home to the Big Five and offers quite good wildlife viewing. Elephant is abundant, and white rhino is common. All big cats are present, but you will need some luck to spot any. Aside from the Big Five, you can expect to see giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and many antelope species.
The park is at its greenest during the Wet season (October to April), but the drier months (May to September), with their consistently sunny weather, are best for wildlife viewing as the animals are easier to spot amidst the depleted vegetation.
10. Cape Winelands: South Africa’s Culinary Heart
The beauty of the Cape Winelands’ green valleys ensconced by craggy mountains is as much of a treat for the eyes as its cuisine is a treat for the palate. Sip, swirl and sample award-winning wines, indulge in gourmet farm-to-table cuisine or wander down oak-lined streets to local art galleries with this stunning scenery as your backdrop.
Although only an hour’s drive from Cape Town, a night or two in this peaceful patchwork of vineyards and mountains will dissolve any lingering city stress. It really is one of the prettiest places to visit in South Africa
11. Pretoria and Johannesburg
It is hard to describe the beauty of South Africa without a brief discussion on its troubled past. The truly extraordinary part of this country is the resilience of its people in the face of centuries-long oppression. There are two places in Pretoria and Johannesburg that are incredible not because of their natural beauty but because of the fantastic people that represent these communities. The Apartheid Museum opened in 2001 and the emotional exhibits take you through the dramatic and poignant journey to freedom. Expect an incredibly moving experience.
Soweto (SOuth WEstern TOwnships) is another cultural highlight you can’t miss. Soweto is a series of townships that are home to 1.3 million residents and is the one-time home of Nobel Laureates Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Originally black townships in South Africa were designed to provide labour to the country’s biggest industry – gold mining. Today, Soweto is a vibrant community and was home to one of the biggest FIFA World Cup matches in 2010.