South Africa lies at the southernmost point of the African continent. Its borders are surrounded mostly by oceans, with the Atlantic on its geographical left and the Indian Ocean on its geographical right, meeting at Cape Point. Whether seeking the most pristine beaches, or a stickler for adventure, South Africa has something to offer all. A paragon of magnificence, South Africa’s best landmarks are nestled in an array of vineyards and forests. The country celebrates art and culture like no other, and its people are a diverse melting pot of heritage. Although every inch of its landscape is worthy of attention, the following locations are not to be missed.
22 Places to Visit in South Africa
1. Cape Town
Coined the Mother City for her rich colonial history and for being the oldest European settlement in South Africa by Dutch navigator, Jan Van Riebeeck, Cape Town is a vibrant melting pot with something to offer for all. A paragon of natural beauty with mountains and plateaus which offer exquisite panoramic views over the city, Cape Town is home to many natural must-sees.
Table Mountain, deriving its name from its naturally flat ‘peak’, cloaked with white clouds, has many times had its 350+ summit routes conquered by hikers and mountain climbers alike. Alternatively, cable cars and guided tours to the mountain top and back again are available to those who would rather preserve their energy for everything else this amazing city has to offer.
Table Mountain is situated in a National Park which protects the indigenous fauna and flora and can also be viewed in the backdrop of the Zeitz MOCAA, the largest museum in Africa dedicated to African art. Neighbouring the Atlantic Ocean, it is a given that the city’s many palm-lined beaches are worthy of a visit. Not only are the crisp beaches and Victoria Street boutiques eye-catching, but the Camp’s Bay and Clifton homes are to be marvelled at.
Flanking iconic Table Mountain on the east lies Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, another nature hub and one of the first gardens established solely with the intention of preserving the indigenous flora. Forming part of the Cape Floristic Region UNESCO World Heritage site, the garden is a wonderful mix of ecology and history in that it is home to the almond-trees first planted by Jan van Riebeeck in 1660 and an avenue of camphor and fig trees planted by Cecil Rhodes in 1898. Lions Head is a popular destination for adrenaline junkies and those seeking the perfect photo from up high.
For the most scenic views of the Atlantic Ocean, enjoy a 14-kilometre drive along rocky Chapman’s Peak on the Western-most coast of the country, and the setting for the Cape Argus Cycle Race and the tastiest fresh fish caught just off the shore. Enjoy a nearby evening drive through Signal Hill during the week and watch the noon gunfire a single shot into the air whilst watching the city lights activate from a bird’s eye view. Visit the waterfront district of the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, a former fishing base that is now a buzzing art and food hub. From the Springbok Experience Rugby Museum to the Two Oceans Aquarium, entertainment suits all needs.
De Goedehoop, the CBD area, is history enthusiast paradise where buildings are reminiscent of colonial influence. View the City Hall, the Castle of Good Hope, the Iziko Museum, the District Six Museum, and the Jewish Museum and its heritage sights, amongst others. Have a drive by the fantastical national Parliament building. Visit the Grand Parade by attending a performance by the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra. Walk the iconic Long street filled with a multitude of boutique-style shops catering to every need, and stop for a craft cuppa at Truth Coffee, an internationally acclaimed roastery. Tea lovers should opt for a classy and elegant High Tea at The Nelson instead.
Rated one of the Top 100 universities in the world, the University of Cape Town’s grounds are accessible to all who wish to visit the Parthenon-looking Rhodes monument. No trip to Cape Town is complete without a trip to the Bo-Kaap District, home to the colourful houses of the Cape Malay population. Renowned for their cooking and sweet treats, many locals offer cooking classes, as well as guided tours into District Six, explaining the South African history of forced removal of people of colour from their homes in line with the Apartheid agenda. Visit Gugulethu, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town and enjoy the sounds of gqom music with the locals.
2. Robben Island
Robben Island derives its name from the Dutch word for seals – ‘robbe’ – because of the flocks of seals initially found on its shores when Dutch navigators passed the island by ship. Situated a short ferry ride west of southern Africa, departing from Cape Town’s shores, Robben Island is best known for its role as a prison operating during the height of Apartheid. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, South Africa’s first black president at the end of the Apartheid era, was imprisoned on Robben Island for 27 years along with other inmates. His jail cell number, 46664, has become an iconic symbol reflecting the reason for the island’s fame. Ferries depart from the waterfront area to the island and continues by bus throughout the dusty roads of the island.
The guided bus tour references important landmarks including the former prison cells which today forms part of a museum depicting the history of segregation. View the small quarry that inmates mined as part of their sanction. Despite the importance of Robben Island being primarily political in nature, the tour also describes the history of the European graveyard where small pox-infested crews of would-be settlers were laid to rest. Observe the community created by wardens and their families to reside on the island during the height of Apartheid, including a church, school, and small houses. Before heading back to shore, the bus tour stops off at a refreshing station and restaurant on the island. On the ferry ride, seals can be seen bobbing their heads above water, inquisitive about the hordes of tourists visiting their island.
3. Port Elizabeth
Renowned for its Blue Flag beach status, Port Elizabeth is the largest city in the Eastern Cape with ample opportunity for adventure seekers and growing foodie culture. The Sunshine Coast offers the best ocean scenery, with the promenade extending to the Shark Rock Pier and a coastal pathway for a relaxing walk along Hobie beach. The perfect place to people-watch and the harbour in sight, the PE beaches offer a clear view of the ships and chokka boats entering the harbour, as well as the locals canoeing, surfing, kitesurfing and swimming. Enjoy water sports for the whole family at McArthur’s Swimming Pool, open all week during summer. For a greater ocean thrill, visit ProDive at the promenade and arrange a scuba diving lesson.
Join the locals on a free five-kilometre park run every Saturday morning or walk the Cape Recife Reserve along with the Southernmost point of the city and visit the lighthouse still in use today. A short detour, hike the Sacramento Trail routes reaching Schoenmakerskop and Sardinia Bay. Named after wrecked Portuguese warship, this section of the coastline is home to monuments dedicated to Portuguese navigators, including a cannon salvaged from the wreck. Alternatively, saunter the route on horseback with Heavenly Stables.
History fills Central, the CBD of the city, and home to amazing artwork along the Route 67 heritage trail created by local artists. The walkway is filled with mosaic-style art capturing the pollical history and enjoining the colonial and indigenous history. The Donkin Reserve is located on-site and functions as a miniature park established by Sir Rufane Donkin in memory of his wife Elizabeth, after whom the city is named. The five-kilometre historical display passes 47 historical sites including the Campanile, built to commemorate the 1820 British Settlers.
Retreat to the bustling Market Square and observe the Victorian Gothic-style buildings such as the City Hall and the Public Library. View the old-style British-inspired houses as you travel west towards St. George’s Park, a well-kept park with a central Conservatory. A mere stone’s throw away, approaching the seaside, is the South End Museum which details the history of forced removals in the area during Apartheid.
For a mouth-watering culinary experience, pay a visit to Stanley Street. Situated in Richmond Hill, the avenue is lined with upmarket restaurants with a friendly atmosphere especially in the evening. Just around the corner is Vovo Telo, an artisanal bakery popular among locals. Bridge Street Brewery is renowned for its craft beers and beer tours, outside of its delicious pizza offerings. Enjoy a short drive along the coastline branching off to Grassroof Restaurant, an iconic farm style patisserie and restaurant with a homely feel and popular among locals.
Sports fans can enjoy a game of cricket at the St. George’s Cricket Club, and soccer and rugby games at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, a short drive from Richmond Hill, initially built to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Car lovers can enjoy a tour of the Volkswagen Factory in Uitenhage, a neighbouring town, and a primary Volkswagen production plant at a small fee.
Nature lovers are sure to enjoy the Kragga Kamma Game Reserve where one can observe the local wildlife as they roam the Reserve. Observe white rhino, buffalo, zebra, giraffe and buck species on a self-drive tour, ticking off the animal species spotted along the way on an information booklet from the entrance, or book a guided tour. Situated along the coastline is Bayworld where the bones of dinosaur species and the last whale species harpooned in PE are displayed. Van Staden’s Flower Reserve offers the perfect opportunity to admire nature whilst learning about Xhosa culture, the majority tribe found in the Eastern Cape. Just past Port Elizabeth is the Addo Elephant Park where you can observe the national Big Five as well as the largest number of elephant herds in South Africa. Visit rehabilitated penguins at SANCCOB along a lazy ocean drive and stop for lunch in Schoenmakerskop. Happy Lands Farm offers Africa’s longest double zipline, giving adrenaline junkies a bird’s eye view of the greenery beneath them.
4. Addo Elephant National Park
An Eastern Cape wonder, the Addo Elephant Park is home to herds comprising more than 600 elephants. It is common for tourists to come by car and do a self-drive door, however, the Park offers horseback tours of the undisturbed splendour that is the homeland of various species of wildlife found in the Park. Addo is home to a small community, including the only black female owner of farmland in an eight-kilometre and 176,000-hectare stretch of rural land in the vicinity. Addo also boasts hordes of orange and lemon trees with most citrus exported to Europe.
Remember to pack your binoculars and join Southern Cross Tours on a canoeing tour through the passing river enjoying amazing views of the local bird species found in the Park. Addo is also home to the largest species of Egyptian geese in the area, and species of lion, zebra and buck can be spotted out in the open. Dusty roads wind along valleys, guaranteeing tourists the best views all-round. Tortoises and dassies live just off the trails, and it is common to spot black dung beetles, referred to as ‘tokoloshes’ throughout South Africa, busily rolling balls of mud along the roadside.
End the day off with a braai or barbecue for supper while setting up a tent for an overnight stay or book a rondavel. The park’s natural beauty is best enjoyed over a few days’ stay and provides sufficient opportunity to thoroughly observe all the animals the park has to offer.
The largest city of South Africa, as well as the economic hub of the country, it is no mystery how the city got the name of Egoli or the City of Gold. Also nicknamed Joburg or Jozi by the locals, this city is a stylish upmarket metropolis with much to offer and is best explored by car. The Neighbourgoods market runs every Friday where a lot of celebrities and socialites can be spotted in the social scene.
Johannesburg played a big role in the era ending segregation policies in South Africa, and so the Apartheid Museum is a must-see to get a better understanding of the country’s history in a contemporary way. Once a shanty town of South Africa, vibrant Soweto is the place to visit to learn more about the history of Apartheid and view the Hector Peterson memorial. Enjoy a guided tour through Soweto with Lebo’s Tours, and go bungee jumping from the cooling towers in Soweto, the iconic painted towers of the township.
All those fascinated by the origins of mankind should pay a visit to the Sterkfontein Caves and the Cradle of Mankind which hosts some of the earliest signs of life which links all of humanity. Maropeng Museum, situated within the Cradle of Mankind, showcases these excavations and has entertainment for the whole family.
A prime shopping district, Johannesburg malls are the biggest in the country which offers both local boutiques to international brand names found in High Street. Overcome your fear of heights and enjoy the view from the tallest skyscraper in Africa, 50 floors to the top of the Carlton Centre. South African Breweries, the main national brewery, offers tours of the various species of hops used in the beer fermentation process as well as beer tasting. Try a sip of umqombothi, a traditional African beer, with friends and family.
Stop past Newtown, the cultural hub of the city, and visit the Market Theatre for an authentic show premiering the best of the industry. The trendy suburb of Melville offers a range of bars for that pub-hopping feeling and is the place to be for a thriving nightlife experience.
View the city’s wilderness from above on a hot air balloon ride over the city. Montecasino in Fourways offers animal-lovers a flight show, and an opportunity to encounter sloths, chameleons and lemurs, amongst others. Fun for the whole family, think quick on your feet in the Escape Room, a puzzle game for all ages that requires teamwork to exit the room. Gold Reef City is a gold rush theme park of South Africa, with an on-site casino for all those feeling lucky.
An eastern South African coastline town, Durban is home to some of the most spectacular beaches in the country. Tour the promenade by Segway or by foot. The home of the largest Indian population in the country, it is a given that all visitors are to try a traditional “Bunny Chow” dish. This is a spicy curry contained in a quarter loaf of bread, introduced by migrant slave workers from India. Satisfy your sweet tooth at the Oysterbox Hotel for afternoon tea and dig into an array of cakes and other sweet treats. There is no better place in South Africa to stock up on spices at the Victoria Market.
Sports fans can visit the Moses Mabhida stadium, initially built when South Africa hosted the 2010 Fifa World Cup, and still in operation today hosting home games. Beyond sports, the stadium also hosts the I Heart Market which takes place on the first Saturday of each month and offers sky car rides from the top of the stadium. The stadium is also home to the world’s largest swing for the adrenaline seekers. Ushaka Marine World is Africa’s largest aquarium and water park, with water sport activities for the whole family to partake in.
Appreciate the local art and great coffee at the Station Drive Precinct, a novelty up and coming neighbourhood. Durban is renowned for its ambient nightlife, which has an especially lovely atmosphere along the coastline, and unlike along the western coast, the warm current makes a relaxing swim even better. The beaches overflow with aquatic activities such as dolphin diving, spearfishing and shark cage diving. Beach Bums offers a unique experience to sip cocktails on the beach, literally.
Explore one of several hiking trails at Krantskloof Nature Reserve, with breathtaking views of greenery and natural waterfalls passing through. The Green Hub is situated along the Umgeni River and centralises a range of well-priced adventure activities along the river including canoeing. A stone’s throw away lies a bird park featuring flamingos. Popular among locals and tourists alike, Umhlanga Rocks has been transformed into a tourist hub so as to attract flocks of people every year to enjoy the golden beaches and luxury accommodation, lying a short distance from King Shaka Airport from which to start your travel journey.
7. Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Park
A short drive from Durban, the Hluhluwe Game Park offers game drives and game walks to best observe the local wildlife. Based in one of the most naturally diverse locations and a World Heritage Site, Hluhluwe is the oldest proclaimed national game reserve in Africa and second oldest Game Reserve in the world, where all five of the Big 5 animals can be observed from a safe distance. The Park was developed not only for tourism but to benefit the local community by creating employment. The Umfolozi land is central to Zulu culture as it holds the history of King Shaka’s authority.
Hike the Wilderness Walk which is perfect for photographing the wildlife up-close and observe various species of black and white rhino, buffalo, hippopotamus, giraffe, baboons, hyena, cheetahs, lions and elephant. Alternatively, Hluhluwe offers a safari ride through the Park where passengers can witness herds of elephant taking a mud bath. For the more adventurous, Hluhluwe also offers a Primitive Wildlife Hike which spans five days and involves hiking through the bush and sleeping wherever you find yourself at sunset. Expect to walk up to ten kilometres a day on this guided hike is not for the faint-hearted as wildlife is reported to have charged at tourists for food and be prepared to encounter pythons and African spiders. A genuine scout experience, all nourishment is carried on your person and cooked by fire for supper.
Stay at the Hilltop Camp for the best view of the animals. The camp is scattered with self-catering rondavels, traditional roundhouses, equipped for all modern needs. On the brink of extinction, rhino preservation is a key function of Hluhluwe which drives the Rhino Preservation campaigns.
The executive and administrative capital of South Africa, Pretoria brings to mind the image of its iconic jacaranda trees which line the streets throughout the city. Home to one of the oldest correspondence universities in the world, Pretoria was established by the Voortrekker community in the 1800s and Afrikaans, a dialect of Dutch is predominantly spoken among its locals. Nature lovers and history enthusiasts will enjoy taking a walk through the Hantam Gardens and the National Botanical Gardens, among others. The Union Buildings are located in Pretoria which houses the office of the President, and this stone building provides a clear panoramic view of the city.
Rugby fans are sure to enjoy a visit to Loftus Versveld, home ground of the Blue Bulls rugby team which still hosts games today. The longest urban street in the country, and one of the longest in the world, Stanza Bobape Street can be found in the city and extends 26 kilometres in distance. Formally named Church Street, it passes through Church Square which is significant for locals as it was the marketplace of farmers who entered the urban city to sell their produce decades ago. Just around the corner is the Raadsaal, the office of Paul Kruger, a former president, accompanied by his statue. Buildings are well preserved with little alteration, keeping the city’s rich political history intact.
Freedom Park houses a war-time memorial comprising the names of all those who died in seven national wars within South Africa. It tells the South African tale starting from billions of years ago in Africa. Hatfield is predominantly a student suburb located in Pretoria and has a thriving nightlife. For fun outdoors, be sure to visit Groenkloof Nature Reserve and explore the country’s smallest nature reserve by 4×4 or hike through the bushes. Visit the Pretoria Zoo, one of the Top 8 zoos in Africa. Pretoria is also home to Cullinan Diamond Mine which offers group tours through the mine site, and there is no shortage of museums worthy of a visit.
After Cape Town, Stellenbosch is the second oldest European settlement in South Africa showing off a mix of Cape Dutch, Roman-Dutch and Victorian architecture. Buildings follow a predominantly white scheme and roads are lined with oak trees. The heart of the wine lands, Stellenbosch is a farm-based city outside of Cape Town that grows and supplies most of the country’s finest wines and exports wines internationally. Get a glimpse of country life and go wine-hopping from Estate to Estate. For a romantic sundown dinner experience, visit Delware Estate and sample traditional Malay foods with a range of house wines. For a unique experience, enjoy a dessert course of cupcakes and wine pairing, the only winery to offer a pairing of this nature. Avont Tierre offers wine pairing with a range of homemade fudge and nougat.
Visit the Blaauwklippen Vineyards on a Sunday for a unique market experience. This is fun for the whole family and food servings are generous. Middelvlei offers an excellent wine-blending experience followed by a traditional braai, or barbecue, for a traditional South African social experience. Spier is one of the oldest family-run wineries extending hectares of vineyards and offers its visitors a Segway tour through the estate, as well as a taste of its rich history. Take in the magnificence of Stellenbosch by going on a Wine Safari by Jeep with Jordan’s Safaris. Outside of being the wine capital, Khayamnandi, a little township outside of Stellenbosch, is the perfect place to get a better insight into township life. Enjoy a guided tour and join a local family for some traditional African meals such as pap (a savoury porridge) and chakalaka (a curried vegetable stew).
Jonkershoop Nature Reserve is home to Stellenbosch’s best mountains for hiking and home to baboons, honey badgers and caracals, amongst others. Join Adventure Tours on a historical bike ride through the city ending, of course, at yet another winery for a wine and tapas-style feast. A city icon, Rosendal, is an example of making the best out of a bad situation. After failing as a winery because of the high volume of acidity present in its wines, the company continued as a vinegary instead. Deviating from the primary wine focus, Van Ryn’s is the only brandy distillery in Stellenbosch and holds the world title for its brandy five times, as well as other awards. Following a brandy tasting, visit Tokara, a wine vineyard which also grows its own olives. Nature lovers are sure to enjoy the University of Stellenbosch’s botanical gardens.
Competing with Stellenbosch as the capital food and wine region, Franschhoek is known for its European-style wines. A small wine town only an hour’s drive from Cape Town, Franschhoek, meaning ‘The French Corner’, is known for more than its culinary delights. The three-arched monument was erected to represent the history of the French Huguenots who fled France’s religious persecution in the 18th Century. Appreciate the town’s history on the Franschhoek Wine Tram, a revolving hop-on, hop-off ride through the town showcasing the vineyards along the way and stopping off for an hour at each stop, providing ample time to enjoy the surroundings.
Stop off at Rickety Bridge for a wine-tasting and pre-select two white and two red wines as an appetiser. Enjoy premium pricing of house wines for sale at the restaurant, from pinotages to Sauvignon Blancs. Dating back to 1694, a heritage wine estate well-placed in the Top 100 wine estates in the world, pay a visit to Grande Provence Heritage Estate.
Have lunch at Cosecha Restaurant and bask in its summery atmosphere. Attend the weekly Franschhoek Market every Saturday, capturing the best of both local and international cuisine and sweet and savoury pancakes to satisfy all tastes. Because of its intimate size, the town can be adequately explored on foot or using tourist transport to get an overall view of the magnificent Wineland and its valleys.
Known as Africa’s Desert Garden, Namaqualand undergoes a flowering transformation over the summer months, attracting travellers from near and far. A symbol of nature and South Africa’s picturesque bed of predominantly yellow and orange flowers, Namaqualand is an anomaly as being an arid town with tens of thousands of flowering plants and succulents that bloom in its vicinity after a barren season. Namaqualand Nature Park is a botanist’s paradise. Not only do thousands of flowers bloom here every year, the Park also places great emphasis on preservation of plant and animal life. Exceeding 440,000 square kilometres of western terrain, the town extends into Namibia, cutting through both parts of the Orange River into what is known as Little Namaqualand and Greater Namaqualand. During the Apartheid era, Namibia formed part of South Africa and share a similar history today.
Namaqualand transcends a number of small towns in the Northern Cape of South Africa. The town of Calvinia hosts an annual cultural celebration called Hantam which involves a traditional braai or barbecue of meat, where attendees dance, sing, and create music in celebration of the season. Most locals are Khoi descendants, the first indigenous persons present in South Africa before migrations and colonisation. Another small town, Spoegrivier, deriving its name from a disease-specific to cattle, holds archaeological sites with evidence of sheep farming dating back to 2100 years ago. Based in an arid location, water is the most essential commodity and locals place a special emphasis on preserving and respecting nature.
A picturesque coastline town, Hermanus is a prime tourism hub for a reason. Southern Right Charters offers whale-watching opportunities around sunrise and sunset to get the best-photographed view of whales leaping close to the shoreline. Whale watching season peaks in August to October, coinciding with the Hermanus Whale Festival occurring annually in the last week of September. Once a lookout point for sailors, Gearing’s Point is great for individuals who prefer to patiently observe whales on their own.
The tranquil beaches are a paradise for those seeking a getaway to relax away from the bustle of city life. Enjoy an equine experience along Pearly Beach or take the day to soak up the sun at a leisurely pace.
Popular for its whale-watching activities, the fun does not stop here. Hermanus offers sandboarding, quad biking and trekking opportunities to get to see other animal habitants such as penguins, seals and dolphins. Climb the hills of the town for the best view and partake in slope-flying from the hilltops. The Coke Music Stage features hourly shows over weekends as well as local music. Car lovers will enjoy the Whales and Wheels Vintage Car Show on display around peak season. Attend a parade ending at the Marine Hotel. Children can participate in local conservation activities by joining in on beach clean-ups along the coast. The Eco Marine Village has fun for all ages and opens daily, featuring interactive exhibitions, treasure hunts, and play areas for young children.
With an abundance of markets and stalls along the promenade open over the weekends, Hermanus is the optimal quick getaway town. Wine lovers can stop past Hemel en Aarde Valley (which translates to Heaven and Earth Valley) with some of the best wines in the region including some of the best food. Fernkloof Nature Reserve is situated right on the coast, showcasing spectacular views of the local fynbos. This can be experienced alone as hiking trails are colourful and indicate the journey without needing additional assistance. Those travelling with pets will enjoy the dog-friendly atmosphere provided all pets are leashed. Have lunch at the famous Betty Blue Bistro or visit the Klein River Farmstead and enjoy their artisanal cheeses on a romantic picnic by the river. The outside play area is perfect for that added farm feeling as donkeys, goats and pigs roam the neighbouring pens. Art lovers will enjoy Original’s Gallery and Rosseau Modern Art situated in the heart of this seaside town.
13. Kruger National Park
The Kruger National Park is based in Kwa-Zulu Natal and provides tourists with a variety of ways to best explore the Park and its wildlife. The Park crosses multiple reserves, camps and has several entrance points, attesting to its size. Have a true out of Africa experience on a guided safari tour in an open-canopy vehicle with an elevated view. A second guide will spot the animals so as to guide the tour to the optimal spots for the best view. Game drives can be booked for half-day tours as well as full-day tours. Various packages exist to satisfy your travel needs.
The brave can enjoy a stealthy bush walk guided by a ranger for the most intimate views of nature and wildlife. The walking tour is conducted in Timbavati Nature Reserve, the greater area of the Park. The safari can also be enjoyed on elephant-back, where travellers can sway their way through the bush on one of the twelve fully trained African elephants. The Park is home to some of the most magnificent mountain-bike trails where travellers can book out all the necessary equipment to tour the Park at their leisurely pace. The diversity of birdlife makes bird watching a popular activity. The four lush golf courses provide a paced platform on which sports lovers can enjoy nature while enjoying 18 holes throughout the green expanse. A short distance away is the Sabie River where a hot air balloon flight can be enjoyed, providing an excellent aerial view of the Park from above. Thulamela Ruins gives credence to early African Culture.
Enjoy a bush dinner which offers a delectable roast and food options celebrating African cuisine, including a braai or barbecue. Tshokwane Picnic Site offers a great outdoor feeling and Ngwenya Parkview Restaurant, a leap away from the Park itself is situated along the Crocodile River which offers wonderful views of the Park itself. The restaurant is also regularly visited by herds of buffalo, crocodile, buck and elephant. Stay on-site in rooms that prove to be a perfect mix of wildlife and elegance. Relax in the plunge pool watching herds of elephant pass you by. Alternatively, experience sleeping outdoors by camping in treetops (coined ‘glamping’) and enjoy the view from above.
14. Simon’s Town
Simon’s Town is a small harbour town south of Cape Town, with only one main road passing through it. The rich colonial history can be viewed along the drive and it is clear how the colonial influence has remained behind in the structure of the well-maintained buildings. Travel the town by car or take the train from Cape Town into Simon’s Town. Boasting a proud naval culture, ship horns can be heard from all around the seaside town.
The Simon’s Town Naval Museum is based on the mast house building which is the best source of information for those interested in the history of the South African Navy. The Just Nuisance statue overlooks the harbour and commemorates Nuisance, a Great Dane known for unsolicited visits to the dockyard. To avoid his owner from having to pay a fee it was decided to enlist Nuisance into the Navy. Today, the story of Nuisance is well-known and the beloved hound has since become a symbol of Simon’s Town.
Home to recently resettled migrant African penguins, signs of life are evident in all seasons. Boulders Beach is just a stone’s throw away and a common attraction for its flightless birds. Local accommodation is mostly in the form of homeowners letting their home to give visitors the majestic experience of waking up to Penguins wandering in the garden. Go boulder jumping directly off the smooth-stone coast into the waters of the Atlantic.
A well-known local, Patty Davidson, has first-hand experience of the atrocities associated with forced removals in the Apartheid era. With the end of Apartheid, she was the first to move back to Simon’s Town and as a result, converted the bottom half of her home into a museum to celebrate the community’s history. Attend a wild food workshop which focuses on creating a seaside feast out of sustainably foraging intertidal ingredients. A unique and eco-friendly experience, go water-biking – literally cycling on the water – the only place in South Africa to offer cycling along the water.
15. Cape Peninsula
A 40-kilometre stretch along the western coast down to Cape Point, the Cape of Good Hope is the southwestern-most tip of Africa. This landmark marks the point where the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean meet and the destination board confirming the exact point makes an iconic photograph.
Starting at Hout Bay, the Peninsula is replete with fantastic beaches and restaurants offer fresh fish brought straight from the harbour on a daily basis. Travelling down Chapman’s Peak, travellers will encounter the local arts and crafts stalls, as well as Magnum Diamond Mine open to tourists. Jovial locals dancing and singing to their own live music is a common sight. The indigenous fynbos vegetation includes plants such as Strelitzia, a preserved flowering plant. The peninsula is a protected region and a World Heritage Site home to thousands of vegetation species, including baboons, antelope and ostriches unique to this location on a global scale. Cape Point has a winding hiking trail and travellers can join a guided tour through the trail.
From the Point, boats depart around the tip offering great views of seals. In stormy seasons, the meeting oceans can be observed bashing into one another but never mixing. This is reminiscent of the many colonial shipwrecks that took place over the centuries leaving European navigators destitute along the Point. Once used as the basis of the establishment of a refreshment station for early navigators, the Cape Point now boasts significant fauna and flora and an emphasis is placed on its preservation.
16. Tsitsikamma National Park
Tsitsikamma, meaning ‘clear sparkling water’, extends across both the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape provinces. The location is an idyllic experience of indigenous fauna and flora with its many hills and livestock seen roaming the area. This is the only place in South Africa which combines terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems. Its nearest airport is the Port Elizabeth airport, Tsitsikamma is a short drive away when driving west along the Garden Route via the N2.
Adventure calls from every part of this region. Before entering Tsitsikamma lies Bloukrans, the world’s highest bungee jump of 216 meters. Enjoy a walk to the Big Tree, an 800-year-old Outeniqua Yellow tree, and South Africa’s national tree. More recently planted yellow trees line the walking trails. Enjoy a canopy tour through the trees or take a hike along the Otter Trail. The variety of bird species and tall slopes along the way will have you feeling immersed in nature. Tall canyons are created by striking fissures created in the rocks, opening up canoeing trails and streams.
Storm’s River in the eastern section of the Park provides ample accommodation and is most popular for its white river rafting experience down the Gorge. The Storms River kayak and lilo adventure offered by Untouched Adventures is a great way to experience the depths of Tsitsikamma which cannot be witnesses on foot. The travel company supplies the kayak and the lilo which is a custom-designed inflatable mattress which passes through natural caves, ancient forests and quiet pools. This is a guided tour and the guides are familiar with the varying water depths making a guided tour the best opportunity to go cliff jumping.
Go on a bumpy Blackwater tubing ride through the Gorge or walk the Storm’s River Suspension Bridge. Enjoy lunch with a view at the popular Tsitsikamma Restaurant and fall asleep to the sound of the ocean where waves crash against the 180-metre-high cliffs after a long day of water sports.
17. Betty’s Bay
Betty’s Bay is the penguin haven of South Africa. Whether along the coastline, on the water, or on the rocky vegetation, you are sure to have a close encounter with these endangered birds. Another endangered species, the great white sharks, can rarely be seen on the water, but this is remedied with shark cage diving along the coastline for those keen on seeing a great white up close. White Shark Projects focuses on the conservation and preservation of these sharks and creates awareness through their educative talks and guided shark cage diving opportunities.
18. Blyde River Canyon
Spanning 26 kilometres through Mpumalanga, northernmost South Africa, the Blyde River Canyon is the deepest canyon in the country and the third-largest in the world situated along the Panoramic Route. Considered one of the greatest natural wonders in Africa, the canyon is surrounded by round-topped mountains and natural rivers running through its dips and troughs. Tall waterfalls flank the mountains and are best viewed in the summer months when rainfall is more voluminous. The Pinnacle is reminiscent of God’s Window, except it is not in South Africa. Join Buya Buya Tours for a panoramic tour of the Canyon, as well as surrounding hotspots in Mpumalanga. The Hippo Trial and the Kadishi Trail is a fantastic hiking trail for a short hike.
Alternatively, brave a three- to five-day hike along the Blyderivierspoort Hiking Trail, depending on your preferred pace. For a magnificent aerial view, go on a Mountain Magic Helicopter Flight over the mountain tops. The largest green canyon in the world, the canyon is home to a rich diversity of fauna and flora and extends through the canyon itself as well as the Three Rondavels, iconic mountains in the background. Take a boat cruise on the river where guides will conduct an informed tour and indicate the canon’s hot spots.
This is a popular travel option as the Kadishi Tufa Waterfall is a prime attraction along the way. An extraordinary waterfall, the most remarkable aspect besides its glorious view is the calcified shell formed around the waterfall as a result of millennia of calcium build-up. The rocks beneath it have features etched into them as a result of constant water flow, resembling a weeping face. Not only is the greenery amazing, but so is the abundance of animal life that exists throughout the canyon. Just outside the canyon entrance lies Blyde River Resort, where guests can fall asleep to the sound of animals in the distance. After immersing in this provincial wonder, travellers are sure to enjoy the rest of the province’s many wonders including the Alpha Omega Cave, The Shoe, and Bourke’s Luck Pothole, all a stone’s throw away.
19. Hout Bay
Situated along the western coast of South Africa facing the Atlantic Ocean, Hout Bay is a popular up-market holiday destination outside of Cape Town best known for life at sea and the amazing seaside restaurants. Locals are familiar with the seals that line the harbour and hardly anyone leaves without a photo of themselves posing with a seal. Take a self-drive tour along Chapman’s peak where you can get the best view of the scenery, lined with seaside restaurants. Tapas are a favourite among locals. Enjoy a full buffet at Suikerbossie as you rive towards Llandudno.
Hout Bay’s shores are rich in fish diversity. Join Inshore Yellowtail Charters or Hooked on Africa Fishing Charters and catch your own supper. For the best fresh fish caught daily, hang out at Mariner’s Wharf for a generous serving of fresh fish and calamari. The shallow waters just off the Wharf are popular for a range of water sports including paddling. Combining food and art, enjoy a meal at the Clay Café and paint your own pottery. Artists are also sure to enjoy the Hout Bay Gallery and the Hout Bay Lions Craft Market. The Hout Bay Gallery emphasises the work of local artists, making it a great souvenir to take home in remembrance of a fantastic holiday.
Located in the Western Cape, any town in the vicinity is incomplete without wine. Hout Bay Vineyards is a family-owned winery neatly nestled along the slopes that offers wine tastings and bottles of house wines at great prices. The Ambeloui Wine Estate is owned by a family of Greek descent and is iconic for naming each of its vintage wines after a family member. Green fingers will enjoy the centrally-located Tree and Hedges Nursery and is home to both indigenous and exotic plant species. The Bay Harbour Market offers weekend stalls and is focused on creating a diverse atmosphere whilst providing employment to the local community.
Take a trip off-shore with Drumbeat Charters and pass Seal Island to view nearby shipwreck sites. Fun for the whole family, World of Birds boasts Africa’s largest bird park with more than 400 species of birdlife. Earthworx Garden World is a great outdoor activity and more than an ordinary nursery with entertainment for the little ones. Take a social cooking class and learn new culinary skills to impress your loved ones.
Best known as the home of the tallest mountain range in South Africa, the brilliant Drakensberg mountain range, coined the Dragon Mountains, has more to offer in its mountainous region than just its uphill slopes. Soar above the mountains on a Drakensberg Canopy Tour and take in the beauty from up high among the vultures. This is Africa’s highest zip-line and is an exhilarating way to appreciate the beauty of the mountain range. Alternatively, take a hot air balloon from Kamberg, just on the edge of the mountain range, and enjoy a brilliant panoramic view over Cathedral Peak.
Every year the eland climb the mountain seeking better foraging ground. The mountain range can be appreciated as a backdrop to a range of mountain biking, running and walking trails starting from the Gray Goose Game Lodge. Clear your mind by taking a short walk into the valley. Get the blood flowing with a more intense second loop extending into the forest where zebra and buck roam free.
The Winterton Museum is a must-see. This sweet little town is perfectly situated along the banks of the Tugela River in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountain range. Visit Thokozisa Lifestyle Centre, comprising an array of small shops. Hike along with the unrivalled beauty of the Rainbow Gorge Trail. History enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to the San Art Interpretive Centre which showcases original San art that has been well-preserved and is displayed along its walls. The San are the oldest known group of indigenous people found in South Africa and boast a rich cultural history.
Go Fly Fishing at one of Penwarn’s seven dams and eight-kilometre river. A short distance away in the Champagne Valley lies African Loom, run by a group of Zulu seamstresses who show off their skills with their range of decorative furnishings. On the topic of art, pay a visit to Ardmere Ceramic Art Studio which produces domestic wares and sculptures for a taste of Africa in your home. Foodies will be sure to enjoy The Valley Bakery, popular for its arrangement of baked goods available daily.
Best known for the iconic colourful houses that line the beach, Muizenburg is a beachgoer paradise in any season. Learn to SCUBA and free-dive with Cape RADD, among various other water sport alternatives. Walk the Muizenberg Catwalk for spectacular city views.
The Muizenberg Circular Walk is a great hike for all fitness levels, delivering excellent seaside views from the hills. Overcome claustrophobia at Tartarus Cave, proper exploration of which requires climbing through tiny holes and crossing streams. Learn to surf or visit the Masque Theatre. Themed on the Spanish Camino, the Cape Camino Hike is a pilgrimage around the Cape Peninsular starting in Muizenberg
Visit the Rhodes Cottage Museum, the final home of Cecil John Rhodes. Those interested in the English influence over the former Cape Colony will appreciate exploring this historical home. On the topic of history, visit Het Posthuys, one of the oldest buildings in South Africa. Built by the Dutch with a function to serve the Dutch East India Company, Het Posthuys was a post office which has served a number of purposes since it was initially built. Forming part of the historical mile, take a look at what this seaside suburb looked like centuries ago.
Picnic at the Zandvlei estuary, a massive wetland home to various bird and fish species, including some endangered bird species. Knead Bakery bakes some of the best artisanal bread and is a common stop among locals. Tiger’s Milk is a modern alternative to the typical restaurant, combining art and food. Taste craft beers and enjoy the postcard view from the deck. Planet Kids offers entertainment for the little ones in a safe indoor environment.
22. The Garden Route
The Garden Route is a blanket reference to a number of small towns that link from one another along the southernmost coast of South Africa. Known for its lush greenery and homely atmosphere, The Garden Route starts at Storm’s River from the east, passing through Tsitsikamma, and ends at Mossel Bay in the west, and crosses two provinces. Noteworthy stops along the way include Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, Wilderness, George and Mossel Bay. The magnificence about visiting the Garden Route is that it is a driving route and travellers prefer to self-drive, making it easy to go at one’s personal pace.
Check out my post about the Garden Route here.
Plettenberg Bay is well known as a party destination in the Festive Season when scholars celebrate the end of their final year. Throughout the rest of the year, it is a sunny seaside town offering great views of the Indian Ocean from the cliffs. Besides its laidback lifestyle, visit the Birds of Eden Sanctuary which rehabilitates and hosts birds from all over the world. A short drive away, visit Monkeyland, which provides a free-roaming environment for primates that were previously caged. Adventure Land is fun for the whole family as it is loaded with water rides, super tubes, as well as braai and picnic facilities. Cyclists will enjoy the 14-kilometre Buffalo Hills mountain biking trail. The Plettenberg Game Reserve is a short drive away and a great opportunity to view the Big 5 in their natural habitat. Those who do not mind doing some interactive thinking on holiday will enjoy the Plett Puzzle Park’s 3D Maze and Forest Puzzle Walk.
Junkani Wildlife Sanctuary hosts big cats and offers public tours in all weather conditions. Plettenberg Bay proves the best place for an educational take on nature and wildlife or a lazy day at the beach, all in one. Hog Hollow Horse Trails offers a horseback experience along the beach where whales can be spotted on the odd occasion. For a closer encounter with these majestic creatures, it is suggested to go on a chartered boat experience with Ocean Blue Adventures. Robberg Nature Reserve is perfectly situated on a peninsula where visitors can enjoy recreational fishing, as well as surfing and rock angling. Another rehabilitation centre, Radical Raptors places a special emphasis on protecting birds of prey.
The Garden Route Wolf Sanctuary offers interactive tours through wolf enclosures and a touch farm. Adventurers will enjoy kloofing, or canyoning with AfriCanyon which includes jumps, rock-pool ziplining and exploring the depths of the gorges. New surfers are sure to enjoy lessons with Learn to Surf Plett instructed by people passionate about their sport. The Harkerville Saturday Village Market operates every Saturday, combining rustic and rural stalls.
Knysna is a seaside gem, known from Circles in a Bush, literature that bases a famous storyline amidst the heart of its forest. Ile De Pain is a popular artisanal bakery situated along the harbour in Thesen Island. Tour the town by scooter, by Segway, by horseback, or get the best aerial view with Aeronautica. Go deep-sea fishing while cruising the coastline. Lined with weekend markets, go beer tasting at Mitchell’s Brewery before an on-board dinner upon the Paddle Cruiser, the only boat of its nature in South Africa.
You might also like: Things to do in Knysna.
Another forest town along the Route, make sure you stay over in Wilderness and sleep on stilts with a forest log cabin experience at Ebb and Flow Rest Camp. With a plethora of hiking trails to choose from, Wilderness offers some of the most scenic natural hiking paths along the route and in the country as a whole. Wilderness has its own Lake District which is home to hundreds of fish, bird and plant species. Coined the best fun you can have after dark, join Judy Dixon for a Moonlight Meander along Swartvlei Beach up to Gericke’s Point and find out more about intertidal creatures. Shoppers can indulge in the boutique-style stores at Milkwood Village and make sure to visit the Timberlake Farm Stall for its organic product offerings. Timberlake Organic Village also offers an Acrobranch Tree Top Adventure which involves a safe climb through the treetops along with a structure. Bird lovers will enjoy bird watching along the creamy beaches, or can alternatively opt to visit the Malachite Bird Hide. Go fish at Wilderness Island Lake or brave your fear of heights with Dolphin Paragliding over the beach. A short drive from the village centre, Kaaimans Gorge is one of the most beautiful abseiling sights in the world, crossing a waterfall from above. Those who enjoy handmade delights will enjoy the Milkwood Evening Market. Stop at Dolphin’s Point Lookout en route George for optimal views and take a drive through the Seven Passes Drive to George and surrounds.
George is the administrative capital of the Garden Route that offers various popular ways in which to enjoy the route and can be accessed via the George Airport, as well as its popular driving routes. Quad bike your way along the coast and take in the beautiful scenery. Enjoy a DIY walk to Friemersheim which previously functioned as a mission station and best known for its architectural quaintness. Stop by for a cup of tea and visit the lavender nursery. Friemersheim also offers fresh homemade ginger beer among other traditional South African delicacies such as sweet koeksisters and savoury bobotie. Shweshwe Stop Shop boasts traditional South African textiles resembling African prints commonly worn in traditional African rituals. Enjoy the open atmosphere and go strawberry-picking at Redberry Farm. At a single fee, you can pick all the strawberries you like and enjoy them in all their glorious forms. Train fundis are sure to enjoy the Outeniqua Transport Museum which showcases various steam locomotives including Johannesburg’s first steam locomotive, the Emil Kessler. The Garden Route would not be complete without hiking trails in each of its towns, so adventurers will enjoy the Outeniqua Hiking Trail which is one of the oldest trails in the country. Hosting fabulous stalls, the Outeniqua Farmer’s Market offers 80 food and craft stalls. A great way to either start or end travelling through the Garden Route, George has no shortage of restaurants.
The stretch of road extending between Mossel Bay and George is aptly named The Fragrance Route, spanning 40 kilometres and replete with fynbos and flowering plant species giving it a rich scent in the summertime. Bay
The westernmost town along the Garden Route, Mossel Bay is a tranquil seaside town that attracts tens of thousands of tourists each year. Visit the Point of Human Origins Cave which is internationally renowned for its archaeology hosting evidence supporting modern human behaviour. Book a tour online or pop into the office en route a hike along the St. Blaze trail. Stop past the lighthouse for spectacular views of the peninsula. The maritime museum boasts a rich maritime and colonial history. Beach hopping and shark cage diving are popular activities outside of a trip to Botlierskop Game Park.
You might want to check out: Things to do in Mossel Bay.