15 Best Places to Visit in South Africa

If you look through most South Africa travel itineraries, we can guarantee that you’ll spot famous destinations like the Kruger National Park, Robben Island, or Cape Winelands. But those aren’t the only gems in South Africa. Home to the classical Big Five: the African buffalo, lions, leopards, elephants, and the Black hook-lipped Rhinoceros, as well as over 145 mammal species, South Africa has much more to offer. The country boasts picturesque views from God’s Window set on the edge of the Great Escarpment, scenic road trips along the Garden Route, and a pristine coastline in the Eastern Cape. Yet, those are a few beautiful places in South Africa you could visit. The country has a rich history and is diverse in cultures, languages, and experiences; making sure there’s something for everyone to see and take away with them. So, if you’re looking for your next best destination, look no further. Follow along as we explore the best places to visit in South Africa.

15 Best Places to Visit in South Africa

Before we jump right into these tourist destinations, let’s take it back to the 17th century. There’s a reason South Africa goes by the name “the Rainbow Nation,” because, for the longest time, the country had inhabitants from numerous ethnic groups. In the mid-17th century, the inhabitants were pastoral Khoekhoe (Khoi), the hunter-gatherer San, the Xhosa, the Zulu nations, and various other indigenous tribes. With colonialism came Dutch, German, and French Huguenot settlers. From 1806 to the end of the 20th century, it was push and pull between Dutch and British settlers until the country finally ended the apartheid in 1990, with Nelson Mandela as their 1st democratically elected President in 1994.

Why was that important?

As you travel to South Africa, you’ll notice diversity of all kinds from the food in different regions to dressing, cultural beauties to the numerous languages. While the country only recognizes 11 official languages, namely English, Afrikaans, isiZulu, isiXhosa, IsiNdebele, Sesotho, Northern Sotho, Setswana, SiSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, there are many other languages amongst the natives. English is the common language for official and commercial use and Braai(South African BBQ) is the staple meal countrywide.

Another interesting fact about South Africa is that it has three capitals. Yes, the government divided its functions with Cape Town as the legislative capital, Pretoria as the administrative capital, and Bloemfontein as the judicial capital. Its parliamentary meetings occur at Cape Town and Pretoria for six months each. 

And lastly, before you embark on your journey through the beautiful places in South Africa, here are some quick facts and tips to take with you;

  • South Africa is a large country with several large cities like Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban all with numerous inhabitants, so expect a traffic problem. 
  • For fast travel between cities consider domestic flights from well-known airlines like Mango or British Airways unless you’re down for road trips.
  • South Africa is one of the most open and progressive nations, being the fifth in the world and the only one in Africa to legalize same-sex marriages.
  • USD is rare, so convert to South African Rand (ZAR) upon arrival. 
  • Observe safety first. Like any other country, avoid late nights, dodgy neighborhoods, and flashing pricey items everywhere.
  • Tipping is a country standard. The general rule of thumb is to tip at least 10% of the total bill.

1. Cape Town

First, we have Cape Town, the oldest European settlement in Africa and South Africa’s “mother city.” The city is bustling with numerous tourist attractions like Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years, long stretches of Clifton and Camps Bay beaches, scenic drives, iconic landmarks, and several UNESCO World Heritage sites. Set between the sea and the mountains, Cape Town flaunts the most photographed landmark in South Africa, Table Mountain. This iconic flat-topped mountain rises 1,087 meters south of the city center offering great views. 

On the eastern slopes of Table Mountain lies the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, a hilly 528-hectare nature reserve, that’s part of the Cape Floristic Region UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s one of the first botanical gardens in the world that preserves the country’s indigenous flora, and where the country collects, grows, and studies over 20,000 native South African plant species. Lying within Table Mountain also is the Table Mountain National Park, with 1470 flower species and animals such as caracals, baboons, and snub-nosed dassies.

Away from nature, other great South Africa travel destinations include Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, which stretches around two harbor basins, and the Old Biscuit Mill, which offers a feel of the city. From the buzzing entertainment quarter, you’ll find great dining locations, shops for souvenirs, and a lively neighborhood marketplace eccentric with local artisans and festivals throughout the year. In summary, whatever activities travelers enjoy, from outdoor fun to hiking, surfing, to whale-watching, Cape Town has the best places to visit in South Africa.

2. Kruger National Park

best places to visit in South Africa

Next up, we have one of the largest national parks in the world with an area of 19,485 km2. The Kruger National Park is home to all of Africa’s iconic safari species which include, but are not limited to, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, zebras, and cheetahs. The park is also home to over 2000 leopards, 2800 lions, 27,000 African buffalos, and 12,000 elephants. Besides the big game, the park houses 147 mammal species and bird species like eagles, storks, and vultures. Furthermore, Kruger supports endangered animals like the African wild dog, which are only about 400 countrywide. 

While the park is an all-round destination, different seasons bring different safari delights. The best game views are during the dry winter months of April through early September as there’s no rain, grassland is low, and visibility is at its finest. However, the wet summer months of October through March are also vibrant. In that summer season, migrant birds arrive, there’s new life amongst the wildlife, and the water holes are full, resulting in the bushveld looking lush and inviting.

The park is one of the most beautiful places in South Africa, not only because you get to view wildlife, but also because you can be a part of it. At the park, you can participate at the grassroots level, caring for, breeding, and rehabilitating the endangered species at the centers. Your kids can ensure the survival of African wildlife, while also enjoying kids’ elephant safaris, hot air balloon flights, and horseback riding.

3. South Africa’s Cape Winelands

best places to visit in South Africa

South Africa has incredible places to visit, but this bucket list location will blow your socks off. We’re talking about a chance to enjoy delicious wine while taking in breathtaking views and enchanting conversations. The Cape Winelands is a landlocked district between the West Coast and the Overberg coasts, lying in the shadow of a continuous belt of Cape Fold mountains. Its location is prime, within a series of valleys, little hamlets, numerous historical towns, and Cape Dutch farmsteads known to produce well-regarded wines. 

There are about 550 wine farms in Cape Winelands spread across Breede River Valley,  Little Karoo, Coastal, and Olifants Rivier. These mountains offer scenic views of the vines, but what’s more important is its geological unique soil composition that gives South African wine its character. You’ll notice the topography of the Wineland soils varies from shallow, rocky soil on the slopes and plateaus to reddish-brown soils on mountain foothills.  This is definitely one of the best South Africa places to visit!

We’d argue autumn is the peak time to visit because the grape vines at Franschhoek, Paarl, Pniel, Stellenbosch, Klapmuts, Wellington, and Tulbagh are vivid red, ochre, and brown, rather than leafy green or burnt amber, orange, or yellow as is in the summer. That’s also the best time to tour any of the eight wine routes at the Winelands and enjoy world-class wineries, top-notch food, and wine pairings at some of the country’s best restaurants. Serve up the reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot, or the whites like Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc.

4. Wild Coast

What could be wild about a coast? That’s the appeal of the Wild Coast. Some of the best places to visit in South Africa are inspired by more than just the great food you’ll eat or the people and the wildlife; it’s the uniqueness and stillness of the area. The Wild Coast is an untamed wilderness stretching from the Mtamvuna River on the Northern coastline, to the Great Kei River in the south. The region hosted the 8th season of Survivor South Africa: “Immunity Island,” and the adjoining Sunshine Coast hosted the 9th season: “Return of the Outcasts.”

That said, the Wild Coast has great tourism potential as its beauty and rich cultural heritage gradually inspire development. Along the Wild Coast, you can enjoy several activities within different routes and in famous touristic villages and towns. For example, whale and dolphin watching at Port St. Johns, bird watching at Umzimvubu Retreat, hiking at Silaka Nature Reserve or the Eagle’s Nest, and relaxing at any of the numerous beaches along the coastline.

5. Drakensberg Region 

best places to visit in South Africa

The Drakensberg Region encompasses a remote area on the South Africa and Lesotho border. It’s one of the most beautiful places in South Africa, filled with dramatic mountains as high as 3,475 meters, surrounded by incredible natural phenomena like the five-kilometer-long cliff, and the second-highest waterfall in the world. If you love outdoor adventures like hiking, rock climbing, or even cave exploring, this South Africa travel destination is your best pick. 

As the central mountain range of Southern Africa, the Drakensberg is famous for its numerous hiking trails and spectacular ancient rock art sites dating thousands of years ago. These rock and cave art sites represent and help people reflect on the indigenous San people who lived there eons ago. One of the best routes is a hike to the Tugela Falls which lies within the Drakensberg and is the second-highest fall in the world with a plunge of almost 1,000 meters. 

The second trail is a climb on the nerve-testing Chain Ladders, these systemic vertical rocks that would be a treat if not a challenge to climb. These metal ladders hang vertically over the cliff’s face where you can climb up over 100 steps as you chase these magnificent sceneries at the top of the ending cliff. It’s truly a beauty to behold especially in the summer months.

6. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park 

As you plan to travel to South Africa, you’ll learn that the number of parks could easily equal the number of hotels or restaurants in the country. Like many other African countries, South Africa is abundant in nature and wildlife, and each park has its gems to share. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is no exception, it lies on the South Africa-Botswana border with approximately three-quarters of the park in Botswana and a quarter in South Africa.

The park comprises two adjoining national parks: Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and Gemsbok National Park in Botswana, which come together to form Kgalagadi, meaning “place of thirst.” It’s one of the best places to visit in South Africa as you see red dunes, herds of gemsbok, springbok, red hartebeest, eland, and blue wildebeest. You’ll also spot black mane lions, African leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, and other raptors relaxing under the camel-thorn trees. Lastly, you’ll find over 200 bird species like eagles, secretary birds, and buzzards. 

7. Cape Peninsula

We’ve discussed Cape Town earlier in the article but here’s a gem we should have also mentioned, Cape Peninsula. It’s one of the city’s crowning jewels with the best to give. We’re talking towering cliffs, luscious forests, pristine bay beaches, and the magnificent stretch of coastline packed with numerous activities for you and your family. 

The Cape Peninsula has warm sandy beaches at Clifton and Camps Bay, where you can sunbathe, bask, and enjoy the charm of the secluded beaches. Enjoy shark exploring and get up close and personal with the sharks, dolphins, and whales while surrounded by trained professionals. Still at the Peninsula, you could visit Boulders Beach between Simon’s Town and Cape Point and get some one-on-one time with the African wobbly Jackass penguins. 

Other incredible places to visit at Cape Peninsula include the Cape Point Lighthouse, the focal point to see other great scenery like the Cape of Good Hope. It’s the most south-western point of Africa, also known as the “Graveyard of Ships,” where sailors stayed wary of the prominent sharp cliffs. You could also see other geographical landmarks like the stunning slopes of Lion’s Head and the Twelve Apostles. 

Finally, while you’re there, take the chance to visit the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which boasts of paying homage to over 7,000 plant species including rare and endangered species. This is definitely of of the best South Africa places to visit!

8. Bryde River Canyon & Panorama Route

best places to visit in South Africa

The Panorama Route is the most scenic route in South Africa that engulfs some of the best places to visit in South Africa. The route transverse in the Mpumalanga province centered around the Blyde River Canyon, which is the world’s third-largest canyon. The route offers epic views of the Drakensberg mountains, dramatic terrains, magnificent waterfalls, and raging rivers.

If you plan to take the Panorama Route, you could book a tour with travel guides who’ll take you around several tourist attractions like the Kruger National Park, the Great Escarpment, and the Echo Caves. However, you could also choose the self-drive option where you’ll follow a map as you pick which natural landmarks to view. You could visit the popular towns of Hazyview, Sabie, and Graskop, or pass by God’s Window and marvel at the three Rondavels also known as the three sister rocks.

Another great scenery you should visit on the Panorama Route is a visit to Burke’s Luck potholes. These potholes are unseemly striking natural phenomena churned over millennia of the river’s Blyde and Treur, etching away at the rocks and leaving cylindrical depressions in the bedrock. Then, finally, visit either the 90-meter Lisbon Falls, 80-meter Berlin Falls, or 70-meter Mac Mac Falls. Especially the Berlin Falls that have a wick-like appearance.

9. Addo Elephant National Park

We have already established that some of the most beautiful places in South Africa are all about wildlife; the Addo Elephant National Park is no exception. The Addo Elephant National Park dates back to 1931 when it started as a conservation park with only 11 elephants. The park is a malaria-free game reserve that houses over 400 Cape buffalos, 600 elephants, numerous antelope species, spotted hyenas, and endangered East African black rhinos, claiming its title as the country’s third largest game reserve.

Over the years, the game reserve has expanded in the area taking up space in adjacent locations, but it has also grown in biodiversity. With the added range of landscapes, flora, and fauna, the park now boasts five out of South Africa’s seven major vegetation biomes. You should spot the big five, the southern right whales, and the great white sharks, making it the “Big 7.”

Within the park, you’ll also find archaeological sites on the coast and in the Zuurberg area. You should see the park’s mega marine reserve, the largest remaining population of the flightless dung beetle, and the second-largest breeding population of African penguins. Remember to visit the Addo Raptor & Reptile House.

10. iSimingaliso Wetland Park

With an area of 239,566 hectares, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a large protected area along South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal Province coastline, and the second largest national park in South Africa. It engulfs the terrestrial environments, wetlands, and coastal and estuarine scenery. The park’s centerpiece is the vast St Lucia Lake, home to many wildlife like flamingos, pelicans, hippos, and crocodiles. 

Dating back to 1912, the park created a bird lover’s paradise, Umkhuze, approximately 40,000 hectares; it’s one of South Africa’s oldest parks with over 420 avian species and many other notable games. Its continued dedication to creating an excellent home for the animals amidst different landscapes, rivers, pans, and forests, the park became South Africa’s first World Heritage Site in 1999, and 10 years later, what was previously St Lucia Wetlands became iSimangaliso, meaning “miracle and wonder.”

As you travel to South Africa, you’ll see that iSimangaliso has numerous jewels like the ideal beach and safari destination, Cape Vidal. This prime area is one of the most beautiful places in South Africa as it offers the best of both worlds. From a thriving marine world filled with whale sharks, sailfish, humpback whales, dolphins, and Marlins to the unspoiled wilderness, which you can explore with off-road vehicles. Enjoy the pristine beaches of Mabibi, Island Rock, Lala Nek, Rocktail Bay, and Black Rock that come loaded with fun activities for you and your family like sea-fly fishing, off-shore scuba-diving, and snorkeling.

11. Pilanesberg National Park

From Kruger to iSimangaliso to Addo Elephant Park, coming in as the fourth largest game reserve is the Pilanesberg National Park located in the North West Province adjacent to Johannesburg. It’s a unique destination as it lies in the root of an extinct volcano crater that erupted 1300 million years ago. Its appearance is unlike any other with alternating ridges and valleys forming concentric rings that rise about 2000 feet above its surrounding plains. 

The large volcanic complexes, rare rocks, rare minerals, and unique geological features make this park one of the best places to visit in South Africa. Furthermore, you’ll also be taken aback by several scattered sites within the park that preserve man’s presence in the Iron and Stone Ages.

The park pays homage to over 10,000 mammals such as African leopards and cheetahs, Southwestern black rhinoceros, kudus, Burchell zebras, impalas, South African giraffes, bush elephants, Sable antelopes, brown hyenas, and cats like the caracals. The park has over 360 bird species and different types of flora defined by landscape.

12. Durban

After Johannesburg and Cape Town, Durban is the third most populous city in South Africa. In 2010, the country rehabilitated the city with new infrastructure and excellent facilities and amenities to allow it to host the FIFA World Cup. So expect a Western funk from modernized signage to incomparable sky-high buildings. 

Durban still has traditional influence in the city thanks to its many settlers. Dating back to 1497, Durban was then called Durban KwaZulu-Natal as Portuguese settlers came in during Christmas, calling it Rio de Natal (natal is Christmas in Portuguese). In 1824, British settlers renamed it to what we know as Durban City. Now you can expect several international influences especially Indians as the city has the highest population of Indians outside of India. You’ll find tasty Indian cuisine like the locals favorite “Bunny Chow,” which is bread hollowed out and filled with either bean or mutton curry. 

While in Durban, South Africa, travel to The Ushaka Marine World, which has the 5th largest aquarium in the world. This entertainment theme park is unequivocally one of the most beautiful places in South Africa. It’s all about “wet and wild” with Africa’s highest slide waterpark, sea animal underwater tours, a peek into the world’s venomous snakes, a village walk, and fine dining experiences. Furthermore, the park sits at the end of the Golden Mile, a 6km run to the Blue Lagoon, yet another tourist hot spot for fun, picnics, and tranquility. 

beautiful places in South Africa – South Africa travel

13. Johannesburg

Johannesburg, commonly known as Jo’burg or Jozi, is the most populous city in South Africa and the country’s chief industrial and financial metropolis. It’s the provincial capital and largest city in Gauteng, the wealthiest province in South Africa. Founded in 1886, the city is unlike any other, with a vast historical legacy and an optimistic future as the “City of Gold.” The city has become a hub for art lovers, romantics, history buffs, and sophisticated investors.

One thing that stands out about Johannesburg is that its legacy shines through, with its preservation of Africa’s art. You’ll notice the best places to visit in South Africa, Johannesburg include the Apartheid Museum, which details the country’s journey past absurdities, cruelty, and injustice; Mandela House, which preserves the heritage, history, and legacy of the Mandela family, and other museums and recollection houses like the Constitution Hill, the Cradle of Humankind, and South African Nation Museum of Military History.

Nonetheless, if you’re not up for some history lessons, there are other fun and exciting things you can do in Johannesburg, like a visit to the Gold Reef City. It’s a theme park and casino complex with 24-hour entertainment guaranteed for kids and adults. Such entertainment includes live theaters, a trampoline park, a casino, a cinema complex, a 30-ride theme park, an underground mine tour, a bowling alley, and many more activities for the family.

14. Golden Gate Highlands National Park 

best places to visit in South Africa

In the Free State of South Africa, near the Lesotho border, lies one of the most beautiful places in South Africa solely based on its magnificent landscape views. Covering an area of 340 km2, the park is rich in montane grassland flora with over 60 grass species, and a variety of bulbs and herbs. But what is most notable are the rocks, especially the Brandwag rock. It’s orange-hued, with shades of ochre and gold and the adjacent cliffs and outcrops appear sandstone, giving the landscape beauty like no other.  

A walk or cruise in the park, you’ll also notice San rock paintings displayed on the caves and shelters, and paleontology finds like skeletons and dinosaur eggs. As for the wildlife, the park includes over 12 species of mice, 210 avian species, water mongoose, sungazer lizard, ten antelope species, eland, the gray rhebok, and the mountain reedbuck, amongst others.

On your trip to Golden Gate Park, indulge in one to five hours of hiking the nature trails, swimming in the clear mountain pool at Glen Reenen, horse riding, cave exploration, mountain biking, and video shows and guided excursions available during the school period.

15. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park 

Coming in last on our beautiful places in South Africa list is the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park. Formerly a game reserve, the park is the oldest proclaimed nature reserve in Africa, with an area of 96,000 hectares that covers a hilly topography and immense flora and fauna. The Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP) was established in 1895 to serve as a protected area for wildlife such as African Wild Dogs, Lions, and Cheetahs. 

The reserve works to maintain, supplement, and possibly reintroduce new genes and species of animals from all over the continent. Some of the species include the Brown Hyena, Black-backed Jackal, Blue Duiker, Bushbuck, Klipspringer, Common Reedbuck, Impala, Nyala, and Blue Wildebeest. Besides animal sightings and photography, the park tries to preserve the artifacts and evidence of burial sites, kraals, and smelting sites suggestive of the Iron Age present within the park.

Wrapping up the 15 best places to visit in South Africa

From Cape Town to Johannesburg, Cape Peninsula to Durban, we have exhausted most of South Africa’s places to visit. As you have read above, the country is a queen of beauty with orange-hued landscapes, scenic drives, numerous historical treasures, and wildlife thriving in multiple locations. And even with such a detailed review, we’re yet to talk about other best places to visit in South Africa like the Barberton Greenstone Belt, Hermanus, and Namaqualand, amongst other locations. 

But don’t worry, catch the following article as we further discuss where to go and what to do on your next trip to Cape Town. Don’t miss our articles on other African countries like Kenya, and Morocco. More is coming soon!

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