With remarkable wildlife, trendy food and quality wines, South Africa is a diverse destination with memorable experiences. Here are our favourite South Africa destinations.
It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what makes the incredible places to visit in South Africa so special.
There’s the scenery. Subtropical forests with deep canyons and towering mountains. Wide-open savannahs, wetlands abundant with wildlife and Kruger National Park. Semi-arid deserts surrounded barren bohemian towns.
There’s the culture; a melting pot of European and African influences. High-end wine tasting contrast with Zulu road stops, cosmopolitan cities with relaxed laid back towns.
There’s the legacy. Scarred by history, South Africa is a defiant determined nation. Townships and apartheid museums provide an insight into how far South Africa has come and how much is left to do.
Of course, there are sublime beaches, incredible safari experiences, epic road trips, great hiking and mountain kingdoms. Our favourite places in South Africa bring all these elements to life and yet even though there are so many great experiences, somehow South Africa is still more than the sum of its parts.
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IN THIS GUIDE
MUST-SEE PLACES IN SOUTH AFRICA
MAP | PLACES TO VISIT IN SOUTH AFRICA
To make it easier to plan your South Africa itinerary, we’ve organised the must-see attractions into the five different providences they belong to.
- Cape Town & Around – for the combination of African & European cultures.
- Western Cape – for the Garden Route, Winelands and the arty, semi-arid Karoo.
- KwaZulu-Natal – for remote South Africa, mountain hikes and excursions into Lesotho.
- Johannesburg – for the story of South Africa’s past.
- Mpumalanga – for some of the best safari experiences in South Africa.
Each of the amazing attractions that made it onto our list are included on the map below, colour coded for each area.
How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.
PLACES TO VISIT AROUND CAPE TOWN
Squeezed between the mountains and the ocean, Cape Town is full of tantalising travel experiences that combine African and European cultures in a stunning natural setting. When visiting South Africa, this is a great place to start.
1 – CAPE TOWN
Set in a dramatic location between mountains and the ocean, and with an intoxicating cultural blend, Cape Town is an unmissable destination in South Africa.
There’s no better way to get a feel for the stunning setting than by taking a trip up the top of the Table Mountain National Park. The views are remarkable at 1,000 metres above the city centre, with the Atlantic Ocean in the background.
Even better views can be found up Lion’s Head. It’s a one hour walk along a rocky path punctuated with yellow and white flowers, cutting a swathe through the granite covered in fynbos. But it’s worth every step. The views back to Table Mountain, across to the Twelve Apostles and along the sweeping sandy arc of Camps Bay beach are the finest in the city.
Full Guide // Best things to do in Cape Town
2 – CAPE TOWN BEACHES
We’re not often impressed with the beach scene in cities, but Cape Town is a notable exception. The vast stretches of Bloubergstrand are excellent for kitesurfing, while the beaches of the affluent Clifton area are a cool spot to unwind behind the protection of large boulders.
The most celebrated stretch of beach, however, is the arc of white sand that is Camps Bay. The water is as cool as the trendy cocktails served from the parade of bars backing onto the beach. It’s one of the best sunset locations in the city and one of the best tourist attractions in South Africa.
Itinerary // Our 5-day Cape Town itinerary
3 – CAPE PENINSULA
The Cape Peninsula Nature Reserve holds a trifecta of winning beaches. Watch penguins play in shallow waters at Boulders Beach; explore a traditional harbour and fish market at Hout Bay and enjoy the bohemian slice of life at Kalk Bay.
Driving towards the peninsular, make a pitstop to the Constantia Wine Route. Groot Constantia and Buitenverwachting are both great places to enjoy lunch with wine tasting.
But it’s the scenery that steals the show on a road trip along the stunning Cape Peninsula. One of the most impressive road trip routes anywhere in the world is Chapmans Peak Drive – a windy road that clings to red rock boulders above the sea as it makes its way to Cape Point.
Here, a rugged walk to the lighthouse offers tantalising views across the Cape of Good Hope – an excellent addition to your South Africa itinerary.
Full Itinerary // 3-weeks in South Africa
4 – THE TOWNSHIPS
In order to see how most people live in Cape Town, a township tour is one of the most important South African experiences. Most of the workers who built and now operate the trendy hangouts that have made the beautiful city such a drawcard, reside in townships still living with the ongoing legacy of apartheid.
Join a township tour and learn about how these communities are developing and talk to locals about how life has changed in just a few decades. It’s a humbling experience to understand their fight for the basic freedoms we take for granted, and to hear their enthusiasm for a better future.
Read // Visiting a township in Cape Town
PLACES TO VISIT ON THE WESTERN CAPE
The Western Cape is one of the iconic South Africa must-see destinations. Find rugged coastal paths, desert towns and hilly Winelands from the dramatic coastline at Cape Peninsula up to the semi-arid interior via the Garden Route National Park.
5 – GARDEN ROUTE COASTLINE
The 200-kilometre stretch of coastline that makes up the Garden Route National Park is a road trip with a staggering array of scenery and activities. Coastal cliffs dotted with hiking paths drop-down to sweeping virgin beaches and crashing waves. The 4-hour walk around the Robberg Peninsula is a spectacular way to spot seals, dolphins and a variety of wildlife in a beautiful coastal setting.
While driving the Garden Route, tackle a small section of the Otter trail – a five-day 42-kilometre hike that visits exotic seaside waterfalls and refreshing rock pools.
Alternatively, jump in a kayak and paddle up the Storms River for an exciting gorge adventure in the beautiful Tsitsikamma National Park.
Read Next // Putting together your South Africa Itinerary
6 – HERMANUS
Hermanus is a lovely small town perched on the cliffs overlooking the sea in the south of the country If you time your South Africa trip for whale-watching (June-November), Hermanus is considered one of the best places for spotting a number of different species.
Join a boat or kayak tour to try your chances of spotting these mighty mammals and learn about the challenges facing them in an environment under threat.
An afternoon walking along the 10-kilometre coastal path from New Harbour to Grotto Beach is ideal for spotting dolphins and seals playing close to the shore. It’s also a great way to take in sunset after a lazy day on one of the many beautiful beaches in Hermanus.
7 – THE KAROO
The Great and Little Karoo National Park are semi-arid deserts an hour or so drive inland from the crashing surf. The drive transports you to a different world where the temperature soars and the lush forested regions of the Garden Route are replaced by patches of succulents in barren desert landscapes.
It’s a beautiful part of South Africa and a lovely way to experience a different side of the country.
Connecting the Great and Little Karoo is the Swartberg Pass, a dramatic red rock canyon cut by a seemingly insignificant river, which ends at Prince Albert. Deep in a desert wilderness, Prince Albert is one of the best things to do in South Africa. It’s a surprising cultural oasis and a creative hub full of quirky art galleries and top-quality South African cooking.
Read Next // Best time to visit South Africa
8 – WINELANDS & ROUTE 62
South Africa has some of the finest value food and wine in the world. On-trend signature dishes, whipped up from local ingredients with a creative flair, adorn the menu of stylish eating establishments.
Paired with wines from one of the hundreds of little wineries in South Africa, the culinary quality of the region reaches its zenith around the Winelands, just an hour east of Cape Town.
Franschhoek is the smartest and one of the most popular destinations for a wine tasting on a South Africa vacation. But head east along the R62 and into the Robertson Valley to get further off the beaten track and discover some less-visited wineries. The Excelsior Wine Estate has a relaxed lakeside setting while Springfield Estate produces their excellent wines using traditional methods.
PLACES TO VISIT IN KWAZULU-NATAL
KwaZulu-Natal stretches along the southeast coast of South Africa up to the Mozambique border. As a genuinely African adventure in a remote setting, KwaZulu-Natal has the best outdoor adventures, breath-taking diverse scenery and people fiercely proud of their Zulu culture. This is South Africa must-see at its most remote.
9 – ST LUCIA WETLANDS
Surrounded by the warm tropical waters of the Indian Ocean and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, St Lucia is a world-class wilderness area.
A sprawling wetland park separates grassy savannahs from sand dunes teeming with life in an area bursting with a multitude of ecosystems.
Boat rides up the estuary bring you to hippos wallowing in the mud, crocodiles looking for their next meal and a wide variety of birds going about their daily life. But the highlight of a visit to St Lucia is a night safari along the beach to witness the massive Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles laying eggs in the moonlight.
Full Guide // What to do in St Luca, South Africa
10 – SANI PASS AND LESOTHO
There are not many road trips like this in the world. The Sani Pass rises 1300 metres in less than 9 kilometres as it climbs from the plains of South Africa to the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. The authorities won’t let you up without a 4×4 and for good reason. This narrow rocky road with loose boulders and tight hairpins is one of the most adventurous drives we have ever done.
It takes around 1 hour and 15 minutes of nerve-jangling ascent to drive the Sani Pass up to the Kingdom of Lesotho. Here Basotho (Lesotho’s citizens) roam the high mountain grasslands looking after their goats, sheep and horses. Dressed like Jedi in sweeping robes and hoods – eyes obscured from the harsh Lesotho sun – they keep a keen eye on all visitors to their rugged realm.
Read More // Visiting Lesotho via the Sani Pass
11 – HLUHLUWE-IMFOLOZI GAME RESERVE
The Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve is often overlooked for its grander neighbours. But that is a pity because it offers truly great wildlife viewing all year round. The Big Five are all here, in addition, driving around the beautiful scenery of this forested safari park will provide countless opportunities to spot rhino and buffalo.
Mountains carpeted in green forest conceal bull elephants looking for a mate; grasslands and open savannah form a patchwork providing cover for lions, and jungle vines form an artery for baboons to scurry home.
The accommodation at the one camp inside the park – Hilltop – is pretty good value for money for a safari park and it’s something we highly recommend adding to your South Africa vacation.
More // Where to see African Safari animals
12 – DRAKENSBERG AMPHITHEATRE
Nestled in the Royal Natal National Park, the Drakensberg Amphitheatre is 5 kilometres long with a vertical drop of just over 1,200 metres, giving it a cliff face more than 10 times the size of El Capitan in Yosemite.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this mighty cliff face contains the second-highest waterfall in the world, several excellent hiking trails and a wonderful opportunity to encounter the many cultures. Drakensberg is a gem and one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Strap on your boots and discover one of the many excellent hikes in the Drakensberg. Push your way through thick beautiful jungle, boulder hop up gorges and ascend over rickety chain ladders to be rewarded with truly awe-inspiring scenery.
Full Guide // Visiting the Drakensberg Mountains
PLACES TO VISIT IN JOHANNESBURG
The capital of South Africa is often overlooked for other parts of the country with more obvious tourist appeal. But Johannesburg is the best place to uncover the story of racial segregation and how the legacy of the past is still being felt today. It’s a rewarding addition to your South Africa vacation.
13 – APARTHEID MUSEUM
Opened in 2001, the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg houses a harrowing but moving story of apartheid in South Africa. Charting the policy of racial segregation and its social implications, it uses a variety of audio-visual mediums to tell the story. Most chilling and inspiring are the first-hand accounts provided by the victims of apartheid and their struggle towards democracy.
Apart from the important message, the museum is also an achievement in architectural design, using both internal and external space in a uniquely South African experience.
14 – SOWETO
Soweto (short for Southwest Township) was for many years the heart of resistance to the policy of apartheid. It’s incredible that this place of uprising just thirty years ago is today a friendly neighbourhood in suburban Johannesburg that welcomes visitors to hear its story. If the Apartheid Museum tells the story in exhibits, then Soweto tells the story in real life.
Join a bike tour and visit the homes of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu; visit the Hector Pieterson Museum which tells of the 1976 uprising, and pass neighbourhoods still clearly struggling to shake the legacy of apartheid. As the place in South Africa where change began, it’s a privilege to witness today.
PLACES TO VISIT IN MPUMALANGA
Mpumalanga is one of the smallest provinces in South Africa, but it packs one of the biggest punches. Located to the east of Johannesburg with a strong Zulu and eSwatini heritage, it’s blessed with diverse mountain scenery, deep canyons and a subtropical climate. Despite the impressive scenery, it’s rightly most famous for Kruger National Park.
15 – KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
Covering almost 20,000 square kilometres, Kruger National Park is the largest safari park in the world. It has more species of large mammals than anywhere else and it’s a top destination for spotting the elusive Big Five. The good news, however, is that they’re not that elusive in Kruger – we collected all 5 twice in one day.
Along the edges of the government-run Kruger Park are a number of smaller private reserves that offer great game viewing in the lap of luxury. With trained private drivers, this can be a great way to see more wildlife, including leopards and the elusive African wild dogs. A self-drive in Kruger is a very cost-effective way to visit Kruger National Park. For a private reserve, we recommend Sabi Sands.
How To // Self-drive safari in Kruger National Park
16 – BLYDE RIVER CANYON
Wedged between Johannesburg and Kruger National Park, Blyde River Canyon is one of the largest canyons in the world. It’s an average of 750 metres deep but rises to as high as 1,400 metres. It’s best seen from some excellent viewpoints: The Three Rondavels, God’s Window and Bourke’s Luck Potholes; all spread along the R532.
A great way to experience the Blyde River Canyon is to pick up a hiking map from the Forever Resort. They have various hiking trails which explore the valley floors, collect hidden waterfall-filled lagoons for wild swimming and pass under jungle-covered rocky walls. It’s one of our favourite places in South Africa and very under-visited.
TIPS FOR VISITING SOUTH AFRICA
01 – Read our guide on constructing your South Africa itinerary which has a breakdown of the main areas and how much you can expect to see on your trip.
02 – Most travellers will not need an entry visa for South Africa. The list of countries whose citizens are exempt can be found here.
03 – Currently, travellers must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and present a negative PCR test taken 72 hours prior to departure. As the situation changes regularly, check the entry requirements before you make any plans.
04 – Allow for at least 3-5 days in Cape Town and try to avoid the cold and wet season between July and August. For more information read our guide about when to visit South Africa.
05 – For Cape Town, book the Robben Island Tour, township tour and Table Mountain Cableway at least a week before arriving.
06 – Malaria is present in KwaZulu-Natal, in the far northwest of the country. If you intend to visit this area, check with your doctor to see if anti-malaria medication is recommended for you.
07 – To make the most of your safari experience, read out guide to self-driving in Kruger, which we think is one of the best ways to see the wildlife.
08 – We strongly advise booking accommodation in advance, especially for Kruger and Sabi Sands which can get booked up a long time in advance.
09 – In Johannesburg, book the Soweto Cycling Tour at least a couple of days ahead.
MORE SOUTH AFRICA READING
As one of our favourite places to visit for winter sun, great hiking and incredible wildlife opportunities, we’ve been to South Africa several times. Find all our writing on our SA Page or read these guides next.
How to design your own South Africa itinerary
10 reasons to visit the magnificent Drakensberg Mountains
A 4×4 adventure up the Sani Pass to Lesotho
A complete guide to Cathedral Peak
27 incredible African safari animals and where to see them
Sabi Sands vs Kruger – which safari experience is better?
10 tips for seeing the most animals on a self-drive Kruger safari
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