With remarkable wildlife, trendy food and quality wines, South Africa is a diverse destination with memorable experiences. Here are our favourite places to visit in South Africa.
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 and wetlands abundant with wildlife. Semi-arid deserts surrounded barren bohemian towns.
There’s the culture; a melting pot of European and African influences. High-end wineries 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.
// Booking your trip via the links on this page (or on our book page) will earn us a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support – Paul & Mark.
IN THIS GUIDE
BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN SOUTH AFRICA
PLACES IN SOUTH AFRICA / 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.
1 – TABLE MOUNTAIN AND LIONS HEAD
There’s no better way to get a feel for the stunning setting of Cape Town than by a trip up the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway. At 1,000 metres above the city centre, with the Atlantic Ocean in the background, the views are remarkable.
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.
2 – CAPE TOWN BEACHES
We’re not often impressed with city beaches, 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.
3 – CAPE PENINSULA
The Cape Peninsula Nature Reserve – just south of Cape Town – 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.
But it’s the scenery that steals the show along the stunning Cape Peninsula. Buzz along Chapmans Peak Drive – a windy road that clings to red rock boulders above the sea – on the way down 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.
4 – THE CAPE TOWN TOWNSHIPS
In order to see how most people live in the city, a Cape Town township is one of the most important places to visit in South Africa. Most of the workers who built the trendy hangouts that have made Cape Town 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.
PLACES IN SOUTH AFRICA / 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 Town up to the semi-arid interior.
5 – GARDEN ROUTE COASTLINE
The 200 kilometre stretch of coastline that makes up the Garden Route has 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.
Tackle a small section of the Otter trail – a five-day 42-kilometre hike – to exotic seaside waterfalls and refreshing rock pools. Alternatively, jump in a kayak and paddle up the Storms River for an exciting gorge adventure in Tsitsikamma National Park.
6 – HERMANUS
Hermanus is a town perched on the cliffs overlooking the sea southeast of Cape Town. 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 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.
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.
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 hundreds of little wineries, this culinary quality 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 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 IN SOUTH AFRICA / 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 reinforced by golden sandy beaches, St Lucia is a world-class wilderness area. A sprawling wetland park separates grassy savannahs from sand dunes teaming 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.
10 – SANI PASS AND LESOTHO
There are not many drives like this. 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.
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 5 are all here but 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.
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. From this mighty cliff face drops the second highest waterfall 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.
PLACES IN SOUTH AFRICA / 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 IN SOUTH AFRICA / 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 5. 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. So take your pick: self-drive in Kruger in a very cost-effective way or pay up and live it up in a private camp. If you’re after the latter, we recommend Sabi Sands.
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.
MAP / PLACES TO VISIT IN SOUTH AFRICA
Our favourite places to visit in South Africa are situated in five different providences of the country: Cape Town; the Western Cape; KwaZulu-Natal; Johannesburg and Mpumalanga. Each of the amazing attractions that made it onto our list are included on the map below, colour coded for each area.
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
When to visit South Africa
5-day Cape Town 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
Follow us on Instagram and subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date.
If you found this guide useful, shares on social media are much appreciated.