12 Best Things to Do in South Africa
As we’ll explore below, this incredibly diverse country offers visitors of all ages a plethora of activities to do, places to stay, and local delights to eat. Here are 12 of our favourite things to do in South Africa:
1. Go on a Big Five safari in the Kruger National Park and Sabi Sands Reserve
It should come as no surprise that Big Five safaris feature among the top things to do in South Africa. Traversing the country’s beautiful landscape, spotting elephants, lions, buffalos, rhinos and leopards along the way. As one of Africa’s premier national parks, Kruger National Park remains one of the oldest and largest wildlife reserves in the world.
For premier game spotting, a visit to Sabi Sands is a must. World renowned for its abundant leopard population, Sabi Sands private reserve spans over 60,000 unfenced hectares and borders Kruger Park. For an up close and personal stay, Lion Sands Narina Lodge sits within a private concession in Kruger National Park, allowing you to admire nearby wildlife roaming the grounds from the comfort of your own private suite.
2. Enjoy a family-friendly safari in Madikwe
Madikwe Game Reserve awaits you with ample opportunity to spot the Big Five while embarking on your family-friendly safari. Bordering the Kalahari Desert and Botswana in the country’s northwest corner, the reserve is malaria-free, making this the ideal locale for families.
For a secluded getaway, Molori offers five expansive suites featuring splendid views of the Dwarsberg mountains and surrounding bush. Spend your days going on personalised game drives and bush tracking, and your nights stargazing.
3. Savour delicious food and wine in the Wine Region
The rolling hills of South Africa’s wine country give way to a vast expanse of pristine vineyards, ranging from small boutique wineries to larger estates. Perfect if you’re looking for a true ‘sip and savour’ experience as part of your luxury travel in the Winelands.
4. Hike up Cape Town’s Table Mountain
Forming the backdrop of beautiful Cape Town, Table Mountain dominates the horizon, flanked by pristine waters of the Cape and the city’s waterfront. Climb aboard the cable car ascending to the top for breathtaking views.
Alternatively, the famous Lions Head hike can take as little as 30 to 45 minutes one way if you’re short on time, or longer if you want to slow it down and take time to appreciate the incredible views of Camps Bay and the cityscape below.
5. Learn about South Africa’s history in Johannesburg
If you’re interested in delving more into South Africa’s culture, then add in a visit to Soweto, Johannesburg. Offering insight into one of South Africa’s most important historical areas, here you’ll be inspired by the legacy of Nelson Mandela and learn of other activists who shaped the anti-apartheid movement.
Johannesburg has also see a considerable amount of regeneration in recent years, with an abundance of projects and industries run by local artists and creatives.
Expand your exploration of the culture and history of South Africa with a moving visit to Cape Town‘s Apartheid Museum District 6. It takes a sobering look at apartheid affected the country and its people.
6. Explore Cape Town’s foodie highlights
Savour a variety of flavours as you explore Cape Town’s foodie scene. Local spots like Biesmiellah showcase traditional South African dishes such as braai, while Mariam’s Kitchen churns out delicious curry and gatsbys – Cape Town’s signature sandwich.
Looking for a one-of-a-kind culinary experience? Get ready to roll up your sleeves for a private cooking class under the watchful eye of a professional chef. You’ll learn some useful tips to take home to your own kitchen to impress your friends.
7. Witness breaching whales on the Whale Coast
Considered one of the world’s premier destinations for viewing nurseries of southern right whales, Whale Coast also offers splendid views of wild surf and pristine white beaches. August is the best month to visit South Africa for whale watching, as whales start to migrate from Antarctica to South Africa for calving season during these winter months.
Climb aboard a boat trip for an up close and personal experience with these beautiful giants. Or, if keeping your feet firmly planted on land is more your thing, a stay at Birkenhead House is a must, where you can sometimes see whales from the property.
8. Take a luxury train ride on Rovos Rail
Indulge your inner romantic and travel back in time with luxury train travel on Rovos Rail. Travel in comfortable luxury aboard one of Rovos Rail’s fleet of four trains, restored to their Edwardian-era splendour, as South Africa’s rolling savannah and rugged coastlines greet you outside your window.
Featuring elegant suites, observatory cars and silver service, the 55-hour trip suits perfectly if you’re seeking slow travel at its finest. Rovos Rail offers several weekly to annual journeys across South Africa, including the weekly route between Pretoria and Cape Town.
9. Take it easy on the Garden Route
Lush and laidback, the Garden Route spoils nature lovers for choice. Green scenescapes blanket valleys and hillsides, as indigenous forests cascade down picturesque mountain sides teeming with exotic birdlife.
10. Go on a Peninsula tour and see penguins on Boulders Beach
For a family-friendly activity that will appeal to all ages, spend your afternoon spotting cute African penguins on Boulders Beach in their natural habitat. Or, take in crisp waves and rock formations by boarding a Peninsula tour.Pat
Other jaunts outside the city centre worthy of a day trip include Cape of Good Hope and Chapman’s Peak Drive, both of which offer stunning views of South Africa’s majestic coastline.Pat
11. Go hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains
Affectionately known as ‘the Berg’, the Drakensberg Mountains are widely considered to be South Africa’s outdoor playground. The highest mountain range in South Africa will surely satisfy any thrill-seeker in your group, with excursions like zip lining, white water rafting and horseback riding.
Join a private guide for a half-day hike in Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve. The area takes its name from the mountain formations which resemble a sleeping giant with its foot propped up against its castle. There is fascinating rock art to discover, and a variety of local wildlife and birds to look out for.
12. Take a boat trip to Robben Island
For history enthusiasts, a trip to South Africa won’t complete without a visit to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in imprisonment. An easy day trip from Cape Town, the boat ride to Robben Island offers scenic views of the Atlantic, alongside spectacular shoreline views on the island once disembarked.
On this fascinating tour you’ll visit various historic sites around the island, including the limestone quarry, the graveyard from when the island was a leper colony, army and navy bunkers, and of course, the prison itself. The tour culminates with a viewing of Nelson Mandela’s cell.
Luxury accommodation in South Africa
The PlettenbergSituated on a rocky headland in Africa’s most spectacular coastal resort town, this is the perfect place to escape and enjoy breathtaking ocean vistas, sweeping golden beaches and forested mountains. The hotel boasts 35 beautifully-appointed rooms and two family-style villas. SeaFood at The Plettenberg is renowned for its ocean bounty, drawing inspiration from the rich marine life found in Plettenberg Bay. The kitchen team prides itself on prepares innovative, sustainable seafood dishes, together with a wide selection of meats and vegetables. At The Sandbar you can enjoy expertly-mixed cocktails and award-winning wines after a day of exploring the area. Both the Sun Terrace and Bluewing swimming pools offer outstanding views, so find a sun lounger and spend the day soaking up the rays as you listen to the sea below. It’s the perfect vantage point from which to watch surfers taking on the waves and keep a look-out for pods of playful dolphins. With a fantastic location in the heart of the Garden Route, this is the perfect place to relax after enjoying all the exhilarating outdoor activities, from dolphin and whale watching to bungee jumping, treetop canopy tours and other exhilarating pursuits on offer in the Garden Route region.
Birkenhead HouseLike its siblings of the Royal Portfolio properties (Royal Malewane in the Kruger and La Residence in Franschhoek), Birkenhead House exudes a comfortable chic that is majestically modern yet intimate. Its position on the cliffs of Hermanus looking over Walker Bay confirms it as one of the best places to stay along the Whale Cape. With only eleven rooms, a fully-equipped spa and an excellent restaurant, the service here is both attentive and personal and a broad range of activities from aromatherapy to shark diving can be arranged. The interiors are an adroit marriage between traditional French-style furniture offset by antiques, and more clean modern lines using a fresh white and beige palette interspersed with expert use of vibrant colours that complement the views streaming in, and which mostly draws the eyes.
La ResidenceOne of the most famous hotels in South Africa, La Residence is a truly opulent and stately base from which to explore the wine region. From the moment one enters the grand hall at the entrance, it is obvious that you have entered a very special place. Works of art and antiques from all over the world adorn the lavish interiors. Set close to the pretty town of Franschhoek on a backdrop of rolling hills, the hotel sits in thirty acres of working farm with immaculately manicured gardens, vineyards and orchards. There are eleven suites set in the main building, each very individual from the other and themed around a colour, with an eclectic but cohesive mix of antiques and art lending both character and opulence to each of the rooms. Further down the hill are the newly constructed villas. These have a slightly more contemporary feel, with brighter colours and are also very suitable for families as they range from two to four bedrooms each. The villas also share a separate pool area and a communal open kitchen and dining area, encouraging a more informal mingling of guests in this part of the property.