South Africa is one of the biggest tourism draws on the African continent. It’s no wonder when you look at how much beautiful nature, historic cities, and lively culture exist in the country. If you’re planning a trip to South Africa, here are some of the best places to add to your list.
The 15 Best Places to Visit in South Africa
South Africa is a big country with over 470,000 square miles of land. Much of that land is still in its natural, pristine condition, where wilderness coexists with humans.
South Africa has stunning landscapes, including mountains, rugged coasts, and more. South Africa’s nature is not just about the landscapes but also about the creatures that live in them.
The country is home to amazing animals, including some of the main draws for tourists going on safari, such as lions, elephants, rhinos, and buffalo.
The coastal regions and waters surrounding the country are also rich with animals, from penguins to great white sharks. That’s not to say South Africa is just nature and animals. The cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, and more are rich with history.
Some of that history is painful, such as remnants of the apartheid regime, but other parts, such as the story of Nelson Mandela and other resisters, are heroic. Today, South Africa’s cities are home to vibrant cultural scenes. Here are some of the best places to visit in the country.
1. Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is one of the most stunning destinations on the planet, and South Africa is lucky to have such a gem in its territory. Kruger National Park is located in Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces, several hours’ drive from Johannesburg.
This stunning reserve is home to wildlife you can see in few other places on Earth. On a guided safari drive, you can see the Big Five — lions, elephants, rhinos, buffalo, and leopards — as well as giraffes, birds, and other species.
Kruger National Park is perfect for first-time safari goers, experienced wilderness explorers, and luxury campers. The park itself, as well as the private lodges that surround it, has a lot of accommodations and amenities.
2. Cape Town
Cape Town is one of South Africa’s capitals. This port on South Africa’s southwestern coast is full of history as it is the first European settlement in the country.
History lovers will enjoy visiting the many museums and Robben Island, a notorious prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated. Cape Town is surrounded by beautiful nature.
Take advantage of the Mediterranean climate and hike up Table Mountain for gorgeous views of the city — or take the cableway up if you want to spare your legs. Cape Town is also a great way to explore the diverse cultural landscape of South Africa.
Many tourists enjoy walking through Bo-Kaap, a vibrant Malay community. You should also take a visit to the V&A Waterfront with plenty of modern shopping and dining opportunities.
3. Cape Peninsula
Just beyond Cape Town, starting at Table Mountain, begins one of the wildest regions of South Africa. If you visit Cape Town, you must take a day or two to explore Cape Peninsula.
Cape Peninsula is a mountainous region jutting dramatically into the ocean. Drive all the way south to reach the Cape of Good Hope, the southernmost part of the African continent.
You can go hiking, watch the adventurers race boats, or peer into the mist, hoping to see famous ghost ships such as the Flying Dutchman. Along the Cape, keep an eye out for the unique plants and animals, including adorable dassies.
Johannesburg is another one of South Africa’s capital cities. This gritty city was home to some of the country’s most important historical turning points. It was an important site in the decades-long fight against apartheid.
To learn more about this aspect of the city, take a guided tour of Soweto Township or visit the Apartheid Museum. That doesn’t mean that a trip to Johannesburg is all doom and gloom.
The revitalizing city is home to several lively neighborhoods that boast open-air markets, art galleries, and great nightlife. Check out Braamfontein, the Maboneng district, or similar areas.
5. The Garden Route
If you can, there’s no better way to take in all that South Africa has to offer than to take a road trip. The Garden Route is one of the most popular roads in the country with good reason.
This stunning drive meanders along the South African coast from Mossel Bay to Stormsrivier. The route passes by many game reserves and other great places to see wildlife.
Some must-see stops are Robberg Nature Reserve, Oudtshoorn with its ostrich farms, Birds of Eden, and Monkeyland. Along the way, you can see some stunning landscapes.
Knysna Heads, a pair of cliffs on either side of the Knysna River where it meets the Atlantic Ocean, is one must-see sight. The drive is only 125 miles, but you should budget several days to see everything.
6. Blyde River Canyon
Blyde River Canyon is a beautiful canyon complex that is unique on this planet. It is the largest green canyon and the third-largest canyon overall in the world. You can spend days exploring all the interesting formations that the Blyde River carved into the earth.
The Mpumalanga Canyon is one of the most famous destinations within the canyon as it contains interesting geological formations such as Bourke’s Luck Potholes, a series of natural potholes in the river.
Three Rondavels is a popular viewpoint to get the best panoramic photos. However, you can get away from the crowds on one of the many trails throughout the canyon.
7. Drakensberg Region
Most foreign tourists who come to South Africa don’t know about the Drakensberg region, but this mountain range in KwaZulu-Natal province is a favorite among locals. It is the border between South Africa and tiny Lesotho.
The Drakensberg is South Africa’s tallest mountain range, stretching for 700 miles. The best vistas are around Royal Natal National Park or uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park. You can hike, bike, or take a hot air balloon to see the views without breaking a sweat.
8. The Winelands
Many people come to South Africa in search of adventure. If you’re the type of traveler that prefers a more relaxed pace, then the Winelands are for you. The Cape Winelands region is home to the finest wine producers on the continent.
Go to wine tastings and see how growers manage to coax delicious wine from the local soil. Even if you’re not a fan of wine, the Cape Winelands has plenty to entertain a tourist.
Drive through quaint towns such as Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek, which have characteristic white buildings and laid-back atmospheres. You can also take in the gorgeous hilly landscapes.
9. Addo Elephant National Park
Some people come to South Africa with one animal in mind — elephants. If you’re one of those people, make a beeline directly for Addo Elephant National Park. This park has all of the Big Five, but the biggest draw is elephants — all 600 of them.
The Park used to be farmland, but the government turned it into a park as part of its conservation efforts. It is now an elephant sanctuary of sorts. You can drive yourself or take a guided safari tour to spot these gentle giants.
South Africa might be famous for the wildlife it has on land, but it is also home to some pretty spectacular marine wildlife. Hermanus, a sleepy town on the southern shore of the Western Cape, is the best place to go whale-watching.
The waters around Hermanus are home to many southern right whales, who actually give birth here every year. During September, Hermanus hosts a Whale Festival. Go on boat trips or observe these magnificent animals from the shore.
Besides whales, Hermanus also boasts beautiful nature, including waterfalls and cliffs that make for a brisk hike.
Durban is a city that will not be overshadowed by its larger compatriots, Johannesburg and Cape Town. Durban is the quintessential South African melting pot city.
Home to the largest Indian community outside of India itself, Durban is a great place to tuck into South African-Indian food such as bunny chow. Or explore the culture of local tribes on the Shakaland-Zulu tour.
Durban is a great city to visit if you want to spend some time on South African beaches. There are some gorgeous stretches of sandy beaches within city limits, perfect for surfing year-round — thanks to balmy temperatures.
12. Wild Coast
Another great destination for a South African road trip is the Wild Coast, along the Eastern Cape. Drive along this route to see wild scenery, including the Hole in the Wall, a natural arch.
Less touristic than the Garden Route, Wild Coast still has many picturesque towns along the way that make for great stopping points, such as Coffee Bay.
The Wild Coast is a good starting point for some off-road adventures. Rent a vehicle that can go on unpaved trails and visit some Xhosa villages to learn about the local culture.
13. iSimangaliso Wetland Park
iSimangaliso Wetland Park shows that South Africa is so much more than the popular image of the savannah and desert. This vast country contains many diverse landscapes, including wetlands. The park seeks to preserve one unique wetlands area.
The massive park contains coral reefs, rivers, and so much more. The landscape is home to hundreds of bird species, crocodiles, and hippos. You can even book a boat tour to get up close and personal (but not too close) with the hippos.
14. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, on the border between South Africa and Botswana, is an example both of conservation and of international cooperation. If you’re in the North Cape region of South Africa, this park is a must-visit.
It is the largest park dedicated to conservation in the world. When you visit Kgalagadi, you can see wildlife that is unique to this desert landscape, such as the Kalahari lion, gemsbok antelope, and adorable meerkats.
The rugged, colorful landscapes are popular among photographers. The best way to make the most of this vast park is to rent a four-wheel drive or off-road vehicle.
15. Boulders Penguin Colony
At Boulders Penguin Colony, the birds outnumber the people. This region is part of the Cape Peninsula but deserves a mention of its own. Boulders Penguin Colony consists of three beaches around Simon’s Town.
The beaches are the permanent home for a colony of African penguins that numbers over 2,000. The penguins are used to visitors by now, so you can walk close to them on Foxy Beach (they might be a bit too comfortable with humans — these birds are known to bite).
Take in their distinctive braying honk and funny behavior. Once you’re done with penguins, you can swim in the calm yet freezing waters or explore the quaint town of Simon’s Town. The penguin colony is close enough to Cape Town that it is a great day trip.
Things to Consider
Here are some tips to consider before heading to South Africa. First, read up on the rules of entry before heading to a national park. They are sometimes strict regarding visitor behavior — both for your safety and that of the animals.
Make sure you are not bringing in anything that is banned and that you follow ranger instructions. Remember, these are wild animals that haven’t been tamed. Second, remember that South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, so the seasons are flipped!
Summer is from November to March and is when the country is the most crowded and also at its hottest. For milder temperatures, come in the spring and fall.
Finally remember that while South Africa is beautiful, it suffers from a high crime rate. Use common sense, such as avoiding flashy behavior, locking car doors and windows, and staying close to your accommodation at night.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions other visitors to South Africa have asked before planning their trip:
What is the most beautiful part of South Africa?
South Africa is home to so many beautiful vistas that it is difficult to pick the most beautiful part. The dramatic Cape Peninsula is definitely one of the prettiest parts. Inland, Blyde River Canyon is one of the most picturesque.
What is the most visited place in South Africa?
The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town receives the most visitors in South Africa, including foreign visitors, domestic tourists, and locals going for a stroll.
What is the prettiest city in South Africa?
All of South Africa’s cities have something special to offer, but Cape Town is the prettiest, with its spectacular landscapes, including Table Mountain.
Which is better to visit: Cape Town or Johannesburg?
Both Cape Town and Johannesburg are bustling cities with much to offer. They’re both worth visiting, but if you only have time for one, choose Cape Town. Cape Town has a lot of beautiful scenery, including a mountain right above the city, and the vibe is a bit less stressful.
What is the best month to travel to South Africa?
The best month to travel to South Africa is any month between May and October. The weather is mild but not too hot in the South African winter and spring.
So What Is the Best Place to Visit in South Africa?
South Africa has a lot of gorgeous wildlife. The best place to go on safari is Kruger National Park, but there are countless other parks, each with their own unique nature.
In terms of cultural exploration, the city of Cape Town or another big city such as Durban will keep you entertained. So what are you waiting for — book your trip to South Africa today!