South Africa is worth visiting for its diversity alone. Each region has its own distinct personality and culture, offering a captivating blend of cosmopolitan cities, enthralling wildlife, rich history and remote wilderness.
From the bustling streets of Cape Town to the wild-game viewing in Kruger National Park to the charming valleys of the Winelands, the country’s variety is truly enchanting. Here are some of the best places to visit in South Africa.
Explore the planet’s most surprising adventures with our weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox. Cape Town has activities galore for visitors © Tasneem Howa / Getty Images
1. Cape Town
Best for a city break
Tucked between the ocean and the iconic Table Mountain, Cape Town is easily one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Its natural beauty is obvious whenever you look outside – the mountain dominates the landscape.
Enjoy dinner and drinks at V&A waterfront, see the views from the top of the mountain, then explore a bit further, depending on your interests. Get a taste of Cape-Malay culture (and food) in colorful Bo-Kaap, gain some insight into South African history at Robben Island or try surfing at Muizenberg Beach.
Planning tip: Schedule your visit to Table Mountain early in the day to avoid queues and enjoy the best views before the clouds roll in.
Elephants are on parade in South Africa’s Kruger National Park © WitR / Shutterstock
2. Kruger National Park
Best for safaris
For the ultimate safari adventure in South Africa, head to Kruger National Park. Home to the legendary Big Five, this vast expanse of wilderness lets you see wild animals in their natural state. Spot lions drinking at the waterhole, elephants strolling by with their young and giraffes skipping through the bush.
Kruger National Park is easily accessible, with self-drive and organized options, and you can choose to stay at a luxury lodge or camp at the park itself. Just be aware that the park is large, and you can spend a long time driving before you see your favorite animal.
Planning tip: Opt for guided game drives or bush walks with experienced rangers to maximize wildlife sightings and ensure a safe and memorable safari experience.
Best for wine tasting
Less than an hour outside of Cape Town, you’ll find Stellenbosch, the heart of Cape Winelands. It’s a picturesque town known for its colonial Cape Dutch architecture, student vibe and excellent vineyards. Explore the town, then use it as a base to explore the wider wine region, visiting the nearby wine estates.
As well as tastings, most of the wineries also offer on-site restaurants and picnic options. It’s easy to spend a day at a wine estate, and many offer activities for children too, making it a good trip option for the family. If you have more time, visit nearby Paarl and Franschhoek, where you can take a tram to visit the wineries in Franschhoek Valley.
Planning tip: Consider joining a guided wine tour to visit multiple wineries without worrying about transportation and to gain insider knowledge about the region’s wine production.
Knysna has an array of pristine beaches and idyllic lagoons © nattrass / Getty Images
Best for beaches
A local favorite, Knysna is a coastal town along the famous Garden Route. Here you’ll find an array of pristine beaches and idyllic lagoons. With its laid-back atmosphere and stunning natural beauty, Knysna is the perfect option for a relaxing beach getaway. Spend your time on the sand, out on the water or hiking along one of the stunning forest trails.
Planning tip: Book a sunset cruise or guided kayak tour on the Knysna Lagoon to see one of the loveliest coastlines in the country.
Best for wildflowers
This arid, semi-desert region in the Northern Cape is a wonder to behold during the wildflower season. From late July to September, Namaqualand’s arid landscape transforms into a riot of color, as thousands of wildflowers carpet the region.
Aside from the flowers, you can also see the remarkable quiver trees, hike along one of the pretty trails and see the local wildlife, including caracal, leopards, springbok and tortoises.
Planning tip: See the wildflowers on a bright, sunny day to see all the flowers fully open.
Explore the revived neighborhoods in Johannesburg © Hello World / Getty Images
Best for history
South Africa’s largest city is admittedly not one of its prettiest. Johannesburg was an old mining town which has become a sprawling city, with poorer neighbourhoods sprinkled amongst wealthy suburbs. It seems a world away from Cape Town’s coastal beauty; however, spending some time in Johannesburg gives visitors valuable insight into the country’s complicated past.
Start by visiting the Apartheid Museum, see the street art in Maboneng Precinct, and take a historical tour of Soweto to get a feel for Johannesburg’s heritage. Then visit Sandton City, browse Rosebank Sunday Market and spend an evening at glitzy Montecasino to see another side of the city.
Planning tip: Johannesburg isn’t walkable, and it’s not one of those places you can just wander around. Plan where you want to go, then drive directly to your destination. You can explore when you get there.
Best for whale-watching
While this scenic seaside town is worth visiting for its beaches, nature walks and stunning scenery, Hermanus is famous for one reason: whales. From June to November, the coastal town becomes a hub for visitors hoping to see the majestic southern right whales frolic in the sheltered waters of Walker Bay.
Spend the rest of your trip exploring the beaches and tidal pools and walking along the spectacular Cliff Path. Before you leave, be sure to sample some local treats at the Hermanus Markets and learn about the origins of the village at the Old Harbour Museum.
Planning tip: To enhance your whale-watching experience, consider booking a boat tour or visiting the Cliff Path lookout points during peak migration season.
The Blyde River Canyon has spectacular scenery, including dramatic rock formations like Bourke’s Luck Potholes © Dynamoland / Getty Images
8. Blyde River Canyon
Best for panoramic views
The Blyde River Canyon is one of the world’s largest green canyons and makes a great addition to a safari in the Kruger National Park. The canyon has spectacular scenery, including dramatic rock formations and impressive waterfalls, and it’s worth spending a day or two taking it all in.
Follow the Panorama Route from Graskop, stopping at Bourke’s Luck Potholes, the Three Rondavels, Pinnacle Rock and God’s Window. If you have more time, base yourself in the area for a couple of days and go white-water rafting, mountain biking or hiking through the thick forest. For the ultimate views, see the canyon from above in a hot air balloon.
Best for hiking
South Africa’s largest mountain range is a paradise for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. Not only can you explore its rugged peaks, lush valleys, and dramatic cliffs, but the Drakensberg are also dotted with rock and cave art, dating back several thousand years.
There are many hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulties in the mountains. One of the most popular moderate hikes is the Tugela Gorge Trail, which meanders through the gorge and along the riverbank until you reach Tugela Falls, arguably the highest waterfall in the world.
Alternatively, experienced hikers may prefer the Amphitheatre Heritage Theatre, which leads to the summit of the Drakensberg escarpment, offering spectacular view of the surrounding mountains and Tugela Falls.
Planning tip: Pack suitable hiking gear, including layers and sturdy shoes, as weather conditions can change rapidly in the mountains.