Located on the southernmost tip of the African continent, South Africa is a country full of diversity. From the powdery beaches that touch two different oceans to the dramatic landscapes that play host to some of the most iconic African wildlife, this nation offers visitors a plethora of activities. South Africa, perhaps most well-known for the legendary leadership of Nelson Mandela in the 1990s, is a multiethnic society with a myriad of rich cultures, languages, and religions. Offering a variety of cultural immersion experiences and culinary traditions, as well as some of the world’s best safaris, South Africa is limitless in both adventure and beauty. Keep reading below for the 9 of the best things to do in South Africa!
1. Go on Safari in Kruger National Park
Kruger is one of Africa’s greatest national parks. Not only does it contain all of Africa’s iconic species--lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes, buffalo, and hippos--but it also boasts 137 other mammal species and over 500 varieties of bird. Kruger’s density of game is practically unparallelled, making it one of the world’s top safari destinations. Seeing these incredible creatures amidst the backdrop of beautiful granite hills and the Lebombo Mountains will leave you in awe. Plus, the vast network of roads that you can explore (either with a guide or on your own) will make it possible for you to view even some of the park’s most hard-to-see wildlife!
2. Explore the Awe-inspiring Blyde River Canyon
One of the largest canyons in the world, Blyde River Canyon remains one of South Africa’s most spectacular natural sites. Surrounded by forest, Blyde River Canyon provides stunning panoramic views of the towering mountains. The canyon can either be explored on foot or viewed from the edge via the highway, which offers incredible viewpoints of the steep cliffs and gorgeous rock formations below. For the best view, head to the Three Rondavels Viewpoint, where you can see the enormous mounds of rock that look like large, “grassy huts” carved into the side of the cliffs and plunge into the deep river below.
3. Soak up the Culture of Soweto
Soweto, short for Southwestern Township, is a suburb, or township, of the capital city of Johannesburg. Soweto represents a culturally and historically significant district of the sprawling capital. As the birthplace of Nelson Mandela, tourists can visit the former president’s preserved childhood home that has been converted into a museum. Travelers can also explore the famous Apartheid Museum, which uses a variety of media to take visitors through the difficult history and final fall of apartheid in South Africa, a story that is key to understanding the current state of race relations in the country. In addition, Soweto is also known for its unique artistic style. Visit the Orlando Power Cooling Station Towers, which have been covered in colorful murals depicting Soweti’s community, music, and Mandela himself. And, for the real adventurer, you can even bungee jump off the top!
4. Visit the Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre
One of the largest rehabilitation centers in all of South Africa, Moholoholo is home to numerous abandoned, injured, and poisoned animals and birds of prey. This unique rehabilitation center allows visitors to get up close and personal with the incredible creatures that the center has rescued--the staff lead several guided tours during the week and teach guests about the variety of ways that they work to rehabilitate animals in order to one day release them back into the wild.
5. Get a Great View of Cape Town from the Top of Table Mountain
A large, flat top mountain, Table Mountain has become a prominent landmark in South Africa and one of the best spots to get a view of the famous tip of the African continent. Hike to the top of the mountain or take the popular cableway, and enjoy a gorgeous view of the famous Cape of Good Hope below. If you are an adventure traveler, try rappelling down from the top of Table Mountain--but, just a warning, only do this if you have a stomach for extreme heights!
6. Visit the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Nestled at the foot of Table Mountain, the Kirstenbosch Gardens are considered one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world. Founded as a modest garden in 1913 with the intent to preserve South Africa’s most precious indigenous flora, Kirstenbosch now grows more than 7,000 of South Africa’s 22,000 plant species. With its beautiful plants an stunning mountain views, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens is a perfect place to spend the day: the grounds contain several walking and hiking trails, as well as a delightful fragrance garden and several strategic viewpoints where visitors can bask in the beauty of their surroundings. In the summer months, the garden also opens it doors for guests to come enjoy lively Summer Sunset Concerts!
7. Get a Glimpse of South African Penguins at Boulders Beach
A short drive from Cape Town, Boulders Beach is one of the most visited beaches in all of South Africa. Yet, not all of the visitors go for the beautiful water and sandy shores; many visit this particular beach just to get a glimpse of (or maybe even take a swim with) a colony of protected African penguins. These little waddly creatures claimed the beach as their own back in the early 1980s and simply never left! Visitors are invited to observe the penguins from a wooden walkway above the beach, or get as close as they dare without touching or feeding them!
8. Taste the Succulent Wine at Groot Constantia
The historical manor of Simon van der Stel, the first Governor of the Dutch Colony in the Cape of Good Hope, has been converted into a modern day museum and winery, known as Groot Constantia. Constructed in 1685, this beautiful manor is the oldest wine estate in South Africa and produces some of the finest and most famous wine in the country. The vineyards contain large tasting rooms, two restaurants, the restored homestead of the family, and vast grounds where guests can explore the vineyards. One can easily fill an entire day here, tasting wines, indulging in delicious meals, and strolling through the beautiful vineyards.
9. Take a Ferry to Robben Island
Located off the coast of the Cape Town, Robben Island is an UNESCO World Heritage Site that is most well-known as the location of the historical prison which incarcerated numerous political prisoners since the 17th century. In fact, notably Nelson Mandela himself even spent 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment on Robben Island. The prison is now a memorial site which offers guided tours that detail the history of both the prison and the island, as well as describe Mandela’s time spent there. To date, three former prisoners of Robben Island have since become presidents of South Africa: Nelson Mandela, Kgalema Motlanthe, and Jacob Zuma.
Pro Tip: These tours can fill up quickly, so book your tickets online in advance!
South Africa is quickly becoming one of the adventure capitals of the world. With its amazing wildlife, dramatic landscape, and numerous cultural and historical sites, this country is bound to capture both your imagination and your heart.
Have you been to South Africa? We want to hear about it! Let us know your favorite places in the comments below!