All of us who love to travel and believe in bucket lists probably have listed South Africa among the most desired of all destinations. In survey after survey, people who love exploring the world mention South Africa as a must-see place.
There are literally hundreds of unique and exciting things to see and do in this amazing destination. But here is a list of the top 10 adventures and activities that anyone thinking of traveling to South Africa absolutely must experience!
Take in the view from the lighthouse above the “Cape of Storms”
Nicknamed the Cape of Storms by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias, Cape Point’s rugged rocks and steep cliffs tower over the sea at 200 meters. The rocky landscape combined with nighttime fog caused hundreds of shipwrecks to litter the coastline for centuries. Until 1859, that is, when the lighthouse was built. Today, it serves as a centralized monitoring point for all lighthouses along the entire coast of South Africa. After you climb to the top of the lighthouse, don’t forget to stop and enjoy Table National Park, where you might get lucky and spot a zebra, buck, baboon, or a bird from one of the park’s 250 species.
Ride an ostrich in Oudtshoorn
Established and operated by ostrich farmers and located in the heart of Africa’s ostrich country, Safari Ostrich Park is the ostrich capital of the world. You can watch groups of up to 150 ostriches here in their natural habitat and even take a ride on the back of an adult bird. And after you’ve hopped off your ostrich, you don’t have to go far to find your next destination — the breathtaking underground wonder of the Klein Karoo or Cango Caves, located just 29 km outside of Oudtshoorn. Cango Caves is the only cave show in Africa and features dripstone caverns, vast cave halls, and towering formations thousands of years old.
Barter at the Bay Harbour Market in Hout Bay
Every weekend, this indoor market is a social, culinary, and shopping destination for tourists and locals alike. Live music helps set the scene while visitors peruse art, interior design, craft, and fashion stalls as they sample dozens of yummy, freshly prepared South African foods! Shoppers are also supporting the local community by visiting the market. Locals who open stalls develop business and creative skills, and they help ensure sustainable business within the community.
Spot a whale from dry land
If time allows you to visit Hermanus in South between July and November, be sure to take advantage of its legendary whale watching — without even leaving shore. Hermanus is known as the best spot in the world for land-based whale watching. Then visit the raised boardwalks of nearby Bettys Bay and Stony Point, where you’ll see hundreds of penguins up close.
Climb to the highest of the Drakensberg Mountains
The Drakensberg is an UNESCO World Heritage site and the source of the Tugela River, which drops 900 meters into the valley below the peak. This cliff face is called Amphitheatre, and is known as one of the most impressive on Earth. To give you some perspective, it is 10 times bigger than the El Capitan in Yosemite. But don’t let that intimidate you; this hike is suitable for all fitness levels. Travelers who aren’t accustomed to hiking can take the less steep grades of climbs and still reach the top to enjoy the view. Those who are more experienced can choose a more challenging climb or even a rock-climbing route.
Spot a leopard on the beach
The Isimangaliso (St. Lucia) Wetland Park is South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage site, and is perhaps the most unspoiled natural beauty in the world today. Isimangaliso means miracle and wonder, a perfect description for the park. The 332,000-hectare park houses a total of eight interlinking ecosystems, which is why Nelson Mandela said: ‘Isimangaliso must be the only place on the globe where the oldest land mammal (the rhinoceros) and the world’s biggest terrestrial mammal (the elephant) share an ecosystem with the world’s oldest fish (the coelacanth) and the world’s biggest marine mammal (the whale)’. To see this interaction for yourself, take a cruise around the park’s three major lake systems. Then, enjoy an awe-inspiring game drive through Mangrove forests and estuaries. The grand finale to this magnificent adventure is a drive onto the nearby pristine, wild beaches where it is not uncommon to see a leopard.
Photograph the largest green canyon in the world
The Blyde River Canyon in Mpumulanga is the third largest canyon in the world, and the largest green canyon. While you’re there, we suggest experiencing it from two views, top and bottom. At the bottom, you can enjoy a river cruise down in the canyon. Then, see the canyon from the top by visiting God’s Window, a one-of-a-kind viewpoint high up in the hills that will give you endless views over this spectacular region.
Relive history at the site of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment
Robben Island served as a place of isolation and punishment for political prisoners from the 17th to 20th centuries. Today, it stands as a poignant reminder of the price of South African freedom. During the time he spent on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela transformed himself into the leader that won one of the greatest political battles of our time. During a visit, you’ll stand where Mandela ate, slept, performed hard labor, and eventually assumed leadership over his jail mates as he served 18 of his 27-year sentence.
Enjoy a delicious loaf of Bunny Chow
Bunny Chow is the closest you’ll get to fast food in South Africa. But unlike a Big Mac, the recipe is simple: curry with mutton, lamb, chicken, or beans in a hollowed-out bread loaf. It’s a delicious treat unique to Durban that dates back to the 1940s, and your trip wouldn’t be complete without sampling it. Here are a few tips for ordering your Bunny Chow: It comes in a quarter, half, or full loaf. According to local slang, simply ask for the size and the kind in one short phrase. So, if you want a quarter loaf of mutton, say: “quarter mutton.” After you’ve ordered, enjoy sans fork; you won’t see locals use utensils to eat this dish.
See the home of one of the greatest leaders of all time
Mahatma Gandhi called Durban, South Africa his home for nearly 21 years. While Gandhi is perhaps most famous for his work in India, he also played a pivotal role in civil rights for South Africans. His crusade against racial discrimination here helped shaped the ideologies that led him to become the political figure, social and political reformer, humanist, visionary, and spiritual leader revered by the world today. At the Satyagraha House and Museum, you’ll learn more about Ghandi’s time here from 1893 to 1914.