Best Places to Visit in South Africa
The best places to visit in South Africa include the stunning coastal towns of Hermanus, Cape Town, Knysna and Durban. Enjoy the mountain air in Hogsback and the Drakensberg. Settle back with world class wines from the Cape Winelands and enjoy a safari in the oldest and best Wildlife Park in Southern Africa — Kruger National Park. No trip to South Africa would be complete without a visit to a township, and Soweto is the largest and most vibrant of them all.
It’s easy to travel around South Africa with several low-cost airlines operating throughout the country and excellent roads which makes it convenient to rent a car. You need 3 weeks to take in all the best sights listed below. Click on any of the destinations for a description on what to see and where to stay.
Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town is a highlight of any trip to South Africa. The natural beauty of Cape Town makes it one of the most attractive cities in the world. Cape Town boasts beautiful beaches as well as the impressive Table Mountain right in the heart of the city. The restaurants are world class, and so are the wines. Cape Town is also one of the most culturally diverse cities in Africa and has reputation for social tolerance.
Top attractions in Cape Town include:
- The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront for dining and shopping
- Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years
- The Townships of Cape Town offer a good insight into how most of the population of South Africa still lives
- The Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
- Cape Town’s beaches are abundant and will suit families, surfers, posers and nature lovers.
- Table Mountain offers incredible hikes and a cable car for those looking to relax and enjoy the views.
The Winelands, South Africa
The Winelands are situated east of Cape Town among beautiful mountains creating some stunning vistas. The region is steeped in culture and history with some excellent examples of typical Dutch architecture dating back to the 17th century. The Winelands encompass several regions each with their own wine tasting tours. The most popular towns includeStellenbosch (which is closest to Cape Town), Franschhoek, Wellington, and Paarl.
It’s worth renting a car in Cape Town and spending at least a day or two in any of these towns. There are numerous hotels, estates and bed and breakfasts available and the region is known for its excellent restaurants, not to mention the wine of course….
Tours of the Wineland region
- Cape Town Travel Guide offers a wide choice of tours which include Franschoek, Paarls and Stellenbosch.
- South African Wine lists several excellent tour options to the Cape Winelands.
Accommodation in the Wineland regions
Siyabona Travel guide has an excellent list of all accommodations in the Cape Winelands region, inlcuding lodges,hotels and bed and breakfasts.Maps of the Wineland region
The premier wine site of South Africa offers maps of winlelands, pinpointing each winery as well as touring suggestions.
Knysna, South Africa
- Top attractions in Knysna
- Places to stay in Knysna
- The Garden Route
Kruger National Park, South Africa
Kruger National Park is Africa’s oldest established wildlife park (1898) and offers one of the best safari experiences in Africa. It’s situated north of Johannesburg and takes about 5 hours to get to by car. It boasts the highest variety of wildlife in Africa which includes the “Big Five”, hippos, crocodiles, giraffe, cheetah and much more. Kruger is also one of the best maintained parks in Africa.
The roads are all good quality and there’s no need to rent a 4×4 vehicle. There’s wheelchair accessibility at most lodges and specialized safari vehicles for those with mobility impairments.
Accommodations: Kruger Park has a range of accommodation options in the main restcamps with chalets, cottages, bungalows tents, caravan and camp sites or bushveld camps. These accommodation options vary in price and style; from rustic to luxurious. On the park’s western borders you’ll find a host of excellent private game reserves which you can also book, if you have no luck finding accommodation at Kruger itself.
- Getting to Kruger National Park and Where to Stay
- Kruger National Park Costs and Activities
- Best self-drive routes in Kruger National Park
Soweto, South Africa
Soweto may not be the most beautiful place you visit in South Africa, but it certainly ranks among one of the most important and interesting sights in the country. Soweto is a sprawling township situated just outside of Johannesburg and over 3.5 million people call it home. Much of the struggle against Apartheid played out in the slums of Soweto, and the township was in a virtual state of war during the 1970’s and 80’s.
Nowadays, Soweto is a mixture of rich suburbs and poor shanty dwellings where crime is rife. But Soweto is also home to some of the most vibrant music and theatre South Africa has to offer.
When you visit Soweto it’s certainly worth taking a tour. Not just because it may be the safest way to see the township, but because the history of Soweto is what makes it so interesting. Soweto also covers a huge swath of land, over 90 square miles, so it’s easy to get lost.
- Bus Tour of Soweto, 6-7 hours. Includes a visit to a hostel, traditonal shabeen and a church.
- Vhupo Tours offer several different tours of Soweto including an overnight stay at a B&B.
- Rhubuluza Soweto Township Tours include educational tours as well as a pub-crawl to really get to the heart the Soweto experience.
- Africa Explore offers several tours of different lengths, some of which can be combined with other Johannesburg tours.
Accommodation in Soweto
- Botle’s Guesthouse
- Lolo’s Guesthouse
- Soweto Bed and Breakfast Association’s listings
Durban, South Africa
The Beaches: Durban’s “Golden Mile is a string of beaches protected from sharks by nets and patrolled by life guards during the day.
This is prime surfing territory but there’s room for swimmers and body-surfers too.
The Promenade: A promenade stretches along the Durban waterfront and is home to numerous restaurants, pubs, hotels, shops and the world class uShaka Marine Worldaquarium.
Victoria Indian Street Market: Durban has a huge Indian population, descendents of laborers brought in by the British to work in the sugarcane fields during the latter 19th century (one of which was a young Mohandas Gandhi). The Indian street market is a bustling interesting place with mosques and temples as well as plenty of shops and delicious food.
Umgeni River Bird Park: With over 3000 exotic and indigenous birds as well as 4 waterfalls, lush vegetation and several endangered species, this bird park is a wonderful place to visit.
Note: Durban has always been a fairly crime-ridden city. You should be aware of pickpockets in the market areas and along the promenade, and be careful at night.
The Drakensberg Mountains, South africa
The Drakensburg Mountains stretch the entire length of KwaZulu-Natal’s western boundary, about 600 miles. You can enjoy hiking trails, bird watching, game viewing, horse trails, bushman rock art, guided tours, 4×4 trails, quad bikes, golfing, trout fishing, white water rafting, rock climbing and more.
Highlights of the Drakensberg Area include:
- The Karkloof Canopy Tour is a unique eco-wilderness adventure in the Karkloof indigenous forest of South Africa. The canopy tour involves traversing from one platform to another along a steel cable suspended up to 30 meters above the forest floor. The scenery and bird life is spectacular and professional guides provide interesting facts about the forest ecology during the three-hour tour.
- Bushman Rock Art: The San bushmen were the original inhabitants of the Drakensberg mountains and they left behind the most beautiful paintings in caves throughout the region. Some of the best examples of Bushman rock painting in South Africa can be found in Kamberg National Park.
- Royal Natal National Park: Encompassing one of the most beautiful parts of the Drakensberg, the Royal Natal is perfect for those who enjoy hiking, rock climbing and horseback riding. One of the highest mountains in the Drakensberg is the Mont-aux-Sources which is the source of five rivers and includes the stunning Tugela Falls which fall over 3000 feet and tumbles over 5 separate tiers.
Hogsback, Eastern Cape, South Africa
Situated in the Amatola Mountains, Hogsback is a magical place said to have inspired Tolkien (who was born in South Africa) when he wrote Lord of the Rings. The landscape is lush, green and dotted with waterfalls and streams to swim in. Indigenous forests play host to parrots and louries among many other species of birds. Hogsback is ideal for those who enjoy walking, trout fishing and horse riding.
Trails are well marked throughout the area.
- Getting to Hogsback: Public transport isn’t available so you need to rent your own car to get to Hogsback.
- Accommodation in Hogsback: Includes a list of hotels, lodges, backpacker hostels and self-catering accommodation.
Hermanus, South Africa
Hermanus lies on the Western Cape (2 hours from Cape Town) close to the most southerly point in Africa. Hermanus is a major tourist destination in South Africa because it’s simply the best place in the world to watch whales from and in particular, the Southern Right Whale. The peak times to see the Southern Right Whale is from August to November. During this time you can see the whales every day from a cliff path which stretches from one side of Hermanus to the other.
Hermanus is a popular seaside town with South African vacationers but it still retains an air of the small fishing village it once was. There are lots of established festivals and events throughout the year to keep the town buzzing. Besides whale-watching, you can go on a township tour, sea-kayaking, wine-tasting and even cage diving with Great White Sharks on nearby Dyer island. For a great place to eat, check out Bientang’s Cave.
Hermanus is a resort town and there’s a wide range of places to stay to suit all budgets.