This list of the best places to see in South Africa will help you prepare a trip to one of the most amazing and most diverse countries in Africa. Although we are sure that this country will surprise you, we tell you that you will discover natural landscapes that will leave you speechless, you will see big cats and all kinds of animals in freedom in their magnificent national parks, you will enjoy a great multicultural environment in Cape Town or Johannesburg and you will cry until you say enough when you see whale jumping from the very coast.
All these unique experiences will make South Africa forever engraved in your heart and only think about returning one day.
Although any time is good to travel to South Africa, having a pleasant time all year and with little rainfall, we recommend you travel in autumn (between October and November) a time when there are good conditions to observe wildlife and is also the time when you can see whales in many parts of the country.
That said and although it seems that it is not relevant in the trip, we advise you to start your route through the country by Cape Town and finish it in Johannesburg, something that will allow you to go from less to more, being the Kruger the icing on this cake.
Considering that it is a large country and many trips must be made by car and public transport is not abundant, the best option is to rent a car to make the most trips through the country and a long stretch like Port Elizabeth to Durban, to do it by plane.
Something that you also ask us a lot about is the issue of security in South Africa. Although during our trip we do not feel unsafe at any time, we recommend you to inform yourself well of the areas that you want to visit, to use mostly common sense and to take precautions such as trying not to drive at night or to go with closed latches.
These little things will make you travel a lot more calm and the best, enjoy this amazing country in the safest way.
Based on the experience of our trip to South Africa in 25 days we have made a selection of what we believe are, the 10 essential places to visit in South Africa. We start!
1. The Kruger National Park
The Kruger National Park is the largest wildlife reserve in the country and one of the most essential places to see in South Africa. One of the objectives of many travelers when making a safari is to see for the first time the “big five”, a group of difficult to locate animals that are part of the lion, the leopard, the rhinoceros, the elephant and the buffalo and the Kruger. It is one of the parks in the world where you have more to reach this goal, having a good number of each of them.
Although for us what differentiates and makes the Kruger special, unlike other places like Kenya or Tanzania, is that you can travel and find these animals with your own car, without needing the help of a guide or rent a 4 × 4.
During our 9 days touring the park we got to complete up to five “big five” and a small “big five”, which is composed by the offspring of the big 5. In addition to these animals we saw numerous cheetahs, impalas, jackals, giraffes, hippos, hyenas and birds of all kinds, which made this one of the most incredible experiences we have had the luck to live in our trips.
And although we just said that we saw many animals, our advice to see them is to have a lot of patience, especially to see the big cats. Imagine that we in some cases got to wait up to 3 hours to see them clearly.
Another important aspect to decide for the Kruger was the quality of their camps scattered throughout the park, which offer you all the comforts at incredibly tight prices, ranging from 20 euros approximately to 100 euros that can cost a bungalow with private bathroom, kitchen and views. In addition, each camp organizes guided tours at different times of the day, including night game drives, for about 20 euros per person, with which you can rest from the car or try to see animals that you have not yet seen.
Without a doubt, we can assure you that the Kruger was the icing on our trip to South Africa for free and that’s why we always recommend leaving it for the end of the trip as we mentioned before.
2. Cape Town
Cape Town is the most beautiful city in the country and one of the most interesting places to visit in South Africa. The most surprising aspect of the city is the spectacular natural environment that surrounds it in which Table Mountain stands out, considered one of the new Seven Wonders of the World from where you can have the best views of the city and the coast, full of wild beaches of White sand.
In addition to Table Mountain in Cape Town you cannot miss the colorful Bo-Kaap neighborhood, climb Lion’s Head, book the ferry to get to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, marvel at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden or enjoy of the environment in the premises of Long Street.
A safe option to save time and not miss anything is to book the tourist bus that stops at all the important points of the city or take this offer that also includes the funicular ticket to Table Mountain.
One of the aspects that did not attract the attention of the city were the great contrasts between the privileged minority of the white race and the majority of the black race that we saw in a very clear way when visiting areas such as the Waterfront and the residential areas that surround it. They show you this harsh reality.
Something to keep in mind in Cape Town is that despite being considered the safest city in South Africa, you have to take precautions, so going out at night away from the tourist areas like Long Street, is not advisable, much less if you do not know where you are going
During our 4 nights in Cape Town we stayed at the Circa Luxury Apartment Hotel, located in the center which, in addition to an excellent quality / price ratio, has parking and a good restaurant.
3. Natural Reserve De Hoop
The De Hoop Nature Reserve, located about 3 hours by car from Cape Town, was one of the great and pleasant surprises of our trip. The landscape of large white sand dunes that bathe this part of the coast are reason enough to include it among the places to see in South Africa essential and also, if you travel in autumn, you can enjoy from the shore of the falls of whales that are very comfortable in this part of the ocean, not having much boat traffic.
We recommend arriving early to the reservation if you intend to do some of the magnificent hiking routes that you can program with the brochure that you get at the entrance, which indicate the different options, marked on a map, with the times they have.
In addition, the reserve has a magnificent restaurant to try some of the typical local dishes and a large variety of fauna among which the rare mountain zebra stands out.
4. Wetland Park of iSimangaliso
The Wetland Park of iSimangaliso, declared a World Heritage Site and with the largest population of hippos in the entire continent, is another place to visit in South Africa. Located around the tourist town of Santa Lucia, this park also impresses with having the largest estuary in Africa and a great diversity of fauna and flora thanks to its five ecosystems.
To see hippos and crocodiles up close, the best option is to take a ride on a small boat through the estuary, which depart from the town of Santa Lucia.
Keep in mind that to make these excursions it is advisable to book them in advance through your hotel, since they tend to run out very fast, especially those that leave to see the sunset.
We stayed at the Lake St Lucia Lodge from which we took a great memory thanks to the friendliness of its owner and the possibility of seeing hippos passing by the hotel during the night.
About 3 kilometers from the park you also have a reservation in which you can see other animals such as rhinos, zebras, elephants or facoceros and if you are lucky you will see lions and leopards. Although we saw two rhinos, we believe that if you visit the Kruger you can be a little disappointed in this part of the park due to the shortage of large mammals.
At the end of this route is Cape Vidal where you can enjoy huge white sand beaches lapped by the Indian Ocean.
5. Garden Route, one of the best places to see in South Africa
The Garden Route is a journey of more than 300 kilometers that you can do by car from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. During the tour you will pass through endless white sand beaches, natural parks with large forests, small fishing villages and, above all, landscapes that will leave you speechless.
Among the most popular stops is Cabo de las Agujas, considered the southernmost point of Africa, where you can see even the remains of a stranded ship. Another point that we loved about this route was Nature’s Valley, an infinite beach that separates the ocean with a beautiful lake.
Here is also our third favorite stop and one of the places to see in South Africa more beautiful, which is the Tsitsikamma National Park, where you can make a route through a forest and finish it crossing some spectacular bridges suspended over the sea and where we recommend you not to stop looking at the sea since whales, dolphins or seals can surprise you in any moment.
Other places to see in the Garden Route that we consider most expendable are Mossel Bay, Plettenberg Bay, Wilderness, Knysna Heads and Jeffreys Bay, although it is advisable to stop, we do not believe that it is necessary to invest too much time.
If you’re a fan of wines you can also deviate slightly inland and visit some of the most important vineyards in the country and worldwide fame as Ceres, Wellington and Worcester that have turn you into one of the places to see in South Africa indispensable in this area of the country.
We want to emphasize that one of the most famous places of the Garden Route is Gansbaai, where you can dive with white sharks in freedom. We rule out having this experience because we do not find any company that will practice this activity responsibly since they feed the sharks to approach the cages, something that alters their natural behavior and we do not want to promote it.
6. Cape Peninsula
Without a doubt, this one-day circular route from Cape Town to visit the Cape Peninsula is one of the best things to do in South Africa. During this route by car along a scenic road that runs along the coast, you can stop at different viewpoints to enjoy the scenery until you reach the famous Cape of Good Hope.
The first stop on the route is Camps Bay Beach, a spectacular beach of white sand and large rocks where you can see the famous 12 Apostles, some rock formations that belong to Table Mountain.
The roadtrip continues stopping at several viewpoints of places like Chapman’s Peak, Noordhoeck, Kometjie, Scarborough until you reach the Cape of Good Hope where, in addition to making the famous photo on the sign, we recommend going up to the lighthouse to have the best views of the cliffs and the whole corporal.
Another mandatory stop is Boulders Beach, a small beach where there is a colony of African penguins that we are sure you will love.
To finish the route, we recommend stopping at Muizenberg Beach, one of our favorite places to visit in South Africa, where you can take a nice walk along the beach and see its famous colorful huts that have become one of the most photographed places of this area of the country.
7. Panorama Route
Leaving the Kruger in the direction of Johannesburg, do not miss the opportunity to take the Panorama Route. This route by car will take you through landscapes of vertiginous waterfalls, immense forests and canyons with fantastic viewpoints that we are sure will surprise you.
Having the small town of Graskop as a point of accommodation, you can start the itinerary by climbing up to the viewpoint of the Blyde river canyon, the third largest in the world from where you can see the famous three Rondavels, some curious rock formations.
The next stop is at Bourkes’ Luck Potholes, where a group of very curious and photogenic rocks are found, and a product of erosion formed by the conjunction of two rivers. A few kilometers from this place you will find two of the best waterfalls to see in South Africa, Berlin Fall and Lisbon Fall.
To finish the itinerary we recommend going up to God’s Window, where you will have excellent views of all this fantastic surroundings.
In terms of accommodation we recommend the apartments of Havana Nights, located in Graskop and with private parking, with a great value for money.
8. Betty’s Bay
Betty’s Bay is one of the best places in the world to see penguins in freedom and another place to see in South Africa. In this bay you will have the opportunity to see hundreds of African penguins protecting themselves from the wind in a rocky area and swimming in the cold waters of the Indian Ocean. Also at Stony Point you can also walk on wooden footbridges and see these friendly sea birds up close.
The best place to see whales in freedom and other places to visit in South Africa must have a name, Hermanus. This small tourist town is the capital of the world in terms of whale watching to see these huge mammals from the many viewpoints on the shore.
Something to keep in mind that whale watching in Hermanus is possible only during the months of July to November, especially October and November, which is the moment they migrate from the cold waters of the Arctic to the warmer climates of the South African coast to mate.
To see whales much closer we recommend making a boat trip that you can book in advance online or in the same hotel that you stay. In this aspect we recommend spending the night at the Hermanus Backpackers & Budget Accommodation with a great quality / price ratio.
Johannesburg, the largest and most populated city, is our last recommendation from the list of places to see in South Africa. We must bear in mind that it is not the most beautiful and safest city in the world, although it does have several interesting points for historical reasons for tourists. To visit them quietly, the best option is to book the tourist bus.
One of the most important places in the city is the Apartheid Museum, which tells the story of the racial discrimination suffered by the country during the 20th century. Another interesting place is Soweto, a large urban area in which the protests against aparheid began and which suffered a violent repression by the state. In the neighborhood of Orlando West of Soweto is the house where the leader of the struggle against Apartheid, Nelson Mandela, now turned into a museum, lived for a long time.
Although in the end we decided to cancel the day we had planned to spend in the city and add it to the Kruger, since we were totally hooked to the park, we believe that if you have that day, Johannesburg is another of the places to see in South Africa more recommended.
10 + 1 Hlane National Park in Swaziland
A trip to South Africa we think is not complete if you do not visit the impressive Hlane National Park, located in Swaziland, or Esuatini, whose official name is the Kingdom of Swaziland and despite not belonging to the same country, we did not want to stop add in this list of places to see in South Africa.
For this small country, which is surrounded by South Africa, you can pass on the way to the Kruger from Santa Lucia.
It has several reserves, but for us the best is Hlane, where you can see large animals such as lions, elephants, hippos and leopards, although the real star of the park are rhinos, a mammal that in other parks is very difficult to spot and that in Hlane you can see with great ease, at least according to our experience.
Here the routes through the park can be done with your car, as in the Kruger, or by hiring a guided tour in the camp. We recommend making the first trip with a guide, because if it is the first time you visit a park with large mammals it is very interesting to know the safety rules, the distances you have to keep with them and the behavior of each one. In addition, depending on what times and conditions, the guide can invite you to get out of the car, this being one of the most incredible experiences we had when we got out of the car with the guide to see a rhinoceros with a calf that was located less than 10 meters from us.
The time we spent in the Hlane we stayed in the Hlane Ndlovu Camp, a fantastic place with a large pond in front, where cool hippos, rhinos and all kinds of animals that you could see a few meters away that made it another of the Places to see in South Africa most recommended. Keep in mind that the area of big cats is separated by fences from the rest and that the roads, although they can be done with a tourist, are not in as good condition as in the Kruger.