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The Complete Guide On Places To Visit In South Africa

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South Africa is known for its diversity in all aspects of life. From people to plants, South Africa has it all. One thing we know for sure is that the rainbow nation holds something for every kind of traveller. From luxurious hotels in the Mother City to falling asleep to the sound of lions roaring in one of the country’s many wildlife reserves, you can be sure that your visit to South Africa is full of fun, beauty, and utterly unique travel experiences.

Travelling through South Africa should be on every serious adventurer’s bucket list, but many find it overwhelming due to the sheer vastness and natural diversity of the country. Fortunately, we’ve compiled a complete guide on places to visit in South Africa. Here it is:

How You Decide to Travel Counts

When travelling through South Africa, deciding how you are going to travel is just as important as deciding where to travel. Much like anywhere else on the globe, transport in South Africa has its own set of pros and cons. Let’s have a look at each option.

If you are a train fanatic, there are a few options. The Rovos Rail and the Blue Train are luxury train holidays that you can book to visit many of the most interesting parts of the country. Unfortunately for those looking for more in-depth stays in some of the country’s cities, South Africa’s public railway system is not going to make the cut.

A better option for slow, conscious travel would be to choose to cycle through the country. Wonderful areas to do this would be the Western Cape, the Northern Cape, the Free State, and just taking the roads less travelled. So, avoid the national roads and you should be fine.

Car rentals are affordable in South Africa with car rental services like Rent a Cheapie. Many of the most beautiful and unique places to visit in South Africa can only be accessed by car or even 4×4, so integrating car rental into your journey is a must. Another option is to buy a second-hand car at the beginning of your South African adventure and sell it again at the end. Plane travel between major cities is also quite affordable. If you are on it with the planning, you also have a high probability of finding cheap flight deals using our cheap flight guides.

Places to visit in South Africa:

Now that we’ve discussed how you’ll make your journey around South Africa, let’s have a look at the best places to visit in South Africa. South Africa is split into 9 provinces: Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Kwazulu Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Gauteng, North West, Free State, and Northern Cape. If you drive it in the order we just mentioned, it makes a loop. We’ll be focussing on the top places to visit in each province.

Stunning places to visit in the Western Cape

Bright blue oceans, white, sunny beaches, deep green forests, incredible mountains and valleys – this is the Western Cape. This stunning province is filled with the best places to visit in South Africa for couples, families, and individuals. With its moderate climate, fantastic wine, and the most floral diversity in the world, the Western Cape is a place for everyone.

The Mother City – Cape Town

Many visitors to Cape Town would say that it is, hands down, the best place to visit in South Africa. From wildlife and marine life tours to luxury shopping at the V&A Waterfront – Cape Town has it all. Take a trip around Cape Peninsula and visit the Penguins at boulders beach. You should also spend the day at Kirstenbosch Gardens or hike one of Cape Towns’ exquisite mountains.

The people are warm and friendly, the beaches are clean and the ocean is inviting, the cost of living is low, and the nightlife meets the mark. Near the city center you can find museums like the District 6 Museum, the Castle, and the Natural History Museum at the Company Gardens, as well as magical art galleries (Make sure to check out First Thursdays). All in all, definitely plan on making a long stop in the Mother City to ensure you experience all she has to offer.

Garden Route -Wilderness, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Mossel Bay

As you exit Cape Town and pass through the beautiful Overberg (The quaint, country town of Napier, and the Agulhas the southern tip of Africa are other spots you should visit) you’ll find yourself surrounded by farmlands and vast, deep forests on the Garden Route. This glistening coastline covers about 300km of road along the N2 between Mossel Bay and Plettenberg Bay. The surf is epic in places like Plett, Knysna, Wilderness, and Mossel Bay and, because of the abundance of water, the forest and nature experiences are mindblowing.

The number one place you should visit on the Garden Route is the Big Tree between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. This ancient, giant Outeniqua Yellowwood is the largest tree in the country and the area is a protected indigenous forest. Other places you should visit is the Wolf Sanctuary, Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary, the Knysna Heads, the Knysna Elephant Park, and, just a little bit off your route, the Cango Caves.

Wine Route

Throughout the Western Cape, we have over 10 Wine Routes. For those that love a glass or few of wine, this is the perfect experience for a fun-filled adventure in the Western Cape. The climate in this province makes for absolutely incredible wine and the Western Cape has pulled out all the stops to ensure visitors can safely enjoy all that the vineyards have to offer.

Hop on and hop off at the Stellenbosch, Wellington, Franschhoek, Helderberg, Breedekloof, Durbanville, Constantia, Elgin, Little Karoo, or Tulbagh wine routes. Many of these wine farms have world-class chefs and fantastic food, so bring your appetite and a love for great wine.

Unique places to visit in the Eastern Cape

Many travellers believe the Eastern Cape of South Africa to be the most beautiful area in the world. The province is filled to the brim with rich wildlife, life-giving forests, and incredible coastal areas. Here are our top 3 places to visit in the Eastern Cape:

Tsitsikamma

Top of your hot list when travelling through the Eastern Cape should be to visit Tsitsikamma. You can expect to witness sheer cliff faces, deep gorges, wild forests, and rich wildlife in Tsitsikamma. This area is also known for being home to the Bloukrans Bungy bridge.

Addo elephant park

Another must-see experience is to visit Addo Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape. The park is situated around 72km North of Port Elizabeth and is the 3rd largest national park in South Africa. It’s home to over 600 elephants, which you are guaranteed to run into during your visit.

The Addo Elephant Park is the proud home to not only this incredible number of elephants but the Big 7. If you’re wondering, the Big 7 include Lions. Rhinos, Cape Buffalo, Leopard, African Elephant, Great White Shark, and Southern Right Whale. Unbeknownst to many visitors, the park stretches all the way between the Karoo and the coast and includes offshore islands which are used for Cape Gannet and African Penguin breeding programs.

Jefferys Bay

Jeffery’s Bay is a top bucket list destination for any surfer. Here, the Billabong pro comes around in July every year. The waves are amazing and you can be sure that you’ll snag a deal on wetsuits or other ocean equipment because all the factory shops are in J-Bay. It is known.

Beautiful places to visit in the Kwazulu Natal

The province of Kwazulu Natal is a stunning area of South Africa, with endless places to visit that will take your breath away. You can expect to be wowed by sparkling beaches, majestic mountains, vast savannahs, and deep, wild forests. KZN is home to a multitude of wild animals and the capital city, Durban, is known for its surfing and Indian influences.

Durban

Durban is full of exotic and vibrant places to visit. The people are friendly, the ocean is magnificent, and the tropical jungles and hills are a sight to behold. The first place we’d suggest you visit in Durban is Ushaka Marine World. The marine life in Kwazulu Natal is rich and Ushaka Marine World has made it its mission to reflect the richness of their ocean as well as create a fun and exciting experience for the whole family. It is a little “touristy,” but it is a wonderful place to let your hair down a bit and have guaranteed fun.

Another activity you should try while you are in Durban is surfing. Surf School Durban is a local, black-owned business in Durban that provides amazing, affordable, and safe surfing lessons for brand new surfers or experienced surfers. There is nothing quite like a good ocean session to get your tummy rumbling. While you’re in Durban make sure you indulge in a delicious Bunny Chow down at the Indian Quarter.

Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park

The Ukhahlamaba-Drakensberg is one of 2 World Heritage Sites in Kwazulu Natal and it is only about 2 hours away from Durban. The rich and diverse mountains with towering cliffs and fertile valleys is a welcoming environment and the perfect spot for eco-tourists. This park is a wild-life sanctuary and you can expect to find many rare and endangered animal species.

The Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park is also scattered with hundreds of caves and rock shelters and is home to the largest collection of Bushman rock paintings south of the Sahara. Get ready for an adventure filled with hiking, rock climbing, fishing, swimming, horse and mountain bike trails, bird watching and more.

Greater St Lucia Wetland Park

The second World Heritage Site in Kwazulu Natal and the first World Heritage Site in South Africa is the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, otherwise known as iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The park stretches from Kozi Bay in the North, down to Mapelane (St. Lucia) in the South and is the 3rd biggest national park in South Africa. Environment wise, you can expect to see vast coastal plains, lush coastal forests, and vibrant marine systems. This is, for sure, one of the most naturally abundant areas in South Africa.

Amazing places to visit in the Mpumalanga

Named “Mpumalanga” or “Place where the sun rises,” this incredible province is perfect for hardcore adventurers and nature lovers. Mpumalanga borders Swaziland and Mozambique and it’d important to know that the Southern half of the Kruger National Park is situated here in Mpumalanga.

If you consider the natural, geographical features of Mpumalanga, the Drakensberg escarpment splits the province in two. In the westerly half, you can expect to come across the highveld and in the easterly half, you’ll see Lowveld, bushveld, and savannah habitats.

Blyde River Canyon

The Blyde River Canyon, sheltered by the majestic Drakensberg Mountains, is 26kms long, making it one of the largest canyons in the world. What is super special about The Blyde River Canyon, though, is that it is a “green canyon”. This means that it is filled with subtropical vegetation, making it a fresh, beautiful, and abundant place to visit. This stunning canyon will make any traveller feel overwhelmed with gratitude for the stunning, natural world that we inhabit.

Both the fauna and floral life is incredibly rich in diversity and you can expect to see many rare, endangered, and outright breath-taking animals, birds, and plants. Put your hiking boots on an take a walk to the the Kadishi Waterfall – you won’t regret it.

God’s Window

On the Drakensberg escarpment you’ll find a place called God’s Window, a view that is world-famous and absolutely humbling. You can expect to find breath taking mountainscapes, canyons, waterfalls, rock faces, and much more. It might seem like the stunning view simply goes on forever. Although you can view the area from along the Blyde River Canyon, it’s so incredibly beautiful that we’d thought we’d give God’s Window its own mention.

Blaauboschkraal ruins

The Blaauboschkraal stone ruins are located about 10km away from Emgwenya, formerly known as Watervalboven, and are an incredibly historically rich travel destination in South Africa. This amazing area is filled with mysterious stone ruins that have sparked much controversy over the years and were declared a national monument and heritage site on the 18th of April 1975. There are over 10 million of these stone ruins to be found throughout Southern Africa, Yes, you read that right.

Our current history books claim that these stone ruins are the ruins of cattle enclosures for the Bokoni people and that they were built in the early 16th century. There have been many other theories about these ruins, claiming that they could be leftovers of an extremely large ancient civilization that inhabited Africa way, way earlier than the 16th century. Either way, no one can say for sure. It still leaves the question though if there are over 10 million of these stone structures, how big was the Bokoni nation?

Best cheap places to visit in the Limpopo

Limpopo borders Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Mozambique and is known for the Kruger National Park, which it shares with Mpumalanga. You can expect many bushveld and wildlife reserves, so gear up for a wildlife-filled trip to Limpopo. The Blouberg Mountains are another main feature of Limpopo.

Mapungubwe

We highly recommend visiting Mapungubwe in the Blouberg Mountains of Limpopo. This mountain range is an incredibly significant place of history for the Sotho people and the Mapungubwe Plateau is specifically special to the Sotho people. It is said that the name Mapungubwe may mean “Hill of Jackels, or “Stone Monuments.” The Kingdom of Mapungubwe tells the story of an advanced and ancient civilisation.

You can expect to find amazing historical monuments and beautiful rock art, 4×4 off-road trails, and world-famous rock-climbing faces, like the Moonshadow Wall.

Kruger National Park

The Kruger National Park is the largest national park in South Africa and it’s definitely the most famous – in fact, we’d put it in the top 5 best places to visit in South Africa. The park is a whopping 2 million hectares and is home to the big 5 and many other South African treasures. The Kruger is by no means a hidden gem, but it is most certainly a gem (and a very bright, shiny one at that).

We recommend you keep an eye out for the big 5, wild dogs, baobab trees, marula trees, fish eagles, and the ground hornbill. The accommodation in the park is always booked up far in advance so make sure to book at least 2 years in advance to ensure you aren’t disappointed.

Polokwane

Polokwane is the capital city of Limpopo and is a city that you should definitely visit on your trip through South Africa. The city of Polokwane used to be called Pietersburg and is situated in the Capricorn District in the central part of Limpopo. The word Polokwane means “sanctuary” in Northern Sotho.

Although Polokwane is known for its wild, untamed, and natural bush and mountainscapes, please do ensure you stop by the Bakone Malapa Open Air Museum and the famous Mall of the North.

Places to visit in the Gauteng

Guateng, otherwise known as “the place of gold” is South Africa’s smallest province with the largest population. In fact, this province is home to more than 25% of the country’s total population. Gauteng is also known as the financial hub of South Africa. This province is also culturally rich and is home to the Sterkfontein which contain some of the oldest hominid fossils.

Johannesburg

Other than the Mother City, Joburg is the most famous South African City. It is the capital of Gauteng and was once the home of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. It is choc-o-block full of museums, monuments, and art about the Apartheid struggle and today it has become a major world economic centre.

If you’d like to know more about South Africa’s political history, make sure you pop in at the Apartheid Museum and Consititution Hill, and Nelson Mandela’s house. One a lighter note, though, plan a day into your itinerary to visit Gold Reef City for a fun-filled adventure.

Pretoria

Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa is another one of South Africa’s large city’s. The city is known for it’s beautiful, jacaranda-lined streets, and interesting and fact-filled museums. The quiet city is a gentle escape for those who live in nearby, bustling Joburg.

While in Pretoria, make a point of visiting the Pretoria Botanical Gardens, Wonderboom, the Union Buildings, and many of the wonderful museums and art galleries.

Cradle of Humankind

Another World Heritage Site in South Africa is the Cradle on Humankind in Gauteng. This fossil-rich area contains the famous fossils of “Mrs Ples” and “Little Foot.” The Cradle of Humankind is about 40km out of Johannesburg and is approximately 47 000 hectares of land.

The craziest part is that these fossils are claimed to be over 3.5 million years old. If this is truly the place where humankind began all those years ago, it is definitely not a place in South Africa that you should pass by. Book your tickets through their website, you can expect the tickets to cost about R100.

Wonderful places to visit in the North West

The sunny North West Province is an incredibly beautiful contradiction. On the one hand, the province is set with ragged, wild mountains, salt pans, and vast grasslands which are scattered with trees and shrubs and, on the other, inland North West is home to luxury 5-star resorts, casinos, and wavepools.

The North West is covered in farm land and is known for it’s agriculture and mining. The province grows an abundance of maize, peanuts, tobacco, wheat, and citrus fruits.

Upside Down House

Make sure to pay a visit to R3 Hartebeeshoek Road in Hartebeespoort. This special upside down house is a fantastical sight of fun and fantasy and it makes for a curious and exciting stop for those of us who enjoy photography. This disorientating, architectural marvel of a house is for sure one of South Africa’s cheeky, little hidden gems.

The entrance fees are decent, at less then R100 per person and the pictures of walking on the ceiling are great fun. It’s colourful, vibrant, and a hands-down wonderful place to visit in South Africa.

Pilanesberg Nature Reserve

Located not so far from Joburg, Pilanesberg Nature Reserve is the perfect wild getaway for those passing through the North West Province and those looking for a wildlife adventure away from the city. You can expect to see a transitional environment between the Kalahari and the Lowveld and, as a bonus, it’s a malaria-free zone. Pilanesberg Nature Reserve claims that it is the most accessible nature reserve in South Africa.

You can prepare to see the Big 5 in their natural habitat as well as over 7000 other animal species and over 360 different bird species. There is a variety of accommodation from camping and glamping areas, to luxury cabins, to the famous Sun City on the border of the reserve.

Sun City

This luxurious hotel and accommodation area is right on the border of Pilanesburg Nature Reserve. It’s known for being the best holiday resort in South Africa – although, it is definitely not on the more affordable side of the scale. The resort is within driving distance of Joburg and is an in-land surf and safari destination (The surf is made possible by their wave machine).

It’s the perfect romantic getaway for couples and the Valley of Waves even welcomes day visitors. You can expect to enjoy their entertainment area, casino, and 2 amazing golf courses.

Top places to visit in the Free State

The Free State, previously known as the Orange Free State, is deinitely one of the most beautiful and historically significant provinces of South Africa. Wild, golden plains scattered with rolling hills and vast corn fields, and quirky and unique towns, the Free State makes for a wonderful and adventurous journey for the curious traveller.

Bloemfontein

Bloemfontein (fountain of flowers), also known as Bloem,is the judicial capital of South Africa and is a destination in South Africa that is fulll of fun activities, natural wonders, and historically-rich experiences.

Some of the must-see places in Bloemfontein are Navel Hill, Sand Du Plessis Theatre, Franklin Game Reserve, Maselspoort Resort, and the annual rose festival. If you are more into history, art, and culture ensure that you make a turn at the National Women’s Monument, The Anglo-Boer War Museum, the Oliewenhuis Art Museum, and the Boyden Observatory.

Gariep Dam

Originally called Oranjekrag Dam, the Gariep Dam is a sight to behold and is enjoyed by thousands of families every year. The dam is mostly used for irrigation and power generation, but the leisure activities that can take place on the dam are endless.

The dam is more than 100km long and 24km wide, ensuring that there is more than enough space to enjoy canoeing, swimming, fishing, boating, and exploring the nature reserve. We recommend you have a look at booking in at the Forever Resorts Gariep.

Golden Gate Highlands National Park

The Golden Gate Highlands National Park is located at the foothills of the majestic Maluti Mountains. There are gorgeous accommodations to book into and entertaining tours of the nearby Basotho Cultural Village.

Brandwag Butress and Cathedral Caves are places you must visit when spending time at Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Just remember that there are sudden weather changes in the area – so, pack for that.

Incredible places to visit in the Northern Cape

The large, rural Northern Cape is known for its breath-taking desert landscapes, diversity of wildlife, and rich mineral resources and gemstones. It is the diamond mining capital and is also famous for the beautiful wild flowers that appear in Spring and grace us with their vibrancy.

Due to the sparse population and vast wilderness, the night skies in this province are a spectacular sight to behold. If this is the only thing you see in South Africa, it might just be worth it. Make sure to visit the SALT observatory near Southerland on your trip. Also, remember that the weather is extreme due to the desert climate, so pack with that in mind.

Kimberly

The old mining town of Kimberly has a rich history and is the capital and largest city in the Northern Cape. It is located around about 100km away from where the Vaal and Orange rivers meet. The most notable fact about Kimberly is that it was the focus of the diamond rush after the discovery of the first diamond in 1866. De Beers established their diamond mining operation there and the rest is history. Another claim to fame is that Kimberly is the 1st city in the Southern Hemisphere and the 2nd city in the world to install and integrate street lights into their infrastructure.

The most important place to visit in Kimberly is the Big Hole and the museum there. You’ll be able to receive a tour, an educational talk on the history of mining, and then be taken via mine shaft to the Big Hole. It is a marvellous sight. Other place to visit in Kimberly are the Transport Museum, The Sol Plaatjie Museum, the Kamphers Dam, the Dronfield Nature Reerve, and Mokala National Park.

Augrabies Falls National Park

Visiting the Augrabies Falls is one of the most incredible, breath-taking experiences in South Africa. The name is derived from the Khoi word  “Aukoerebis” which means “place of great noise” – this is such a descriptive name. When the Orange River is in flood, the Augrabies Falls becomes one scary place to be, it almost sounds like the thunder of the gods.

Try to get to the falls around sunset because the falls light up and this already fantastic experience, becomes even more magical. Other things to look out for is the Swart Rante, Moon Rock, and the iconic Quiver Trees that are hallmarks of the Augrabies environment.

Namakwaland Wildflowers

Our final suggestion for things to see when journeying through South Africa are the Namaqualand Wildflowers. Although Namaqualand is technically Namibia (a country bordering South Africa), the wildflowers can be seen and experienced within South African borders. In fact, there is a road trip route that you can take from Cape Town up to the border that specifically focusses on the yearly Namaqualand wild flowers. We suggest that you plan your visit to the wildflowers in August and September. 

South Africa is a wonderful, culturally and historically rich place to visit that has drastically different climates and landscapes in different provinces and even areas within the provinces. It will take time and dedication to truly experience what South Africa has to offer, but we can guarantee you, it will be worth it.