South Africa is famous for its stunning landscapes, incredible wildlife, award-winning wineries, beautiful beaches, and its lively and cosmopolitan cities. I’ve been to the country twice and always leave wanting more. There’s something deeply special about this place.
Stretching over 2,800 kilometers (1,700 miles) and home to over 56 million people, you could easily spend months here and still not see everything. Heck, just driving from one end of the country to the other would take several days.
Though there are hundreds of things to see and do in South Africa, here’s a list of what I think are the must-see and must-do activities while you’re here:
1. Go on a safari
Most people come to South Africa to go on a safari — and for good reason. It’s home to some of the best game drives in the world and you’ll want to spend at least a couple of nights in one of the hundreds of national parks. There’s truly nothing like it.
The most well-known safari destination is Kruger National Park, which has incredible diversity and tons of amazing wildlife, including the “Big Five” (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinoceroses, and Cape buffalo).
I went to Kruger a few years back, and it was everything I’d expected and more. Although you can drive yourself around the park, I actually recommend using a guide because they’ll be much better at spotting animals and will also give you heaps info about them, their habitat, and the park itself. Since this is one of those “once in a lifetime” experiences it’s worth spending the money to get a knowledgeable guide.
While Kruger is the most famous safari destination, there are dozens of other options across South Africa. Here are a few I recommend:
- Hluhluwe and iMfolozi National Park – Located in the east of the country and is known for its rhino populations.
- Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – On the border with Botswana in the north, it’s known for its black-maned lions.
- Addo Elephant National Park – Near Port Elizabeth on the south coast, this is a great choice for self-drive safaris.
- Pilanesburg National Park & Game Reserve – Home to the Big 5 and is doable in a day trip from Johannesburg if you’re short on time.
2. Visit Cape Town
Cape Town is the most popular destination in South Africa — and for good reason. It’s a vibrant, multicultural city with lively bars, delicious food, great weather, lots of nature and hiking nearby. In addition to the city’s amazing beaches, the waterfront is bursting with things to do as well.
There’s a lot to do in the city so check out this entire post I wrote on what to do while you are there!
3. Go Surfing
Both the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean coasts of South Africa offer world-class surfing. Jeffrey’s Bay on the south coast near Port Elizabeth is the most famous surfing destination in South Africa and offers big waves and multiple breaks.
There are also a number of good surfing locations near Cape Town, including Dungeons in Hout Bay and a number of others further south on the Western Cape, such as Long Beach.
If you’re a beginner, Durban is a great option for surfing lessons because of the reliable waves and warm water of the Indian Ocean. Expect to pay around 500 ZAR per person for a 2-3 hour lesson.
4. Learn About Apartheid
You can’t visit South Africa without learning about the horror of apartheid (a system of institutionalized racial segregation), which cast its shadow over the country from the 1940s all the way into the 1990s. Opened in 2001, the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg does an excellent job of highlighting apartheid’s history and legacy.
While in Johannesburg, be visit the Constitutional Court. It stands on the site of a former political prison and you can tour some of the prison ruins and learn more about the many political prisoners who were unjustly detained here.
Also, be sure to visit the District Six Museum in Cape Town. It’s a memorial to the people who lived in the area in the 1970s who were forced to relocate so that white citizens could move in. It’s both sobering and illuminating.