South Africa is one of the most diverse countries in the world. There is quite literally, something for everyone.

Looking for a tropical beach to chill-out on and soak up some sun? Got it. Looking to see iconic wildlife in their natural habitat? Got them. Looking to hike through breathtaking mountain scenery? No problem. Prefer a history lesson while on your travels? You’ll be spoilt for choice!

Here are the best things to do in South Africa:

1. Go On Safari

For most people, going on safari is the main reason they visit South Africa in the first place. The chance of seeing the iconic Big Five in their natural habitat is a bucket list adventure in its own right.

The Kruger National Park is the country’s most famous game reserve. Here you’ll find a wide range of accommodation, catering to any budget, from self-catering campsites, to chalets and luxury lodges. Night safaris, horseback safaris and walking safaris are popular alternatives to the traditional daytime game drives.

The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa
A baby elephant crosses the road infront of a safari vehicle in Pilanesberg National Park | The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa

Kruger’s popularity and accessibility means that it is usually very crowded. For a less-commercialised safari destination, consider Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, a true wilderness located on the Botswana border, known for its population of black-maned lions.

If you like the idea of a self-drive safari, check out Mkhuze Game Reserve (north of Durban) or Addo Elephant National Park (near Port Elizabeth).

 

2.  Hike In The Worlds Most Beautiful Scenery

South Africa’s breathtaking natural scenery has long been considered amongst the most beautiful in the world, with the country seemingly winning awards every year for its incredible landscapes. The best way to experience its grandeur is on foot.

There are thousands of long-distance hiking trails to explore, some of which take you along picturesque coastline, while others reveal the depth of beauty within the country’s interior. Amongst the most famous routes are the Fanie Botha trail in Mpumalanga, and the Rim of Africa, which traverses the Western Cape mountains.

The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa
Views of the Drakensberg Mountain Range | The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa

If you’re looking for a less ‘formal’ hiking experience, check out the Wild Coast or the Drakensberg Mountains. In both you’ll find an abundance of short and long trails that allow you to explore as much or as little as you like. The Wild Coast, also known as the Transkei, offers an insight into the rugged beauty of the Eastern Cape’s shore and the culture of the Xhosa people. The Drakensberg is home to the highest mountain range in South Africa.

3. Go Wine Tasting

The famous Cape Winelands offer some of the best wine tasting in the world, in some of the most spectacular scenery.

The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa
Vineyards in the Cape Winelands | The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa

‘Wine country’ is located around an hour’s drive from Cape Town City Centre and is characterised by rolling vineyards nestled in between towering mountains. Franschhoek and Stellenbosch boast a wide variety of beautiful wine farms, and spending a day sampling some of the ridiculously good local wine is without a doubt one of the best things to do in South Africa.

There are various guided wine tours on offer, so no need to play Rock/Paper/Scissors over who has to be the designated driver.

 

4. Visit The World’s Largest Man-Made Hole

The Big Hole, also known as the Kimberley Hole or Kimberley Mine, is a large open pit that is said to be the deepest hand-dug hole in the world.

The Kimberley Hole | The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa

Mining operations were ended in 1914, and today the hole is a purely tourist attraction. Here you’ll find an excellent exhibition center, diamond vault, and epic subterranean experience.

5. Reflect On The Past at Robben island

South Africa has a dark history, and stories of past struggles are still vividly remembered. The most famous of all is the story of Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned for 27 years during his fight for freedom and equality for people of all races.

Prison cell at Robben Island | The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa

Tours leave from mainland Cape Town and take you by ferry across the bay to Robben Island, the old island prison where Nelson Mandela and hundreds of other political activists served the majority of their sentences. Here you can take guided tour, led by a former political prisoner, through the largely unchanged jails and even visit the exact cell that ‘Madiba’ spent many of years of his life.

A tour of Robben island is an emotional roller coaster but definitely one of the best things to do in South Africa, whether you’re into history or not.

 

6. Explore the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve

The Blyde River Canyon is the third-largest canyon in the world and one of South Africa’s most-visited attractions. It’s not hard to see why. The reserve boasts multiple hiking trails with picturesque viewpoints over natural wonders such as Bourke’s Luck Potholes, the Three Rondavels, Pinnacle Rock, and God’s Window.

The Three Rondavels at Blyde River Canyon | The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa

7. Visit The Apartheid Museum

The Apartheid Museum opened in Johannesburg in 2001 as a showcase of South Africa’s turbulent past and a tribute to the heroic freedom fighters who risked their lives to end the apartheid regime.

Visitors here can learn about South Africa’s painful history of racial segregation. No details are spared, and you’ll see evidence of how citizens were once classified by their nose width, hair type, skin pigmentation, and other physical features. The museum includes interactive displays, film footage, and historic photos.

 

8. Meet the Penguins at Boulders Beach

Boulders Beach in Cape Town is the only place in the world where you can readily get up close and personal with penguins.

The immaculate beach gets its name from the enormous boulders dotted across the shore, and is renowned for its beauty. However the real stars of Boulder’s Beach are the colony of around 3000 African Penguins that call it home.

Penguins at Boulders Beach | The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa

Here you can lay out and work on your tan, or take a dip alongside the penguins in the crystal clear ocean water.

If you’re not keen to get down onto the sand then don’t worry, there’s a boardwalk that runs from the Boulders Visitor Centre down to the beach and from here you have a great view of the penguins and their burrows.

9. Take a Walk through Kirstenbosch Gardens

Located on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens span over 1,300 acres down into Cape Town’s southern suburbs. The gardens are rated among the most beautiful in the world and are home to over 7,000 individual plant species, including South Africa’s national plant – The Protea.

The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa
Mountain views at Kirstenbosch Gardens | The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa

The Tree Canopy Walkway (also known as ‘the Boomslang’, or tree snake) provides an elevated path perfect for bird-watching.

The gardens are tranquil and serene and the ideal spot for a quiet picnic on one of the lush green lawns. If music is more your thing then in the summer months, you can even attend a sunset concert, in the natural amphitheatre, featuring some of South Africa’s top local artists.

 

10. Cradle Of Human Kind & Sterkfontein Caves

The Cradle of Human Kind is home to some of the oldest human remains ever discovered, some of which date back millions of years. The cradle is thought to bare evidence of the first humans to walk the earth.

Situated an hour’s drive from Johannesburg, the Sterkfontein Caves are world-famous for their fossil finds. The caves boast a network of modern walkways, including a boardwalk that transports guests right past the sites of these historic discoveries.

 

11. Explore South Africa’s History

South Africa is a history lover’s paradise, with monuments dating back to a pre-colonial era and memoirs from the more recent horrors of the apartheid.

At Blood River, two monuments stand as a record of the conflict between the Zulu people and the Dutch Voortrekkers. The Anglo-Zulu War is commemorated by memorials and museums at historic battlefields like Rorke’s Drift and Isandlwana.

The country’s modern history was overshadowed by the injustice of the apartheid era, and many of its sights are connected to that period of racial injustice. In Johannesburg, you can see firsthand the revival that has taken place since apartheid with a tour of Soweto. Once the site of bloody uprisings, the township is now a cultural hotspot.

12. Cage Dive with Sharks

With the densest population of great white sharks anywhere in the world, Dyer Island in Gansbaai is one of the best places in the world to get up close to these colossal marine predators.

‘Shark Alley’ in Gaansbaai has been featured in various wildlife documentaries and is the most popular location for cage diving and breach photography in South Africa. Gaansbaai is a 2 hour drive from Cape Town.

The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa
Shark Cage Diving © cometocapetown.com | The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa

False Bay is another area known for exceptional great white shark viewing, especially in the surrounds of Seal Island, off the coast of Simon’s Town. As its name suggests, the island is home to a large colony of Cape fur seals, the favoured food choice for great whites. If your time in Cape Town is limited and a shark experience is one of the things you definitely want to do then False Bay is the place to go!

 

13. Tee Off at a Top Golf Course

South Africa is home to some of the most well-kept and scenic golf courses in the world, and they’re surprisingly affordable. The home of golfing greats like Ernie Els and Gary Player, today many of the country’s best courses were designed by the hall of fame pair.

Fancourt Golf Course © fancourt.co.za | The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa

Stand-out courses include: The Links at Fancourt in George, Western Cape . The top rated course in the country and the 34th best golf course in the world, this Gary Player design offers spectacular views of the Outeniqua Mountains. Leopard Creek, near Kruger National Park offers a truly African experience with frequent wildlife sightings on and around the course. Where else can you see hippos and crocodiles cooling off in the water hazards? Gary Player Country Club (located in Sun City Resort) home to ‘Africa’s major’ the Nedbank Golf Challenge.

Many of South Africa’s golf courses are affiliated with luxury hotels and resorts so the non-golfers will also have plenty to do.

14. Take a Selfie On Lions Head

Hiking up Lion’s Head is one of the most popular things to do in the city of Cape Town, and the summit is one of the most Instagrammed spots in South Africa.

The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa
Lion’s Head, Cape Town | The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa

From the top you’ll find beautiful 360 degree views of the city, overlooking the Twelve Apostles, Table Mountain and the blue Atlantic Ocean below.

While the hike is relatively easy and not at all long, it should definitely not be underestimated. Some minor rock climbing is involved but most with a reasonable level of fitness will find the hike manageable and rewarding. As with the hike up Table Mountain, it is not advised to hike Lion’s Head alone, but rather in a small group or with a guide.

 

15. Ride A Cable Car Up Table Mountain

There’s no better way to truly appreciate the magnificent views around Cape Town than to get up high, and there’s no better place to do that than on top of the iconic Table Mountain.

The easiest route to the top is via the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, which runs whenever the weather allows. The route to the top takes a matter of minutes, all while taking in the 360 degree views of the city.

During peak season queues can be substantial and waiting for an hour or two is not uncommon.

16. Take A Day Trip To Pilanesberg National Park

If you’re time in Johannesburg is limited and a safari is ontop of your South Africa bucket list, then Pilanesberg National Park is the ideal destination.

The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa
White rhino’s drinking in Pilanesberg National Park | The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa

Situated around 2 hours from ‘Joburg’, Pilanesberg is easily accessible for a single-day trip. With an early start you can be inside the park as the gates open and begin your search for the Big 5.

Guided safaris are hosted by private companies and usually include lunch and transport to and from the park’s gates.

 

17. Learn About Johannesburg’s History at Constitution Hill

Few places showcase the evidence of South Africa’s rocky past as eloquently as Constitution Hill.

A living museum that was once a prison, Constitution Hill depicts the country’s long path to democracy. Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Fatima Meer, and tens of thousands of ordinary South Africans were all confined here at some point during the country’s volatile history, making it a powerful piece of history.

18. See The Cape Of Good Hope

If you’re in Cape Town, the Cape of Good Hope, one of the most southern points of Africa, is definitely worth a visit.

Cape Of Good Hope, Cape Town | The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa

While the true southern tip of the continent is a few hundred kilometres further south at Cape Agulhas, the Cape of Good Hope is still an ideal destination thanks to its rugged natural beauty.

Whale watching off the promontory is excellent from June to November, and the lighthouse offers and incredible vantage point to take in the breathtaking views!

19. Discover World-class Surfing

South Africa is home to 2,500 kilometres of coastline, stretching from the frosty Atlantic to the tropical Indian Ocean. Both coasts offer their fair share of notable surf spots, but the most famous of these are all around Cape Town and along the country’s east coast.

If you’re in Cape Town check out Muizenberg beach for beginner waves, or Big Bay near Blouberg. For advanced surfers, Dungeons is the place to be, with its beastly right-hander and waves reaching up to 20 metres.

Surfing a barrel at J-Bay | The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa

South Africa’s surfing capital is Jeffreys Bay, also known as J-Bay. Located 80 kilometres south of Port Elizabeth, the chilled-out beach town welcomes the likes of Kelly Slater and Jordy Smith for the annual J-Bay Open, which focuses on legendary right-hand break Supertubes.

Further north, Durban is another hotspot for beginners and pros alike. For the biggest thrills, check out the waves at North Beach, Bay of Plenty, and New Pier.

 

20. Drive Along The Garden Route

The Garden Route is a 300 kilometre stretch of coastline that traverses some of the best spots in the Western and Eastern Cape provinces.

A coastal road along the Garden Route | The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa

The beauty of the route is that you can stop wherever you want. Pause in the town of Wilderness for a stroll along the town’s beautiful, windswept beach; or sample one of Knysna’s famous oyster restaurants. George is home to Fancourt Golf Course, one of the finest in South Africa, while The Crags is an ideal stop for families thanks to interactive wildlife sanctuaries like Monkeyland and Birds of Eden. The area around The Crags is full of B&Bs, allowing you to take a load off after a busy day.

21. Kayak With Crocodiles and Hippos at theSt. Lucia Estuary

Located within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Sight, the St. Lucia Estuary is one of the most unique wildlife destinations in the world.

The 85 kilometre long estuary is home to approximately 800 hippos and 1200 nile crocodiles, 2 of the most dangerous animals in Africa, and an abundance of birdlife. There is also an established population of bull sharks that migrated into the estuary from ocean tributaries.

Hippos wallowing in the St. Lucia Estuary | The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa

Here, brave tourists can take part in guided kayak tours across the estuary, which is only an average of 1 metre deep. The one and only rule is to keep your hands and feet out of the water at all times, for obvious reasons.

If kayaking with some of Africa’s most ferocious beasts is not for you, then perhaps a sunset cruise or boat safari is the option for you.

 

22. Go Underground in the Cango Caves

The Cango Caves in the Western Cape is one of the most spectacular cave networks anywhere in the world.

The exact size of the caves are unknown but they are believed to be around 25 kilometres long and drop 275 metres underground.

There are various routes throughout the cave network, and several tours are on offer, ranging from beginner offerings to ‘adventure tours’ which lead deeper into the underground labyrinth. These trails require crawling through very narrow passages and up tricky rock formations while in low-light conditions, which can cause feelings of claustrophobia.

Those who do brave the journey are treated to some impressive sights however, as the Cango Caves are well known for their excellent stalagmites and stalactites, which are on prominent display throughout all of the caverns.

23. Learn To Scuba Dive At Sodwana Bay

South Africa is one of the best scuba diving destinations in the world, and if you’re not yet a certified diver, there’s nowhere better to learn than Sodwana Bay.

Red Grouper off Sodwana Bay | The 24 Best Things To Do In South Africa

Located on Kwa-Zulu Natal’s border with Mozambique, the sleepy beach town has a wide choice of dive operators to choose from, all offering professional courses with international agencies like PADI or SSI.

The conditions are ideal for beginners, with warm water, minimal current, excellent visibility, and loads of shallow dive sites. Most importantly, the reefs are breathtakingly beautiful, with plenty of vibrant coral and an abundance of marine life.

24. Experience Zulu Culture At Shakaland Traditional Village

For the most immersive insight into traditional Zulu culture, pay a visit to Shakaland. This recreated Zulu kraal is located 70 kilometres from Richards Bay and offers day tours and overnight experiences.

Here you can take part in traditional activities, including beer-drinking ceremonies, spear-throwing tournaments, pottery-making, and sangoma (traditional healer) rituals.

If you choose to stay overnight, you’ll be treated to authentic ethnic dishes at the village’s Shisa Nyama restaurant, followed by a display of Zulu dancing.

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