On one South African holiday you can stand in a desert, climb a mountain and relax on a sandy beach backed by tropical forest. A vast abundance of wildlife to view from land, sea and air, some of the best wine in the world. And a fascinating cultural heritage to discover and you have a country that is both varied and exceptional. Find out our tips on what to do on your South African escape.
Enjoy a Sunset and an Ocean View
With its spectacular coastal setting, sunset hour in Cape Town brings one of Mother Nature’s best shows. There are many spots that provide a perfect place to end the day with a sunset and an ocean view, including one of the world-class restaurants at the V&A Waterfront. Other options include the popular sundowner sessions at Signal Hill, with incredible views of that paragliders that take off into a fiery orange, red sky, or from the top of iconic Table Mountain.
Stand in the Tiny Cell That Once Held Nelson Mandela on Robben Island
Catch a catamaran to Robben Island to stand in the tiny cell that served as home to Nelson Mandela for 18 years, getting a good understanding of what Mandela felt when that cell door slammed shut. A tour starts with the boat ride that includes a video introduction to its history. You’ll be led through this World Heritage Site and historic landmark by a former inmate to gain unrivalled insight into Mandela’s and the other prisoner’s harrowing experiences, and learn more about the site’s history, not only as a prison, but as a military base, leper colony and mental institution.
View the City from the Top of Table Mountain
Table Mountain towers over Cape Town, standing out as a rare sight in a city, particularly as it rises more than 3,500 feet into the bright blue skies. From the top on a clear day you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of the city, V&A Waterfront, Table Bay, Robben Island, the Cape Flats, the Cape Peninsula and beyond. You can reach the summit on foot or by riding the rotating cable car that provides 360-degree views the entire way. There’s a restaurant and multiple viewpoints to enjoy here too.
Take a Food Walking Tour
One of the best ways to sample Cape Town’s culinary gems is by taking a food walking tour. There are multiple tours for tasting your way through this melting pot of cultures that has resulted in a thriving food destination with flavors from around the African continent and beyond. You might visit the city’s oldest food garden, indulge your sweet tooth at an artisanal chocolate factory and head into an ethical butchery to try South African meat snacks. Perhaps conclude with a delicious cheese tasting paired with the regional wine on Bree Street.
Food and Wine in the Cape Winelands
The Winelands is South Africa’s renowned wine region, located about an hour’s drive from Cape Town. You can take a tour so that you can feel free to sip while someone else gets behind the wheel, or stay a night or two and really soak up the tranquil atmosphere with vineyards that blanket the landscape. There are lots of wine farms for touring and tasting, along with a wide range of world-class restaurants for dining on gourmet South African fare paired with a glass or two of the finest vino.
Embark on a Safari in the Eastern Cape Game Areas
There are many opportunities for wildlife safaris in South Africa, like famous Kruger National Park, but for those who plan to stick around Cape Town, the East Cape Game Reserves are easily accessible and offer an outstanding alternative. A two- or three-night safari can easily be added to a Cape holiday, bringing opportunities to witness the Big Five, elephant, rhino, leopard, lion and buffalo, while being malaria-free, meaning you won’t have to worry about malarial medication. These areas also enjoy their best weather from October to March, the same time as Cape Town.
Explore the Breathtakingly Scenic Garden Route
Stretching from Mossel Bay to Plettenburg Bay along the southern coast, the Garden Route is one of the country’s most scenic roadways. It winds through lush green forest, dramatic cliffs, rugged coastline with beautiful beaches and mountain passes, leading to two national parks, Tsitsikama and Wilderness. There are numerous attractions along the way, along with opportunities for wildlife sightings, with this region home to some huge penguin and seal colonies. Outdoor adventures are many too, including hiking, kayaking and boat excursions.
Whale Watching from the Hermanus Clifftops
It’s not just lions and elephants in Africa you can spot, but whales. There are many ideal places for watching them, but one of the best spots from land is at Hermanus. Here with the precipitous cliffs plunging to the ocean, they come as close as 100 feet from shore so there’s no need to bundle up in waterproof clothing and board a boat. September and October are the best months for whales, though they can be seen from June through October.
A Luxury Rail Journey
Cover a long distance in a luxurious way with a rail journey on an elegantly restored Edwardian Rovos Rail train or the modern Blue Train. Make it an overnight or embark on a two-week adventure all the way from South Africa to Tanzania. For an introduction to rail travel and South Africa, the ride between Cape Town and Pretoria is ideal and easy to combine with a safari in the Eastern Cape Game Reserves or Kruger National Park.
Watch for the Big Five in Kruger National Park
One of the most popular attractions in the country, Kruger National Park offers an astounding array of African wildlife, making it a top pick for a safari, home to nearly 150 different mammal species, including the Big Five and more than 500 various bird species. The park is one of the largest in Africa, covering a 7,523-square-mile area. It’s home to some of Africa’s most exclusive safari lodges, which typically include two game drives a day, led by experienced rangers.
Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve Safari
The Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve lies adjacent to Kruger National Park’s unfenced south-western boundary, a 66,000-hectare reserve known as the best place to see leopards in the country. Game viewing is what this reserve does best with no other area in the greater Kruger National Park region offering such a consistently impressive big game experience. Here it isn’t uncommon to see all Big Five animals during just one game drive, with the guides exceptionally good at spotting the wildlife.
Explore the Battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal
The area of the Drakensberg Mountains where the flat-topped mountains tower more than 11,000 feet called the KwaZulu Natal is not only filled with spectacular scenery but rich history, which includes some of the most well-known battles between the Zulus and the British. Visitors can explore two main battlefield sites, Anglo-Zulu and Spioenkop on a tour. The knowledgeable guides have an uncanny knack of bringing the sites to life, recounting the stories of the battles and South Africa’s long history of conflicts.
Travel the Wild Elephant Coast
The remote, wild Elephant Coast stretches along South Africa’s east coast toward Mozambique. It boasts empty, unspoiled beaches with a coastline that looks more like it does in Mozambique than anywhere else in the country, with secluded sands and glittering turquoise water. They’re backed with swampy forest and dotted with wild banana groves, crocodile- and hippo-filled lagoons. The area offers outstanding diving, with one of the best times to come during the annual turtle migration from December through February.
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