What to do in South Africa
What to do in South Africa
Our guide on what to do in South Africa
South Africa is often called ‘The World in One Country’ due to the diverse nature of the county. You could easily spend weeks exploring South Africa’s national parks, mountains, rivers, beaches, and cities.
The country is developing a reputation for its outdoor pursuits and adrenaline activities, there is certainly no shortage of places to hike, swim, or bike ride. South Africa has a rich and diverse cultural heritage and often describes itself as the ‘Rainbow Nation’. The country has been shaped by its colonial history, indigenous tribes, the legacy of apartheid, and the arrival of migrants from all over the world. We would recommend guests explore this by taking one of the many tours available to discover the food, wine, and history of the country.
South Africa is famous for its wildlife, the reserves here offer some of the best game viewing in the world. Outside the main reserves, there is a whole range of wildlife experiences where you can get close to amazing animals in their natural habitats. If you enjoy the water, diving with sharks, swimming with seals, snorkelling in the Indian Ocean, and kayaking with penguins are some of the most popular activities.
Researchers flock to South Africa to study the wildlife, there are conservation projects in most of the reserves. Guests are often able to get involved with the projects and get even closer to the animals. It also means the animals become relaxed around people, also called becoming ‘habituated’.
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Best activities to do in South Africa
South Africa has a huge range of outdoor pursuits, history, culture, food, wine and safari activities to enjoy. To help you narrow it down we have put together a list of some of our favorites. Please talk to your consultant about what you enjoy so we can make specific recommendations.
As one of the world’s top wildlife-watching destinations, a safari is a must for any visitor. At most lodges, the main game viewing activities are morning and afternoon game drives out into the park. The safaris are conducted in specially modified open-top 4×4 vehicles where your specially trained guide and tracker will take you out to explore the reserve. Some reserves will offer walking safaris where you can approach animals on foot and gain a whole new insight into safari.
South Africa may be best known for its Big Five, but it’s also one of the world’s best places to see whales. You might spot them almost anywhere along the coast, but the town of Hermanus is known as the world’s whale watching capital. Hermanus is about an hour up the coast from Cape Town and Southern Right whales can be viewed from the spectacular clifftops around Walker Bay. Please read our South Africa Whale Watching guide for more information.
The picturesque Cape Winelands, South Africa’s renowned wine region, is an hour’s drive from Cape Town. This is the country’s oldest wine route, featuring almost 150 wine farms along with historic Cape Dutch-style houses. Franschoek is the nation’s gastronomic capital, home to more than 50 outstanding wineries and countless eateries for pairing gourmet fare with wine straight out of the barrel. Please read our SA Wine Guide for more information.
Many lodges will give guests the opportunity to sleep out under the stars. Your guide will take you out into the park before nightfall to a raised platform on the reserve. On the platform, there will be a bed and bathroom where you can spend the night with just the sounds of the bush around you and the stars above you. The star bed at Jaci’s Safari Lodge is particularly amazing with views over the river.
Sample Local South African Food
The diverse population of South Africa has created a food culture that is incredibly varied. South Africa’s mouthwatering cuisine incorporates outside influences from all over the world including Southeast Asia and Europe. You’ll get a real flavour for the country by sampling everything from fresh seafood in upscale ocean view restaurants to street food like bunny chow, barbecue and roti with local craft brews. We recommend you book a guided food tour through Cape Town to really understand the food and culture of the region.
Walk with aardvarks
The safari reserves in the dry arid region of the Northern Cape are very different from the more traditional reserves in South Africa. Desert adapted wildlife thrives in these areas and one of those animals is the aardvark. This shy, nocturnal animal is rarely seen but there are some reserves where they have become used to people and are regularly seen in the late afternoon, especially in the colder winter months. You are able to get out on foot and walk along behind them, this is a rare treat for any wildlife enthusiast.
Meerkats are part of the so-called Shy 5 which also includes the bat-eared fox, the aardvark, porcupine and aardwolf. Near the town of Oudtshoorn, there is a family of meerkats who are wild but are habituated and are not scared of people. You can join a guide to go out in the morning to the burrow and watch them wake up and go about their lives.
Road Trip on the Garden Route
The most famously scenic stretch of road in South Africa, the Garden Route twists and turns for 186 miles, meandering alongside dramatically steep seaside cliffs and through lush forests. Along the way are numerous attractions and photo-ops, from idyllic beaches and stunning lagoons to the mountains of the Tsitsikamma and Outeniqua ranges. The route has Cape Town at one end and the game reserves of the Eastern Cape at the other.
Hike up Table Mountain
Climbing Table Mountain, Cape Town’s most recognizable landmark is a bucket list item for many people. Ideal for active travellers who can be rewarded with a bird’s-eye view, there are dozens of routes up, each of which provides something unique. From the top you’ll be able to gaze out over the city, V&A Waterfront, Table Bay, Robben Island, the Cape Flats and the Cape Peninsula.
In Cape Town and Johannesburg you can go on a township tour to see another side of the country. Your guide will take you through the townships explaining the history of apartheid and the role it has played in the creation of these communities. The tours visit community projects that make a real difference to the lives of South Africans. The projects are wide-ranging but include animal welfare, education, supporting local children, the elderly and the arts.
Kayak with penguins
On the outskirts of Cape Town is Boulders Beach which is home to a large colony of African Penguins. The African Penguin is an engendered species and this colony of 2000 – 3000 penguins is protected. You will set off from the jetty in Simon’s Town and kayak out to the beach, on the way you will often encounter Cape Fur seals playing in the water. The penguins are very used to kayaks and they will swim right past you.
Swim with Great White Sharks
The first country to declare the great white shark a protected species, most adventure travellers don’t consider their time here complete until they’ve seen one of the giant toothy predators. This is arguably the best place to swim with great whites with multiple outfitters offering the opportunity to go down in a cage and see them up close.
Hike the Drakensberg Mountains
A hiker’s paradise, the Drakensberg Mountain Range is part of the Great Escarpment, separating the high plateaus of the interior from the lower coastal lands. There are miles and miles of trails, from easy to strenuous climbs, bringing magnificent scenery and wildlife watching opportunities, from Rainbow Gorge, one of the top day hikes to the challenging Chain Ladders trek in Northern Drakensberg.
For several months a year, it is possible to go turtle tracking in the Isimangaliso Wetlands Park in KwaZulu Natal. Female loggerhead and leatherback turtles come onto the beach to nest and lay their eggs. Approximately 60 days later the eggs hatch and the baby turtles make their way to the sea. Guests are able to go down to the beach and watch this amazing process.
Visit Robben Island
Witness some of South Africa’s checkered past by visiting Robben Island, the country’s most well-known historic site and the former location of a remote prison that held Nelson Mandela for 18 years, although it was used by everyone from the 17th-century Dutch to the South African government in the 21st century. Today the historic landmark offers tours led by former political prisoners.
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