In a country that’s as wildly diverse as South Africa, it can be hard to decide which activities to include in your holiday. From spotting whales in Hermanus to exploring the third largest canyon in the world, and the classics like going on a safari and climbing Table Mountain, there’s something for everyone. We’ve therefore put together a few of our favourite activities and a couple of out-of-the-box ideas to give you some inspiration. Read on to find our top things to do in South Africa.
Enjoy a gourmet city break
The Mother City is known for many things, from it’s incredible mountainscape, its beautiful beaches, to its rich and diverse history but in recent years it’s become known for something else: its food! Cape Town has become arguably one of the top African hubs for food, with new and exciting restaurants opening all the time. You can enjoy multi-course tasting menus overlooking the Constantia Wine Valley, gorge yourself on incredible sushi and munch breakfasts fit for a king or queen right across the city. Sound up your street? Take a look at our Cape Town restaurant and breakfast guides to start you off. As well as gourmet dinners, you can also expect to sample lots of locally produced drinks. Gin is enjoying a major heyday in the Mother City right now and you can visit spots like the Hope Distillery to sample some of the city’s finest spirits. There is also, of course, the must-visit Constantia wine valley, packed with vineyards, where you can enjoy the city’s finest vino, nibble on a cheeseboard and take in those amazing views – all just 30 minutes from the city centre.
Almost all our South Africa trips will offer you some much needed exploring time in the Mother City; we just think there are too many exciting things happening to miss it. We love our classic self-drive Garden Route, popular with so many of our travellers, that gives you some time in the city before making your way along South Africa’s epic coastline. You’ll also enjoy some Cape Town time in some of our multi-country trips such as The highlights of Southern Africa, this will lead you from Victoria Falls, to the Mother City, Kruger and then finish with some beach time in Mauritius. All in one!
Keep an eye out for great giants of the sea
Lion, rhino and giraffe might get all the airtime when it comes to African animals but there are plenty more to be seen, specifically those not on land. Every year, South Africa sees gigantic, majestic whales pass through her waters on their annual migration. Anyone visiting between June and October really must take a trip to arguably the country’s most famous whale spotting point, Hermanus. From here, you can take trips out to sea to view humpback and southern right whales in their natural habitat – and there’s really nothing quite like spotting those huge shadows rising from the depths, blowing great plumes of air and water from their spouts before disappearing back into the deep with a flick of their tail. And if you’re in the area, it would be rude not to make a stop at the Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven and Earth) Valley. Think winding roads, soaring mountains and world-class wine. Heaven on earth indeed!
To really get your wildlife fill, we’d recommend our Garden Route and a spot of safari trip. Our route will take you from Cape Town to the Overberg, but there’s nothing to stop you making a trip to Hermanus as well. Once you’ve spotted all your beasts from the deep, you’ll continue along the traditional Garden Route before stopping for a spot of safari in the Eastern Cape.
Take in the awe-inspiring scenery
‘Scenery’ in South Africa might get overlooked in favour of ‘safari’, but the topography of this striking country more than stands its ground. In Cape Town, there’s Table Mountain and Lion’s Head who both keep watch over the Mother City. In the province of Mpumalanga (Zulu for ‘the place where the sun rises’), you’ll find the third largest canyon (after the Grand Canyon and Fish River Canyon) in the world! This awe-inspiring feat of nature is an incredible 25km in length and 750m deep. If huge mountain ranges are more your thing then it has to be the Drakensberg Mountains (which translates to ‘dragon mountains’) that form the border between South Africa and Lesotho. Thrill seekers can get their kicks crossing the treacherous Sani Pass over the mountains, connecting the two countries and reaching heights of 2873m. If your trip takes you to the Western Cape then be sure to explore the sights outside of the city and head up to the Cederberg. This rocky, alien-looking mountain range can be found just 200 kilometres from the Mother City and here you’ll find the largest collection of ancient San Bushmen rock art in southern Africa. It’s also a paradise for hikers; spend your days getting lost in the mountains and amongst the dramatic, wind-carved sandstone formations like the Maltese Cross and the Wolfberg Arch.
To head towards the magnificent mountains of the north, try our Explore Kwa-Zulu Natal trip, which will give you everything from culture to crazy-high mountains. Or if you want to try your luck with the Sani Pass and tick another country off your list as you go then this trip will be just the ticket for you. To explore the beautiful peaks of the Cederberg we’d recommend Our road less travelled in the Western Cape adventure.
Test your steel
New Zealand might get all the glory for being a thrill-seekers paradise but adrenaline junkies shouldn’t overlook South Africa for a heart pumping trip! Along the famous Garden Route you’ll find one of the most white-knuckle-inducing adventures that the country has to offer: bungee jumping from Bloukrans Bridge. At a height of 216 metres, this is one of the highest bridge bungees in the world! Also along the Garden Route you’ll find the adventure playground of Tsitsikamma where you can spend an entire day exploring the gorges of the region and have a go at bouldering, wild swimming and jumping from rocks of up to 8 metres. And you don’t need to be in the middle of nowhere to get your kicks, for the cities also have plenty for daredevil connoisseurs. In Durban, have a go on the world’s tallest swing (an 80m free-fall over Moses Mabhida Stadium) and in Cape Town you can hurl yourself from Lion’s Head and paraglide over the city (with a guide of course!). The Mother City can also offer thrills during its windy summer season (January is usually the peak) as it’s one of the leading kitesurfing regions in the world.
Tick off all of South Africa’s white knuckle adventures by building your own trip today!
Spot rhino in the famous Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park
Located on South Africa’s famous Elephant Coast is a park like no other, one that can stake a claim to having saved Africa’s white rhino population from extinction. Hluhluwe-Imfolozi is Africa’s oldest game reserve and was previously the royal hunting ground of King Shaka. Dr Ian Player was an international conservationist who, alarmed at the dwindling numbers of the species left in South Africa, launched a project in the 1960s called Operation Rhino. The project’s aim was to increase the number of white rhino within the country, relocating a number of the remaining animals and establishing safe breeding groups therefore allowing the population to grow. The operation was a resounding success and undoubtedly brought the white rhino back from the brink of extinction. If you’re looking for rhino in numbers, this is the spot for you. You might also have seen the recent news of 17 rhino being transported to Malawi by African Parks, and this is where those very rhino came from.
Our Explore Kwa-Zulu Natal is a great place to start if you’re looking to visit the Elephant Coast. You’ll not only have an opportunity to seek out some of the region’s incredible wildlife but also come to learn of the history and culture of the area.
Go in search of lesser spotted beasties
Perhaps you’ve already been on safari and ticked off the Big Five, or perhaps your top things to do in South Africa are more to do with seeing the creatures-less-than-ordinary. The arid desert region of Tswalu Kalahari is the place to be if you want to see something a little different. By day, keep your eyes peeled for the famous black-maned lions, desert black rhino, habituated meerkat, cheetah and sable antelope, and by night stay on the lookout for rarer beasts – namely aardvark and pangolin. These tough-skinned beasties like to seek out their food under the cover of night and are one of the most prized sightings on safari, so rare they are. In the Kruger and Madikwe you’ll not only spot the Big Five but also one of our favourite animals, the African wild dog or painted wolf. There are only 6600 remaining in the wild and conservation efforts are well underway to ensure their future survival. They’re wonderful animals to spot, famed for their extremely close family ties as well as their excellent hunting success rate. You won’t be disappointed looking for hard-to-spot animals.
Tick off plenty of our things to do in South Africa with this trip which will take you from the red earth of Madikwe, to the dusty landscapes of the Tswalu Kalahari before heading South to enjoy everything the winelands and Cape Town has to offer. We don’t like to play favourites but this trip is certainly up there!