There are so many incredible places to visit in South Africa, that one may spend a lifetime exploring it.
I have been to South Africa three times. I have returned from my latest trip less than a month ago, and I still feel compelled to buy yet another flight to go back. This is a country that I won’t ever tire of, for it has so much to offer. There are many beautiful places to visit in South Africa. Beautiful cities; gorgeous beaches; the African bush and all its wildlife; the rugged coastline; the mountains and the forests; the vineyards: there really is something for all kind of travelers.
Add to this the delicious food, the superb wine, and the great range of accommodation options and it’s easy to see why many people choose to travel to South Africa and why it’s becoming an increasingly popular holiday destination.
This post provides an overview of the places to visit in South Africa. At the end, I will also share some tips to help you plan your trip to South Africa.
20 Amazing Places To Visit In South Africa
Johannesburg and Soweto
Johannesburg may not be as beautiful as Cape Town, but it still is one of the places to visit in South Africa. The main international hub in Southern Africa, Jozi, as locals affectionately call it, has a lot more to offer than meets the eye. South Africa’s largest city has a few superb museums; the street art scene is rocking; and its culturally lively.
Among Johannesburg’s must sees there are the Apartheid Museum, which is a fantastic place to learn more about the difficult past of the country; and Maboneng, the best part of the city to admire street art. If you have enough time to get out of the city, the Cradle of Humankind and the Sterkfontein Caves are other also interesting places to visit.
If you decide to visit Johannesburg, I also recommend spending a day or two in Soweto. It surely is one of the most interesting places to visit in South Africa; a massive township (the largest in the country, with 1.3 million people living there) that became famous during the Apartheid regime, as it was where protests and civil unrest started. Vilakazi street, in Soweto, is where Nelson Mandela and his family used to live. Nowadays the house is a small but very interesting museum.
Head over to my post “Three Unmissable Things To Do In Johannesburg – On A 24 Hours Layover“ for a more detailed guide to Johannesburg and Soweto.
These are some of the best guided tours of Johannesburg and its surroundings, and of Soweto:
- Johannesburg and Soweto Apartheid Full Day Tour
- Soweto & Apartheid Museum Full-Day Tour
- Constitutional Hill & Apartheid Museum Half Day Tour
- Cradle of Humankind Tour
- Cradle of Human Kind Tour with Wonder Cave
- 1 or 2 Day Johannesburg Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour
- Johannesburg Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Ticket and Soweto Tour
- Small Group Walking Tour of Johannesburg w/ a Local & Markets
Here’s a small selection of places to stay in Johannesburg and Soweto:
- Curiocity Backpacker is a nice hostel in Maboneng. The area is packed with bars and pubs and the hostels is a good place to stay for budget and solo travelers. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- The Aviator is is close to the airport, in Kempton Park. If you are planning to spend only a short time in the city, it’s great as it also has a shuttle to and from the airport. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers is the place to stay in Soweto. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Known as the Mother City, Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. There is no denying that this is among the most incredible places to visit in South Africa. The city literally has it all.
When in Cape Town, you shouldn’t miss Table Mountain: make sure to go there on a clear day, as the views of the city from up there are spectacular. The best time of day to visit is one or two hours before sunset, so that you have enough time to explore and can then sit down to enjoy the views as the sun sets on the ocean. You’ll then understand why this is one of the most beautiful places to visit in South Africa.
If you like hiking, you’ll be happy to know that there are plenty of trail literally in the city. Other than the famous hike to Table Mountain (which by the way can be reached via cable car), there is the hike to Devil’s Peak and the one to Lion’s Head, from where you’ll be able to see Table Mountain.
These are some of the best tours to Table Mountain and Lion’s Head. Some of them also also include hiking:
- Cape Town: Table Mountain National Park Guided Hike
- Full-Day | Table Mountain Hike – Cape Town
- 5-Hour Table Mountain Hike with Cable Car Descent
- Lion’s Head sunrise hike
- Lion’s Head sunset hike
TIP: Of the places to visit in South Africa, Cape Town is the one with the most unpredictable weather. At times, it’s sunny in the city but Table Mountain and Lion’s Head are covered by clouds. Do not go there if that’s the case as visibility up there will be very poor!
When in Cape Town, make sure to also pay a visit to Robben Island, where the high security prison where political leaders such as Nelson Mandela were held until the end of Apartheid. This is no doubt one of the most interesting places to visit in South Africa.
These are tours that go to Robben Island:
- Robben Island Ferry Ticket with Hotel Pick-Up
- Robben Island Ferry Ticket and Township Combo Tour
- Path to Freedom Private Tour – Robben Island and Gugulethu
The colorful Bo-Kaap is one of the most charming areas of Cape Town. Once a slaves quarter, it’s where the Cape Malay community lives. The area is actually quite multicultural, with the Muslim community and the Christian one living together. It’s also where you’ll find the nicest restaurants that serve Cape Malay food, an absolute must try when in town.
Speaking of food, one of the yummiest places to visit in South Africa is the V&A Waterfront. This is a lovely area packed with restaurants, shops and a crafts market, street artists and a few interesting museums (it’s also where the ferries to Robben Island leave from). Yet, it’s main perk for food lovers is the fantastic food hall where you can easily spend hours trying food from all over the world. If you like oysters, there even is a place that serves some of the largest oysters you’ll ever see in your life.
Other places to visit in South Africa that can are located in Cape Town are Groot Constantia, where the first vineyards in the country were established; Kirstenbosch Gardens, one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world.
TIP: Make sure to plan to stay in Cape Town at least 5 days, as there is a lot to see in the city itself and it is an excellent starting point to visit all the neighboring smaller towns and natural sites. This way, you can also hope that you’ll have at least one full day of sun to hike Lion’s Head and visit Table Mountain.
If you need more information about Cape Town, including things to do and places to eat, read my post “15 Absolutely Unmissable Things To Do In Cape Town.”
These are some of the best tours of Cape Town with entrance to the main attractions in the city:
- Guided tour of Cape Town
- Cape Town city private tour
- Cape Town sunset bike tour
- Cape Town: Private Tour with Robben Island & Table Mountain
- Cape Town City Sightseeing Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
- Cape Town official pass
- Robben Island tour
And these are some of the best accommodation options in Cape Town:
- The Backpack is a a lovely boutique hostel in the City Bowl. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Cape Heritage Hotel is a boutique hotel, also in the City Bowl. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Loader B is a great self catering options. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Taj Cape Town is close to all the main attractions. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- The Capital Mirage Hotel is right by De Waterkant. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Muizenberg is a lovely coastal town close to Cape Town, at about 30 minutes drive, and can be easily enjoyed on a day trip from the Mother City. It’s one of the loveliest places to visit in South Africa. The main feature of Muizenberg is the incredible, white sandy beach. The waves are so good there that not even the freezing cold ocean water is a deterrent to surfers. Lining the beach there are some small, colorful beach houses that are fun to photograph.
Of the many small towns near Cape Town, Kalk Bay is one of the prettiest, making it one of the most pleasant places to visit in South Africa. It’s the kind of place you’d stop at for a quick coffee when driving around the peninsula, and end up spending a couple of hours browsing through the antique and vintage shops. Kalk has a lovely, easygoing vibe and there are a few nice places to grab a bite. Olympia seems to be a popular one among locals: make sure to try the mussels.
Simon’s Town and Boulders’ Beach
Without the shadow of a doubt, Simon’s Town is one of the unmissable places to visit in South Africa that are near Cape Town. Its main attraction is Boulder’s Beach, which, other than being a gloriously beautiful beach (think sand as white and fine as it gets, crystal clear shallow waters and granite boulders), is also home to a community of some 20000 odd penguins. You can easily see why you don’t want to skip it!
TIP: The entry ticket to Boulders’ Beach Penguin Colony costs 152 South African Rand (little over $10 USD) and as this is one of the most popular places to visit in South Africa, it can get crowded at times. However, there is a part of the site that virtually nobody goes to: once you get out of the site, follow the footpath on your left, which goes along the coast offering some splendid views. You will eventually get to another separate entrance from were you can access the beach.
Boulders’ Beach, Kalk Bay and Muizenberg can all be visited on a day trip from Cape Town. Renting a car will give you the benefit to travel at your own pace, and it doesn’t have to be costly. Around About Cars is a great rental car company and the good news is that it has offices in downtown Cape Town (near Long Street), not to mention excellent customer service.
Boulders’ Beach is one of the stops along guided tours of Cape Point Peninsula (which however don’t stop in Kalk Bay and Muizenberg Beach). These are some of the best tours of Cape Point Peninsula which also includes a visit to Boulders’ Beach:
- Boulders Beach Penguin Colony: Kayak Trip
- Cape Point and Penguin Explorer Full-Day Tour from Cape Town
- Cape Peninsula and Penguin Colony Full Day Tour
Cape Point Peninsula and Cape Point National Park
No trip to South Africa is complete without a road trip around Cape Point Peninsula, which is part of the Cape Floral Region – so famous for its biodiversity that in 2004 it was inscribed in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These is, quite simply, one of the unmissable places to visit in South Africa.
The drive around Cape Point Peninsula is among the most scenic ones in the world. One of the nicest stops along the way include Hout Bay, a lovely suburb of Cape Town which has a beautiful sandy beach and a nice harbor from where it is possible to go on a boat tour to admire marine life (mostly seals). Up the hill outside of Hout Bay there is also a view point with breathtaking views of the bay.
Chapman’s Peak, at around 15 minutes drive from Hout Bay and connecting this with Noordhoek, is another must. Once in Noordhoeak, the road splits into two roads that go in opposite directions. Driving east, it reaches Fish Hoek and then continues to Simon’s Town (one of best places to visit in South Africa) to then reach Cape Point National Park. Going west, it goes through Kommetjie and then follows the coast until entering the National Park area.
I have driven both roads and they are both beautiful. The first one stops in small cities and is perfect if you want to visit Cape Point Peninsula and the penguin colony on the same day. The second one is significantly less trafficked, and there are some stunning coastal views along the way.
Both roads eventually join again at the entrance of Cape Point National Park. It costs R303 (little over $21 USD) per person to get inside the park, which is open from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm in the winter months (April to September) and from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm in the summer months (October to March).
Driving around Cape Point National Park is a lot of fun, and it’s easy to see why this is one of the nicest places to visit in South Africa. Nature is pristine here, as well as wildlife. Among the animals you’re likely to spot there are ostriches, various species of antelopes, zebras (though these are most rare) and the ever present baboons. Make sure to keep your car windows rolled up as baboons do jump on cars and sure enough will get in if they have an opportunity! (They jumped on my car as I was driving and I just barely managed to roll up my window before they could sneak in!)
TIP: As in many other places to visit in South Africa, baboons are an issue in Cape Point National Park: they are vicious and known to bite humans for food. Make sure not to carry any food in your bags or pockets once you get out of the car.
Once inside the park, there is plenty to do. There are several beautiful hiking trails of varying length and difficulty. A short and sweet one is the Cape of Good Hope trail, which connects Cape of Good Hope (which, despite being one of the most famous places to visit in South Africa, actually isn’t the southernmost point in Africa – that’s Cape Agulhas, at around 230 km from Cape Town) to the new Cape Point Lighthouse: it takes around one hour to 90 minutes (with plenty of stops along the way) to walk one way, and the views of the coast and Diaz beach below are stunning.
Another nice and easy trail is the Lighthouse Keeper’s Trail, which starts right behind the upper funicular station and takes to the new, lesser known lighthouse. The views of the coast and of the old lighthouse, which towers above the trail, are splendid. It takes no more than one hour to walk the entire trail and get back.
TIP: If you intend to hike around Cape Point Natural Park, make sure to take your hiking shoes with you. Though most of the trails are quite easy, there are bits where you need to climb up some rocks and you may need that extra ankle support.
There are two ways in which you can visit Cape Point Peninsula and Cape Point National Park. Whichever way you choose, you’ll end up spending more or less the same amount of money, and you are guaranteed to have a great time and to get to some of the best places to visit in South Africa.
On a guided tour:
Joining a guided tour is an easy way to do it: it goes to some of the nicest places to visit in South Africa, and the roughly R800 ($56) you pay include entry fees to the park, Boulders’ Beach penguin colony, transportation, lunch and snacks, a well prepared guide that shares plenty of information and (depending on the tour) even a bike ride around the park.
These are some of the best guided tours of Cape Point Peninsula:
- Cape Town: Full-Day Cape Peninsula Tour
- Cape Peninsula: Private Full-Day Tour from Cape Town
- Private Cape Point & Peninsula Full-Day Tour
- Cape Peninsula Full-Day Shared Tour with Penguins
- 9-hour Cape Peninsula Guided Cycling Tour
Renting a car is one of the nicest things to do in South Africa, and it is easy and cheap – especially if you can share the price. The benefit of touring Cape Point Peninsula independently is that you get to see what you want and spend as much time as you want in each place. Find out the prices of car rental here.
Stellenbosch and Kayamandi
Most people who visit South Africa only go to Stellenbosch on a day trip from Cape Town. I stayed 5 full days on my first visit, and just 2 on my second one, and regretted not having more time there. I recommend to spend at least two days there, as this really is one of the nicest places to visit in South Africa.
Stellenbosch is one of the loveliest cities in the country, with lots of history and small interesting museums. Most visitors (including myself, I admit!) however go there to do wine tasting. Indeed, the region is famous for wine production, and it is scattered with many fantastic vineyards.
If you are thinking that visiting one or two is enough, think again! All the vineyards in Stellenbosch are different from one another: some have a strong focus on conservation; others are truly historical and vintage; some do interesting wine tasting tours pairing wine with foods such as cheese, nuts, and even cupcakes. There even are some where you can blend your own wine! The only thing they have in common, really, is the excellent quality wine.
I have written a full post about Stellenbosch with my selection of the nicest places to do wine tasting as well as the nicest restaurants in town. You can read it here.
If you still feel you are pressed with time and want to visit Stellenbosch on a day trip from Cape Town, these are some of the best day trips:
- From Cape Town: Full-Day Winelands Tour with Tasting
- South African Winelands Half Day Tour and Tasting
- Cape Town: Full Day Wine Tasting Tour
- 1 Day gourmet wine and dine tour
- Private Full-Day Wine Tour and Tasting from Cape Town
- Full-Day Winelands Tour and Tastings from Cape Town
If, on the other hand, you decide to stay in Stellenbosch a little longer, I recommend also visiting Kayamandi Township – it’s one of the most interesting places to visit in South Africa. Its name means “sweet home,” and it was founded in the 1950s during the Apartheid regime. It’s a typical township with small cottages built in traditional style, next to which there still are many shacks. A good guided tour gives insights on the daily life struggles of the local communities.
Finally, these are some of the best accommodation options for those who wish to spend a few days in Stellenbosch:
- De Haas Luxury Living are beautiful, stylish apartments in the heart of Stellenbosch. Click here for the latest rates, and check reviews here.
- Twice Central Guest House is a lovely guest house in Stellenbosch city center. Breakfast is delicious and all rooms cozy. Click here for the latest rates, and check reviews here.
- Lanzerac Hotel and Spa, on Lanzerac Wine Estate, is one of the best boutique hotels in the area. Click here for the latest rates, and check reviews here.
- Spier Hotel, in Spier Wine Farm, has beautiful rooms in a peaceful setting. Click here for the latest rates, and check reviews here.
- Walter and Colleen rent a few rooms in their beautiful, historical home on Dorp Street, and they are available through Airbnb. It’s a fantastic way to see a different side of the city.
At about 1 and a half hour drive from Cape Town, in the Western Cape Province, Hermanus is one of the places to visit in South Africa for whale watching. Several tours depart daily from the harbor, and apparently it’s possible to spot right southern whales even from the shore (there are various whale-watching points along the waterfront). Hermanus is packed with gorgeous beaches, and the city is quaint and tranquil and makes for a pleasant stop on the way to the Garden Route.
TIP: The best time to see whales in Hermanus is between the end of June and November. Make sure to book your whale watching tour in advance and to check online reviews for companies that run tours in a responsible way. Although there are many companies that run whale watching tours several times a day, these actually get booked up quite easily.
It’s also possible to go on whale watching tours in Hermanus that depart from Cape Town. Here’s a selection of the best:
- Hermanus whale watching and wine tasting full day tour
- Full day trip to Hermanus from Cape Town
- Trip to Hermanus with whale watching cruise from Cape Town
Wilderness is small town in the Western Cape Province and one of the stops along South Africa’s Garden Route. It’s one of the loveliest places to visit in South Africa. The area is packed with beautiful, long, sandy beaches. It’s also home to the Map of Africa, a stunning lookout point with views of the Indian Ocean, of the Outeniua Moutains and the Kaaimans River.
Hiking certainly is one of the things to do on the Garden Route and Wilderness Natural Park is a perfect place for that, as there are several hiking trails. I followed the Giant Kingfisher Trail (also known as the Waterfall Trail). It’s a nice 3 hours hike (there and back) that goes all the way to a beautiful waterfall.
The trail splits in two at some point, and either way you’ll have to cross the river. The first option is to cross at the ponton river crossing (a rather rudimentary boat that can easily be dragged across the river). The second one is to follow the Posduif trail, which is actually more challenging as the terrain is uneven and the trail rather narrow, and you’ll get to the stepping stones, which literally are stones you’ll have to jump on to cross the river. I walked the Posduif trail on the way up and crossed via the ponton on the way back. The trail goes through the forest and leads to a beautiful waterfall with a natural pool.
TIP: The Garden Route has been severely affected by fires in the last two summers, and some trails have been closed or are being fixed. Make sure to call the park you intend to visit in advance to check if the trail you are considering walking is actually open.
These are some of the best accommodation and dining options in Wilderness:
- Waterside Lodge is right across the river. There are a couple of beautiful cottages all facing a well kept garden. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Dune Beach House has gorgeous views of the ocean. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Fairy Knowe Backpackers is an excellent option for budget travelers. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Girls on the Square is one of the nicest restaurants in Wilderness. Prices are fair, service good and, most importantly, the food is delicious (make sure to try the curries). Book in advance as it is a popular place.
- Pomodoro is another lovely place, with very good food, an easygoing vibe and lovely staff.
One of the nicest stops along the Garden Route is Knysna, which in fact is one of the top places to visit in South Africa. The only regret I have about visiting Knysna is not staying longer! This small town is perfect for nature, wildlife and adventure lovers, and it has a nice, easygoing and holiday vibe that makes it a wonderful place to stop for a few days.
The most famous attraction in town is the Knysna Heads, two sandstone cliffs that separate Knysna Lagoon from the ocean. This is actually the world’s most dangerous ocean mouth. Knysna Heads can be seen from the lagoon and from the hills facing the ocean. It’s also nice to go all the way to the viewpoints to admire the ocean below (some beaches are truly stunning).
Knysna Lagoon is obviously another attraction, and one of the most unique places in South Africa. Going on a boat trip around the lagoon is a must!
TIP: I recommend planning to stay a few days in Knysna, especially if you are interested in going on a boat tour around the lagoon. The wind can be quite strong and oftentimes tours are cancelled or postponed till the day after, so give yourself plenty of time to increase your chances of good weather and calm waters.
These are some of the best tours of Knysna:
- Knysna ecomarine boat tour
- Knysna village and lagoon bike tour
- Knysna Heads and estuary adventure
- Knysna sunset yatch cruise
And these are the best places to stay and eat in Knysna:
- Overmeer Guesthouse is on the hills and has lovely views of the lagoon and Knysna Heads. The only downside is that you really need a car to get there. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Turbine Hotel is located in Knysna Lagoon; it’s a converted powere station. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Knysna Inn is an excellent budget option in the city center. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Freshline Fisheries is one of the best restaurants in Knysna, and it’s very budget friendly. Portions are huge, and they don’t sell alcohol – but you are welcome to bring your own.
- Tapas and Oysters is a nice bar kind of place. Portions are huge and cocktails fabulous. Watch out for the happy hour!
Check out my post Six Areas Where To Find Accommodation In Knysna.
Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary, Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary and Birds of Eden
If you have been following my blog for a while, you know that I advocate against the use of animals in tourist attractions. If this is your first time here, you may want to read my post about responsible tourism and animals (you can find it here). I am not a fan of zoos (though I know that some do excellent conservation work) and sure enough I don’t support facilities that encourage interaction with wildlife that would never occur if the animals lived in their natural environment.
Unfortunately, some places in South Africa still offer animal encounters that are anything but responsible – think of lion walks or “elephant experiences.” If you are keen on getting close to animals in a responsible way, Jukani and Monkeyland are two of the nicest places to visit in South Africa. These animal sanctuaries, which won the World Responsible Tourism Award, are easily reached from Plettenberg Bay, on the Garden Route.
Jukani, located at around 14 km from Plettenberg Bay, houses around 70 carnivores from Africa and beyond. There are lions (including the gorgeous white lion), tigers, jaguars, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, caracals and even pumas. These are all animals that were injured, orphaned or rescued from zoos or from people that kept them as pets (obviously illegally). They are now kept in large enclosures that are supposed to mimic their natural environment as much as possible – some are so large that spotting the animals is actually quite hard (it took me a pair of good binoculars and a lot of browsing through the bushes to spot the leopards!).
Needless to say, at Jukani animals aren’t bred (in fact, they are closely monitored so as not to reproduce, as this would jeopardize the already delicate ecosystem they live in); there is no such thing as interaction or walks with animals. All tours are guided, and rangers monitor visitors so that they keep an appropriate behavior (for example, the use of selfie sticks is prohibited). Rangers are fully trained to answer any question. It’s easy to see why this is one of the places to visit in South Africa.
A further 7 km up the road there is Monkeyland, another sanctuary that is dedicated to primates which, similarly to the carnivores at Jukani, were rescued from zoos or kept as pets. It’s one of the most fun places to visit in South Africa, as there really are primates of all kind and size: there are squirrel monkeys as well as vervet monkeys; gibbons; lemurs and much more. Guided tours depart every 20 minutes and last around one hour, with plenty of chances to take photos.
Located right next to Monkeyland there’s Birds of Eden, a bird sanctuary which also is the world’s largest free-flying aviary. It’s divided into various ecosystems, so there is a wetland as well as a misty forest inside, and birds are rehabilitated before being released inside. Visitors can walk in any time, and are offered a book with pictures to help recognize the various species. It takes about one hour to walk the entire trail. This is one of the nicest places to visit in South Africa for bird lovers.
TIP: The 3 sanctuaries can be visited on a combo ticket that costs R 520 (less than $37 USD) for adults. The good thing is that once you have the ticket, you can actually take as many guided tours as you want. I did two tours of Monkeyland (so that I could take even more photos) and two of Jukani (I wanted to go back at feeding time, at around 4:00 pm, when the animals are more active).
Plettenberg Bay and Tsitsikamma
Plettenberg Bay is one of the last stops along the Garden Route, and one of the top places to visit in South Africa thanks to the gorgeous beaches, fun vibe and easy access to the nearby Tsitsikamma National Park and Nature’s Valley, where there are plenty of incredible hiking trails (the most famous one is the Tsitsikamma Mountain Trail, a fantastic 6-day hike).
As many other places in South Africa, Plettenberg is an excellent place to admire wildlife (whale watching and dolphin watching are quite popular here). It’s also close to Bloukrans Bridge, one of the most famous places to visit in South Africa for adrenaline seekers: this 216 meters high bridge is a famous spot for bungee jumping. And if bungee jumping is not your thing, you can go zip lining in Tsitsikamma instead.
Here is a selection of places to stay and eat in Plettengberg Bay:
- Jaydees B And B is a nice bed and breakfast in a safe area, within a lovely home. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Nothando Backpackers Lodge is an excellent option for travelers on a budget. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Bayside Lodge is a lovely boutique hotel near the beach. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- The Fat Fish is a fabulous restaurant serving delicious seafood as well as good steaks. The white fish and mango curry and the seafood chowder soup are delicious.
- The Lookout Deck is right by the beach and the views are stunning. Food is delicious.
Close to Durban (which is arguably one of the nicest places to visit in South Africa), in Kwazulu Natal, there is Umhlanga. It’s actually one of its nicest suburbs. I have been to Durban ages ago, the first time i visited South Africa, and I remember it being a fun place. During my last trip to South Africa, I only have one night to spend in the area so I opted to stay in Umhlanga, which is close to the airport and where there are plenty of good restaurants, accommodation options and things to do.
Umhlanga has a gorgeous beach that is a fantastic place to go for a walk in the early morning. If you only have a day there, make sure to wake up nice and early and to go visit. By 6:00 it is already nice and lively with people running or walking. There also is a nice lighthouse and a jetty which are perfect for taking photos.
A sunset cocktail is a must, and there is no better place to have one than the terrace of Oyster Box, one of the best hotels in the area.
These are the best places to stay and eat in Umhlanga:
- Sandals Guest House is an incredibly stylish boutique hotel with comfortable rooms and wonderful hosts. Breakfast is fabulous. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- The Oyster Box is the best known luxury hotel in Umhlanga. The terrace has gorgeous views. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Fish is a lovely local eatery that serves delicious fish and seafood dishes at unbeatable prices. The grilled calamari and mussles are mouthwatering.
Phinda Private Game Reserve
If you are thinking of doing a safari in South Africa, there are many options to choose from and many places to visit in South Africa offer incredible safari experiences. My recommendation is to obviously look for a company that runs safaris in a completely responsible way.
I decided to travel to Phinda, a private game reserve managed by And Beyond. I toured Botswana on an overland tented safari with them (you can read more about my experience camping in Botswana in this post and about all the wildlife I spotted in this other post), and liked it so much that I didn’t have any doubt when I had to pick a responsible operator for a safari in South Africa.
What makes Phinda one of the nicest places to visit in South Africa is the combination of excellent lodging with the best wildlife experiences one may hope for. I guess I was particularly lucky, as not only did I get to see all the Big Five, but also zebras, hippos, giraffes and a lot of cheetahs and hyenas. I even experienced a hunting scene: two male cheetahs successfully stalked and killed an impala. It was an exhilarating moment that I will never forget.
Phinda Private Game Reserve is actually huge, and the landscape changes from one area to the other, which implies that different animal species will be more easily spotted in some areas (hence why it’s a good idea to stay at least 3 nights).
I stayed there for 4 full days and 4 nights, in two different lodges (there are quite a few inside, actually): Phinda Forest Lodge first, and Phinda Mountain Lodge afterwards. Both lodges are beautiful, in a different way. Both have gorgeous rooms; both offer fabulous dining experiences and the staff is outstanding. Both lodges are built following the shape of the land, and are not enclosed so it’s quite common to see animals such as baboons, impalas, nyalas and even elephants roaming around. I guess you can easily see why to me this is one of the top places to visit in South Africa!
Phinda can be easily reached by car from Umhlanga: it takes around 3 to 3 and a half hours to get there, depending on which lodge you are staying at.
For a more complete post about Phinda, click here.
I visited Nkomo as part of a half-day trip from Phinda, on an Africa Foundation tour. Africa Foundation is an NGO that serves to empower local rural communities living nearby core conservation areas in Africa, with the idea that furthering education and empowerment they will recognize the importance of preserving the environment and its wildlife and contribute in the effort.
I hardly expected it to be so, but I admit that Nkomo was one of the highlights of my trip to South Africa, to the point that I recommend including it in your list of places to visit in South Africa.
My visit of Nkomo started at Nkomo Primary School, where the wonderful headmaster Mrs Zikhali guided me to show me the school, all the while recollecting the story of how it came about, the difficulties she encountered, and the challenges she expects for the future. She’s a strong personality, and an incredibly generous heart. As we went around, kids joyfully played in the yard with anything they could get their hands on. I could see that they were as curious about me as I was about them!
The second stop was at kindergarten, which however is still in the making. I then went to the local crafts market, where women can sell their work in a safe environment; and finally at the local clinic, which does both prevention work as well as administering cures for the most common illnesses.
The positive, empowering message and the good vibes I got in Nkomo made visiting a wonderful experience. If you care to visit a rural community and get a better idea of the every day struggles of rural South Africa, make sure to add it to your itinerary of the places to visit in South Africa.
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is one of the most famous places to visit in South Africa. It’s huge – in fact, it’s pretty much as big as Israel, and the landscape changes from one place to the other, with mountains, bush plains and even tropical forests. Kruger is one of the largest game reserves in Africa and an incredible place to see animals in their natural environment. Here there are plenty of chances to see the Big Five, and if you are lucky enough you’ll even get to see the famous wild dogs (Africa’s most endangered carnivore).
The good thing about Kruger is that it is easily accessible. Much like Etosha, in Namibia, you can self drive (though it takes quite a trained eye to spot wildlife, I think!) and there is a variety of accommodation options that go from camping sites to luxury lodges, so it is really suitable for all budgets. Easy to see why it’s one of the top places to visit in South Africa.
What You Need To Know Before Your Trip To South Africa
When to visit South Africa
I’d dare to say that any time is good to visit South Africa. I have visited in both early winter and late spring, and enjoyed it both times. Naturally, some of the places to visit in South Africa mentioned in this post are better enjoyed in the spring and summer months. If you plan to go hiking, keep in mind that Winter can be rainy in the Western Cape, but summer may be too hot.
Currency in South Africa
South Africa currency is the Rand, shortened R or ZAR. At the time of writing, $1 USD is worth little over R 14. ATMs are easily available throughout the country, and most businesses accept credit and debit card payments.
Getting to South Africa
South Africa is well connected with the rest of the world. All major airlines fly to both Johannesburg and Cape Town, and some even fly to Durban. On my last trip to South Africa, I flew with Turkish Airlines from Istanbul to Cape Town, and I can wholeheartedly recommend it as the best carrier for intercontinental flights. I was lucky enough to fly business class and should you decide to do the same, rest assured that you will be in for a treat. Let me tell you a bit more about my experience so that you can make up your mind.
First of all, flying business class with Turkish Airlines means having plenty of comforts. As soon as I got on board I was offered a drink and then handed noise cancelling headphones. I had an amenity kit which included a dental kit, face lotion and lip balm. My seat was super comfortable and I could recline it completely. Yet, what made my experience special was the excellent on board service, which included eating delicious food (I even had a fillet mignon accompanied by a glass of red wine on my way back!) served by the super kind staff. Having wifi on board was the extra treat, so that I could stay on top of my emails throughout the flight.
The business lounge in Istanbul was a great place to spend some time in between my flights. It really is one of the best equipped lounges in the world. It spreads across two floors. It took me a while to realize that I could actually spot the second one, though the impressive staircase should have given in! The lounge has a huge TV room with screens and headphones to listen to your show of choice. There are multiple dining rooms serving international food; places to relax (including a massage room) despite the crowd (it does get quite busy); showers and much more.
To be fair, I have flown with Turkish Airlines in economy class in the past and the experience was great. Even in economy class, the service is great, the seats more comfortable than with other airlines, the staff kind, helpful and welcoming and the food much better than the average airline food! Considering that the prices are very convenient, I truly recommend picking Turkish Airline as the chosen carrier for your trip to South Africa.
Traveling around South Africa
For my third trip to South Africa I enjoyed the company of my sister. Since we enjoy driving and having our own independence, we decided to rent a car. After all, this is the best way to get around the country and reach all the nicest places to visit in South Africa.
Check out the prices of car rental in South Africa here.
Renting a car in South Africa is easy and cheap. We rented one from an operator based in Cape Town, with offices in Long Street and at the airport. We booked online and got a great deal, paying around R 3000 (around $212 USD) for 2 full weeks. Our rental included extra charges, as there were two drivers, we returned the car to a different location from where we picked it, and we had full insurance coverage as the road conditions aren’t always the best in South Africa, and we wanted to be covered in case of tire damage.
In order to rent a car in South Africa you’ll need a valid driving license and a credit card. A deposit will be blocked from your card when you pick it up, but will be released a week after you return it.
We drove a Renault Clio and it was a fine car to take us around. The boot of the car was spacious and easily fit all our stuff (though mind you, we only had backpacks). The fun part was for us was driving on the other side of the road – I won’t hide the fact that we got confused a few times.
Make sure to have a GPS (but use it with caution): our car had a GPS system, but at times we had to rely on Google Maps to get to some of the places in South Africa we wanted to go to, as the GPS was apparently not updated and it’d send us to the opposite direction from the place we wanted to reach!
Don’t drive at night: roads in South Africa are poorly lit, and often unfenced. Stray animals and at times even people cross the road and you may not see them!
Keep within the speed limits: cameras are scattered around the country. A good GPS will warn you about the presence of a camera and will update you on the speed limit.
Beware of the road conditions: the road conditions are good in the Western Cape and all the way to Port Elizabeth. Keep in mind that 4-lane roads are common only in the vicinity of major cities, with 2 to 3 lanes being the most common.
Passing etiquette: the good news is that even when there only are 2 or 3 lanes at most, it’s easy to pass. You’ll notice that South African drivers, especially truck drivers, are very polite and will pull onto the shoulder to let you pass. Once you are done, flash your emergency lights shortly as a thank you, and their flash their high beams quickly to mean “you’re welcome.”
Roadworks: road works, road blocks, accidents are common, and in my experience Google Maps regularly underestimates driving time (and even sends you in the wrong direction). Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to get from one place to the other.
Have your documents in order: it’s not uncommon to be stopped for a police check in South Africa. My sister and I were driving to Stellenbosch from Cape Town and she had to do a breathalyzer test! Make sure to have your driving license ready and all your car documents in one place.
Parking guards: you’ll have to pay for a parking lot in most of the places to visit in South Africa. Once you park, a person working for the municipality (and which you can easily identify) will mark down your arrival time. You will pay once you get back your car. The official parking personnel is not to be confused with the “car guards” which are pretty much anywhere in the country, and who will often try to help you (or at times, like in my case, confuse you) as you try to park your car. Tipping them is not mandatory.
Safety in South Africa
South Africa has the reputation of being an unsafe place. Cape Town, which is one of the most famous places to visit in South Africa, certainly has some dodgy bits that you are better off stay away from. I have to say I have never had an issue in my three times in the country, but I wholeheartedly recommend keeping your eyes open and following the advice of locals when it comes to safety. If a hotel receptionist advises you not to walk around alone at night, there must be a good reason for that!
A good thing to do is getting a local sim card with enough data for the duration of your stay, so that you can easily access Google Maps to find your way home, or Uber if you need transportation. There is a Vodacom shop right outside the terminal in Cape Town airport.
Remember to always get a good travel insurance. You can find a good one here.
Legal Disclaimer: I wish to thank Turkish Airlines for offering my sister and me an upgrade on our intercontinental flights. I would also like to thank Around About Cars for offering us a discounted rate on our car rental, and And Beyond for giving us a discount on our safari in Phinda. Needless to say, no sponsorship or cooperation influenced my opinions, which remain honest. I loved my time in South Africa and I can’t wait to go back.
Have you ever been to South Africa? Of all the places to visit in South Africa, which one did you like the most?
Make sure to also read my post “Nineteen Incredible Things To Do In Zanzibar.”