Things to Do in South Africa

Things to Do in South Africa

There are many activities and things to do in South Africa for all South African safari lovers. It’s no secret that South Africa is one of the most popular Big 5 safari destinations in the world.

You can just come here for a South African safari and think that South Africa is the best country ever. But wait – there’s much more to this fascinating kingdom at the southernmost tip of Africa.

South Africa’s ethnic and cultural diversity influences its cuisine and art in exciting and unexpected ways. Its landscapes are stunning, from undulating coastlines and wild flower-covered deserts to wildlife and tropical forests.

This southern Africa country has several cosmopolitan cities. You will get an opportunity to enjoy charming wine towns with important cultural traditions. There are several important milestones in the apartheid struggle.

You can hike, surf, kayak, fish, whale, ride a horse, dive with sharks and crocodiles and stargaze under the darkest sky on the planet. The only problem is how to even begin to plan a visit to this vastly blessed and diverse country.

Start planning your Africa safari trip with this list of the best things to do in South Africa.

Exciting Outdoor Activities and Things to Do in South Africa

1. Discover the Big 5 and more wildlife in South Africa’s parks

Things to Do in South Africa

As the early morning sun rises over the bush, a herd of elephants roar past, a leopard enjoys a snack in a tree and a lion stalks its prey. These are the joys of South African safaris where you have a great chance of seeing the Big 5 (lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant) in national parks and game reserves across the country.

Kruger National Park is a large game park with 19,485 square kilometers (7,523 sq mi) of scrub, tropical forests, savanna and mountains and home to more than 100 species of mammals.

Found in the Eastern Cape is the Addo Elephant National Park. In Addo you will find the world’s first Big 7 reserve. This is home to the traditional Big 5 that include Lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo and rhino. You will also find the unique shark and right whale.

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal is the oldest game reserve in South Africa. Created to protect and reintroduce African rhinos, this park is the best place in South Africa to see these one-horned, short-legged megafauna.

In total, South Africa has 19 national parks and countless private game reserves, each offering an unforgettable wildlife experience where no two days are the same.

Planning Tip: Plan your trip between June and September for optimal wildlife viewing. Animals congregate at waterholes during these drier, cooler months.

2. Smell the native plants of Namaqua

Things to Do in South Africa

For much of the year, the remote Northern Cape region of South Africa known as Little Namaqualand is a dry, seemingly sun-soaked wasteland. But for a moment in July, when the winter rains begin to fall, the region is alive with billions of blooms.

Endless carpets of flowers in all hues cover its varied topography from desert plains to fertile valleys and towering mountains.

 But what really sets this show apart is the array of flowers; More than 3,500 species grow here, more than half of which are rare or endemic, i.e. they don’t live anywhere else on Earth. The most famous is Arctotis, often called the African daisy.

Gazania shines with warm yellow and orange petals and Carpobrotus, commonly known as pig face, creeps across the ground.

The best places for a short flower show are the Richtersveld, with its backdrop of gaping canyons and jagged mountains; Skilpad Wildflower Preserve west of Kamieskroon

This part of the larger Namaqua National Park is a great place to see the famous Nama daisies; and the 1,973-hectare (37,000-acre) Goegap Nature Reserve near Springbok, home to about 600 native plant species.

Planning Tip: Park accommodations (primarily campsites and cabins) are in high demand during this short bloom period. Book reservations as soon as they open (usually 11 months in advance) or look for accommodation in the nearby towns of Kamieskroon and Garies.

3. Hike to Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain

Things to Do in South Africa

Cape Town is guarded by the flat Table Mountains, a 1,085m sandstone and granite natural landmark, with breathtaking views from its peak: sparkling Table Bay, historic Robben Island and the entire Cape Town City Bowl  at your feet. . .

Dozens of trails run along the edges of Pöytävuor, opening up fynbos (local flower country), shady forests and waterfalls.

The most popular (and heavily trafficked) is the Platteklip Gorge Trail, a 1.8-mile (2.8 km) uphill hike that’s nature’s answer to the StairMaster, offering view after stunning view the higher you go.

Avoid the crowds on the 1.5 km (0.9 mile) Kloof Corner, a dramatic and slightly hairy hike that gives you great views of the Lion’s Head, the 12 Apostles and the Cape Town City Bowl.

The challenging 2.5 km (1.5 mi) India Venster Trail runs along the front edge of the mountain with an aerial cable car below. Of course, you can only ride the cable car, a quick five minute ride to the top.

 Planning tip: Many trails in South Africa limit the number of hikers at one time, so book early and hike with a group for safety (some longer trails require you not to be alone).

4. Learn more about South Africa’s apartheid past in Johannesburg

Things to Do in South Africa

South Africa has taken steps to come to terms with its apartheid past by cultivating various sites. The Johannesburg Apartheid Museum is a reassuring but enlightening place to start.

The exhibits take you through the history of apartheid through videos, documents and photographs.

Testimonies, videos and photographs at the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum in Soweto tell the tragic story of a 13-year-old student who became the first victim of police shooting in 1976 when students protested against their Bantu education system.

Nearby, Nelson Mandela lived in a modest four-room house that is now the Mandela House Museum, which displays family photos and personal items.

You will also get a glimpse of the beloved anti-apartheid leader, who became South Africa’s first after 27 years in prison became the first democratically elected president in South Africa.

5. Taste Pinotage in the Cape Winelands

Things to Do in South Africa

When the Dutch East India Company came to South Africa about 350 years ago, they set up a fueling station for ships, which of course needed wine!

The company partnered with the French and soon vineyards covered the valleys in the fertile region now known as the Cape Winelands.

Over the years, the art of winemaking has been refined, including Pinotage, the perfection of South Africa’s signature red wine, a rustic cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault.

The Cape Wine Region is one of the best wine regions in the world, with vineyards and hundreds of wineries, a farmer’s market, small museums, gourmet restaurants and three main wine towns dating back to the 17th century.

Franschhoek, settled by the French Huguenots; Stellenbosch, full of Cape Dutch architecture; and Paarl, home to 23 Stellenbosch families.

Great places to try pinotage are Delheim, on the slopes of Mount Simonsberg, near Stellenbosch, and Lanzerac, founded in 1692 near Stellenbosch, with stunning views of mountains, vineyards and oak-shaded gardens.

Detour: If you need a break from wine tasting, drive (or cycle) from Paarl to the Bainskloof Pass. This scenic mountain pass offers almost 30 kilometers (19 miles) of unforgettable scenery and a caravan park halfway through.

6. Get lost on the Wild Coast

Things to Do in South Africa

Sea breezes, cascading waterfalls, emerald canyons and trackless, cliff-lined beaches define the boundless realm of the Wild Coast – the aptly named 250-kilometre (155-mile) stretch of coastline bordering the Indian Ocean in the Eastern Cape.

It is a place to get away from it all and enjoy the solitude of untouched nature where you see more cows than people. Warning: the roads are full of potholes and gas stations are far away, but that will keep the less brave at bay.

You can hike, swim, horseback ride, canoe, surf or just catch rays on your private beach. The Hole in the Wall Hike along the coast is a three-hour excursion through the mountains and local villages, ending at the fabulous stone arch and its swimming lagoon.

The Xhosa River is a paddling paradise with clear water and bright Xhosa huts on its banks. The reflective Jbay Lagoon attracts SUPers, paddlers and kayakers.

The Xhosa people have lived in this enchanting land for centuries and you can see their turquoise round sails on the green mountains.

This is also the birthplace of anti-apartheid revolutionary leader Nelson Mandela, and several small museums in Mthatha and Quno are open to visitors.

Detour: Marvel at one of Dwesa Nature Reserve’s walking trails through pristine forests, grasslands and coastline. It is a refuge for many wild animals, including about 290 species of birds.

7. Go Whale Watching on Land or Sea

Things to Do in South Africa

With around 37 species of whales and dolphins found off the coast of South Africa, it’s no wonder that whale watching is a popular activity.

You can hop on a boat from many places along the three coasts of the country to see these monsters in their aquatic haunts.

But here’s the twist: In some places, you don’t even have to get in a boat to see a whale — you can see them from close to shore.

Watch out for whales from the shores of Lambert Bay, Yzerfontein and Plettenberg Bay, but the most famous land-viewing location is Hermanus, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Cape Town.

Between June and November, southern right whales stop on their annual migration from Antarctica and splash, breach and shine (flapping fins and tails against the water) just offshore.

The town even has a whaling station that blows a horn in the kelp when the whales approach the shore.

8. Explore Cape Town’s Culinary Heritage

Things to Do in South Africa

Through Cape Town’s long history of colonization and immigration, a parade of cultures have taken root, each contributing their own unique traditions and customs.

The most obvious – and most appreciated – result is the city’s diverse, innovative cuisine. Many call Cape Town the food capital of South Africa. You’ll find dishes inspired by British, French, Indian, Dutch, Asian, African and more.

For example, Cape Malay is a community influenced by African, Asian and Dutch cultures; they are known for various spiced drinks (stew), curries, delicious snacks and porringo (hot pudding).

The braai – which comes from the Dutch word braden, which means “to roast” – has become popular across the country. But a braai is much more than a barbecue: it’s a social event where friends and family get together.

Many village tours offer a traditional braai experience. Local chefs realize this rich cultural heritage.

Chef Luke Dale-Roberts’ three award-winning Cape Town restaurants – Test Kitchen, Pot Luck Club and Shortmarket Club – are excellent examples of innovative twists on traditional dishes.

Planning tip: Restaurant and hotel reservations are much easier if you avoid traveling during peak Christmas and Easter periods.

9. Play in the Sun on the Golden Mile

Things to Do in South Africa

With over 320 days of sunshine a year, Durban is a beloved playground of golden sandy beaches lapped by the azure waters of the Indian Ocean.

Called the Golden Mile (although it is more than four miles), the sunny paradise runs from uShaka Beach in the south to Suncoast Casino and Entertainment World in the north, offering beaches and beach activities for everyone.

Beginners can surf at South Beach and Addington Beach, and anglers can drop their line at Bay of Plenty Beach. Other stretches of sand, such as the Umhlanga Cliffs north of the Golden Mile, have a vibrant holiday feel.

If you want to have a picnic or just hang out with your fellow travelers, the Blue Lagoon is a great choice. A boardwalk stretches along the Golden Mile where Zulu artisans sell their wares and runners, walkers, cyclists and skateboarders catch rays.

10. Study human Development

In the labyrinthine limestone caves of the region, deep beneath the Gauteng highlands, 20th century scientists discovered two distant relatives of all mankind.

They were Mrs. Plesi, the skull of Australopithecus Africanus (ancestor of the genus), 2.1 million years. Human) and Little Foot, a nearly complete, three-million-year-old Australopithecus skeleton.

Then, in 2015, a new related species, Homo naledi, was discovered, whose position in the evolutionary chain is still unknown.

You can explore this remarkable archeology in the cradle of mankind, about an hour northwest of Pretoria.

Entertaining world-class exhibits provide context at the Maropeng Visitor Center and you can go underground to the Sterkfontein Caves excavation site.

11. Ride the Blue Train

Things to Do in South Africa

Sit back and enjoy the golden age of travel on the Blue Train, a five-star hotel rated as one of the largest – and most luxurious – train journeys in the world.

Warm birch panels, soft leather seats and full silver service with a five-course gourmet meal suited 19th-century British diamond and gold magnates who demanded the ultimate in luxury travel, and this train journey remains one of the most elegant .

The Blue Train runs a two-night journey between Pretoria and Cape Town. While you will enjoy the best service and decor, what dazzles most is the scenery outside the windows.

You will see cactus desert, Rocky Mountains, vine-covered hills, lush valleys and a front-row seat to Africa’s famous sunsets. Meals, drinks, Monte Cristo cigars and even a personal butler are at a premium.

Planning tip: Book Blue Train travel outside of peak season (November-August) for much less.

12. Travel to the most Southwestern point of Africa

The Atlantic and Indian Ocean meet at the historic Cape Point, or Cape of Good Hope, about 65 kilometers ( 40 mi) south of Cape Town.

It is exciting to stand on this jagged land that juts out to sea, the most southwestern point of Africa, and watch the waves and indigo water as far as the eye can see.

These treacherous waves have plagued sailors for centuries and caused hundreds of shipwrecks.

For great views, hop on the Flying Dutchman cable car or hike the stairs to the top of the 86-meter (285-foot) lighthouse. But don’t rush here.

Dazzling beaches, coastal scenery, fishing villages and miles of remote bushland populated by zebras, ostriches and baboons unfold within a drive from Cape Town.

One of the only two land based Penguin colonies in the world is found at Boulders Beach.

13. Drive the Enchanting Garden Route

Things to Do in South Africa

Take a scenic drive through coastal villages, sparkling beaches and misty mountains on the Garden Route, which some call the Garden of Eden.

You can drive 200 kilometers (125 miles) straight from Mossel Bay to Storms River, but it’s well worth the plunge.

Dive to see the horses of Knysna, surf the waves, hike in shady forests, see elephants in the wild, bungee jump into a drowning gorge or just jump on an empty beach.

A minimum of four days is recommended, although you could seriously spend weeks here.

Detour: On Saturday mornings, stop by the Wild Oats Community Farmers Market just 1 mile east of Sedgefield for fresh produce, baked goods, breakfast and more. The market is a beloved stop on the Garden Route.

14. Immerse yourself in the Zulu culture

Things to Do in South Africa

From 1816 to 1897, the Zulus ruled much of what is now KwaZulu-Natal as one of the most brutal kingdoms in Africa.

Despite their fierce fighting skills, they were defeated by the British in the 1870s and their kingdom was incorporated into the Union of South Africa.

But their culture remains strong – they are the largest ethnic group in South Africa – and the Zulu royal family is still active, ruling (but not ruling) KwaZulu-Natal. You can experience Zulu culture at Shakaland, a restored Zulu homestead.

Shakaland is considered by some to be the Zulu Disneyland, but its traditional activities offer quite an authentic way to experience.

You can participate in the culture, including dancing, consulting a witch, tasting homemade beer and viewing handmade spears and shields.

You can also visit the battlefields in the northwestern part of the province where the Zulus fought 63 battles against successive invading forces.

These clashes are commemorated by monuments and museums such as Blood River and Isandlwana.

15. Go on a Sky Safari in Karos

The sparsely populated landscapes of the Karoo are vast during the day and the sky is just as vast at night.

In this magical semi-desert world covering almost 500,000 square kilometers (1.9 million square miles) across the Western Cape, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and Free State.

Stars pierce some of the darkest and clearest skies on Earth, seemingly so close as you can receive send reach out and touch them.

No wonder it is home to the South African Astronomical Observatory, the largest in the southern hemisphere.

You can take a guided tour during the day, but the starry sky safaris at night are the main attraction. Planning Tip: The charming, historic town of Prince Albert is a good base for stargazing.