Travel

Top 10 Places to Visit in South Africa

South Africa is the type of country that is absolutely teeming with diversity. You can travel across the hugely varying terrain of the Kruger National Park, which houses an astoundingly large number of different species of wildlife. You can travel along the Garden Route and savor the stunning natural beauty (from golden beaches to indigenous forests to grassy hills to lakes and lagoons) while you simultaneously savor some of the amazing meals, be it seafood or Italian, served in restaurants along the way. Oh, and the wildlife. Have we mentioned that there’s a lot of it? Lions, elephants, buffalo, crocodiles, zebra, rhinoceroses, and ostriches, to name a tiny fraction of everything you might see here.

And then there’s the history of South Africa. It’s decades of systematic oppression called the Apartheid forms a blemish in South Africa’s past, still so recent that many who lived through it are around to tell the tale. But since the defeat of the National Party in the 1994 election, the country has risen above the ashes and entered a dawn in which all people are equal. It now is the type of country ideal for international sports tournaments, such as the highly successful FIFA World Cup in 2010. Nowadays, South Africa is a beautiful and interesting destination for visitors – why not hop on a plane and witness its diversity for yourself?

01. Cape Town

If you’ve heard anything about Cape Town already, then you probably already know that it’s a place worth visiting. If not, here’s all you need to know: it has a remarkable mountain range along the coast, immaculate white beaches, and shockingly vibrant greenery. In addition to all of that, Cape Town is located right next to a wide array of wildlife. Spending time in Cape Town will make you feel like you’re living in an oasis surrounded by the wild.

Attractions & Activities
Most tourists decide to stay in posh Camps Bay, an active, popular area of the city that makes you feel like you’re in the center of it all. To get a taste of the city’s natural beauty’, head to Cape Town’s Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which will reveal the amazing beauty of the native Cape flowers and plants. It is world renowned as one of the best botanical gardens there is, and will help educate you on the entirety of South Africa’s flora. Each season reveals a different sort of impressive display and activities, what with the area’s amphitheater, restaurants and gift shop. The Cape Philharmonic Orchestra as well as other local bands are known to perform here.

You should also either get to the Bo-Kaap Museum or take a walk around the Bo-Kaap neighborhood, which houses the traditionally Muslim community and immerses you immediately with the five times daily Call to Prayer. Then check out the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront for dinner or go shopping in the numerous stores along the water, or simply ride the famous Cape Wheel to enjoy 15 more minutes of amazing views.

Of course, the elephant in the room is Table Mountain, which is covered below.

02. Table Mountain

Table Mountain is indeed a mountain that resembles a table. You can access it via the cableway and will easily spend plenty of time up there exploring the panoramic views, embarking on a summit hike, soaking in the exciting and unique flora and fauna that reside atop the mountain, or eating at the cafe perched there with glorious views. With its distinctive flora and fauna, Table Mountain is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is easily the biggest tourist destination near Cape Town.

Attractions & Activities
As part of the Table Mountain National Park, there are a plethora of activities to choose from in the immediate area. It is, of course, obligatory to take in a view of Cape Town, as there won’t be a better chance to see it so completely in person. It doesn’t take long to realize and appreciate the fact that it is listed as one of the New 7 Wonders of the world. It is, after all, the only mountain to have an actual constellation named after it (Mensa, which means “table”).

You should also take time to appreciate the amazing plant life on the table. It is the smallest floral kingdom while also being the richest in floral diversity – there are nearly 1,500 different species of plant alone on Table Mountain, many of which are endangered or rare. Enjoy these species with some of the numerous hikes, or simply stroll around at your own pace – regardless, we are certain you will find it to be absolutely amazing.

03. Kruger National Park

As one of the biggest game reserves in the entire gigantic continent of Africa, you can imagine that it is absolutely huge. Some might even go as far to say it is the most exciting safari location. Whether you “just” go on a classic safari tour, you stay at a game lodge, or you go for a luxurious all- included package, it is safe to say you will have the time of your life at Kruger.

Attractions & Activities
While every natural aspect of the park is impressive, what with its variety of plant life, birdlife, reptiles, amphibians, fish and the interesting landscape, let’s face it: most people are coming to see the big African mammals. Each of the “Big Five” animals can be found living here. These animals are the African lion, the African elephant, the Cape buffalo, the African leopard, and the White and Black rhinoceros. The name comes from them being the five most difficult animals to hunt whilst on foot, but of course it is now commonly referring to five of the most impressive and well-known mammals in Africa. A safari or guided walk is the best way to go about spotting these impressive creatures.

While poaching has been a problem, especially along the border with Mozambique, the elephant population at least has been in good supply. Between 2004 and 2012 the population of elephants had shot up from nearly 12,000 to a whopping 17,000. Since the park’s habitats, vast as they are, can only sustain roughly 8,000 elephants, this has become something of an issue. At least you should have no trouble spotting some elephants during your visit.

04. Johannesburg

Often lovingly referred to as Jo’burg or Jozi, Johannesburg is the heart and soul of South Africa. It has certainly had its historical ups and downs, but now it has a distinct patched-up vibe that includes a cleaned up inner city, neighborhoods teeming with young hipsters, and an overall feeling of city-wide raw, creative energy. While the city is still far from perfect, it has a sense of realness unmatched by most other cities in the world.

Attractions & Activities
As one of the central cities of the Apartheid, it is a given that you should visit the world-famous Apartheid Museum. It utilizes a multitude of media tools to educate visitors on the rise and fall of the Apartheid. It will both shock and overwhelm you, but will certainly be an unforgettable experience and a necessary tool of understanding the raw truth of South Africa’s past.

After that, allow yourself to feel inspired by Constitution Hill, one of the landmarks with the most political importance in Johannesburg. It is in the location of the Old Fort, which actually used to be a prison for the most famous and influential political activists – and yes, that included the beloved Nelson Mandela, as well as Mahatma Gandhi. The more modern design here uses some of the previous prison walls as well as a window to watch the actual goings on of the Constitutional Court.

Continue your tour of the city with Mary Fitzgerald Square, perhaps the best location for getting to know the electrifying center of the city. You’ll see interesting art, the Jazz Walk of Fame, heads carved from former railway sleepers, and even one bronze sculpture of Brenda Fassie, a popular South African musician whose death occurred about 11 years ago. 

05. Knysna

One of the stops along the world famous Garden Route of South Africa, your time spent in Knysna will be characterized by oysters, kind locals, and amazing views of the surrounding landscape. In Knysna, you can have both exciting adventures and tranquil relaxation. Located along the southwestern coast, it is not uncommon to spot dolphins from the banks of this town; it is equally common for visitors to decide to stay for longer than they had originally planned.

Attractions & Activities
 When you drive into the Knysna region, you’ll know it by its woods. Take note of the Knysna Heads – the place where plenty of ships attempted to land in Knysna and instead met their demise.

When visiting Knysna you should definitely check out the Featherbed Nature Reserve, which nicely showcases the region’s unique populations of various plants and animals. It is located towards the south of Knysna.

As already mentioned, dolphins can often be seen in the waters, and during the right time of year you can also see whales along the Paradise Coast. You can book a boat that will take you on a dolphin watching tour and might even include seeing the local seal colony. 

06. Franschhoek

Occupying a valley between mountains, Franschhoek is in the heart of South African wine country. Its people have French and Dutch roots, and they are experts in their field. Visitors are welcomed with the warmest of hospitality, ensuring they will absolutely adore their stay. World renowned for its top notch wine growers and even chefs, Franschhoek Valley is a place to enjoy delicious food and drink alongside the serene surrounding scenery.

Attractions & Activities
You can find a tribute to the Huguenot French settlers in the form of an impressive Huguenot Monument, which is located near the museum at the edge of town. The museum is also worth a look – – it describes the stories of the original settlers, which is useful knowledge when you visit the wineries with the same names.

There are few better ways to experience the wine industry in the Frankschhoek Valley than by hopping on and off the Wine Tram. It will take you to numerous vineyards, provide you with lovely views of the valley, bring you to places where you can have amazing meals, and will tell you some relevant background information along the way. It runs along the historic line where farmers used to take their produce to the market on ox-drawn wagons.

You will further your knowledge of the background stories of these families if you taste some of their wines. Most will volunteer the stories of their descendants or the origins of their farms, but if they don’t then be sure to ask. They are always detailed and interesting. 

07. Plettenberg Bay

Endearingly nicknamed “Plett,” Plettenberg Bay is the ideal place for holidaymakers – that is, people who are really looking to relax. You can imagine what kind of landscape Plett has to offer, then: gold sandy beaches, lagoons, forests, clean rivers, and vineyards. Plett is the kind of place that makes a perfect middle stop in a whirlwind trip around South Africa, or else a grand finale of relaxation towards the end.

Attractions & Activities
Plett’s namesake, Governor van Plettenberg, renamed the Beautiful Bay after himself in 1778, declaring its belonging to the Dutch East India Company via a large rectangular stone known as the Possessional Stone. It can be found overlooking the Old Timber Store, where there are also amazing views of the Central Beach.

A few years after Plett was claimed by the Dutch East India Company, a timber store was constructed that, predictably, was used to store timber. This timber shed can still be visited today (located on Meeding Street). As one of Plett’s oldest buildings, it makes for an interesting stop; it has also been considered a National Monument since 1936.

The Old Rectory, an equally old building, is also a place worthy of a visit, although it has not been kept in the same condition as the Old Timber Store. The Navigational Beacon, located in the Beacon Island Hotel Gardens, is also a fascinating artifact to see – its purpose was to help arriving sailors establish where exactly they were.

A must visit-site for families and a great way of appreciating the local nature is through a visit to the Birds of Eden Aviary, Knysna Elephant Park or the Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary, depending on your animal preferences.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a true visit to Plett without ample time spent relaxing on the beach or partaking in water sports and activities. Be sure to plan such things into your itinerary, as it is well worth the time spent. 

08. Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch, the City of Oaks, is a university town and another place settled by French refugees. This, of course, means more vineyards and famous wineries with French names. You can combine a wine tour with these wineries and the ones at Franschhoek to hit two birds with one stone. The historic town offers many an old colonial building that provide a clear, in-person illustration of life back then. But most people visit for the wine and the charming atmosphere that this historic town supplies.

Attractions & Activities
Enjoying Stellenbosch is best done via a walking tour, either individually or with a guide. If you prefer to go individually, you can simply purchase ‘’Historical Stellenbosch on Foot,” a brochure that will take you through and inform you on the interesting parts of the town.

You definitely should glance through the Stellenbosch Museum, which is a physical display of how typical homes looked during four different historical eras — specifically the four different architectural eras of the town. Additionally, the Powder House, situated near the Information Centre, is where the residents of Stellenbosch got their supply of lead, flint, and powder, with specific allowances for items such as gunpowder and bullets.

You can also do a wine tour that covers both Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, which usually involve a knowledgeable guide taking a small group along, informing them about the various wineries along the way. This can also be based out of Franschhoek, as was described previously. 

09. Oudtshoorn

Oudtshoorn is the home of immensities: immense birds, immense caves and immense beauty. As the ostrich capital of the world, it is a point of interest for anyone fascinated by African wildlife. The Cango Caves, located in this area, are Africa’s largest system of caves, which house not only mysterious dark abysses but also the convergence of three separate plant biomes. The amazing landscape of the Oudtshoorn region includes the massive peaks of Swartberg as well, making up the Cape Floral World Heritage Site.

Attractions & Activities
While in Oudtshoorn, you should take the 15-minute drive to get to the Cango Caves, which are the most popular caves in South Africa to visit. Be sure to book a tour in advance, as spaces are limited in order to preserve the natural cave environment. You can choose to go on either a Heritage tour or an Adventure tour – or do one of each! Check online for more information.

There are a number of ostrich farms that are available to do a tour, and some even offer ostrich rides. Highgate Ostrich farm is the biggest of the farms in the area, so many tourists elect to begin there. If you are after a more active adventure, try rock climbing on some of the natural limestone cliff faces, often considered some the best limestone rock climbing opportunities in the world. They can be found if you leave the town and head towards the Cango Caves. 

10. Blyde River Canyon

The Blyde River Canyon may not be the biggest in the world (it is behind the Grand Canyon in the United States and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia), but you won’t notice the difference in size when you see it – it seems like nothing could be as vast as this canyon. It is covered in vivid green foliage and includes waterfalls, named rock formations, breathtaking viewpoints and plenty of hiking trails.

Attractions & Activities
The most popular features of the canyon include the Three Rondavels, Pinnacle Rock and Gods Window. You will get the best views of the canyon when you look down at the Three Rondavels, which are round, gigantic rocks that supposedly resemble the huts of the indigenous (called “rondavels”). If you hike the Panorama route, which starts at the town called Graskop, you will have this view somewhere along the way. The Panorama route also includes looks at God’s Window, the Pinnacle, and Bourke’s Luck Potholes.

Pinnacle Rock is one distinct column, made of quartzite, which shoots out of the woods and straight into the air. The Bourke’s Potholes were named after a miner whose name was Tom Bourke. Despite them being named after him, he never actually found very much gold; the honor is therefore rather inexplicable. The potholes themselves were formed from water activity. Finally, describing God’s Window with words is impossible to do it justice – simply look down from there and you will understand where it gets its name. 

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