Did you know that about 16 million tourists visit South Africa every year? No wonder, there are several unique places to visit. You can do anything there: hikes, beaches, vineyards, diving (with sharks…that’s a whole different story), safari… whatever you can think of. We are Jan and Karin and we wrote down the top 7 unique tourist attractions in South Africa.
7. Discover the South African History
South Africa has a rich history full of twists and turns. The oldest time dating back to the Stone Age, then the rough era of European colonization and a more recent Apartheid period. Take time to explore more about South African History and set off to one of the many museums, cultural villages, or memorials.
Just 9 km (5.5 mi) from the shores of Cape town lies the Robben Island. Former prison, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 years. The 40-minute journey on a ferry boat is worth the trouble. All the tours are guided by former prisoners, making the experience even more memorable. Learning about the history of Apartheid, this is a must see site. Apart from the prison itself, you can take a tour around the island and also visit the quarry, where the prisoners had to work, and the prisoner’s graveyard.
Monday to Sunday – 8 am to 5 pm
Public Holidays – 8 am to 5 pm
Closed on a Workers’ Day (1st May) and Christmas Day (25th December)
600 ZAR (35,5 EUR) per adult
310 ZAR (18,5 EUR) per child under 18
- The price for the ferries is included in the tickets.
- Be sure to book your tour and pay for the tickets in advance.
- Expect that the tour takes about 4 hours (including the ferry trips).
- The ferries operate as follows: 9 am, 11 am, 1 pm and 3 pm (during the peak season from November to March).
Enjoy the various museums
There are plenty of museums throughout Cape Town. It would take an extra article just to write down all of them. Fortunately, we don’t have to, as there is the IZIKO heritage institution associating all premier public art and cultural destinations in Cape Town. On their website, you can choose from a wide range of museums according to your interests. There is something for everyone—arts, culture, history… Besides that the Zeitz MOCAA Museum of Contemporary Art residing in the reconstructed silo tower is definitely worth visitng.
Tip: Are you curious about some other places to visit in Cape Town? Don’t miss this article then: 10 Best Things to Do in Cape Town.
Visit cultural villages of various tribes
When thinking about South Africa’s best tourist attractions, you definitely shouldn’t miss the cultural villages. South Africa is a melting pot of diverse cultures and the 11 official languages clearly demonstrate that. Everyone knows about the colonial wars and apartheid, but there is much more to South Africa than just that. Set on the cultural journey and explore the traditions of the South African indigenous tribes. Dance with them, learn their rituals and let them show you their traditional way of living.
Top 10 Cultural villages in South Africa:
- Shangana Cultural Village, Mpumalanga
- Matsamo Cultural Village, Mpumalanga
- Botshabelo Historical Village, Mpumalanga
- Simunye Zulu Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal
- DumaZulu Cultural Village, KwaZulu-Natal
- Basotho Cultural Village, Free State
- !Khwa ttu San Culture and Education Centre, Western Cape
- Lesedi Cultural Village, Gauteng
- Motseng Cultural Village, North West Province
- Khaya La Bantu Cultural Village, Eastern Cape
6. Penguin or Whale Stalking
There is one really shitty beach in South Africa…literally, because there are colonies of penguins living there. You can find it by the awful smell, but the penguins are super adorable to watch. You can pay them a visit at Boulder Beach. It’s a part of the Table Mountain National Park, so it’s only a few-minute drive from Cape Town.
A “National Geographic” moment:
The African penguins only inhabit the coastline of southeast Africa and due to human impact, especially pollution and destruction of the environment, they are now an endangered species. They are not as big as the Emperor penguins, which are arguably the most famous kind. Growing up to 60–70 cm (24–28 in) they might look cute, but you should keep your distance and try not to disturb them or pet them.
While staying in South Africa, you can also go whale watching. During their migrating season from June to November, you have a pretty good chance of spotting the Southern right whales, orcas and Bryde’s whales from the coast.
Tip: The best spot is Hermanus. The town is less than two hours drive southeast of Cape town and boasts plenty of whale-watching companies. Here are the best, according to Tripadvisor:
- Southern Right Charters
- Hermanus Whale Cruises
- Xplora Tours
Price: from 1 000 ZAR (60 EUR) for 2 hours (drinks and snack included)
5. Fly over the forest on a zipline
Honestly, whale watching may turn out to be quite tedious. If you’re more of an adrenaline person, you should try something else. One of the more adventurous things to do in South Africa is to take a canopy tour. There are several locations from mild ones, even for children, to some true adrenaline kicks you won’t forget. The reputable company to look for is Canopy Tours.
Price: Approximately 500–700 ZAR (30–40 EUR)
You should book your tour in advance, due to limited capacity.
4. Explore the vinyards
Well, not only France is worldly renowned for great wine. South Africa is among the ten greatest wine producers all over the world. And I can solemnly swear, the South African wines are delicious (I even bought a couple of bottles as presents for family and friends).
South Africa has several award-winning wineries. The history of producing wine dates back to the seventeenth century so it’s no wonder, there are a great deal of wineries to visit. One of the best is in Franschhoek. It’s an area of French heritage in South Africa (what a surprise, looking at the name of it) located only an hour-drive from Cape Town.
Here you can find not only the hundred-years-old vineyards, but also the best restaurants as well. Taste the wine tram route (from 260 ZAR; 16 EUR), try the wine tasting and prepare for a day full of drinking and eating.
Interesting Fact: You can actually find the hundreds-years-old grapes from France there, which are not to be found anywhere else in the world. It’s because of the grape phylloxera. It’s a kind of insect pest that decimated the wine population in the northern hemisphere, but luckily not in South Africa. The Pinotage red-wine grape is another South Africa’s signature wine, as it was cultivated here in 1925.
My personal recommendation in Franschhoek:
The best restaurant in South Africa on michelin level. Three course menu with wine for about 400 ZAR (25 EUR) per person.
Tip: When buying the bottles, ask for aviation transport of the wines back to your home. It’s super cheap and you won’t have to worry about the airport regulations.
In Stellenbosch you can find the oldest vineyards in South Africa next to charming historical Dutch manors, gardens, and restaurants. There are some museums along, worth visiting as well. In individual houses, there are restored exhibitions, followed by the Toy and Miniature Museum, an 18th-century building with military collections and the Shoe Museum.
The opening times vary according to contemporary COVID-19 restrictions, therefore, we recommend checking the updates on the Stellenbosch Museum official websites.
3. Venture on a safari tour
Whether you want to or not, this is a must see. One of the most favourite tourist attractions in South Africa—Safari tours—are the experience you’re looking for even if you’re not that into nature. Put your hand on your heart, who wouldn’t like to see the Big Five in real life? In case you’re a greenhorn in safari matters, Big Five is a common name for the African biggest and most dangerous mammals: lion, elephant, leopard, african buffalo and rhino.
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is probably one of the first items on every South Africa travel guide. With almost 1.5 million visitors a year it might seem crowded, but it’s big enough to enjoy the experience. Plus, when you see the elephant family on a morning stroll or a lion pack resting in the shadows, you really don’t care about anything else. Kruger National Park offers a wide range of activities and accommodation options fitting every budget.
There are numerous options, depending on what you want to see, where you want to stay and for how long. But even for the most frantic wildlife lovers, two or three days at most are needed to enjoy the game reserve fully.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park
Of course, Kruger National Park isn’t the only option in South Africa. There are tons of safari tours and private game reserves to explore. But the other one worth mentioning is iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1999. Situated in KwaZulu Natal, it’s home to a tremendous number of species. And the best thing about it… you can enjoy the safari on a horseback, like a big boy. The romantic idea of Out of Africa reenactment aside, you can also enjoy Hippo cruises, cultural tours and plenty of other activities. Check the options on the official website of the park.
2. Diving and Snorkelling
A beautiful coastal underwater life and perfect conditions encourages the diving experience. There are plenty of things to do in South Africa when it comes to diving. From tropical reefs snorkeling to diving with sharks. Dyer Island, known for having one of the largest living populations of white sharks is located just 3 hour-drive southeast from Cape Town.
Actually I have some truly heartwarming memories on this one. Interested in the expectations versus reality of shark cage diving? Read on how I aced the heroic descent among these men-eating beasts. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in South Africa, I would give it 10/10.
1. Hiking spots
And here we go… South Africa boasts a magical nature, magnificent mountain range and unique places to visit. Hiking in South Africa is indeed a memorable experience. There are countless trails with charming views, so get your camera ready, you will become an insta king after that.
Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve
What you can see in the picture above is the third largest canyon in the world. Want to know the first two? Naah, I won’t spoil all the fun for you, try a library (or at least Google). Listed in the UNESCO, this nature reserve is a refreshing change opposed to the city hustle.
There are several hiking trails, ancient Echo Caves with rock art and rafting possibilities. Also, it’s home to more than one thousand flora species, a number of which are endemic. It’s guaranteed you will fall head over heels in love with this place. Be sure to see Three Rondavels, Pinnacle Rock and God’s Window, three of the most spectacular rock formations.
Tip: Take the Leopard Trail and continue to Guinea Fowl and Tufa. Together it makes a 7 km-long (4 mi) moderate loop trail. It will take you approximately 4 hours and on the way, you will get to see the Three Rondavels and even a chance for skinny dipping in some of the remote pools. At Forever Resort reception you can pick up the map of the trail and pay a 50 ZAR (3 EUR) entrance fee.
While in Cape Town, this is the ultimate place you need to visit. The Table Mountain strikes everyone’s sight first thing after getting to Cape Town. Its majestic silhouette towers above the city and represents a perfect spot for a morning hike not far from the city. The views are impeccable and the whole national park is worth visiting, so make sure you will have enough time to explore it (it took us approximately half a day).
There is an aerial cableway present, so you can use it to descend to save time (and your joints). From the Lion’s Head view point on the opposite side, there is a great view of the mountain itself and the city stretching below. And the national park itself boasts one of the richest floral regions in the world. Over 70% of the flowers are endemic to Table Mountain and the Fynbos Biome is the richest here.
Open daily, throughout the year.
The cableway opens at 8 am (September to April) or 8.30 am (May to October). The closing times depend on weather and the time of the year.
The price depends on whether you want the return or one-way ticket and the time you go there. Therefore we recommend visiting their official website and checking your preferred option.
The Cape of Good Hope
The Cape of Good Hope trail is quite an easy, flat walk along the coast from Simon’s Town. It’s about 3.5 km (2 mi) long, but with the strong ocean winds and the heat, it might get a bit challenging, so prepare for that. There is also a lighthouse at Cape Point you can visit.
The Garden Route
Covering the south-central coast from Mossel Bay to Storms River, the Garden Route is one of the best things to see in South Africa. The route is around 200 km (125 mi) long and you find everything there: beaches, lakes, lagoons, ancient forests, and magnificent greenery.
Besides hiking, you can swim there, dive, enjoy your day on the beach, or even ride an ostrich on one of the farms in Oudtshoorn. When you get too warmed up from that, pay a visit to Cango Caves only 30 km (19 mi) from Outshoorn. The extensive ancient limestone decorations make these caves one of the top travel destinations in South Africa.
Drakensberg or freely translated dragon mountain is the highest mountain range of South Africa. It lies between the Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal regions and offers breathtaking views with its rugged cliff and green deep valleys. It’s also home of the Lesotho Kingdom lying within South Africa borders. There is a wide range of hiking trails options, whether you’re looking for a pleasant walk or a tough exercise.
Here are some of the most popular trails to check out:
- Rainbow Gorge
- Ploughman’s Kop
- Doreen Falls
- Chain Ladders Hike
- Cathedral Peak
- Giant’s Cup Trail
Cape Floral Region Protected Areas
The entire Cape Floral Kingdom was enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its diversity, extensive Fynbos biome and a large number of endemic species. The Cape Floral Region comprises eight individual areas:
- The Table Mountain National Park
- The Cederberg Wilderness Area
- The Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area
- The Boland Mountain Complex (this includes the Kogelberg Nature Reserve, Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, Assegaaibosch Nature Reserve, Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, and Limietberg Nature Reserve)
- The De Hoop Nature Reserve
- The Boosmansbos Wilderness Area
- The Swartberg Complex (which comprises the Swartberg Nature Reserve, Gamkapoort Nature Reserve, and Towerkop Nature Reserve)
- The Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve
There are surely many other unique places to visit in South Africa, but it would take an eternity to write down all of them. These are, on the other hand, some of the best places to see. If you’re planning to travel there, read the 7 Things to Know before Traveling to South Africa as well.