South Africa Travel guide:
South Africa is diverse in more ways than one. Aside from its post-apartheid name, the 'Rainbow Nation' is a land of opportunity when it comes to unique travel experiences. From the wild parties of Cape Town's nightclubs to the wild animals of Kruger National Park. The only limit you have in South Africa is your imagination.
The best time to visit South Africa depends on why you're visiting. If you're going for a safari then the best time would be between May-September, this is the dry season, so you'll have a better chance to see more wildlife. But this time of year can actually get quite cold in the evenings. The hotter months are during the summer (between November-February), but the safari might not be as good in these months. The heavy tourist season is around April-May and September-October, so outside of these months it's less busy. South Africa is a year-round destination, due to varying regional climates, so it's always best to check the area where you'll be visiting and the activities you want to do.
With a country as large and diverse as South Africa, it can be difficult to know where to begin. From the wildlife-rich national parks to the cities that never sleep. From the underwater worlds waiting to be discovered, to the dreamy coastlines and divine vineyards, below are some popular places to visit in South Africa.
There’s definitely something special about a bustling, urban city nestled between soaring mountains and dreamy coastlines. Cape Town is infectious. Cape Town has it all - it has heaps of history and an exciting culture to go with it. Visit and you'll find dramatic scenery (rugged cliffs and a beautiful coastline), a vibrant urban scene (hipsters welcome), and loads to get stuck in to. Ride the luxurious and stylish Blue Train between Cape Town and Pretoria, stay at Addo Elephant National Park - one of the world's greatest conservation projects, sip cocktails and dine on fresh seafood, search for the Big 5, or chill out and go for a surf.
And if you need a break from the city, head to the nearby array of pristine beaches, drink your way through the wine farms or hike across the many countryside fields.
Johannesburg, or as the locals affectionately call it Jozi, is the international hub of South Africa. Trendy boutiques and markets continuously pop up all over town and the array of nightlife is ever growing. Johannesburg is perfectly situated at the crossroads between the old and the new. The international metropolis is further enriched by the fascinating history ingrained into the area. The city has a bounty of attractions and an unique assortment of museums - including the Apartheid Museum and the Constitution Hall - formerly a prison which incarcerated Mahatma Gandhi. It’s also worth a trip to Soweto, a small township just outside Johannesburg where you can visit Nelson Mandela’s home-come-tiny museum.
Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve.
This colossal reserve stretching 260 km along the Blyde River Canyon, is one of the biggest attractions in South Africa, especially for nature lovers. Densely forested slopes carpet the rolling hills, interspersed with rare species of flora. Exploring by foot is definitely the best way to get the most out of the reserve.
Hike along the range of trails, admiring the stunning landscape and searching for hidden waterfalls. But if you’re not into hiking, there are plenty of alternatives, after all this is the third largest canyon in the world! Explore the ground on horseback, hurl down-stream, white water rafting, ride in a hot air balloon, or abseil down the cliff sides. And if you just want to remain in the comfort of your hire car, there’s a spectacular driving route along the canyon’s edge.
South Africa is home to the highest commercial bungee jump in the world - it's 710 feet high!
ariel view of he countryside lakes blue skies green hills at blyde river canyon nature reserve south africa
Whether you’re longing for dramatic hikes deep in the wild, or prefer just a casual stroll through the rolling hills, the Drakensberg Mountain Range is where you want to go. Spanning an astonishing 1000 km, the area has numerous hiking trails to suit all preferences and levels of fitness. Reaching the plateau (which is very accessible) will reward you with breathtaking scenery and unsurpassed views of the South African countryside. Depending on how deep you want your trek to go, you can explore the historic San Rock wall paintings, swim in the hidden waterfalls and chase the carving rivers to your heart’s content. Each season brings its own form of beauty, but seeing the ‘Barrier of Spears’ dusted with snow is definitely something special.
Within easy distance of Cape Town sits one of the world's best wine regions, perfect for a day trip or for exploring further. The Cape's wine region features green vines, rolling valleys and rugged mountains. Taste some of the world's best wines and explore the stunning vineyards by bike or horseback. Explore the area, hopping from restaurant to vineyard, sampling some of the countries best produce. But it’s not all about the food and drink. The region has a bounty of historical sites to explore. From the Goat Tower at the Cheese and Wine Farm to the rustic farmhouses lining the dusty lanes.
Add this to the grand mountain ranges of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek which loom overhead and it makes for one interesting place! Nestled amongst the dominating mountains, this quaint region is definitely on the must-see list. Opt to stay in charming Stellenbosch, awash with Dutch colonial architecture, or in idyllic Franschhoek.
This flat-topped mountain (hence the name) is the most prominent landmark in Cape Town, and probably South Africa. This looming mountain attracts visitors from all over the globe, seducing them up with its challenging heights. Numerous hiking trails lead to the top, catering for every level of fitness and preference. Spend your afternoon trekking through the verdant countryside, enjoying the stark, natural beauty. Scale the side of the sheer cliff on a series of ropes, or if you fancy, hop on a cable car and enjoy one of the best views in South Africa. Witnessing the famous Cape Town sunsets at this height could be one of the most sublime experiences of your tour.
An alternative South African experience is to explore the 350 km section of Wild Coast along the Eastern Cape, where you will never be short of things to do. Trek through stretches of remote, coastal perfection. Horse ride along the rustic shore, the waves gently lapping at your heels. Visit the home of the legend Nelson Mandela, sunbathe on the unspoiled beaches, and seek out the traditional villages and rural, beach side towns. Visit Coffee Bay and St John’s Port, walk the famous four-day Strandloper Trail, and explore the Nature reserves which line the coast. If you are looking for jagged cliffs, rugged coastlines and secluded beaches, this is your place.
The Garden Route.
The Garden Route in South Africa is one of those rare gems in the world that attracts all walks of life for all types of reasons. Wine lovers can sip away amidst the rows of delicious grapes, foodies can relish in the robust, flavoursome cuisine the South Africans are ever so proud of.
Stretching 300km from Mossel Bay to just past Plettenberg Bay, the Garden Route is one of the greatest driving routes in the world. Discover the breathtaking coastline dotted with hidden beaches, world-class surf breaks and colonies of seals. Inland, hike through indigenous forests, swim in pristine lagoons and admire the stunning mountainous landscape.
Adrenaline seekers can go whale watching, fly through the sky on a series of zip lines at Tsitsikamma or if you’re daring enough, bungee jump from the Bloukrans Bridge.
Kruger National Park.
Kruger National Park is one of Africa's most iconic safari destinations. Split between the national park and private game reserves, Africa's Big 5 (and all the rest of the wildlife) know no such boundaries and wander freely amongst the savannahs, river plains and rocky outcrops of this vast wilderness area. Wherever you stay in the park, you're guaranteed to see an abundance of wildlife.
One of the most popular things to do in South Africa is a tour to Robben Island. The island which was once a leper colony, then a prison, lies just off the coast of Cape Town. This UNESCO World Heritage site has been preserved as a memorial to those who served time here, such as Nelson Mandela. The only way to reach the island and the prison is with a guided tour, which are equally as fascinating as they are sad. Tours to Robben Island are run by former prisoners, incarcerated for fighting for theirs and their fellow citizens rights, bridging the gap between the past and the present. And if you’re lucky, you may spot a few whales breaching the surface on the boat ride over. The island is also home to a colony of little African penguins!
The Cape Peninsula is by far one of the most impressive regions of South Africa and you can easily wile away days, even weeks exploring all this area has to offer. Visit the ‘Cape of Good Hope’, a narrow peninsula jutting out towards the sea, and explore the myriad of stunning beaches that stretch along the coastline. Climb the nearby lighthouse for views of the dramatic landscape as you search for Zebra and Eland from a height. And for the wine lovers, there’s no better place to sip the South African elixir than at Groot Constantia. As for wildlife, you can take a boat from Hout Bay to Duiker Island where a seal colony have claimed every inch of the shore.
Located near to the famous Garden Route, Hermanus is the place for whale watching, and well-known as one of the most successful spots in the world. Each year sees whales migrate between July and November, to mate and breed. Walk along the 10 km cliff side for spectacular views of the sea and the surrounding area, with lookout points dotted along the ridge. Whale watching boat tours are available, however you can often see them breaching the surface right off the shore. But it’s not just about the sea giants! Hermanus is also lined with stunning beaches and is one of the most chilled-out cities in the country. The perfect setting for relaxation.
On the white, sandy coast of False Bay in Simon’s Town, lies Boulder’s Bay. Pristine, soft, pearly sand meets the turquoise dream of the sea. The water is scattered with giant rocks, boulders and stones - the ideal place for a quick, kip in the sun! But the best thing about Boulders Bay? - The colony of African penguins. It’s a great experience to be able to watch these adorable animals roam the shores, feeding their young and playing in the sea. The penguins claimed the beach as their own back in the 1980’s and haven’t left since. You can easily walk amongst them or sunbathe side by side, as long as you don’t venture too close or try to touch them.
Food in South Africa.
A real melting pot of cultures has led to a truly eclectic selection of dishes becoming available in South Africa. European, Indian and Malaysian influences can be seen in the local specialties that fuse the flavours of these cultures into dishes that are as spectacular as they are unique. Perhaps the most well renowned South African snack comes in the form of biltong, or smoked beef or game meat, whose origins trace back to a time when indigenous tribes would dry their meats to preserve them. Meat in general is a popular basis for many meals in South Africa, served in the form of boerewors, spiced beef and lamb sausages, or different game cuts that are typically barbecued at a braai. These originated from a time when butchers would set up communal barbecues in front of their stores to draw customers in and are now a social event in many parts of South Africa. Cape Malay curries originate from Southeast Asian slaves brought over during the French colonial period and fuse Asian flavourings with local produce in a fragrant and spicy curry dish. Those with a sweet tooth should try malva pudding. Much like sticky toffee pudding, the dish uses apricot jam instead of toffee and served with cream. For something different try Bunny chow. A marriage of eastern and western cuisines, bunny chow is a curry served inside a hollowed out loaf of crusty bread. After devouring the curry within, diners are treated to a sauce-soaked crust that has absorbed all of the sauce’s flavour.
South Africa Fast Facts:
There are 11 official language spoken in South Africa! A few of these are English, Southern Sotho, Swati and Zulu.
South African Rand (ZAR).
A bottle of local South African beer costs on average $2 - the most popular and well-known is Castle Lager, but you can also get imported beers.
cost of food in south africa
Taxis vary in price, depending on where you are in South Africa. On average, they're cheaper in Cape Town, with journeys starting at a dollar and the starting rate in Johannesburg is around two dollars - although it's still cheaper than anything you'd get back at home!
transport cost south africa
One of the best ways to get around South Africa is by a hop-on hop-off bus, which can either be bought for a specific route or for flexibility.