South Africa is country rich in scenery and heritage. The magnificent landscapes which complement the tapestry of cultures blend together, forming a truly unique African experience.
Whether sightseeing in the picturesque countryside or exploring the upbeat inner city, South Africa provides the global traveller a buffet of beauty and experience, which can, at times, be a sensory overload.
Take a look at this list of things you have to do when you visit South Africa; hand-picked by intrepid explorers, tailored for the night time revellers and sunset-risers alike. There’s a bit of everything for everyone in Mzansi.
Cradle of Humankind
Some of the oldest hominin fossils ever found, dating back as far as 3.5 million years, have been uncovered in this area.
Guided cave tours and exhibition viewings can be organised through Maropeng – the official visitor centre for the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.
Cost: A combination entrance ticket is available, which includes entry to Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves. R190 for adults; R125 for children (four-14 years) and R120 per pupil for school groups. Booking in advance is strongly advised for groups as well as individuals, as visitor numbers to the Sterkfontein Caves are limited.
How to get there: The Cradle of Humankind is located 50km northwest of Johannesburg. The Maropeng Visitor Centre is open to the public from 09h00 to 17h00 every day. The last boat ride departs at 16h00.
Where to stay: The Maropeng Boutique Hotel services most visitors to the area. Other accommodation options are available in and around the Magaliesburg.
The Drakensberg Mountain range
The Drakensberg is one of South Africa’s grandest natural wonders, stretching across four provinces, covering a total distance of 1,000 kilometres and elevating 6,562 to 11,424 feet.
The iconic range is sometimes referred to as Mountain of the Dragons (dragon translates to draak in Afrikaans).
The three key elements of the Drakensberg for visitors are the Blyde River Canyon, Three Rondavels and God’s Window.
Cost: The best way to experience the entire Drakensberg range in all its glory would be to hire a 4×4 vehicle and spend a few days moving between its various landmarks. Appropriate vehicle rental can cost R1950 per day. Be aware to factor in accommodation expenses, unless you’re looking to camp.
How to get there: Most travellers choose the iconic Sani Pass, which can be traversed via the Eastern escarpment, from KwaZulu-Natal. You’ll be entering Lesotho, so be sure to have your passports handy.
Where to stay: Premier Resort Sani Pass is a stunning resort in the Southern Drakensberg 19km from Underberg in KwaZul-Natal.
The Mother City of South Africa, rich in culture and culinary cuisine, Cape Town has it all and is the most popular tourist destination in South Africa. Options for exploration in this seaside metropolis are limitless.
Traverse the iconic Table Mountain, visit the infamous Robben Island, experience the wine-route on the outskirts of town, or enjoy the nightlife of Long Street.
Cost: All depending on what you fancy. A cable car ride up Table Mountain costs R180, return. The boat fare to Robben Island is R280.
How to get there: Fly into Cape Town International Airport, rent a car and enjoy exploring. You can also experience the city by booking a ride on the Hop on Hop off tour service.
Where to stay: Travellers are spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation in Cape Town. A long list of inner city hotels, and out-of-city villas are there to provide you with comfort and convenience.
Hole in the Wall
The Hole-in-the-Wall is an extraordinary natural arch off the Eastern Cape coastline. The local Xhosa inhabitants call it esiKhaleni or ‘Place of Noise’.
This natural wonder of South Africa is situated 8km from Coffee Bay on the Wild Coast Region.
Cost: Viewing this magnificent marvel is absolutely free. But getting to this remote region can be costly in terms of vehicle hire and petrol.
How to get there: Coffee Bay is the nearest village, and is, in itself, an incredibly scenic seaside hamlet. The nearest metro is Mthatha, which is about 100km’s inland.
Where to stay: The Hole in the Wall resort is the closest accommodation, and is only accessible with a 4×4 vehicle.
Kruger National Park
A firm favourite for visitors to South Africa – the Kruger National Park is one of biggest game reserves in Africa, and features the big five; the lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros.
The game reserve stretches over two provinces and covers a total area of almost 20 000 square km’s. The park is bordered by Zimbabwe and Mozambique to the North, and due to its size, has nine main entrance gates.
Cost: Access to the park for international visitors is charged at R331 per adult, per day.
How to get there: Those wanting to visit the great national park can get there via bus shuttle or hiring a car. Visitors can also fly into the nearby Skukuza Airport.
Where to stay: Visitors choosing to stay in the park can choose between camping, a Safari Tent, bungalows, cottages and luxury lodges all operated by the national park.
Augrabies Falls is a spectacular freak of nature. The area is dominated by immense waterfalls emanating from the longest river in South Africa, the Orange.
While the Northern Cape is generally regarded as one of the most arid regions in South Africa, it only serves to add to add to the magnitude and magnificence of the Augrabies.
The dry earth which covers the area is only interrupted by the Orange River and the powerful rapids which flow from the Augrabies. The original Khoikhoi people named the waterfall Ankoerebis, meaning the “place of big noises”
Cost: Access to the National Park is subject to a fee of R194 per adult, per day, for foreign visitors.
How to get there: The falls are found 120km west of Upington in the Northern Cape. The area is remote and expansive. To reach the area one needs to travel from Upington towards Kakamas.
Where to stay: Campsites and chalets managed by the National Park are available for accommodation near the falls.
Golden Gate Highlands
The Golden Gate Highlands National Park is nestled in the rolling foothills of the monolithic Maluti Mountains. The area is famed for its vibrant golden hue at sundown, when the sandstone mountains absorb the last warmth from the sun’s rays.
The area bordering Lesotho in the North Eastern Free State is also well known for its numerous caves and shelters displaying San rock paintings. Wildlife featured at the park includes mongooses, eland, zebras, and over 100 bird species.
Cost: The standard conservation fee for international visitors is R194 per adult, per day.
How to get there: The Golden Gate Highlands is situated 340km’s south of Johannesburg. If you’re hoping to travel through the picturesque Eastern Free State from Bloemfontein, the distance to the national park is 300km.
Where to stay: The Golden Gate Hotel stands in front of the iconic sandstone mountains, which have been eroded by weather, and stand as a testament to the beauty of nature.
The heart of South Africa which beats throughout the day and night – Johannesburg is a bustling megacity which can challenge the likes of New York or London.
The hustle and bustle of inner-city Jo’burg is something to behold. Vibrant sights and sounds wrestle for traveller’s attention.
Enjoy a night out in Braamfontein or explore South Africa’s most densely populated suburb, Soweto.
Cost: Exploring and partying in Johannesburg won’t cost you a fortune. If it’s culture and heritage you’re after, full day tours to Soweto cost R1400 per person.
How to get there: Johannesburg is impossible to miss – it’s the main entry point for visitors to South Africa. When you arrive at O.R Tambo International Airport, hire a car, or hop on the Gautrain – you’ll be where you want to be in no time at all.
Where to stay: There’s hotels, guesthouses, villas and cottages. To get the authentic Jo’burg experience, stay at The Bannister Hotel in Braamfontien – but be brave, you have been warned.
Roadtrip Route 62
The USA has the infamous Route 66 – South Africa has the proud Route 62.
Route 62 is a South African institution – a long stretch of road passing through the vast vistas of the Western Cape.
From the lush wine lands outside Cape Town, to the dry flats of the Karoo. Take your time on the road, there’s no rush – stop in at quaint towns which dot the route and enjoy the local hospitality.
Cost: Rent a car, fill up the tank and hit the road.
How to get there: Head North out of Cape Town towards Worcester, connect to the R60, which channels you directly to the infamous Route 62. Stop at Ronnie’s Sex Shop, which is a fine drinking establishment, situated in the middle of nowhere – you’ll know it when you see it.
Where to stay: Once you’ve found Ronnies Sex Shop, take the turn up ahead and enter the oasis of Warmwaterberg Spa. Natural hot springs feeding crystal clear water into pools – get in, it’s the perfect way to ease out of the saddle.
Shark cage diving in Gansbaai
If adrenalin is your thing, what better way to get the heart racing than coming face-to-face with a great white shark in the icy water off the coast of Gansbaai?
You’ll be lowered down in a steel cage, some bloody bait will be dropped in the water surrounding you, and soon you’ll be staring at a shark as it attempts to nudge its way into the cage.
Sign the indemnity forms. Get on a wetsuit, and get in the water.
Cost: Getting the opportunity to eyeball a shark at close quarters will cost you R1,850 – not an arm and a leg, hopefully.
How to get there: Gansbaai is a small fishing village about 165km away from Cape Town – towards the southernmost point of Africa, Cape Agulhas.
Where to stay: For that proper small-town feeling, book in at the Gansbaai Town Lodge. It’s simple, affordable, exactly what you’d expect from a fishing village.
Ed’s note: Make sure you choose a responsible shark cage diving company.
Pretoria to Cullinan via steam train
Take a trip through the annals of history, as you embark on this once in a lifetime journey from ‘Jacaranda City’, Pretoria (Tshwane), and follow the historical route to the former diamond fields of Cullinan.
The ‘Diamond Express’ travels past the 1910 Pretoria station and chugs along to Cullinan, where upon your arrival you can learn more about the town, the mines and the famous Cullinan Diamond.
Cost: Travelling down memory lane will cost adults R275.
How to get there: Board one of the 60-year-old railway coaches Hermanstad Station.
Where to stay: Stay at the Premier Hotel in Cullinan. Built in 1905, this historic boarding lodge is within walking distance to antique shops, restaurants, the famous Cullinan Diamond Mine and the rich history that surrounds it.