South Africa is a beautiful country that offers a mesmerising tapestry of experiences for visitors. From the famous safaris where you can spot the “Big Five” animals – lions, leopards, elephants, African buffalo and rhinoceroses – in their natural habitat, to the beautiful beaches along the Garden route, there’s really a lot to take in and enjoy.
Here are some of my favourite places to visit in South Africa, and things to do to in some of the most popular cities to maximise your adventure.
1. Learn about South Africa’s turbulent history at Johannesburg’s Apartheid Museum
Start your trip by flying into Johannesburg, the biggest city in South Africa – which flourished as a gold-mining settlement in the 19th century.
If you’re looking for things to do in Johannesburg, the Apartheid Museum is definitely at the top of the list. The museum, a sprawling complex with many interactive exhibits, documents apartheid in South Africa, and Nelson Mandela’s life.
The museum is about a 40-minute drive from the city centre. Do cater at least two hours to explore this space, as there’s a lot of exhibits to cover.
You can factor in a short 1-2 day stay in Johannesburg, before driving to Kruger National Park (about 4-5 hours away)
Address: Northern Parkway and Gold Reef Road, Johannesburg, 2001, South Africa
Opening hours: 9am-5pm from Wednesdays to Sundays
2. God’s Window Mountain View
God’s Window is a very popular landmark within the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, found along the Panorama Route in Mpumalanga. It is also one small section of a 250km long formation of cliffs. This is a must-visit pit stop enroute to Kruger National Park, when you’re driving over from Johannesburg.
From the carpark, a short and relatively easy 10-15-minute climb will bring you to the viewpoint (with a 700m drop down to a lush forest below!). The viewpoint offers sweeping views of Blyde River Canyon.
God’s Window Mountain View
Address: R543, Ehlanzeni, South Africa
Opening hours: 7am-5pm daily
3. Visit one of Africa’s largest game reserves – Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is a giant game reserve that’s almost 2 million hectares. This huge safari has a very high density of animals, which are free to roam within the park. Here, visitors try to catch a glimpse of the “Big Five” animals – the Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino and Buffalo.
To access Kruger National Park, you can drive in with your own rented vehicles, but you will have to stay on the main driving path. If you’re not staying within the park, you will need to leave before the gates close – this happens between 5.30pm to 6.30pm (depending on the month).
There are also plenty of accommodation options within the national park.
Accommodation within the park have their own camp perimeters (to keep large animals out), and you will not be permitted to leave the grounds when the gate locks in the evening, unless you’re with a camp ranger. Costs range from about R455 (S$32) for a hut, to R6,268 (S$442) for big guest houses.
You will also need to pay conservation fees for each night of stay.
I would recommend at least 2 to 3 nights of stay within the park, with at least one Night Safari drive with the park rangers, when you have a higher chance of spotting the Big Five – like the lions in the picture above! I stayed in two different types of accommodation, one which was more basic (a semi-permanent tent at the Orpen Rest Tamboti camp), and one which was in a chalet-like building in Lower Sabie camp. As Kruger has many different landscapes, you should also base off different camps to spot different types of animals.
Kruger National Park
Address: There are 9 entrance gates, so it depends on where you’re going and coming from
Opening Hours: 6am-5.30pm depending on season. See here for the current timings.
4. Wake up to wildlife at your doorstep at Marloth Park
Marloth Park is a wildlife sanctuary and holiday town, located south of Kruger National Park. The Crocodile River forms a natural boundary between Marloth Park and Kruger National Park. Unlike Kruger, where game is not permitted near accommodations, Marloth is special as a large number of game (e.g., zebra, giraffe, impala, warthogs) can freely roam – it’s common for you to wake up to zebras and impalas at your doorstep, definitely an experience you will never forget! This is also a unique experience where you can also feed the animals (only with approved feed).
I stayed at Kudus Crest Bush Retreat (as seen in the picture above, left), which was a huge and comfortable house. At sunset, eat at the “Amazing Kruger River View Restaurant” within Marloth Park, which offers unblocked views of Kruger and Crocodile River.
Address: It depends on where you stay – please check with your accommodation for specific directions
5. Road trip down the South African Garden Route
Drive down the south-eastern coast of South Africa on the Garden Route – spanning 300km. The route, which starts at Mossel Bay and ends at Storms River, boasts spectacular coastline views and you can also explore national parks, forests, and beaches. You can also visit Knysna, known as the jewel of the Garden Route and famous for its oysters. When visiting Knysna Waterfront, drop by O Pescador for some of the freshest oysters.
For the thrill seekers, you may also wish to bookmark Bloukrans Bridge bungy, which is among the world's highest commercial bungy jumping sites. I tried it myself and it was an amazing, heart-stopping experience. It comes complete with a zipline adventure to the middle of the bridge, while you wait for your turn, and a sky walk back to the starting point. The bungy workers keep a lively atmosphere up on the bridge, and you would definitely be entertained while waiting for your turn to step off the bridge!
6. Embrace nature at its best at Tsitsikamma National Park
Located along the Garden Route, Tsitsikamma National Park has much to offer with its lush forests and dramatic coastal sights. You can also experience the National Park through a myriad of activities, such as hiking, diving and snorkelling.
I stayed in a cottage at Storms River Rest Camp – one of my favourite spots on this trip. It’s located right next to the ocean and comes with its own kitchen and balcony where you can grill food.
A short hike from the accommodation will bring you to the Storms River Suspension Bridge, with fantastic views of the ocean.
7. Wine and dine at one of the many vineyards in Cape Winelands
Cape Winelands, not far from Cape Town, is an area in South Africa that is known for their vineyards and delicious food, with hundreds of wine producers. The towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek (French Corner) are two of the more popular and famous towns, with many wine estates. I visited the La Motte Wine Estate in Franschhoek – for R80 (S$5.70), you can sample 6 different wines – a superb deal for wine lovers. There is a hop-on, hop-off tram, which you can use to explore the different wineries!
You can also book a stay at some of the vineyards; I stayed at Mymering Wine & Guest Farm, located in Ladismith – a farming community in the area. As the area has little light pollution, you’re bound to also get to see beautiful night skies!
8. Take in Cape Town’s natural sights and sounds
End your trip in Cape Town, a beautiful and lively city surrounded by nature. Cape Town is South Africa’s legislative capital and is a must-visit on your trip to South Africa. The most spectacular sight in Cape Town would be the flat-topped Table Mountain, which looms over the city, and can be seen from many vantage points. Visit Clifton Beach for amazing sunsets, and take in views of the coastline from Hout Bay! Do also set aside time to climb Table Mountain for unparalleled views of Cape Town city.
For the penguin lovers, you will thoroughly enjoy Boulders Beach Penguins Sanctuary, home to the rare African penguin. Here, the boardwalk takes you up close to the adorable penguins, as they swim and search for food. This is an all-year round destination, but opening hours differ depending on the month.
Things to note and prepare for your trip:
- Driving is a must in South Africa to get around, as there is minimal public transport.
- Your usual travel adaptor doesn’t work here – you need to purchase one of their own when you land at the airport.
- The best month to visit South Africa would be April/May and Sep/Oct, when there is less rain – makes it easier to spot game at the nature reserves.
- Bring along powerbank(s), as South Africa has a “load-shedding” system in place. For certain periods throughout the day, there is no electricity – you won’t be able to charge your electrical devices.
If you’re wondering how many days you need in South Africa, I would say 12-14 days to cover the “essentials” – start at Johannesburg, head on to Kruger National Park, drive down the Garden Route, and end at Cape Town.
Do plan a visit to this beautiful country to enjoy its many experiences!
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