With its stunning scenery, abundance of wildlife, idyllic climate and melting pot of cultures, it’s little wonder South Africa is one of the world’s most popular travel destinations. What really makes the country unique is the incredible diversity of its attractions. It is impossible to cram it all into one holiday. That’s why people keep coming back over and over again. There are just too many places to list, but here are 10 of the best places to visit in South Africa.

 

Cape Town

Aerial view of the city and Table Mountain

Perched at the base of the iconic Table Mountain, Cape Town is known as one of the world’s most beautiful cities. There is plenty to do here for visitors. Take a cable car up the mountain for breathtaking views of the city, walk along white sandy beaches and swim with penguins, sample wine at a vineyard, or catch a ferry to the historic Robben Island. For an urban outing, you’ll enjoy the great selection of art museums and world-class restaurants.

Cape Town Tours

 

Kruger National Park

Rhino with calf

At almost 20,000km²/7,700km² Kruger National Park is a huge conservation area. It is without a doubt one of the top places to visit in South Africa. It hosts important breeding populations for many iconic safari animals, including lion, cheetah, leopard, buffalo, elephant and giraffe. And despite the ongoing battle with rhino poaching, Kruger is the world’s most important stronghold for these endangered creatures. While it is easier to see many of these animals in some of the smaller private reserves, Kruger offers a truly authentic safari experience in a vast sustainable ecosystem.

Kruger Tours

 

Sabi Sand Game Reserve

Leopard

You’ll have no problem spotting the Big Five in Sabi Sand Game Reserve. This cluster of private reserves has open borders with world-renowned Kruger National Park and animals walk across this vast ecosystem freely. While Kruger is very popular with self-drive visitors, Sabi Sands offers a more exclusive experience. Game drives are conducted in open safari vehicles and off-road driving makes for superb close-up wildlife encounters. Leopards are particularly relaxed here and this is perhaps the best place in Africa to see these secretive cats.

Sabi Sands Tours

 

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

A herd of blue wildebeest in the desert

Migrating herds of springbok, gemsbok and wildebeest make for excellent photo opportunities as they traverse the red dunes and ancient dry riverbeds of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. The sparse environment can’t support a wide variety of safari animals, but big-cat-lovers won’t be disappointed here. Black-maned Kalahari lions rule the desert and seeing these formidable beasts in such a beautiful setting is a true privilege.

Kgalagadi Tours

 

uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park

The amphitheatre in winter

Boasting many peaks above 3,000m/10,000ft, the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg is the highest African mountain range south of Mt Kilimanjaro. With its jagged peaks, meandering rivers and hidden valleys, it is also South Africa’s number one hiking destination. All this raw beauty is reason enough to visit, but the mountains have a huge cultural significance too. The 500-plus prehistoric rock painting sites dotted around this wilderness are one of the reasons it has been made a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Drakensberg Tours

 

St Lucia

Hippo in Lake St Lucia

Squeezed on a peninsula between the Indian Ocean and a vast estuary, St Lucia village has a uniquely wild atmosphere. It is surrounded by the coastal forests, swamps, lakes and beaches of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, another Unesco World Heritage Site. The St Lucia Estuary is best explored on a guided boat trip. Expect to see lots of hippos and crocodiles and a variety of colorful birds.

St Lucia Tours

 

Cape Winelands

Vineyards and Helderberg Mountain near Stellenbosch

Within easy day-tripping distance of Cape Town, this scenic winelands area is another one of the best places to visit in South Africa. The region is the source of many legendary wines. Visit some of the old estates with Cape Dutch homesteads surrounded by vines planted hundreds of years ago. Most of them offer wine tastings with an opportunity to buy as well. A lunch stop in Franschhoek, the gourmet capital of South Africa, is highly recommended too.

Cape Winelands Tours

 

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve

Rhino grazing

South Africa’s oldest game reserve was established in 1895 as a sanctuary for what was then the world’s last remaining population of southern white rhino. As the base for ‘Operation Rhino’ in the 1950s and ’60s, this is where white rhinos were saved from extinction. Today, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve is home to all of the Big Five as well as wild dog, cheetah and a variety of antelope including the gracious nyala.

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Tours

 

Garden Route

View of the Western Head and Knysna Lagoon from the east

The Garden Route stretches for about 200km/125mi between Mossel Bay and the Storms River Mouth. This beautiful coastline with its ever-changing landscapes is known for its white sandy beaches, fairy forests, tranquil lagoons and dramatic mountain ranges. Quaint towns such as Wilderness, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay offer a perfect base for a holiday amid all this natural beauty.

Garden Route Tours

 

Addo Elephant National Park

Elephants bathing and drinking

Addo Elephant National Park is a great safari extension to a trip focused on Cape Town and the Garden Route. All of the Big Five are present, but it’s the elephants that really make this park special. They have become very habituated, so you can expect thrillingly close encounters with these giants. Sitting at one of the waterholes gives an opportunity to watch a herd drinking, bathing and interacting with each other.

Addo Elephant Tours

By Ariadne van Zandbergen
South Africa ZA

Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.

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