Must-see South Africa: our top 10 destinations

Cindy, notre rédactrice globetrotteur éco-citoyenne

The "rainbow nation" is quite simply a splendid holiday destination. Between nature and history, breathtaking scenery and mountain hikes, this destination may well turn your head. Here is a selection of must-see places to visit.

1) Johannesburg

A mythical and unavoidable place for history lovers. South Africa's largest city is also the emblematic site of the struggle against Apartheid. The most famous district is Soweto.

We recommend a guided tour to discover the history of this district as it should be: the former house of Nelson Mandela (now a museum), the Apartheid Museum, the Hector Pieterson Museum... 

But Johannesburg also presents a completely different face. It is home to art galleries, trendy restaurants and theatres. The Braamfontein and Maboneng districts are worth a visit !

Johannesburg seen from the sky with buildings in the colours of the South African flag - Photo by Jacques Nel on Unsplash

2) Blyde River Canyon

This is the 3rd largest canyon in the world (that's all!). It is undoubtedly one of the most majestic sites in South Africa. It is located about 1 hour drive from the Kruger National Park, and will be an ideal stopover!

The scenery is breathtaking and hikers will have a great time. The most famous sights of this beautiful canyon are Bourke's Luck Potholes (giant pots dug into the limestone by the sand and pebbles carried by the water), the Three Rondavels (cliffs in the shape of huts), as well as beautiful waterfalls such as Lisbon Falls and Berlin Falls.

You will also be able to do all sorts of activities, from canyoning (make sure you are insured with the sport+ option), horse riding and... for thrill seekers, zip line (you bring back pictures for the less courageous among us?) !

Erosion by the Blyde River Canyon Waterfall - Image par arexander de Pixabay

3) Kruger National Park

If there's one thing you obviously have to do in South Africa, it's go on safari, looking for the "big five", as they're known. These are the 5 emblematic animals of South Africa: lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and buffalo. You will be able to admire many other animals, including giraffes, reptiles and several species of birds.

This park of about 2.2 million hectares is the largest nature reserve in Africa, but also one of the oldest and most extensive parks in the world. So it won't come as a surprise if I tell you that this is the one most visited by tourists! And he's worth it...

It is possible to discover this magnificent reserve at the wheel of your own vehicle, or accompanied by a ranger. We recommend this last option, which will not only allow you to get off the beaten track, but also to take advantage of the expert eye of the rangers and make this unique experience an unforgettable memory.

We have a member of our community who is very involved in the defence of the animals of the Kruger, especially elephants, and we would like to introduce her to you! Aida will take you on safari through the private reserves of the park like nobody else. If there's a ranger to follow, it's her, without hesitation!

Aida and the elephant calves of the Kruger Park   - Photo by Douda Bis - Aïda Ettayeb.

4) uKhahlamba-Drakensberg National Park

This immense park is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Drakensberg ("Dragon Mountain" in Afrikaans... quite a program) is a mountain range, whose highest point, the Thabana Ntlenyana, dominates at 3482 meters.

Don't panic if you are a beginner hiker, there are routes for all levels. You will be able to enjoy sensational panoramas, caves, waterfalls, cliffs, whatever your climbing experience. You can even swim in waterfalls and natural pools. One of the highlights of the Drakensberg is the Amphitheatre: it is an incredible circus, located at 2930 metres above sea level.

There are also the Tugela Falls which are among the highest falls in the world.

The mountains of the Drakensberg Park with the river in the middle - Picture by photomaniac54 from Pixabay

5) Cape Town

Cape Town is certainly a must-see destination during a stay in South Africa. This port city offers many beautiful discoveries! Start by taking the cable car up to the famous Table Mountain, the flat mountain that dominates the city (Or go on foot, following one of the trails that lead to it! From 3 to 10 kilometers of walking). This will give you a magnificent view of the Cape. 

A short historical visit to Robben Island will also be a must. That's where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.

Don't miss the Cape Peninsula and the famous Cape of Good Hope, located at the tip of the peninsula, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet.

On the city side, the Malaysian Bo-Kaap district will brighten up your stay and your souvenir photos! The houses are painted in all colours.

View of Cape Town harbour with boats in the foreground and Table Mountain - by Heinrich Botha de Pixabay

6) The Garden Route

The Americans have their Route 66... and the Africans have their Route 62! Get ready to discover a whole bunch of sublime landscapes! You can choose to venture out along the seaside or, on the contrary, go inland to discover incredible panoramas.

You can start the Garden Road from Cape Town.

Discover the caves of Cango, once inhabited by prehistoric men.

If you wish to rest by the sea, many beaches and resorts are at your disposal: Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, Mossel Bay?

For nature lovers, several sites offer hiking opportunities: Robberg Nature Reserve, Storms Rivers, Tsitsikamma National Park, Featherbed Private Nature Reserve...
Here again, you will have the opportunity to see many animals: ostrich farms in Oudtshoorn (real land of these giant birds!), birds in Birds of Eden, monkeys in Monkeyland, elephants in Addo National Park. And stay tuned, because it will be about whales and sharks in a few lines ! (Yes, yes, sharks - for the brave among us.)

The Garden Route ends in Port Elizabeth. This city, often "forgotten" by tourists, is nevertheless worth a stop!

Sky view of Knysna lagoon and its blue, turquoise and green reflections - Image by Ron Porter of Pixabay

7) See the whales...

The best place for whale watching is the seaside town of Hermanus. It is located 1h30 drive from Cape Town and is one of the recommended stops on the Route des Jardins.

The ideal time to observe these impressive mammals is from June to early November, when the whales are in full migration. (If you go there outside of this time, you may still see sea lions and seals).

What's quite incredible is that you can observe them from the coast! Of course, you'll enjoy it more if you go on a cruise, but if you get seasick, you might not miss anything from the shore!

This whale-watching site is world-renowned.

A whale making an impressive jump into Hermanus Bay in South Africa - Image by Jens Teichmann from Pixabay

8) ...and dive with the sharks!

30 minutes from Hermanus is the village of Gansbaai.

From here you can set out to meet the white sharks, which are numerous off the coast of South Africa, especially in this region.

You will have the opportunity to dive with the sharks (under cover, in a cage) or, if you are not a fan of the idea of being just a few centimetres away from these big fish with sharp teeth, you can also observe them from the deck of the boat, which will already give you your share of thrills.

Seen from a drone, a pleasure boat with in the sea, a group of sharks -Photo by Clayton Cardinalli on Unsplash

9) Stellenbosch

Located about 1 hour drive from Cape Town, this city is the symbol of a region that is (re)known worldwide for its wines. It is the French, who came to settle in the region with vines (mainly Chardonnay), who are at the origin.

South African wines are well known, and if you're a wine lover, you'll be able to enjoy vineyard tours and wine tastings. In addition, the landscapes of the region are worth the detour and you can take advantage of it to go for a walk.

Chardonnay grapevine, in the background the mountain near Stellenbosh - Image by Alexandra Hellemeier of Pixabay

10) The Natural Park of ISimangaliso

This park, located on the coast of Santa Lucia, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Between beaches, mangroves, marshes, savannahs, it offers a very diversified ecosystem and must be seen! It is the home of many hippos, crocodiles, all kinds of birds, turtles...

Cruises are organized on the estuary of Santa Lucia and will allow you to enjoy all the ecosystem that the region has to offer. 

Also take advantage of this opportunity to go for a walk on the Cap Vidal beach, which we have classified as one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world!

Be careful if you walk around town after dark... Hippos don't hesitate to come and roam the streets! You would have thought that the "Beware of hippos" signs were a local joke... Well, not at all!

I'll tell you what...

A hippopotamus in the water opening its mouth - Photo by Matthias Mullie on Unsplash
View of the Kruger Park at sunset on an acacia parasol with wildlife in the background - Picture: HU CHEN- on Unsplash
View of the Kruger Park at sunset on an acacia tree with wildlife in the background.

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Find here our article on the must-sees of Australia !