SOUTH AFRICA is the most diverse country in Southern Africa, a destination with the greatest variety of scenic landscapes, a rich blend of people and an infrastructure that offers a large choice of tourism facilities and services.
There are a multitude of beautiful National Parks and Nature Reserves, mountains that rise to the sky, endless beaches and seascapes, a wide spectrum of people and cultures, big cities, a large variety of affordable accommodation and a choice of many kinds of adventure and leisure activities.
It is also the largest country in Southern Africa with a population of 58 million people, 10 World Heritage Sites, 2,900 kms of beautiful coastline, the highest mountains south of Kilimanjaro, great game parks, 7 different vegetation zones, welcoming people, a wonderful climate and abundant mineral resources.
It can also lay claim to being the Cradle of Life and Humankind with fossil evidence of the earliest beginnings of life and the largest assemblage of human ancestor fossils in the world.
South Africa’s two most popular tourist destinations include the wildlife-rich savannas of the Kruger National Park and the wealth of attractions in Cape Town which never cease to draw excited visitors. But these are not by any means the only attractions in this large and beautiful country.
Take a tour or self drive along the wonderfully scenic Garden Route from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth for breathtaking views of the magnificent Cape coast, charming villages and towns and loads of things to see and do. Heading north along the Eastern Cape coast you will find some wonderful seaside resorts and the magnificent Wild Coast that has remained untouched by touristic development.
In the province of Kwazulu Natal you will marvel at the diverse range of attractions which include the Bushman rock paintings and scenic splendour of the Drakensberg Mountains, the wildlife and nature of KZN Parks such as Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, iSimangaliso, Mkuze, Ithala and Ndumo Game Reserves, the warm sea waters and popular coastal resorts north and south of Durban, the battlefields where Zulu, Brit and Boer waged war over territorial dominance and where fascinating stories are recounted by expert guides in the field, a range of private game reserves such as Thula Thula where the legacy of elephant whisperer Lawrence Anthony continues and is advanced by his wife Francoise and many options for Zulu cultural tours, a nation whose fiery spirit, song and dance enthrall their audiences.
On the western edge of the Kruger National Park are several large private game reserves that share unfenced borders with Kruger Park including Sabi Sand renowned for it’s high density of leopard, Timbavati which also provides excellent gameviewing as do Klaserie, Balule and Manyeleti. Lodges in these private reserves offer exceptional safaris and wildlife experiences.
In the northern province of Limpopo you will find several large wildlife parks in the Waterberg region including Welgevonden Private Game Reserve, Marakele National Park, Entabeni Safari Conservancy and many smaller private reserves. Further north lies the scenic Soutpansberg Mountain range where the artistic Venda people live and offer cultural tours that include their range of art and craft, song and dance, and visits to sacred forests and lakes.
Close to the Botswana border in Northwest province lies Madikwe Private Game Reserve, very popular amongst safari lovers, not only for thrilling wildlife experiences but also because it is malaria free and closer to Johannesburg than the Kruger National Park.
Experience the red Kalahari sands and thrilling gameviewing at Kgalakgadi Transfrontier Park in Northern Cape, one of South Africa’s wildest parks, a massive wildlife reserve shared with Botswana.
Within South Africa lie the mountain kingdoms of Swaziland and Lesotho where activities include cultural and sightseeing tours, art and craft, pony trekking and hiking trails as well as several wonderful nature and game reserves.
South African Destinations
- Kruger National Park
- Blyde River Canyon
- Cape Town
- Garden Route
- Wild Coast
- Kwazulu Natal Parks
- Kgalakgadi Transfrontier Park
- Augrabies Falls National Park
- Madikwe & Pilanesberg Game Reserve
- Limpopo Parks & Reserves
- Addo Elephant National Park
- West Coast National Park
South Africa has such a variety of wildlife experiences available to the visitor. There are many national parks and large private reserves throughout the country that offer a wide range of accommodation and safari activities from luxury to very affordable options as well as guided safaris into some of the best wildlife areas.
The richest savanna areas are in the eastern part of the country such as the Greater Kruger National Park and game reserves of Kwazulu Natal which sustain the greatest density of wildlife populations and species. The diversity of habitats is also greater in these areas making your experience more interesting, though spotting game may be more difficult where vegetation is dense and more availability of water may cause game to disperse widely.
In drier savannas such as Kgalakgadi Transfrontier Park you won’t find the same density of wildlife though sightings of predators can be excellent due to the sparse vegetation and open habitats.
Madikwe Private Game Reserve is a transitional area between the dry and moist savannas resulting in a good complement of wildlife species and gameviewing potential.
There are many private game reserves in the Eastern and Western Cape that offer good wildlife experiences which suit visitors travelling in the Cape with limited time wanting a taste of African safaris.
Although you will most likely enjoy any wildlife experience in South Africa, the one thing that you may feel wanting is the wildness factor as found in Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Visitors to South Africa are often fascinated by the cultural traditions of ethnic Bantu people who are especially renowned for their rich choral singing and beautiful harmonies. There are many cultural villages throughout the country where visitors can learn about these traditions which include how they live, what they eat, the role of men and women, the hierarchy in the village, their spiritual beliefs, tribal weapons, story telling and their wonderful song and dance. Tribal traditions are still practised in Swaziland and Lesotho as well as in some rural parts of the country.
The Zulu people have a reputation for being the most warlike Bantu tribe and their audiences are enthralled by their fiery spirit, song and dance. Many Zulu cultural excursions are offered thoughout Kwazulu Natal.
The Venda people in the north are known for their art, craft, song and dance. On a cultural excursion you are taken into their villages to see their wonderful range of art, pottery, textiles and drums and meet the artists. These excursions include visits to their sacred lakes and forests and to learn about their spiritual beliefs.
The Shangaan people live in and around the Kruger National Park. On a visit to a Shangaan cultural village you will meet the chief, learn about their way of life and traditions, eat with them and be entertained with their song and dance.
Cultural excursions in Swaziland and Lesotho are generally more authentic as the people still practise their tribal traditions to a large extent.
During the nineteenth century many wars were waged between colonialists, imperialists and the resident Bantu tribes. The warlike Zulu people were renowned for their fighting skills and stood up to the incursions of the Boers and British whose guns were not always better than their spears. The Battlefields cover a large area of battle sites in northern Kwazulu Natal where Zulu, Brit and Boer fought for territoral dominance of this area and tours are offered where fascinating stories are recounted by expert guides in the field.
Several lodges near Isandlwana, Spioenkop and Dundee offer excellent historical experiences with specialist guides and wonderful accommodation in beautiful country locations. Cultural and wildlife activities can be combined to enhance the overall experience.
Every year Southern Right whales migrate into the waters of the Western Cape to calve and can be seen between June and November from land and from boats. Humpback whales can also be seen during this period as can Bryde’s whales though the latter keep their distance from shore.
Hermanus is known as the whale capital of the world offering the best land-based whale watching as well as boat-based whale tours.
Whales can be seen in many places along the coast between Lamberts Bay on the West Coast to Tsitsikamma along the Garden Route and there are many boat-based tours that offer whale watching. In Cape Town whales can be seen from the road in many places.
Shark Cage Diving
Great White Sharks are the world’s largest predatory fish, up to 6 metres in length. These huge predators demand respect but elicit such fear in people because of their terrifying looks, speed and strength. It is not surprising that Shark Cage Diving is such a popular adventure activity as you can come face to face with this monster of the deep and live to tell the tale, with pictures to prove it.
Gansbaai, located two hours east of Cape Town, is one of the best places to view the Great White Shark. Several tour operators here offer boat trips to Dyer Island and Geyser Rock where the chances to view Great White Sharks are exceptionally high due to the abundance of penguins in this area. Other wildlife species that can be viewed here include Cape Fur Seals, Cape Cormorants, whales and dolphins.
One of the very important benefits of Shark Cage Diving tours is learning facts about sharks, dispelling the myths that they are dangerous to humans and should be destroyed and above all the vital ecological role they play in their habitats.
Magical balloon safaris are offered in some wonderfully scenic areas of South Africa including the area below the Eastern Escarpment near the Kruger National Park where you float over some private game reserves, the Cradle of Humankind outside Johannesburg, the beautiful Magaliesberg Mountains north of Johannesburg, over Pilanesberg Game Reserve in Northwest province, the very scenic Waterberg region in Limpopo province and in Cape Town. This is a fantastic and very well-recommended experience.
Scuba diving and snorkelling are wonderful activities offering you a great opportunity to witness what lives below the ocean, like an underwater game drive. South Africa has a 2,900 km shoreline with two different ocean currents that create specific climatic conditions and a diverse range of ocean life. The Agulhas Current flows southwards down the east coast bringing warm water from the Indian Ocean tropical regions which results in a great diversity of species. The Benguela Current flows northwards up the west coast bringing cold water from the Antarctic with lower species diversity but prolific growth resulting in higher numbers of species.
The warm subtropical waters of the Indian Ocean between the Mozambique border and Port St. Johns on the Wild Coast are perfect for snorkelling and the water is generally clear except after summer rains when muddy rivers wash into sea. Scuba diving is also well recommended with popular areas along the coast such as Sodwana Bay and Mabibi on the north coast of Kwazulu Natal. Another big attraction is the very colourful fish found in these warm waters.
The temperate waters between Port St. Johns and Cape Point represent a mixing zone with a high species diversity and many fish migrate through this area in winter.
The cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean on the west coast between Cape Point and Port Nolloth are good for scuba diving due to the abundance of fish and invertebrate species but the waters are less clear and often murky due to the dense blooms of phytoplankton at times. Fish along the west coast are not as colourful as those found on the east coast.
There are many places throughout South Africa where boating activities are offered.
Boat cruises include leisure trips from the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town along the magical eastern coast with beautiful views of Table Mountain, trips from Hout Bay on the Cape Town peninsula to Seal Island, trips on the Knysna lagoon to Featherbed Nature Reserve with magnificent views of the Heads and charming town of Knysna and trips on Lake St. Lucia on the north coast of Kwazulu Natal where crocs, hippos and an abundance of birds can be seen.
Kayaking and canoeing can be done at many places along the coast and on many of the larger rivers including False Bay in Cape Town, Hermanus, Wilderness lakes, Knysna lagoon, Plettenberg Bay, and rivers such as Keurbooms, Storms, Umkomaas, Tugela, Vaal, Crocodile and Orange.
Walking in nature is highly recommended in South Africa where clear blue skies are common and the diversity of scenic landscapes, wildlife and birds make this experience very special.
A large network of wonderful hiking trails are found throughout South Africa including the mountainous areas of the Drakensberg, Eastern Escarpment, Soutpansberg, Cedarberg, Baviaanskloof and Hottentots Holland. Many trails are also found along the coast and in the forests and bush. Some of the very special coastal trails include the Otter Trail in Tsitsikamma National Park, the Whale Trail in De Hoop Nature Reserve and all along the Wild Coast such as in Pondoland, Port St. Johns and Coffee Bay where you will also find excellent slackpacking options, staying in small hotels along the coast and only having a daypack to carry each day.
Bush walks in game reserves are fantastic experiences affording you the opportunity of walking in the space of wild animals, seeing the things that you wouldn’t normally see when driving, inspecting the tracks and signs and learning about the fauna and flora.
Visiting the winelands of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek near Cape Town are hugely popular excursions not only to sample some of the finest wines in the world but also to savour the beautiful landscapes, neat farms, Cape Dutch architecture, excellent food and to stroll through the oak-lined streets of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek whose history goes back to the arrival of the first Europeans in the Cape.
Wine tours are offered from Cape Town but the routes are well laid out on maps making this an excellent self drive option too.
Other winelands in the area include Constantia, Paarl, Wellington and the Robertson Valley along the R62 Route.
Winelands are also found along the Orange River in the vicinity of Upington in Northern Cape.
South Africa is a wonderful country for self drive as the road network, infractructure, variety of accommodation and facilities are excellent. Above all the diverse topography, habitats and scenery make travel by road a pleasure.
As the country is large and attractions so numerous, you may wish to explore one area by road, catch a flight to another part of the country and continue your self drive from there. For example after spending 4 or 5 days enjoying the fruits of Cape Town, take a self drive for another 5 days along the Garden Route to Port Elizabeth. Then take a flight to Durban and self drive through the beautiful parts of Kwazulu Natal and Swaziland to Greater Kruger National Park.
There are many flight options to connect you between Cape Town, Johannesburg and Greater Kruger National Park as well as the availability of renting a vehicle at all airports.
Other popular self drive options include starting in Johannesburg and exploring parts of Limpopo province such as the Waterberg game reserves, Venda culture in the Soutpansberg region, the Blyde River Canyon and into the Greater Kruger National Park. You can also venture from here into Botswana or Mozambique.
Or you may wish to concentrate in Kwazulu Natal to include visits to the Drakensberg, the Battlefields, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve and the northern coastal areas to do some diving and enjoy the tropical waters and beaches.
Travel through the Western and Northern Cape to discover the awesome blooming of the Namaqualand flowers in August/September, the Cedarberg Mountains, Richtersveld, Augrabies Falls and Kgalakgadi National Park with the option to continue into Namibia or Botswana.
South Africa has a wealth of natural and man-made attractions. Whether you are self driving or on a guided tour, there is so much to see amongst South Africa’s diverse landscapes, natural attractions, wildlife, fauna and flora, historical sites, cultures, architecture, people, villages, towns and cities.