South Africa is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations and it’s easy to see why. This country has it all! Multilingual locals, stunning mountain vistas, coastline, wildlife, vibrant cities and an abundance of wine, what more could you want?! Visiting South Africa is a brilliant idea and planning a South African travel itinerary before you visit is probably a good start but it’s hard to know what to fit into your trip. I’ve shared a post about 101 things to do in South Africa. Now I’ve asked a few bloggers to contribute and compiled this guide to the best places to visit in South Africa along with a recommended time for each destination so you can pick and choose what works for your time, budget and interests.
A guide to the best places to visit in South Africa so you can create your own South African itinerary.
Johannesburg (2-5 days)
Johannesburg serves as a getaway into South Africa as most international travelers arrive in JNB. Whether you want to relax, shop, learn about SA history or see wildlife. Whether you’re traveling solo or with a group. From budget to luxury travelers. Johannesburg is one of those cities where there’s something for everyone to do.
While in Johannesburg, there are many day trips you can plan, here are some suggestions:
Soweto (1 day)
South Western Township (Soweto) also known as the heartbeat of the nation started as a temporary settlement for gold field workers when black South Africans migrated to Gauteng to work in gold mines in the late 1880s, they initially settled in the center of Johannesburg. As you would expect from a township with so much history, culture and nature, there’s plenty of fun things to do in Soweto as shared by Blogger, Meletso:
Visit the Hector Peterson Museum. This memorial pays tribute to the victims of the 1976 Soweto Uprising and serves as a reminder of the killing of 176 school children in protest against Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. South Africa celebrates 16 June as Youth Day.
Visit the Orlando Towers where you can go bungee jumping. An interesting fact is that the towers are used for advertising; they are painted by the sponsors for a 5 year period.
Head to the Mandela House on No. 8115 Vilakazi Street in Orlando West. This was Nelson Mandela’s home from 1946 to the early 1990’s. It was donated to the SOWETO Heritage Trust on 1997. Vilakazi Street is also the only street in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize winners reside.
Pretoria (1 day)
South Africa’s administrative capital city is a charming mix of old and new; a friendly, historical city which bursts into colour in the springtime when over 50 000 Jacaranda trees bloom in all their purple glory. As a Pretoria native, I’ve shared many things to do in Pretoria over the years. My favorite activity is to have a picnic at the Union Buildings. Sit on the lawns overlooking a 3.5-ton bronze statue of South Africa’s first democratically-elected president in an open-arm embrace pose. This is the largest bronze statue of Nelson Mandela in the world. It’s free to enter the grounds but entry into the actual building is permitted as it’s the office of the President.
Hartebeespoort (1 day)
Nicole Moila shares How to spend the perfect daycation in Harties
Things to do in Hartebeespoort
The most popular thing to do in Hartebeespoort is to visit the Hartebeespoort Ariel CableWay. The cableway was constructed in 1973 and was upgraded in 2010 with 6, 14 seater imported cable cars from Switzerland. It offers you panoramic views of Hartebeespoort and Magaliesberg and surrounds.
A visit to the Zoo and Snake Park is also a favourite spot for people to stop at. One can see different wild life including crocodiles, tigers, monkeys and giant tortoises. There is also a seal and snake show that takes place on the weekends. Check with the zoo staff for show times. Entrance fee is R100 per adult and R50 for children under the age of 12. You can also take a boat ride on the dam at a cost of R50 per adult and R30 per child (3 – 12 years).
Hartebeespoort has a number of coffee shops and restaurants but one of the most popular places to visit is the French Toast Koffie Kafee which was established in 2014. It was built as part of a movie set for the film titled “French Toast” and has since been operating as a restaurant since the movie wrapped. There is miniature Eiffel Tower and a bridge where you can purchase a lock and have it engraved and attach it on the fence. It is located in the same centre as an Aquarium. You can pass the time there should you wait for your table as my family did.
The Panorama Route in Mpumalanga (2-3 days)
SA travel blogger, Farirai Sanyika of Gophari Travel shares some of her favorite things to do in Mpumalanga. Her list included the Panorama Route – a region of scenic views, waterfalls and outdoor activities in Mpumalanga.
The Panorama Route in Mpumalanga is about 400km from Johannesburg. It’s a 4 hour road trip that is scenic as you approach your destination. As you explore the many attractions along the Panorama Route, you will need a car to get from one place to the next. Driving between each stop is part of the fun because of the lush, panoramic views.
Things to do
Visit at least one of the many waterfalls like the popular Lonecreek Falls. Unlike some of the other waterfalls here, you are able to get really close to and even into the water at Lonecreek Falls. Some of the other waterfalls to check out along the Panorama Route include Mac Mac Falls, Berlin Falls, Lisbon Falls, Horeshoe Falls and Forest Falls. I would advise printing a map and marking out the waterfalls you would like to stop at as you navigate the Panorama Route.
Take in the views of Blyde River Canyon. Exploring the Panorama Route is all about immersing yourself in the beauty of nature. You absolutely must visit the Blyde River Canyon while navigating the Panorama Route. The view of Blyde River canyon is one of the best views I have ever seen – ever. There is a peace that comes over you in that untouched, grand, natural space. It’s silent, still and so beautiful.
Visit Sudwala Caves. Sudwala Caves are the oldest caves in the world and are a must visit while exploring the Panorama Route. It’s dark and eery inside the cave and the cool, damp air is a nice relief from the heat outside. When you visit, you get a guided tour through the caves through which you learn about the fascinating history of the caves. It is believed that if you drink the water from a specific spot in the caves you will age more slowly. So of course, I drank the water from that spot!
Durban (2-4 days)
Located 570km away from Johannesburg, Durban is a vibrant city of colour and tastes very much like the rainbow nation. With amazing weather all year round this means almost 350 days of sunshine and beach days are expected.
Things to do in Durban:
Eat a traditional Bunny Chow using your hands. Durban is where the humble Bunny Chow was first eaten by local Indentured Labourers from India. A good bunny chow has extra gravy, a combination of tender lamb pieces, soft melting potatoes , a vinegar grated carrot salad and is filled into a 1/4 loaf of fresh white bread.
Visit the Victoria Street Market a lively market where one can find Indian spices, african crafts and literally everything and anything you could want.
Durban Richshaw Bus is the new addition to the Durban Tourism offering. This is a great way to explore the city and surrounding areas without you having to drive.
If you need more convincing, Verushka Ramasami of Spice Goddess Blog shares Why Durban is the best city in South Africa
Midlands (1-2 days)
Click HERE for the ultimate guide of things to do, where to eat and where to stay in the Midlands.
Cape Town (3 – 7 days)
Visiting South Africa and not visiting Cape Town or even worse, only visiting Cape Town is one of the biggest mistakes most first time visitors make. Cape Town is a magical city and gateway to hidden gems in the West Coast. If you have more time to explore, this two week Cape Town Travel Guide will help.
Located on an island 13.9km’s from the city of Cape Town. Robben Island is more than just a prison. The famous cell #46664 is where Nelson Mandela served 18 of his 27-year sentence before he was released and elected as the first Democratic President of the Republic of South Africa. Other freedom fighters who were imprisoned here include former President Jacob Zuma, Walter Sisulu, Robert Sobukwe and Govan Mbeki. Go on a tour and learn more about this island.
Hike the Table Mountain, Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head, specially for some epic sunsets. If you’re not a hiker, take the cable car or drive while enjoying the spectacular view of the Cape Peninsula. Blogger, Janet of Journalist on the run also shared the best hiking trails in Cape Town.
Go on a wine tour! Take the wine train in Franschhoek, where you basically pay a flat price for a hop-on-hop-off train on a designated route that takes you to many different vineyards over the course of a day. There’s also the Spice Route which is basically an all-in-one wine tour that also has craft beer, craft liquor, craft chocolate, biltong, etc. If you’re looking for a more casual day thing, head to the Stellenbosch region and try the Pinotage, the signature grape of South Africa.
Suggested Reading: 5 things to do in Robertson Wine Valley
Knysna (2 – 4 days)
Knysna is another beautiful town on The Garden Route. Known for hosting the Pink Loerie over the Easter Holidays and the Oyster Festival in June / July. This picturesque festival town emerges as a vibrant mini-metropolis, offering a kaleidoscope of unforgettable experiences.
Things to do in Knysna
Go on a Oyster Tour on Knysna Lagoon. Learn all there is to know about one of the world’s most loved delicacy, taste the difference between wild and cultivated oysters, all whilst cruising the lagoon to the Heads and surrounds.
The Tsitsikamma National Park is tucked between the mountains and the sea part of the Garden Route National.
Head to the Knysna Elephant Park – the first facility in South Africa to house and care for orphaned African elephants. You can go for walks with elephants and learn more about the beautiful creatures. The facility also offer volunteer programs.
Namaqua Region (2 – 3 days)
The Northern Cape is a marvelous place to explore. It’s a pristine combination of old small towns, luscious spaces amod dry, arid areas and attractive sand dunes. This mixture of scenery makes for an amazing. adventurous road trip (best done in a 4×4). During the months of August and October the Namaqua region here bursts with colours as the naturally occurring wildflowers carpet the area. They’re in the fields and nature reserves, along the road and across the many small towns. It’s best to take the two hour flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town and take a steady drive up the coast.
Things to do in the Namaqua region
Explore the small town of Nieuwoudtville, known as “the bulb capital of the world.” This botanical marvel has highest number of distinct flower species. Botanists, photographers and lovers of nature flock to the scenery. While the various farms open up their fields for walking and driving routes through the flowers.
Take a walk in the second largest quiver tree forest in the world. Quiver trees are a part of the aloe family. The San use the branches of the reww to make quivers for their arrows.
Drive through the Namaqua National Park. The roads are long and dusty but you will be rewarded with incredible countryside scenery and views. Spend a few days at the luxurious pop up flower camp on the beach. There area is not largely populated making it an ideal spot to enjoy the clear skies and bright stars at night.
Hitekani Mbatsana of Blacks do Swim shares The Best Places for West Coast flower spotting