The Best Things to Do in South Africa in 2024

From thrilling safaris in Kruger National Park to cultural experiences in Cape Town, surfing along stunning coastlines, and delving into the nation's rich history, discover the top 15 must-do activities when you visit South Africa

South Africa is a paradise for the adventurer and explorer, as it boasts a variety of landscapes and experiences. The country’s Big 5 safari game reserves offer visitors an up-close look at the diversity of African wildlife in its natural habitat.

But this captivating country offers much more than just spectacular game drives—it is also home to breathtaking beaches, sweeping deserts full of wildflowers, lush forests, cosmopolitan cities, charming wine towns, and beautiful scenery, as well as cultural traditions that offer a unique perspective on life in South Africa.

It is impossible to neatly sum up everything South Africa has to offer, its diverse array of activities makes it one of the most sought-after destinations worldwide.

In this blog post, we have hand-picked the top must-see places in South Africa, that have made it one of the best countries to visit in southern Africa.

What are The Best Things to Do When You Visit South Africa

South Africa is a country brimming with diverse experiences, landscapes, and cultural heritage. Exploring this beautiful nation offers travelers a rich tapestry of activities that showcase its natural wonders, historical significance, and vibrant culture.

Here's a list of must do activities in South Africa:

1. Go on a safari

Things to do in South Africa_Go on a safari In South Africa

Going on a safari in South Africa is one of the most unique experiences you can have. It’s home to some of the best game drives in the world and no matter where you choose to go, it’s sure to be a memorable experience.

Kruger National Park is probably the most popular safari destination and it offers incredible diversity and tons of amazing wildlife, including the “Big Five” (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinoceroses, and Cape buffalo).

I had the chance to go there a few years ago and it was beyond my expectations. Although it’s possible to drive yourself around the park, opting for a guided safari enhances the experience, providing expert insights and ensuring a deeper understanding of the park's ecosystem. With a guide you won’t just see incredible wildlife—you’ll truly understand it as well.

2. Visit Cape Town

Things to do in South Africa_Visit Cape Town South Africa

Cape Town is a must-visit destination for everyone and boasts a great combination of natural beauty and urban fun. Located in South Africa, this lively city is full of culture, bustling with life, and has something to offer for everyone: history buffs, nature lovers, beach goers, and more. Beyond the beachside haunts and waterfront restaurants there are plenty of outdoor activities in the nearby area.

Hiking Table Mountain or Lion’s Head is an incredible experience – a picture postcard landscape with views stretching out for miles across the ocean. Touring Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned makes for particularly moving experience.

Then spend some time relaxing at Muizenberg Beach or take a stroll through the colourful BoKaap district to get your bearings. In short – Cape Town should be considered essential to any African journey.

3. Go Surfing

Things to do in South Africa_Surfing in South Africa

South Africa is a great destination for surfers of all levels. Experienced wave riders can enjoy the world-class waves found along both the Atlantic and Indian Ocean coasts, while novices can take advantage of the generous surf schools offering lessons in epic locations such as Durban.

With its extensive coastline, South Africa boasts world-class surfing spots catering to all skill levels. Jeffrey's Bay, known for its legendary waves, Durban with its warm waters, and the beginner-friendly Muizenberg Beach offer thrilling surfing experiences against stunning backdrops.

Durban especially is suitable for beginners due to its warm water and predictable waves. You can join a beginner-level class for around 500 ZAR per person (about USD 35) which will typically be two to three hours long. Here you will gain an introduction to essential surfing skills such as paddling, popping up, navigating waves, and more – setting you off on your way towards riding South Africa’s legendary swell.

4. Learn About Apartheid

Things to do in South Africa_Visit the Apartheid Meuseum Johannesburg

Understanding South Africa's complex history is essential for appreciating its journey to democracy. Museums like the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg provide poignant insights into the country's apartheid era, fostering awareness and promoting unity.

Apartheid is an ugly chapter in South Africa's history, and no one can visit the country without understanding it. The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg offers one of the best ways to learn about this system and its legacy, with fascinating displays, artifacts, and interactive exhibits.

Admission is R150 and must be paid on entry too. Those interested in a more in-depth tour can also visit Constitution Hill and take a guided tour around the prison ruins; it stands on the site of a former political detention center for political prisoners who were unjustly detained there.

Such tours shed light on our past interactions which were founded on racial segregation, which is something many people today will find difficult to comprehend.

5. Visit Robben Island

Things to do in South Africa_Vist Robben Island

Robben Island is one of the most important cultural sites in South Africa, located just 6 kilometers off the coast of Cape Town. The maximum-security prison was used during the apartheid era to imprison many political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela who spent 18 years incarcerated on Robben Island. Today, the prison has been turned into a UNESCO World Heritage Site where visitors can learn more about apartheid and its tragic effects.

A trip to Robben Island is a poignant experience, offering a glimpse into the country's struggle for freedom. This former prison island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated, stands as a symbol of resilience and triumph over adversity.

Conditions at Robben Island were incredibly harsh as many prisoners were forced to perform hard labor in the limestone quarry. Despite this, the prisoners held onto their hope for freedom and kept their spirit alive during their time at Robben Island.

Visitors today can experience first-hand how life was for these prisoners by walking in Mandela’s footsteps through demonstrations and museum exhibits that tell true stories from those who lived it.

6. Hike the Drakensberg Mountains

The UNESCO-listed Drakensberg Mountains beckon adventure seekers with their rugged beauty and ancient rock art. Hiking trails lead to awe-inspiring vistas, cascading waterfalls, and the chance to explore the cultural heritage of the San people.

The Drakensberg Mountains are one of South Africa's top tourist attractions and trekking is a must for those visiting these majestic mountains. At almost 3,000 meters above sea level, it’s arguably the highest mountain range in South Africa and offers breathtaking views from its peaks.

Trekking in the Drakensberg region can be an extremely rewarding experience with its dramatic sandstone cliffs and deep valleys, perfect for getting close to nature.

There are a variety of trails ranging from easy coastal walks to strenuous climbs more suited to experienced mountaineers. For those prepared to brave the steep inclines and rock scrambles there are some rewarding day hikes such as Rainbow Gorge which provides stunning views over the Cathedral Peak area or Ploughman’s Kop which offers a half-day gentle climb and rocky pools for cooling down.

For true adventurers, Chain Ladders further up the mountain is a challenging ascent who desire exploration off the beaten path - making use of chains and ladders that attach to the rock face. Whichever route you choose, it promises to be unforgettable with spectacular sceneries along the way that will make your hike truly memorable.

7. See African Penguins

Things to do in South Africa_See African Penguins

Boulders Beach near Cape Town is a sanctuary for African penguins, allowing visitors to observe these endearing creatures up close as they waddle and play along the sandy shores.

The Boulders Penguin Colony is the ideal place to observe African penguins in their natural habitat. The site falls within Table Mountain National Park and is a short drive from Cape Town.

Visitors can witness the thousands of birds as they roam around, socialize, and feed in their area. With their distinct black and white feathers and stubby waddles, these endangered animals are truly an incredible sight.

However, one must remember to stay at a respectful distance and not get too close or disturb the penguins in any way. Human-caused impacts like pollution, oil spills, and habitat destruction have made them an endangered species, so watching them from a raised boardwalk or viewing platforms is suggested instead of walking on the beach where they breed.

It's important not to try and feed them or pet them as this can make them unwell and disrupt their natural living environment.

8. Take a Road Trip

Going on a road trip in South Africa unveils a kaleidoscope of landscapes, from coastal vistas to rolling hills and wildlife-rich reserves. The Garden Route, Panorama Route, and Wild Coast offer unforgettable journeys through stunning scenery and charming towns.

The Garden Route in South Africa is undoubtedly one of the most awe-inspiring road trips you could take. Spanning between Mossel Bay in the west to Storms River in the east, this route covers a distance of roughly 200 kilometers (125 miles) and can be driven in just a few days.

Along the way, you will get to witness stunning coastal cliffs rising from pounding waves, forests blanketed with lush greenery, and towering mountain ranges jutting out into the horizon.

If you're feeling particularly adventurous, consider stopping at Bloukrans Bridge - the highest bridge in Africa. Here, you can indulge in some bungee jumping for around R1,400 (USD 95) per person.

Alternatively, make sure to pay a visit to Plettenberg Bay on the Indian Ocean - with its vividly blue waters and velvet-soft golden sands. Whichever route you take along the Garden Route will certainly leave you with lasting memories of pure ecstasy and serenity.

9. Go for Wine Tasting Right From the Wine Makers

The Western Cape's wine regions are a paradise for wine enthusiasts. Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, and Paarl invite visitors to indulge in exquisite wine tastings amidst picturesque vineyards and historic estates.

Wine tasting in South Africa is an unforgettable experience. The country is renowned for producing award-winning wines, so it's no surprise that there are hundreds of wineries to sample and explore.

For those looking to find some of the best South African wines, the Cape Winelands region located not far from Cape Town is a must-visit destination. Here you will find over 150 wineries in Stellenbosch alone, with nearly 50 vineyards present in Franschhoek as well as some of South Africa’s finest restaurants.

If you’d like to immerse yourself even further in South Africa’s vibrant wine culture, you can plan a special tour of the region and its wineries. You can do this by yourself or rent a car and take the journey at your own pace.

However, if you don’t have a vehicle many hostels run their tours or have partnerships with local tour guides who can help bring your (wine) dreams to life. These tours usually cost around 700 ZAR per person for a half-day excursion but are well worth the money.

10. Explore the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve

Things to do in South Africa_Blyde River Canyon_Mpumalanga

In Mpumalanga, the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve captivates with its breathtaking panoramas, dramatic cliffs, and an abundance of flora and fauna, providing a haven for nature enthusiasts.

Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve is an impressive sight to behold. Situated in Mpumalanga Province, roughly two hours drive from Kruger National Park, the third largest canyon in the world displays sheer cliffs and plenty of lush, green environment for visitors to explore. The 75km long canyon consists of numerous natural rock formations such as the iconic Pinnacle Rock and God's Window – a cliff where you can view the entire area with ease.

Bourke's Luck Potholes are another amazing feature that was formed due to centuries of water erosion. Beyond these towering limestone formations, visitors can also find ancient rock carvings in Echo Caves which represent African historical art at its best.

For those keen on exploring more than just captivating sights, there are plenty of activities offered at Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. Hikers will be pleased with several officially marked trails equipped with maps and details while mountain bikers can also enjoy directional routes without worrying about time limitations or getting lost.

For the braver ones, there’s abseiling down one huge cliff face or white-water rafting if you want an adrenaline rush! Whether you come for a day trip, a weekend away, or simply while

11. Go Whale Watching

Things to do in South Africa_Wale Watching in SOuth Africa

The South African coastline hosts a spectacular annual migration of whales, offering unforgettable opportunities for whale watching. Places like Hermanus provide front-row seats to witness these magnificent marine mammals up close.

South Africa is home to some of the best whale watching in the world, offering tourists the chance to witness majestic and majestic creatures on their yearly migrations from June to November. During this time, visitors can see Southern right whales, Bryde’s whales, and orcas.

If you’re looking for a whale-watching tour, make sure Hermanus is your base of operations when planning your trip. Located 120 kilometers (74 miles) southeast of Cape Town, it is home to many reputable companies that offer great experiences.

Prices range from around 1,500 ZAR per person for smaller tour groups up to larger charter boat options available at different rates depending on your preferences. Be sure to book in advance as these trips tend to sell out quickly due to the limited window for viewing each year.

12. Go Scuba Diving

Exploring South Africa's underwater world reveals a diverse marine ecosystem. Dive sites like Sodwana Bay and Aliwal Shoal afford encounters with vibrant coral reefs, fascinating marine life, and the chance to witness awe-inspiring sharks in their natural habitat.

Cape Town is renowned for its world-class scuba diving opportunities. With the mixing of warm and cold ocean currents, a variety of aquatic wildlife, rocky shores, plenty of reefs, and kelp forests to explore, it's an amazing place to dive. You'll also find lots of shipwrecks here, both old and new.

There are plenty of historic ships to explore, including the Haerlem (a scuttled navy frigate) and the Doddington (which wrecked in the 18th century). Be sure to take advantage and get your camera ready!

Port Elizabeth on the coast between Cape Town and Durban is another great spot for wrecks. Here you'll find interesting shipwrecks like the Lusitania which hit trouble in 1902. For something a little different head off-shore and dive on one of South Africa's many submerged oil rigs - structures that provide spectacular artificial reefs full of life above and below water level.

So if you’re looking for an unforgettable scuba diving experience then be sure to remember Cape Town or Port Elizabeth as they offer some truly unique dive experiences.

13. Ride the Blue Train

The Blue Train is a five-star hotel on wheels, renowned worldwide as one of the most luxurious rail journeys out there. Step inside one of the private carriages and you are transported into an era of past luxury, with warm birch paneling, leather seating, and even a personal butler at your service. Every aspect of your stay is taken care of – savor gourmet five-course meals prepared by full silver service staff and indulge in a glass of fine wine from the extensive cellar collection or a Monte Cristo cigar.

Experience Africa like never before; gaze at cactus-dotted deserts, rugged mountains, vineyard-dotted hills, and lush valleys all while sipping on sparkling champagne. During sunsets – which are truly magical - be sure to have your camera handy so that you can capture this momentous African experience for life!

Plan ahead and book during low season (November-August) for significantly lowered fares. Journey onboard the Blue Train and experience royalty while traveling through some of the world's most spectacular landscapes.

14. Visit West Coast National Park

Things to do in South Africa_West Coast National Park

Located just an hour away from Cape Town, West Coast National Park is one of the best spots for locals to relax and enjoy nature's beauty. This jewel of a park boasts beautiful beaches, stunning coastlines, and scenic hiking trails, providing plenty of opportunities for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.

Wildlife activity and wildflowers are abundant here as well, particularly during the warmer months between August and September.

Those seeking a true nature-filled experience should look no further than West Coast National Park. With very few facilities available, visitors can take advantage of services provided by local vendors to truly immerse themselves in nature while respecting its principles.

So if you're staying near Johannesburg or Cape Town and have some free time on your hands, make sure you pencil in a day trip to this gorgeous park – it's sure to be an unforgettable experience!

15. Go on a sky safari in the Karoo

The Karoo is a vast, fiery realm with some of the most spectacular night skies in all of South Africa. With its mostly unpopulated landscapes, it is possible to look out into eternity and admire stars that few people ever get to witness in their lifetime.

Those who embark on a sky safari in the Karoo should be sure to visit the South African Astronomical Observatory, located at the heart of this semi-desert region. For those enthralled by the stars, there’s nothing quite like standing beneath these clear dark skies and marveling at these cosmic marvels.

To gain extra insight into astronomy, nighttime stargazing safaris provide an educational and immersive experience, as you’ll have a knowledgeable guide to point out constellations and identify star clusters – meaning even novice stargazers can appreciate everything that is blanketed above them.

The charming town of Prince Albert provides an ideal base from which stargazers may set forth on their celestial adventures – offering great accommodation choices and being well connected to other areas make it the perfect place to explore the beauty of a Karoo night sky safari.

We Will Tailor an Itinerary for you To Explore South Africa

Each of these activities encapsulates a slice of South Africa's beauty, history, and adventure, inviting travelers to immerse themselves in a country teeming with diversity and wonder. Whether seeking wildlife encounters, cultural immersion, or thrilling outdoor escapades, South Africa promises unforgettable experiences at every turn.

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