Best Things to do in South Africa

Written By: The Planet D

South Africa is fast becoming the adventure capital of Africa. We’ve had the pleasure of visiting the country several times and have discovered many cool things to do in South Africa. 

From the first time we cycled down the entire west coast of South Africa from Namibia to Cape Town to driving the entire East Coast of South Africa from St. Lucia to the Cape of Good Hope, we’ve covered a lot of distance in the country.

We want to give you a round-up of the best things to do in South Africa to help you plan your vacation. From safaris to caves, marine life to scenery, South Africa has it all! Enjoy.

Great Things to do in South Africa

1. Go on an African Safari

male lions
Some lions just hanging out on safari in South Africa

There is no doubt that any trip to Africa let along South Africa should involve a safari. South Africa has many game reserves and national parks where you can go on an African safari in search of the Big 5 (African Buffalo, Rhinos, Elephants, Lions and Leopards. No trip to South Africa would be complete without going on safari. Trust me, we skipped it on our first trip to South Africa and regret it for years until we could return. Whew.

There are several game reserves in South Africa and some of the best national parks to go on safari in South Africa are Addo Elephant Park, Kruger National Park, iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Pilanesberg National Park. Hluhluwe & Imfolozi National Park is South Africa’s oldest wildlife reserve and we had some very interesting safari experiences there. Read on to find out more.

2. Game Reserves

south africa wildlife giraffe
Two giraffe relaxing in the field

There are several private game reserves in South Africa that can guarantee wildlife spotting of the best African safari animals. We loved going on Safari at the Kariega Game Reserve, where we had one of the most luxurious safaris we’ve ever been on. The river lodge was surrounded by wildlife.

The game reserves of South Africa are different than the Masai Mara or Serengeti as the animals are enclosed within the huge conservation areas. Your chances of seeing wildlife are 100% as guides know exactly where to find them. See our experience on safari here.

3. Kruger and Other South Africa Safari Parks

South Africa’s largest safari park Kruger National Park is the number one place to go on safari but besides here and other game reserves, there are other places to see wildlife in Africa. Spanning 19,000 square km, this is a unique game drive compared to other African safaris as you can drive yourself.

Hluhluwe & Imfolozi National Park is South Africa’s oldest game reserve that is known for its white and black rhino population, Hluhluwe & Imfolozi have the largest rhino population all of Africa! Addo Elephant National Park is one of the best places to see elephants.

4. Horse Safari in Hluhluwe & Imfolozi National Park

horse safari south africa things to do
Very unique wildlife safari on a horse

Our personal favorite location for a safari in South Africa is in St. Lucia at the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park. It was here that we went on a horse safari riding through Hluhluwe & Imfolozi National Park surrounded by zebras and wildebeest. Read all about it here at Horse Sfari through Isimangaliso Wetlands.

5. Hippos Spotting at iSimangaliso Wetlands

hippo on safari in south africa
Someone’s tired!

At iSimangaliso Wetlands we also went on an extraordinary Hippo River Cruise.

6. Kayak with Crocodiles

unique things to do in South Africa Kayak with Crocs
Kayaking with crocodiles, what?

If you are feeling adventurous, a pure adrenaline rush is to go kayaking with crocodiles in the same river where the hippos are above. I am not sure if I should even mention this one as we felt on edge the entire time but honestly, how many people can say they kayaked in crocodile and hippo-infested waters?

There’s nothing but fibreglass separates you from the crocodiles below. The water in the estuary is an average of 1 metre deep and with 1200 crocs and 900 hippos you can be sure they are lurking below, even if you don’t spot them right away.

7. Spot Turtles Laying Eggs

south africa night safari
Night safari

St. Lucia on the northeast coast of South Africa is one of the best places in the world to spot Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles laying their eggs. Your tour begins and 9:00 pm and goes until the wee hours of the morning. You drive right through the iSimangaliso Wetlands where we also saw rhinos, hippos and the world’s smallest lizard.

Sadly only 1% of newly hatched turtles make it out to sea and during our safari, we came upon a Jackal feeding on a nest of baby turtles that had just hatched. Mother Nature can be brutal at times.

8. South African Braai in St. Lucia

You’ve heard of putting a shrimp on the barbie in Australia, well in South Africa, you put some meat on the Braai. At Umlilo Lodge in St. Lucia, we enjoyed our very first Braai dinner with our fantastic hosts. A Braai is South African for Barbeque but for some reason, a bbq in South Africa is so much better than a bbq at home.

9. Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve

Blyde river canyon
God’s Window – View of Blyde River Canyon

Blyde River Canyon is one of the largest canyons in the world third only to The Grand Canyon and Fish River Canyon in Namibia which we saw during our cycling tour down South Africa. If you haven’t seen one of these beauty’s you’re missing out. But what sets Blyde River Canyon apart is the lush green vegetation.

Blyde River Canyon is part of the Panorama Route, a popular road trip in South Africa that includes Mpumalanga highlands, The Drakensburg Mountain Range, and Kruger National Park.

10. Drakensberg Mountains

If you fly into Johannesburg, there are two places that you won’t want to miss when you visit South Africa. Kruger National Park (see #4 on our list of things to do in South Africa) and the Drakensberg Mountains. Drakensberg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is great for outdoor adventures, hiking, and cycling. It is South Africa’s highest mountain range and it stretches 1000 km. So chances are you will have an adventure or two here.

The Drakensberg Mountains can be reached by Johannesburg or Durban, depending on where you make a home base. We made our base in Durban.

11. Explore Cape Town

things to do in south africa cape town
Table Mountain over Cape Town

Cape Town is one of those amazing cities where you find yourself saying “I could live here!” It’s beautiful, it’s filled with culture and modern living, it has everything from markets to boutiques and it has adventure.

Table Mountain is the backdrop of the city with the V&A waterfront in the foreground. The view from a boat is magnificent. You can take a cable car up Table Mountain or you can hike. There is paragliding off Lions Head and Abseiling (rappelling) off the mountain. It’s the number one thing to do in Cape Town.

  • There are so many things to do in Cape Town, it deserves its own article And we have one here!
  • Cape Town is also filled with beautiful beaches and is a popular places for surfing and kite surfing. Read all about it here.

12. Visit Robben Island

visit robben island from cape town
Robben Island

One of the more sobering attractions in South Africa is a visit to Robben Island. It is a must-do when visiting Cape Town to learn more about the apartheid era in South Africa. It was where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 29 years and is now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Take a boat out to the island and see how political prisoners were treated during the Apartheid. It is a sobering tour to hear how political prisoners were kept in this maximum-security prison. You’ll be able to see Nelson Mandela’s cell that has not been changed since his incarceration.

nelson mandela's cell robben island
The Cell Where Nelson Mandella spent two decades of his life

Our tour guide was a former prisoner who told us of his time in prison. I couldn’t imagine the hopelessness they felt being able to see beautiful Cape Town with no way of escape.

Where to stay in Cape Town

13. Spy on the Simons Town Penguins

things to do in south africa

South Africa is one of the best places to see penguins outside of Antarctica. Rent a car and see the Penguins in Simons Town at Boulder’s Beach. The drive takes you through one of the greatest scenic drives on earth, Chapman’s Peak. They are the cutest definitely the cutest of attractions in South Africa to spy on from the boardwalk.

While you on a day trip to Simon’s Town, continue driving to the Cape of Good Hope for spectacular coastal views. The road out from Cape Town is one of the best drives in the world. 

  • Take this interesting tour to the stunning Cape of Good Hope. You’ll the Simon’s Town Penguins, enjoy aglass of wine in the wine region of Constantia, and see where the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Oceans meet

14. Try Sandboarding

Things to do in Peru Sandboarding

We went sandboarding at the dunes just outside of Cape Town and it was spectacular. We had no idea that South Africa had such massive sand dunes. Sand boarding is a lot of fun and it can be a bit intimidating to be sitting at the top of a massive dune getting ready to glide down on a tiny piece of wood.

15. Relax in Stellenbosch Wine Country

things to do in south africa stellenbosch
taste wine in Stellenbosch

Located just 40 minutes from Cape Town is the wine region of Stellenbosch. South Africa has made a name for itself as having some of the best wines in the world and it is here that you can go on wine tours and relax in the rolling hills of the South African wine region.

  • There are huge estates where you can go for tastings, relax in town or just simply take in the scenery.
  • If you can’t make it to stay over is Stellenbosch this Winelands Half Day Tour offers a taste fine South African wines.

16. Dive with Great White Sharks

what to do in South Africa Great white sharks
Great White Shark Swimming just off our boat

A safari is a must, but our Number 1 Choice for things to do in South Africa outside of dry land is to go Cage Diving with Great White Sharks! We have seen it on Shark Week, we’ve watched it on National Geographic and we did it in South Africa.

Anyone can cage dive. You don’t need to be a certified diver, heck you barely even need to know how to swim. It’s the easiest diving we’ve ever done, but it is also by far the most exciting. You are in a cage attached to the side of a boat and all you have to do is hold your breath to look at them as they swim by.

Watch our Video of Cage Diving in South Africa

south africa shark diving

Sharks are an endangered species and the more people understand the shark and learn to love them rather than fear them, the better the entire ecosystem will be.

17. Microlight Flight Over Durban

things to do in South Africa Microlight flight
Microlight flight over Durban

Durban is only 3 hours from St. Lucia down the east coast of South Africa and in this thriving city you can swing from the only stadium swing in the world at Moses Mabhida Stadium. It is fast becoming the adventure capital of South Africa with another amazing adventure, a microlight flight over the spectacular coastline. Feel the wind whip your face as you watch dolphins and sea turtles swim in the Indian Ocean below.

Hotels and AirBnBs in Durban

We stayed at these two hotels in and near Durban and they were fantastic.

18. Take a Canopy Tour

things to do in South Africa Canopy tour
Canopy Tour Tsitsikamma

South Africa Canopy Tours has zip-lining adventures all around the country. For a beginners zip line adventure, try Tsitsikamma on the Garden Route between Port Elizabeth and Durban. This was so much fun to zip through the jungles of South Africa on this multi-course canopy tours.

For the more extreme thrill seekers, stay in Durban and check out Karkloof Canopy Tours. This was hands down the best canopy tour we’ve ever taken. (and we’ve done a lot).

19. Explore the Cango Caves

Cango Caves things to do in South Africa
Adventure in the Cango Caves

The Cango Caves are the oldest tourist attraction in South Africa and one of the best cave systems we’ve ever visited.

The standard tour is an easy and beautiful walk through massive chambers, but if you are up for the challenge, take the adventure tour. The adventure tour takes you through narrow passageways with openings as small as 26 centimeters. It’s not for the faint of heart, but great bragging rights after the fact.

Visit the Cango Caves Website for more information. Read more about our time at the Cango Caves in Claustrophobia at the Cango Caves

20. Get a Neck Massage at an Ostrich Farm

things to do in south africa ostrich farm
Get a neck massage from an ostrich

One of the most unique attractoins in South Africa is to visit the Cango Ostrich Farm. Ostrich are not an endangered animal and if you visit the Cango Ostrich Farm, you’ll learn about how ostriches are raised, what they are used for and you be able to get up close and personal with the largest bird on earth.

You can get an ostrich massage and feed the ostriches that are held in captivity. Find out more information at the Cango Ostrich Website. 

21. Drive the Garden Route

Garden Route Sunset South Africa things to do
Beautiful sunsets on Garden Route at Plettenberg Bay

It is one of the great road trips in the world. The Garden Route of South Africa. It’s a short drive, but it packs a large punch. We actually drove through the short 200 km stretch of the Garden route while on a drive down the entire east coast from St. Lucia to Cape Town. Technically the Garden Route is from Mossel Bay to Storms River, but we suggest doing it all from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth.

There is everything to do here. From game drives to diving, mountain adventures to world class wineries, this is our favorite part of the country. Adrenaline junkies will want to go bungee jumping at Bloukrans Bungee at South Africa’s highest bridge!

Suggested Garden Route Hotels

Oyster Box places to stay in South Africa
Stay for awhile at the Oyster Box

South Africa Travel Resources

Sure there is a lot more to do in South Africa, but if you follow this route, you’ll go away feeling like you experienced everything the country has to offer.

We had the perfect blend of local hospitality, world-class wildlife viewing, enjoying everything from luxury accommodation to quiet family-run operations, fine dining, incredible adventures, and spectacular sunsets.

If you enjoyed all these things to do in South Africa, Save it to Pinterest for future travel planning.

things to do in South Africa
The Best Things to do in South Africa

So there you have it! This itinerary should keep you busy doing all these amazing things in South Africa! Did we miss anything? Are you planning on going to South Africa? Let us know in the comments below.

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Travel Planning Resources

Looking to book your next trip? Why not use these resources that are tried and tested by yours truly.

Flights: Start planning your trip by finding the best flight deals on Skyscanner

Book your Hotel: Find the best prices on hotels with these two providers. If you are located in Europe use and if you are anywhere else use TripAdvisor

Find Apartment Rentals: You will find the cheapest prices on apartment rentals with VRBO

Travel Insurance: Don't leave home without it. Here is what we recommend:

  • Allianz - Occasional Travelers.
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Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.

About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

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42 thoughts on “Best Things to do in South Africa”

  1. From the magnificent Table Mountain to the abundant safari experiences
    in Kruger National Park; from sampling wines in the sun baked Cape Winelands, to the ethnical and famous
    interactions of KwaZulu Natal. From identifying whales throughout the Garden Route, to stargazing in the
    Kalahari – South Africa literally has it all, and few other destinations around the
    world provides the depth and diverse choices of experiences that one may discover in South Africa.

    Kruger National Park is a firm winner, offering Big-5 safari adventures
    up close and personal.When you do a South African safari for
    the very first time, it should really take your breath away.
    Observing these spectacular creatures in the wild
    is truly humbling. Madikwe, the Eastern Cape and Pilanesberg are without a doubt also
    good safari alternatives to consider.
    Cape Town is definitely among the most breathtakingly
    gorgeous cities on the planet, and a “must-visit” for any tourist.
    Partake in a peaceful walk up the picturesque Table Mountain, and right at the top you will take pleasure in a breathtaking view of the entire city.
    Another interesting thing for any visitor to Cape Town to enjoy, is to travel to Cape Point – the southernmost tip of the African continent
    If you are an adventurous sort, head up the Garden Route, or
    maybe to KwaZulu Natal (offering fascinating culture, silky white beaches and exceptional safari options).

    These are just a tiny handful of things to do in this amazing place – plan a vacation to South Africa and explore – you will certainly not be dissatisfied.

  2. Great landmarks to South Africa I thought it was just for safaris
    I would like to ask if possible
    Is Kayak with Crocodiles completely safe?
    I think Microlight Flight I will not try 🙂

  3. Im doing an essay on South Africa’s natural attractions, and this definitely helped a lot. Keep doing what you’re doing guys!

  4. These are some of the most awesome things that you have listed. Some of the main places that a person can visit as a local are the Clay Café, Mountain sanctuary park, Morgan bay, besides many more.

  5. Wow, this is awesome! I’ve always wanted to go. Mostly because one of my favorite shows is filmed there (Black Sails) and my favorite show (Outlander) is about to be filmed there :-). But I love your list. There is SO much South Africa has to offer. I am for sure going now. If anything just to take a bath on a cliff<3. Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. First Time when i went South Africa then i really enjoy But Which I liked the most is Safari and Visiting Caves.

    • Fantastic. Does that mean you’ve done everything but swim with sharks or will do it all but swim with sharks. Seriously, swimming with the sharks was incredible.

  7. Hello, I live more than 15 years ago in Spain, but I’m thinking give another direction to my life, I’ve been thinking about possibility of going to live in South Africa, accepted comments and suggestions, thanks.

  8. Apart from South Africa becoming the adventure capital of the world, It has proved to be the best holiday destination for family safaris.

  9. Cape Town seems to be the main focal point on everyones journey and i can under why, with such a diverse array of exciting things to do and see, i am Capetonian! 🙂

  10. Yay! So very proudly South African right now. Lived in Cape Town my whole life, and it still amazes me- so wildly diverse!

    • You are lucky Cape Town is a beautiful city. While we were there we said that we could definitely live here. It’s beautiful, cosmopolitan and yet filled with culture and adventure. As you said, wildly diverse.

  11. South Africa looks like such an amazing country! I think I’ll have to pass on the caves though, definitely not something I can handle. That sunset photo is gorgeous!

  12. Looks like an amazing place. I definitely look forward to going there and doing as many activities with animals as possible. The horse riding looks really nice.

  13. I leave for South Africa in three weeks and have been looking for things to do while there. I will be there for a month so I hope to hit the majority if items on this list. The cage diving scares me cause I’m totally scared of diving but at the same time when will I ever see sharks like that???

  14. Diving with the sharks is definitely the one thing I’m keen on doing in Africa when I finally make my way there. And it’s good to know there is other stuff there besides the safaris!

  15. We can’t wait to visit South Africa someday. We really want to see the big 5 on a safari, and a cage diving adventure is also a must for us. Your video of the ostrich riding also makes for an interesting option.

  16. South Africa really seems to be an up-and-coming destination of late, and it’s definitely starting to creep its way up my bucket list! Being a bit of a language geek (I studied linguistics at university), South Africa has interested me for a long time, at least in theory (I mean, it has 11 official language and is home to some of the only languages with clicks!), but when I read stuff like this, it makes it more real somehow. I must say, the Cango Caves experience looks faintly horrifying…no doubt you took full advantage of those bragging rights afterwards!

    • I would like to visit Africa someday too. I am growing older and I missing all those beauties. I didn’t know they speak so many languages there. I hope I could get the chance and courage to leave everything for now and hit the road to Africa.