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Top 10 places to visit in South Africa

Kruger Park on GlobalGrasshopper.com

Top 10 places to visit in South Africa – South Africa is a beautiful and exciting country. It’s home to a wonderful mix of beaches, mountains, wildlife and 2500km of incredible coastline. Famous for its gold and diamonds and also for its fondness for sport – especially rugby. If you get a chance to see the Springboks in action, it will give you a real understanding of passion. Like any country of South Africa’s size, travelling in South Africa can be tricky. To avoid any potential problems make sure you plan your trip well. Here is my personal Top 10 places to visit in South Africa….

1. Table Mountain

Table mountain on GlobalGrasshopper.comPhoto: pet r

This flat topped mountain overlooking Cape Town is a key tourist attraction for all visitors to South Africa and when here you’re probably going to want to get to the top. There are a couple options, you can take a cable car or if you are more of an adventurous type you can hike to the top. The climb is definitely worth it, once you reach the summit the views are spectacular. Table Mountain is also home to rock hyrax (which looks a like a mix between a squirrel and a mouse), porcupines, mongooses, snakes and tortoises and some playful monkeys who are always on the hunt for food.

2. Robben Island

Robben Island on GlobalGrasshopper.comPhoto: ixtla

Robben Island is located 7km off the coast of South Africa, it’s 3.3km long and 1.9km wide. The notorious prison where Nelson Mandela was held as a political prisoner for 18 years (1964-1982) is located on Robben Island. The prison is a poignant and moving visitor attraction and a tour here will allow you to see how the prisoners lived. When you arrive at Nelson Mandela’s 7ft by 7ft cell you find a replica chair, mat, bowl and blanket. Outside the cell you will see a list of the food once served in the prison and also the separate menus for black South Africans, mixed race/Asians and white South Africans. Ferries leave for Robben Island from the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town six times a day. Although be sure to book your ferry early as visitors to the island are restricted to 1800 people per day and waiting lists can get long.

3. Garden Route

Garden Route in South Africa on GlobalGrasshopper.com

The Garden Route is a very scenic stretch on the south-eastern coast of South Africa, starting at Mossel Bay and finishing at Storms River. There are various excellent stop offs along the way including two towns on this list – Knysna and Oudtshoorn. The Garden route has ten different nature reserves which is home to dolphins, seals and the endangered Southern Right Whale. In addition to the marine life there are almost 300 species of beautiful multi-coloured birds living here. To see the area it’s probably best to hire a car or the Baz Bus is a good budget option.

4. Knysna

Knysna on GlobalGrasshopper.comPhoto: slack12

Knsyna is a charming town in the middle of the Garden Route which deserves a special mention. It’s definitely worth stopping here because it’s such a great place to have fun, relax and enjoy some great food. Kynsna attracts many artists due to the lovely views and relaxing atmosphere giving the whole town a bohemian feel. An area that appeals to both artists and water sport fanatics is Knysna Heads. Here you can find a lagoon which is perfect for the fun pastime ‘wave jumping’ and it’s also known for its incredible sunsets. I found Knysna as a perfect place to stop off and relax for a few days, whenever I meet South Africans I always tell them how much I liked Knysna and they all agree it’s definitely one of the country’s true gems.

5. Stellenbosch

Stellenbosh on GlobalGrasshopper.comPhoto: Pietrolambert

Stellenbosch is South Africa’s second oldest town having been established in 1679. The town’s highlight is the incredible wine route which boasts 44 cellars. A vast range of wines are produced in the area and whilst it is classed as ’Cabernet country’ my personal favourite is Pinotage (but each to their own!) As you travel from cellar to cellar you will find the area very visitor friendly. Each cellar’s entrance is clearly signposted and many of the cellars offer tours as well as fantastic lunches in beautiful gardens or restaurants. Naturally you will have the chance to enjoy one or two bottles of locally produced wine!

6. Oudtshoorn

Oudtshoorn on GlobalGrasshopper.comPhoto: Astrid Walter

Oudtshoorn maybe an unusual choice but I still think it’s worth a stop when travelling in South Africa. If you’ve ever fancied riding an ostrich then Oudtshoorn is the place to visit. It’s known as the Ostrich Capital of South Africa and here you can actually ride one or just sample their eggs. Many hotels serve ostrich eggs for breakfast and the eggs are naturally rather large and very rich in flavour. Meat-eaters might fancy trying the ostrich sausages and steaks which are also readily available. Although Oudtshoorn isn’t just about ostriches. Its great scenery makes it popular with cyclists and people looking to wind down after the madness of Cape Town.

7. Durban

Durban beach on GlobalGrasshopper.comPhoto: Rouzeh

Durban is South Africa’s third largest city but it’s also the friendliest. Durban is famous for its “Golden Mile” which is a string of beaches filled with surfers. It’s also a shark free zone which is always a bonus. After a relaxing time at the beach, head to Durban’s promenade where you can find various hotels, pubs, restaurants, shops and the Marine World Aquarium. Durban has a large Indian community and the Victoria Indian Street Market is very popular. Here you can see mosques, temples, exotic shops and restaurants where you can try some delicious Indian cuisine.

8. Kruger National Park

Kruger Park on GlobalGrasshopper.comPhoto: Arno & Louise

No trip to South Africa would be complete without visiting the Kruger National Park. The Park is Africa’s oldest national park and was originally founded in 1898. The Kruger is located five hours north of Johannesburg and is home to a huge variety of wildlife including the famous “Big Five” (buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino). When visiting you can hire a 4×4 to explore the park and choose to stay in either a bungalow, caravan, chalet, cottage or campsite. Personally I opted to go on a tour. This allowed me to be taken around by professionals who knew every aspect of the park and the resident wildlife (as opposed to me heading into the park on my own-where I could potentially be eaten by a lion!)

9. Soweto

Soweto on GlobalGrasshopper.comPhoto: ironmanixs

Whilst Soweto is not the best looking location it’s classed as one of the most important and educating sites in the country. Soweto is a huge township where 3.5 million people call the 90 square mile sprawl home. The area is broken into three different areas – the rich, middle class and the poor. There are vast areas covered by shanty huts, most of which have been made by the people who occupy them. A tour of Soweto is very humbling and is the safest way to visit a township. On my tour I was introduced to one of the residents in his own home and taken to a shebeen (once an illegal drinking hole in South Africa) where I sat and chatted with the locals. I was also taken to Nelson Mandela’s old residence and to the Hector Pieterson Memorial.

10. The Drakensberg Mountains

Drakensburg Mountains on GlobalGrasshopper.comPhoto: Neonman

The Drakensberg Mountains stretches for approximately 600 miles along the entire length of KwaZulu-Natal’s western boundary. It’s an incredible location where you can hike, bird/wildlife watch, horse ride or go on a safari. There is also the opportunity to follow 4×4 trails, go quad biking, rock climbing or white water rafting. I also recommend the Royal Natal National Park which is rated as one of the most beautiful parts of the Drakensberg. It is home to Mont-aux-Sources (one of the highest mountains in the Drakensberg) and the stunning Tugela Falls. There are many eco-tours on offer including the Karkloof Canopy who offer a steel cable tour located 30metres above the forest floor. This allows you to witness the incredible scenery and bird-life.

South Africa is an incredible and diverse country and there are many great places to visit. Hopefully my top ten will help you plan your trip. After I left I remembered how true the Big Five Safari website description of the South Africa experience is. In it’s opening paragraph is states: “Be warned – once you have visited our country, you WILL spend the rest of your life longing to return!”

Where to stay – Popular, unique and reasonably priced hotels in South Africa

Scott started his travelling life back in 1999, when he headed off on a solo jaunt to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia with just a backpack, a camera and a spirit for adventure. After that, the travel bug bit hard and now he is always seeking to head off somewhere new. Over the years he has lived in Italy, Qatar, Ireland and the UK but his spiritual home will always be Rome as this is the city which most satisfies his unrelenting craving for culture, good food and football. Scott loves nothing better than to be behind the camera and has also just started his own blog called Bars and Spas. As well as Rome he also counts Melbourne and Tel Aviv among his favourite places and now permanently resides in Dublin. Follow Scott on Google+ and Twitter

29 Comments

  • Zintra

    3 October, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    It is an informative page for traveller.
    Is Kruger National Park okay for children below 6 to visit?
    Any train service from Cape town to KNP?
    Thanks

    Reply
  • BEST ENSWERS

    23 August, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    I THINK ALL THE COUTRY’S IN THE WORLD ARE NICE KOOL AND GOOD BUT IN AFRICA THERE CAN BE NLY ONE BEST COUTRY AND THAT COUNTRY IS ALGERIA IV’E BEEN THERE TUNE’S OF TIME AND ITS amazing the food is abously dilious and there reception is great and african feast’s are terefec i think in my opinion you should try going there (:

    Reply
  • Accommodation East Coast Tasmania

    15 March, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    I haven’t visited any other place in Africa but Table Mountain is the place i have spent some hours. This is a dream place for hikers but do take proper safety measures before you go to hiking. We’ve had really hard times when the sun went down so try to do all the fun when sun shines.

    Reply
    • JP

      11 December, 2012 at 2:51 pm

      I have been at 9 out of the 10 places in South Africa. Still need to do the Garden route, will be hitting 10 after Dec. A must do for all of the above. You will not regret one of them!!

      Reply
  • Fatima Kolia

    7 October, 2011 at 12:58 am

    It is no wonder that Forbes has recently cited South Africa as the third friendliest country in the world. We are blessed. No place like home and our rainbow melting potjie…

    Reply
  • Dewald

    9 March, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    South Africa is a wonderful Country and always has been, the culture the people the scenery everything plays a part. Some of the locations selected here I must say are a little sketchy and since the government don’t seem to care about criminal activity in the country I would not suggest going there, especially not Soweto! To get a true feel for the country I suggest visiting every region of the country and seeing everything. Some other attractions would be the Zambezi, the Voortrekker Monument, the Mines in Vrystaat, Shark Diving in the Cape, the national parks, and many other places that might be small but show a lot about the culture and the beauty of the country. I suggest travelling in groups with an experienced local that would show you the unique places they dont talk about here.

    Reply
    • Simon

      8 March, 2012 at 11:35 pm

      Visiting SOWETO can be a very enriching experience that can teach one about the beauty of life in poverty. The people of Soweto show the world how to be happy against all odds. Visit with caution, but be sure to visit. The warmth of the average person will shock you.

      Reply
  • mona

    3 March, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    dear friends,

    May I say, you are doing a great job here. Well done.
    I know you are having fun!
    I might have a few ideas…

    I just liked your blog..your articles are so cool and really good…awesome.
    kind regards:

    Mona.. 🙂

    Reply
  • Teresa

    2 November, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    Loved the photos and advice. Am just in the process of planning a trip next summer. Where is the best place to start? How did you travel around S. Africa ? Did you book all accommodation before you left ?

    Reply
    • Scott Balam

      3 November, 2010 at 7:36 pm

      Hi Teresa,

      I hope you are well.

      It all depends what you want to see.

      Personally, I would suggest flying into Cape Town and heading up the Garden Route. I used Baz Bus (www.bazbus.com)to get around. That will take you all the way up to Jo’Burg.

      Are you planning Hostels or Hotels? Hostels are very well set-up and very clean. The Baz Bus will drop you off at your hostel and collect you from there.

      I would suggest booking two or three nights initially then when you’re there just phone ahead to book a bed. There’s no point booking everything in advance as you’re then under pressure to be at ‘x’ by certain time and you might want to see other things first. I went out with no bed booked, I wouldn’t suggest that!!!

      When you travel you’ll meet people who are doing the opposite route, they’re a fantastic source to see where is worth going.

      I hope this helps.

      Reply
  • Africa Travel

    15 June, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks for the effort you took to expand upon this topic so thoroughly.
    Many of us dream of taking a wild adventure through an exotic location for a holiday, vacation or trip of self exploration, not many of us actually treat ourselves to such an exciting and wonderful experience. There has never been a better time to fulfill this worthy dream, and traveling through beautiful and enchanting Africa is something everyone should do in their lifetime.
    Booking an african travel safari directly with a local operator in the country you wish to visit can save you a lot on money. But you must be very careful that you are booking with a reliable local safari operator who will give you a stress free vacation. With the internet full of all manner of safari operators, read on and discover how easy it is to vet if your African safari operator is genuine and reliable.

    Reply
  • Spencer Spellman

    21 March, 2010 at 5:21 am

    South Africa really offers so much. If you really want your vision of life to be expanded than Soweto is a great way to do that, although it can be an emotional experience. I went with a group one summer that did some work in Soweto and it was a very rich and rewarding experience. There is nothing that compares to Kruger. Give yourself a couple days in Kruger.

    Reply
  • Suzi

    10 March, 2010 at 2:12 am

    Were we on the same trip? LOL! You brought back so many of the trip to South Africa my husband & I took a few years ago, and I agree with your choices! Especially Oudtshoorn – it really was great fun & we were served Ostrich paté – best thing I ever ate in my life!

    I would add one more area to your list though & that’s the Kwazulu Natal area!

    Thanx for the memories! 🙂

    Reply
  • cape town accommodation

    8 March, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    the above 10 places to visit in South Africa are really very well palces of south africa and the country south africa is great country for tourists.
    Thanks

    accommodation cape town says:
    “Interesting post, we shall be following your blog more closely in future! Best Wishes from Cape Town ”

    Reply

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